Sermon for Sunday, April 19th, 2020, the First Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Psalm 16; Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
The Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
The Topic: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ leads to rejoicing in Him, even in trials.
While he was in the process of recovering from a very painful and severe cervical spinal injury, Bob Reccord had to wear a neck brace twenty-four hours a day for five weeks. About halfway through that recovery period, he was sitting on the screened-in porch behind his home. He writes:
The day was cold and blustery, but I needed a change of scenery. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day, I couldn’t believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.
The next day I was on the porch again, but this time it was bright, sunny, and warm. I was tempted to feel sorry for myself when suddenly the bird (at least it looked like the same one) returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun?
Then it hit me: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition. It was as though God quietly said to me, “You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances. You choose!”
— Bob Reccord, Forged by Fire
(Broadman & Holman, 2000)1
Christians can choose to rejoice during their trials. But how often do we do that?
The words that St. Peter applies in 1 Peter 1:8 to Christians’ experience of the Lord Jesus Christ have always been a blessing to me:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory
(1 Peter 1:8, KJV)
St. Peter and the rest of the Twelve Apostles had seen the Lord Jesus Christ in his earthly ministry, but after his ascension into heaven, no longer saw him in person. Twice in verse 8, St. Peter affirms that his readers have not seen Jesus Christ. Despite not having seen him, the Christians to whom the Apostles and their successors preached are described as loving, believing in, and rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ with an inexpressible and exalted joy. St. Peter was not speaking about a joy that only those who had physically witnessed our Lord’s ministry had, but about the joy that all Christians have, the joy of rejoicing in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This joy is not an earthly joy, but heavenly and spiritual, arising in believers because of their love for the Lord and their faith in Him.
WHY DO CHRISTIANS REJOICE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST?
How do Christians come to this great joy in the Lord Jesus Christ? It is by God’s mercy, who raised the Lord Jesus Christ from death to life, and by that resurrection has given Christians new birth. This new birth is by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), and is a spiritual birth. Without the resurrection of the Lord, there would have been no hope, and no new birth. But as things now stand, God has begotten his children anew to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). It is a living hope because it is not based on anything transitory, but on the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives forever. This living hope is the hope of a spiritual and eternal inheritance in the fellowship of the Lord and all his saints, and is described (1 Peter 1:4) as “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (KJV). This blessed hope of an eternal future with the Lord is incorruptible or immortal, in great contrast to our present human bodies which are corruptible or mortal, subject to disease, decay and aging. This eternal inheritance is also undefiled in that nothing can contaminate it, or make it turn bad. It remains pure and good. Finally, it cannot fade away. It is not like a flower drooping and withering after blooming beautifully. This inheritance has been kept in heaven for all God’s children. On the one hand, then, an eternal inheritance is kept in heaven for all the saints; on the other, the saints of God themselves are guarded by God’s power through our faith in Him for the salvation that will be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5, free translation). God keeps watch over his people to bring them to this great salvation, and He has kept this eternal inheritance unspoiled for all who love Him.
One reason for rejoicing is this great salvation reserved in heaven for the elect, and another is in God’s faithful love watching over his people to bring them safely to their heavenly destiny. This great salvation, our eternal inheritance, we Christians rejoice in, even while we experience the heaviness of various trials in the present life (1 Peter 1:6). The trials we experience are “for a season” (1 Peter 1:6a, KJV), so that the proving of our faith, which is much more precious than the purifying of perishable gold by fire, may redound to God’s honor, praise and glory when Jesus Christ come again (1 Peter 1:7). Since the trials we experience in this life are really the trial of our faith in Christ, our rejoicing in the Lord must be greater than any heaviness or sorrow at the trials themselves.
The second great reason St. Peter gives for rejoicing is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and this rejoicing does not arise from having seen him, but from loving him and believing in him, though we have not seen him (1 Peter 1:8). This love for the Lord Jesus Christ and faith in him leads Christians to rejoice in him with an unspeakable joy that is full of God’s glory. As we rejoice we receive from God the completion of our faith, or its end goal, the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9).
In view of all this, how will Christians reach this point of rejoicing that St. Peter describes? We must all take into account both the joy of the future inheritance reserved for God’s children in heaven as well as the fact that God is watching over his children to bring them to their inheritance. Secondly, we must realize all our trials are but the trial of our faith which will bring God praise and glory, and we must not be overwhelmed by our trials, but rather realize their divine purpose. Thirdly, we must rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ himself, for, though we have not seen him, we believe in him and love him.
All this requires prioritizing prayer and Bible study in our daily lives. Whatever trials we are enduring, our love for the Lord and our faith in him must be far greater than any of our trials. And we must intentionally rejoice in the Lord daily, for our lives are in his hands, he has given us new birth and is guiding us to our eternal inheritance in heaven.
1 p. 200, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.