I’m a clean skin. I don’t have any tattoos. If you were going to get a tattoo—and I’m not recommending that you do—but if you were to get one, what would you get?
Obviously, you could get a Bible verse in either Hebrew or Greek to start a ‘Jesus’ conversation. You could get your spouse’s name, but that is risky if they die and you remarry! Kids are safer. I was tempted to get a tattoo celebrating my sporting team’s grand final win in 2010. But if I was an Olympian, I’m sure that I would have the five rings tattooed on my shoulder—because once you make the Olympics, you are defined by that experience for the rest of your life.
As Christians, we have been defined by a far more profound experience. This experience forges our identity. It is that we have been chosen by the Father, set apart by the Spirit, and washed clean by the blood of Christ.
No wonder Peter starts his first letter by praising God for his great mercy. We now have a living hope. 1 Peter 1:3:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead […] (NIV)
This passage has “gold, gold, gold” all over it. Peter begins by praising God for his great mercy. There is nothing small about God’s mercy because there’s a lot for God to forgive. God’s great mercy means three things: that we have, first, a living Lord, which means that second, we have a living hope because third, God has made us alive.
First, we have a living Lord. If Jesus’ bones were still buried in Palestine, our hope would be buried with him. Our hope is alive because Jesus is alive.
Second, a living Lord means we have a living hope. Our world is short of 'hope'.
The ‘gap’ is a well known location in the Eastern suburbs which has been the place for many suicides. There is a beautiful walk that takes you to the ‘gap’, and on the way, you will now find this sign—“THERE IS HOPE!” The sign also has a phone number to Lifeline. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is also what allows us to thrive. We have a living hope because we have a living Lord.
I know that the word 'hope' does not instill much confidence. That is because we have all hoped for many things that did not come true—think of that job or promotion you wished you got but never did, or that lover you pined for but missed out on, or that HSC mark you fell short of, and so didn’t get into the course you wanted. 'Hope' for the world is always a wishful desire. It’s a ‘fingers crossed’, ‘touch wood’ kind of expectation. But lock this in your head—hope in the Bible is about a certain future with a guaranteed outcome. This is hope is based on the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Death has lost once and it will many times again.
Third, we have a living hope because we have a living Lord who has made us alive. We have a “new birth”. To be born again, or born from above, is to be ‘made alive’. This is the same as to be “born of the Spirit” or to be “born of God”. Remember the words of Jesus in John 3:3:
In reply, Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (NIV)
What does it mean to be born again? It is a great change, a transformation. It is nothing less than moving from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive. God must do it. We must have it to enter eternal life.
We can tell who has been born again from its effects. Born again people see things as they are. We see the past with Jesus raised from dead. We see the future as guaranteed because of Jesus’ promise. We see ourselves as sinners but Jesus as our Saviour. We are now alive. We discover new tastes that we never had before. What was once sweet—like pornography, lying, gossip, rage, and swearing—now taste sour. What was once sour—like hearing God’s word, praying, meeting with Christians, forgiveness, and generosity to others—is now sweet.
If you are born again, there is a particular inheritance waiting for you. Our inheritance is secure, 1 Peter 1:4:
[…] and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you […] (NIV)
Do you know why you “can’t take it with you”? It’s because it’s waiting for you. Your salvation is described as an inheritance. Just as every Israelite was given their portion of the inheritance in the Promised Land, so Jesus has a place for you. This is our portion of the heavenly Promised Land! It is all waiting for you—from your new body to the new heaven and earth—it’s all bound up with Jesus who is alive in heaven.
There are also three things that describe what our inheritance is not. Our inheritance, first, can’t be destroyed, second, it won’t be corrupted from the outside, and third, it won’t decay from the inside. This salvation doesn’t fade in time, like your jeans do. It’s not going to rust away, like your car. It won’t be spoiled, like for your meal. It’s secure. It’s as if it is in a vault, protected by armed guards, where no one can steal it or damage it.
Your salvation is the most precious gift you will ever receive, and it is in very safe hands. But do you trust yourself? That takes us to 1 Peter 1:5:
Who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (NIV)
So here is the problem? I trust Jesus. I just don’t trust me to keep on trusting Jesus. And this is especially so when suffering comes. But 1 Peter 1:5 is clear: your faith is guarded by the power of God.
No one knew this more than Peter, the apostle who wrote this verse. On the night that this Peter was about to deny Jesus three times, Jesus tells him that he himself has prayed for Peter, and promised has also that Peter will turn back to and bless others. Luke 22:31-32:
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (NIV)
In other words, God is protecting Peter’s faith. God is preserving Peter from giving up under the pressure of suffering and Satan.
This protected and preserved faith, however, is not kept in cotton wool. It is a proven faith, which will be enabled to rejoice in the face of suffering. 1 Peter 1:6:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (NIV)
Now, it’s not just that I rejoice, but get this—I greatly rejoice. Or in 1 Peter 1:8, I am “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. This is a flabbergasted joy. It is not merely to be ‘happy’ but it’s a deep thankfulness in all situations, a joy so deep that at times we won’t be able to find the words to describe the feeling.
You will not rejoice if you’re not born again. And you won’t greatly rejoice if you don’t meditate on heaven. But once you know how it’s all going to turn out, that it is going to turn out for your good, then that certain future affects my present experience. I have a joyful faith because I have a certain future.
For example, I have a habit of listening to the results of a Rugby League game before I watch it. So once I know that St George, my NRL team, has won the game, I enjoy watching the game on TV. I don’t get upset during the game if the opposition team scores tries. St George could be losing for 79 minutes of the game, and that is no problem! Why? Because I already know that by the 80th minute, we will score and win the game.
That is how Christians are to live their lives. No matter what trials come our way, we must know that our salvation is secure and our faith is guarded. But more than that, our faith needs suffering to be shown to be true faith.
Our faith is so precious that it needs to be tested in trials. 1 Peter 1:7:
These [various trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)
Why does Peter compare our faith with gold? Because they both are precious! They are both last! They both need to be tested so that they can be refined!
The fire doesn’t destroy the gold but it purifies it. Suffering doesn’t destroy true faith but purifies it. Faith needs suffering to grow.
I found out that one of the biggest problems in sending astronauts to Mars is not the distance. It will take them three years to get there. But the problem is what happens to their bodies during the trip. When humans live in a weightless environment, they rapidly lose their body mass. With no gravity and air pressure making your body work, your body deteriorates to nothing. Your body needs the resistance of gravity and air pressure. Suffering is the gravity that purifies your faith. We need resistance. Your faith is more precious than gold, and it needs suffering to grow.
You need to understand that our faith is so precious—without it there is no salvation—although the way we treat our faith, you would think it was least important. We neglect it, we don’t feed it, but faith comes hearing the word of God. We don't stretch it or take risks witnessing to it. We let doubts fester without searching for answers. We ignore the fellowship of others which grows our faith. And when we suffer, we don’t think God thoughts after him about the suffering. We don't engage with God. We withdraw. We sulk. We ignore him. We pretend and deny and stay distracted, rather than crying out loud, “How Long Lord?”, and so use the suffering to grow our faith.
I remember my first two years of life as a Christian. I came back home to live. My decision to leave my parents religion meant my mum cried every day for two years. It was a strange suffering. My decision to put Jesus first wounded the person I loved the most—my mum! I lost some friends, and felt alone, but I never felt lonely. I remember that I would cry, but they were tears of joy. All the time I was trusting Jesus whom I could not see.
But tested faith must believe without seeing. 1 Peter 1:8:
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy […] (NIV)
This is the reason why prayer is so hard. True faith loves Jesus without looking. It is trust without touching. True faith refuses to be cynical. Truth faith chooses to rejoice in suffering. This kind of faith results in praise, honour, and glory when Christ returns (v. 7).
But the question is, whose praise, whose honour, and whose glory are we talking about? Is it Jesus’ or mine? I would say both! When you finally receive your salvation, it will be for the praise and honor and glory of both you and your Lord.
We love seeing our athletes getting medals at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. All those years of training, all that pain, all those sacrifices. And then the athlete wins the contest and gets to stand on the dais. They receive their gold medal, and then the Australian national anthem is played. The victorious flags are raised and a tear rolls down the athlete’s cheek.
Ask yourself as you are watching this picture, “Who is getting the glory and honour?” The athlete’s glory is Australia’s glory, and Australia’s glory is the athlete’s glory.
When Jesus returns, your faith will result in honor, praise, and glory to both Jesus and to you. That is when we get to hear “gold, gold, gold”. In the meantime, the angels are pushing their way to the front, trying to get front row seats, to see God’s purposes played out in your life, as you hang on to Jesus in the face of suffering.