Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
St. Peter tells us that we have a living hope that is founded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And indeed, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that makes all the difference for Christianity. St. Paul agrees:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV)
It is impossible to overestimate the value of the resurrection to your life of faith. The resurrection is the proof that what Jesus offers, all of his work, and chiefly forgiveness of sins that he won on the cross, is real. Like one of my professors once said. If Jesus had gone around making hair grow and billiard balls, it would’ve indeed been a miracle. But it is a miracle that would’ve meant nothing, except to bald billiard balls. (Dr. John Warwick Montgomery) But Jesus most important miracle, his resurrection from the dead, attacks the real problem of the human condition. The celebration of Easter is all in recognition of the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead. Jesus resurrection is the key to everything that plagues human beings. It’s the key because the resurrection is the defeat of death. Not just death in general, but your death! This is why St. Peter calls it a living hope. It’s not just a living hope because it’s based on Jesus passing through death to life, but it is a sure hope founded in the promises of the one who is living and was dead. It is the resurrection of Jesus that makes all of his promises true.
In the book of Hebrews the author writes,
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)
It is the assurance of our hope that St. Peter is talking about. We have assurance and all that Jesus has done because he was stone cold dead on the cross but walked again out of the tomb on Easter morning. His death is our forgiveness and his resurrected life is our assurance that is forgiveness is true. St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Christ rises again in us according to our faith, just as earlier he died in us because of our unbelief.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, volume X I, page 69) and again, St. Paul,
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)
The idea firstfruits is the very first fruit of the harvest. It’s the promise of everything that is yet to come. And so Jesus resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. The promise of your resurrection!
But the resurrection is nothing without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, because the life of Jesus after the resurrection is the life of Jesus that was sacrificed into death because of our sin. The resurrection without forgiveness is a resurrection to eternal hell, not “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you.” And it is indeed an inheritance. One earned by Christ, not earned by you. It is given to you, “according to [God’s] great mercy.” To quote St. Paul once again in his letter to Pastor Titus,
[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5, ESV)
God in his mercy sent Jesus Christ to the cross to suffer the punishment of our sin. With that punishment satisfied there is forgiveness for all sin. And as St. Peter and St. Paul both state, “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope” and “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” “Born again” and “washing and regeneration” are the very same thing. St. Peter even makes it more clear in chapter 3 verse 21 of this very same letter.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21, ESV)
The appeal for a good conscience is forgiveness applied to you and me in faith through Holy Baptism. Baptism means that God forgives you, saves you. That Jesus death and resurrection are your death and resurrection. His death is your forgiveness and his resurrection is your life forever.
St. Peter applies the meaning of the resurrection directly to you. He says that since Jesus has suffered your punishment, God does not need to punish you. Therefore, nothing of your life in this world is punishment from God. St. Peter says that as you wait for the resurrection you rejoice. That is, you take joy in the fact of your resurrection promised in Jesus. Even though, at times, in this life we are “grieved by various trials.” Because of God’s promises made to you through Holy Baptism, these various trials are not punishment but testing. Because Holy Baptism is your personal promise, that Jesus is connected to you. His death is your death. His punishment on the cross for sin is your punishment on the cross for sin. And his resurrection from death is your resurrection.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3–5, ESV)
This wonderful verse is what we read at the beginning of a funeral service. That’s because the promise of Jesus death and resurrection, your death and resurrection, stands there in the face of your death.
So, this means, that as hard as life gets you have the promise of the resurrection. So the hardness of life is nothing but a test to push you closer to Jesus. When sickness is a trial for you and reminds you of your death, you know that the resurrection is at hand. The sickness may kill you, but you will rise again. When work is hard and unsatisfying, you look forward to the resurrection when work will all be joyful in the presence of Christ. When your friends and family let you down, when your relationships with them are shattered because of sin, you look forward to the resurrection. After the resurrection, human relationships will be perfect, unspoiled by sin. When your body is less than it once was, you look forward to the resurrection when your soul will be rejoined to your body and you will be perfect and perfectly human in every way. And when you suffer the separation of death, you look forward to the resurrection, when all those who have died in faith will rise to new life together with Christ.
It is all there in the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” It’s the power of the dead made alive. It’s the promise of the one who was dead and is alive, who can make you alive again after death. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.