1 Peter 1:3-12 - What Tomorrow and Yesterday Do For Today
September 1, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 1:3–1:12
[Text: 1 Peter 1:3-12] “What Tomorrow and Yesterday Do For Today”
Last week we heard from Peter’s greeting that although our experience may tell us otherwise, God gives His Word to tell us that the Triune God has (and is) at work behind and beneath experience to save us. Now Peter celebrates that work of God, looking to the past and future to transform “today.”
[Read 1 Peter 1:3-12 and Pray]
How much does the past change your present? Well, the answer to that may be obvious – a lot! We’d all say that the stories of our past – where we grew up, the family we grew up in, the joyful moments, the scars we hide – all the stories from our past have a profound impact on “today.” Of course, the distant past changes today, too. The events that happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago continue to shape the present.
But how much does the future change your present? I don’t mean the future as we imagine it like in the cartoons from the 60’s I loved when I was a kid – the ones that showed you what life would be like in the far-off year of 1999 with flying cars, etc. (By the way, I’m still waiting for my flying car and feel a little jaded that robots don’t make my bed.) No, I’m asking, how much the future culmination of the Story of Redemption – the return of Christ and beyond – how much does that future changes our present?
We might be used to thinking about how our individual past affects our present. Or how our dreams for the future impact our decisions today. But for the Christian, Peter says, it is the past and the future work of God that changes the present immensely.
But that’s hard to remember sometimes because the present is so, well, present. For the early Christians who got this letter from Peter, their present was an imposing shadow looming over them – a present government hostile to Christianity, a present culture obsessed with pleasure, present marriages that were hard and present sufferings that came in the form of temptation and lies spoken against them.
I’m no different from them. The present is what is in front of me, staring me in the face; present problems, present struggles, present fears and present questions about what to do here.
And when they thought about their pasts, there may have been a lingering fear that their past defined their present. There was a time when this largely Gentile church had been running full-speed away from God, lived only for “today” and were separated from God by unbelief. Their own past was sin and darkness. What did that mean for their “today?”
When we think about the past, we often think first about our individual pasts. We carry around the baggage of past sins, old wounds, ancient struggles. While there is often a lot of good and beauty in our individual stories, sometimes the things that most affect us today are the most painful things. So, we often allow our individual pasts to define our “todays.”
And let’s not even get started on our individual futures. Yes, like these early Christians, we can dream and make plans and that’s all fine. But when we think about our individual, potential futures we ultimately have to shrug our shoulders and say, “I dunno. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” It’s hard for an uncertain future to transform life today.
But Peter urges us to look not to our individual past but to what happened long ago in The Story of Redemption in order to understand today. And he urges us to look not to our individual, potential futures but to the one, certain future of all who, by faith in Jesus, have been born again (in Peter’s words) “to a living hope” (1:3). This is the promised future, sure to come about because of what God has done in the past. And as Peter illumines the interplay between the past and the future, he leads us, like our brothers and sisters so long ago, to see the present in light of those promised realities and not just what we see “today.”
If you follow Peter’s thought, the back-and-forth-through-time approach he takes is striking. In this brief section, Peter moves through the present, the past, the present (v.3), the future (v.4), the present (v. 5a), the future (v. 5b), the present (v.6), the future (v.7), the present (vv.8-9), the past and, finally, the present (vv.10-12).
But since I don’t want anyone to get time-travel whiplash, we’re going to take this one time period at a time. We’re going to listen again to what God has done in the past, what He promises will be in the future and finally consider what that means for today (repeat).
Looking first to the past, Peter sees the “great mercy” of God on display when he says (in v. 3) that God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” This is the same “born again” of which Jesus himself spoke saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-8)
So, Jesus laid out the requirement for coming into his kingdom – we must be born again of water and the Spirit. Now Peter understands that God the Father has fulfilled in believers his own divine requirements. God “has caused [them] to be born again.”
The grammar here points to a definitive action in the past – a past action that has the weight of finality. What a comfort for “today” that is! It means that by faith in Christ, we are coming into that which God has chosen for us beforehand (remember v.1, Peter is writing to “elect exiles”) and definitively accomplished.
That’s why Peter can say believers have been born again “to a living hope.” God’s definitive action in the past wasn’t just left in the past. It necessarily has an impact on today and tomorrow, too, giving us hope that is alive. (Now you can understand why Peter jumps back and forth in time so often in this passage. The work of God fills up eternity and move fluidly throughout!)
The “living hope” that is now ours by faith in Christ and the second birth God definitively achieved for His chosen people were won through another past action of God – “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Peter already mentioned the death of Christ in v. 2 when he wrote of the “sprinkling with his blood.” That looked back to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross as the moment when the sins of God’s people were covered and atonement was made. The death of Christ in the place of his people is the source of forgiveness for we who by faith set all our hope in Jesus.
But if Christ had remained dead in the grave, Peter is saying, we would not have a “living hope.” But we have the living hope the (necessary) second birth gives and we have a hope that extends into the future precisely because Christ rose from the dead. In a very real sense, then, Jesus himself is our “living hope.” Because he lives, our hope is alive. The resurrection of Jesus, that past action of God, was their source of hope just as it remains our source of hope today. That past work of God is what defines the today and the tomorrow of the believer.
In vv.10-12a, Peter looks again to the past and understands that although this salvation was mysterious and hidden in the past, the Spirit had made known back then how this salvation would come about.
These verses look back to the writers of the Old Testament, reflecting on the work of those who “searched and inquired carefully” in the past to what God was doing. As God carried the Story of Redemption forward, these writers saw in the Story the way in which God would rescue His people. The Spirit of Christ, it says, “predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” We think of passages like Isaiah 53 that speak of the Suffering Servant of God; how he would suffer and face rejection from his own people and take their sins on his innocent shoulders and die. But even in the description of Christ’s sufferings there, we hear echoes of the glories that followed his sufferings – “when his soul makes and offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10).
Peter writes that the prophets of the past, writers being carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), “were serving not themselves but you.” That’s a curious thought and I want to come back to that in a few minutes. Hang on to the question of how the writers who saw the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories were serving believers living in the time of the Gospel.
As much as Peter looks to the past work of God in this section, he looks just as much to the future work of God because there is a promised, certain future that is based on what Christ accomplished in the past. And this promised future is supposed to have an equal affect on the present.
In the past they were “born again.” But that second birth was “to an inheritance.” (v.4) And even though “elect exiles” have not yet received this promised future, it is nevertheless “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you….” This future inheritance is a major issue in 1 Peter because it sets the hope of a believer not in “today” but in a glorious, promised tomorrow.
Looking toward this promised future inheritance protects believers from a very real danger. It is the danger of expecting a glorious “today.” Please don’t misunderstand; there are beautiful things we experience today because of the work of God. But to live with an over-realized eschatology (which is a fancy way of saying we live expecting everything to be perfect today) is to radically misunderstand what time in the Story of Redemption we live. The end of the Story is promised and certain but it hasn’t yet come. So, we can’t expect today to look like tomorrow. That’s the danger of the words we hear from so many so-called “preachers” who promise “Your Best Life Now.”
Peter himself writes that the fullness of their salvation hasn’t yet been seen. Literally, in v. 5, it has not yet been “revealed.” That is to say, it still sits off in the future. How far? Peter isn’t sure. But because of the resurrection of Christ he knows that it is coming. God’s past work guarantees it and so he directs his and our hope toward the promises of God.
In v. 7 Peter keeps looking forward to the future. And he sees that what Christians experience today – he’s talking about suffering – will be shown in the future to have had a purpose.
In this context, the sufferings Peter has in mind are the “various trials” that test the genuineness of the Christian’s faith. The word for trials here has the same root as the word describing what Jesus experienced after his baptism in Matthew 4, when Jesus was tested (tempted) in the wilderness by Satan. Jesus’ “trial” back then tempted him to abandon God’s will for him to suffer and skip ahead to the glorious part of the Story. But just as Christ endured the suffering and was perfected by his obedience (Hebrews 2:10), so, too, must the believer understand that their present trials have a perfecting purpose.
They mature our faith, they test the genuineness of our faith to show us that God really is at work in us, saving us. I can say that I believe in a chair, but my belief isn’t a proven faith until I risk sitting down in it. We can say that we believe in Jesus, we can know all the right things to say and do to sound and look like a Christian, but when difficulty comes, true faith will show itself to be true faith. Suffering and trials and temptation make us risk everything by trusting Jesus. Suffering and trials and temptation force us to give up on everything else but him; we have to give up on ourselves and every other thing we want to trust – wealth and comfort and security and control – and venture everything on Christ. Then faith is shown to be a proven, enduring faith. That is why Peter calls these trials “necessary” (v. 6).
Listen, God knows our weakness, which is why it isn’t the quality or the quantity of our faith that saves us; it’s the direction of our faith. Faith directed toward Christ – whether big or small, weak or strong – faith directed toward Christ is a saving faith. The hope here is that God will help faith grow through present trials that result in future maturity.
That’s the refining quality of the trials believer endure. And that refined, enduring faith – that faith tested through suffering – produces another future result. What we hear from Peter is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit will not be the only ones praised on the day of Christ’s return; the Triune God will give “praise and glory and honor” (v.7) to His people who have endured with faith directed toward Him.
All this past and future work of God solidly impacts the present. But before we hear what our present response to God looks like we need to hear that, just as in the past and in the future, God is working today, too.
In v. 5, the power of God is guarding us through faith for that future salvation. These early Christians experienced like as exiles. No one was looking out for them, humanly speaking. You may feel at times that no one is looking out for you as you experience suffering from temptation and sickness and trials of all kinds. But here Peter says the power of God is guarding those who have been born again through faith in Christ. That guarding is a keeping, protecting work of God in the present.
And “today,” in v. 12, is the time when the Holy Spirit speaks through the Gospel, “the good news,” announcing what God has done what he promised through the prophets. Christ has come and suffered and is now glorified! And through that announcement God gives us hope for today even in the midst of suffering. You are living in the age of the Gospel, when the salvation that was once hidden has been revealed! It is a good time to be alive.
Remember the question of how the prophets of old serve us today through predicting in the Spirit the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories? They were telling us what this salvation would look like. This is Peter setting up for us what he’ll spend more time on later in this letter. The prophets were serving us by helping us see that in this work of salvation God was (and is) accomplishing (and will accomplish) – in this salvation the pattern of Christ’s life becomes the pattern our lives follow, too. That is to say, Jesus Christ suffered in life and glory followed after. It’s the same with you, Christian. Suffering will typify life now, but it will give way to the same glorious future as Christ’s. The same God who raised Christ from his humiliation to glory is working now to do the same for you, elect exiles. Although you still experience necessary trials “for a little while,” Peter says, they will soon give way to glory.
The faithful work of God in the past, present and future are the “things into which angels long to look” (1:12). But the angels have no need to be saved; we do. And as Peter knows his own deep need for rescue has been met by God in Christ, we hear from Peter and our brothers and sisters gone before us what life can look like today.
Because our today is defined by the work of God in the past, present and promised future, you and I can bless God. That’s how Peter opens this passage in v. 3, encapsulating our response to God’s mercy toward us. It’s gratitude; he literally “eulogizes” God and declares his worth of praise and commendation for who He is and what He has done.
And because of who He is and what He has done throughout time, we can rejoice. In v. 6, Peter acknowledges that the elect exiles rejoice in the salvation God has accomplished and promises to fulfill. But, he says, “you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The rejoicing, then, endures even in the context of suffering.
But as Peter looks to the future result of that suffering – the refining and maturing purpose of it – he comes back to what believers do while they endure in the present. In vv. 8-9, he writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory….” Even though we suffer for now, the work of God in Christ draws out one final and over-arching response from our hearts – love for Christ.
This love for Christ is the response the past, present and future work of God is aiming to draw out from us. It is love for this Savior we’ve never seen, lived out in faith that rests in him to cover our sins by his death in the past and to lead us to our future inheritance. This love of Christ lived out in faith is what God uses to save us (1:9) as He helps us “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1:8).
Far from your past defining you now, far from your potential future dictating how you should live today, this Word of God tells us that yesterday, today and tomorrow all revolve around the person of Jesus. It is our relationship to him that defines us. And if we direct our faith to him for our cleansing, believing in his finished work on the cross and the promises of God of a future in him, then we can rest confidently today. Today we can rejoice in a salvation that spans the ages. Today we can face suffering and see it in light of yesterday and tomorrow, knowing that it is not in vain. We are simply following the pattern of “suffering then glory” in which Christ walked before us. Today we can walk with a living hope because Christ, our living hope, guards us today.
[Transition to the Lord’s Supper]
That is the promise Christ himself would confirm to you in this meal. This meal is not so much about your past or present or future commitment to him. This is about his past and future and present commitment to you elect exiles who look to him in faith. This is where you, by faith, made partakers of Christ and all his benefits – forgiveness, justification, adoption, sanctification – and where Christ himself nourishes weak people like us and grows us up in his grace.
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”