The Sermon for Sunday, April 16th, 2023, the First Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 111; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
The Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Alan Mairson wrote an article for National Geographic about beekeepers who raise and transport bees for a living. He told the story of Jeff and Christine Anderson and how their daughter overcame an allergy to bee stings.
To build up her immunity, doctors administered a series of injections to Rachel over a four-month period. But, in order to maintain immunity, she needed a shot or a bee sting every six weeks over several years.
So every six weeks Rachel’s parents would go outside and catch a bee. Then, as Rachel recalls, “Mom would take hold of my arm and roll my sleeve up. Then my Dad would make the bee mad and stick it on me and count to ten before he took the stinger out. But it worked. Now when I accidentally get stung, it barely swells, it barely hurts.”
In a world full of bees, a loving father must not shield his child from every sting.
At a time when Christians were suffering persecutions and other trials, St. Peter wrote his first Epistle to encourage them in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to help them understand the role of temptations and trials in purifying their faith and deepening their relationship with the Lord, and how rejoicing in the Lord helps this process.
There is a contrast between the occasion when St. Peter declared to all the crowds that the Apostles were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his letter to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia many years later. In our First Lesson from the Book of Acts, the emphasis lies on the fact that the Apostles were trustworthy witnesses to Jesus Christ’s resurrection. In our Epistle Lesson, the emphasis lies on the believers’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the value of their faith and hope in view of the very precious inheritance they have received through Christ.
1 PETER 1:3-9: BORN AGAIN TO NEWNESS OF LIFE IN CHRIST
St. Peter begins by blessing God the Father who according to his great mercy has given Christians new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ has changed mankind’s prospects and hopes. God, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, has shown the world that he has accepted the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and has forgiven the sin of all who believe in Him. This means that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ now have a confident expectation, a living hope of an eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom. This Inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading, and it is being kept in heaven for all the faithful (1 Peter 1:4). Whereas any treasures we accumulate on earth are transient, our eternal inheritance is not subject to corruption or transience but is everlasting. This inheritance is reserved in heaven for all the faithful, but we ourselves are being kept for it by God’s power at work through our faith (1 Peter 1:5). This salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time, that is, at the end of this age of the world, and the beginning of the messianic age of God’s kingdom. By continuing to exercise our faith in Christ, God’s power guards us, as a garrison guards a city, so that all the Devil’s attempts to defeat us and snatch us out of God’s kingdom are defeated.
A GRIEF COUNTERBALANCED BY JOY IN CHRIST
Christians greatly rejoice in this great salvation that will one day be revealed, though now for a little while they are distressed by diverse temptations or trials. This realism here reflects the reality of persecutions suffered by Christians in various places in the latter half of the first century, for example, in the reign of Nero. The reality of grief on account of various trials is not limited to persecutions in the first century, but is a reality frequently borne by all who are determined to follow the Lord Jesus Christ at all costs. Rather than being overwhelmed by our trials, we must rejoice that we have been born again to a living hope of an eternal inheritance that is being kept in heaven for us, and that God’s power is guarding us and keeping us so that we do not lose this great inheritance. Moreover, the trial of our faith, the testing of our faith, that occurs through our faithful endurance of trials and overcoming of temptations, means that our faith will redound to the praise, honor, and glory of God at the revelation of Jesus Christ at his second coming. This corresponds to this passage written by St. Paul:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
(Romans 5:1-5, KJV)
Rejoicing in tribulations and trials is for the sake of their fundamental character-building effect in our lives, and the consequent strengthening of patience, experience, and hope in God. St. Peter then distinguishes his readers from the Apostles in a way that has encouraged many Christians down the ages. The Apostles had seen the Lord Jesus Christ and witnessed both his death and his resurrection. But the Christians who came to faith as a result of the Apostles’ preaching, as well as Christians throughout history until now, have never seen the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Lord Jesus Christ himself, after St. Thomas had expressed faith in him, said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29b, KJV), so St. Peter here exalts all who have not seen the Lord, yet believe in him:
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: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9, KJV)
Twice St. Peter emphasizes that his readers have not seen Christ. The first time he says, “Whom having not seen,” and the second time, “though now ye see him not.” Nonetheless, they both love and believe in the Lord Jesus. Their love for and their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ without seeing him or having seen him, cause them to rejoice with unspeakable joy filled with glory. In rejoicing with such joy, Christians are receiving the goal, or end, of their faith, the salvation of their souls. In this passage, a future salvation is referred to, as well as a present, continuing salvation, in this last verse. The process of continuing salvation in the present accompanies and is helped by continual rejoicing in the Lord “with unspeakable joy full of glory.”
A good exercise for us all will be to meditate on 1 Peter 1:8-9 and consider what it means to love and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ every day to the extent that we rejoice in him with unspeakable and exalted joy, and how by doing that, we receive salvation and healing for our souls.
 p.383, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers, from Craig Larson and Leadership Journal. Baker Books, 2002, 2nd Printing, 2008.