A living hope (1 Peter 1:1-12)

What do you most hope for? What is your greatest ambition? A successful career, a comfortable home, a loving family, or the respect of your peers, perhaps? With time, talent and a slice of good luck, we can sometimes achieve some of our ambitions – we may be lucky enough to realise a few of our hopes.

But if we’re honest, many of our hopes and ambitions are merely fantasies – like Crystal Palace winning the Premier League or yours truly becoming Archbishop of Canterbury – they’re just not going to happen! And even if we do achieve our dreams, they typically have a shelf life, an expiry date:

  • For example, even if we do reach the pinnacle of our profession, one day we’ll retire. 
  • Or even if we do establish a happy family home, one day our kids will leave the nest.
  • And even if we do amass a great fortune, we can’t take it with us when we die.

But don’t let me depress you(!), because in today’s New Testament reading we encounter a “living hope” that has no expiry date. A living hope that will “never perish, spoil or fade.” A living hope that we can all possess, through faith in Christ alone.

  1. Christians are elect exiles!

Before I go any further, let me set the scene. Today’s reading was taken from the start of the first letter by the apostle Peter:

  • The same Peter who’d once been a Galilean fisherman until Jesus of Nazareth came by one day and called him to become one of his followers (and a fisher of men).
  • The same Peter who went on to be the first person in the world to call Jesus ‘Christ’ – the first person ever to recognise Jesus as the Heaven-sent Saviour of the World.
  • Sadly, its also the same Peter who went on to deny Jesus three times on the night he was arrested. He was the disciple who infamously denied knowing Jesus because of his fear of the Jewish authorities.
  • But its also the same Peter who was forgiven by Jesus when he appeared to him after his resurrection. The same Peter who was commissioned to lead the church after Christ’s ascension, and who spent the rest of his life boldly telling people about Jesus and helping new Christians to persevere in their faith.

It was in this last role that Peter wrote his famous first letter to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia – all places found in Turkey today. Peter wrote this letter in around 63 AD to encourage these Turkish Christians in their new faith – to remind them why it was worth them becoming followers of Jesus in the first place.

In the world’s eyes these Turkish Christians didn’t have much to hope for. They weren’t wealthy, they weren’t powerful, they weren’t influential. They were persecuted, poor and peripheral. In other words, they were living far from the centre of power in Rome. They were being abused for their new faith in Christ, and they had a low status in their society.

But Peter wrote to them to remind them that, contrary to all appearances, they were incredibly privileged people. As our reading was read, did you notice that Peter uses two words beginning with ‘E’ to describe how fortunate these Turkish Christians really were?

The first ‘E’ Peter uses is ‘Elect’. To be elect means to be chosen by God: 

  • These people of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia had been chosen by God to hear about Jesus Christ. 
  • They had been chosen by God to have the immense privilege of hearing that his Son had come to earth to be their Saviour. 
  • They had been chosen by God to hear that Jesus had died on a cross and risen from the grave so that their sins could be forgiven and the way to everlasting life be made open.

And having heard about Jesus, these Turkish pagans had put their faith in him. They had become Christians by choosing to follow Christ, just as God had first chosen them.

Having put their faith in Jesus, these Turkish Christians became the second ‘E’ in Peter’s vocabulary. These Turkish Christians now qualified as ‘Exiles’ in this world. 

Now normally, we think of an exile as someone in an unfortunate position. When we hear the word exile we think of someone living far from home, perhaps a refugee from a warzone or someone who’s been banished from their own land. (Napoleon was famously exiled to the island of Elba, for example, as a punishment for his imperial ambitions – while millions of people today are refugees from conflicts in places like Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan)

But the exiles Peter is writing to are in an incredibly fortunate position – they are exiles on earth because they have become citizens of heaven! Their new faith in Christ has qualified them for a place in God’s everlasting kingdom. This world is no longer their home, life on earth is no longer the scope of their hope. 

As citizens of heaven, these Turkish Christians can look forward to everlasting life, inexpressible glory and immeasurable joy in the world to come:

  • Their status as exiles on earth is time-limited, says Peter. 
  • Their experience of suffering in this world will expire one day, he writes. 
  • But their status as God’s chosen people – as citizens of heaven – will endure forever!

Whether Christ returned first or they died and went to meet him, these Turkish Christians had a sure and certain hope. They could have great confidence for the future, whatever this world could throw at them. They were children of God and citizens of heaven, and nothing was ever going to take that away from them.

2. Christians are faithful followers of Jesus

So what does this all mean for us? Why is this relevant in 2023? The short answer is that the great promises Peter makes in today’s letter are not confined to first century Turkish Christians – they are offered to men, women and children of every age:

  • The status of being a chosen, adopted child of God is open to people in Cheshire as well as Cappadocia.
  • The privilege of being a citizen of heaven is something offered to people in 21stcentury Ashton Hayes as well as first century Asia Minor.

The way we receive these great blessings is by faith in Jesus Christ. Any one of us here today can gain this ‘living hope’ by simply putting our faith in Jesus.

But what is faith? Does it involve closing our eyes and believing ten impossible things before breakfast? Is faith inherently opposed to reason? Not at all! Our faith should follow the evidence. 

  • One important piece of evidence Peter cites at the end of our reading today (v.10-12) is the testimony of the Old Testament prophets. These were men who lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born, yet predicted the events of his life with astonishing accuracy. Guided by God’s Spirit, they were able to foresee details of the life of Christ in advance. Rather than an enormous coincidence, their prophecies are evidence that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was planned by God well in advance.
  • And secondly, in the New Testament, we have the eyewitness evidence of people like Peter – companions of Christ who saw all that he said and did, who wrote down what they had seen for future generations like us. We should trust what these apostles wrote, as many of them (including Peter) would go on to be martyred for their faith in Jesus. Peter would not have sacrificed his life for a creed he knew to be a con, or for someone he knew to be a fraud. 

So faith in Jesus is not a leap in the dark, but a sensible step in the direction where the evidence leads. 

In verse 8 of our reading today, Peter summarises what faith in Jesus actually looks like in practice. He writes “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.” And such faith in Jesus is not merely head knowledge – Peter says it will transform our hearts as well. Faith in Jesus should give us “an inexpressible and glorious joy” says Peter. It offers us “grace and peace in abundance”, he adds in verse 2.

So as I finish this morning, can I urge us all not to go through life with time-limited, temporary hopes. With hopes that won’t survive the passing of time and won’t go with us when we die. Instead, grab hold of the living hope that God offers you – a living hope of forgiveness, grace and life everlasting. A living hope that we can all possess by faith in Christ alone.

Phil Weston