The First Sunday After Easter May 1, 2011

INI

Real Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3-9

Scripture Readings

Acts 2:14a
22-32
John 20:19-31

Hymns

193, 210, 207, 732 [201]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

In the name of our living Lord, dear fellow Christians:

Exciting changes are taking place today right outside these walls. After months of cold, snow, and frozen ground, plants are beginning to wake up and grow. Tulips and crocuses are poking up through the ground. Lawns have turned green. This new life is one of the best parts of spring. Can you imagine a world without growing plants? There would be nothing but barren, drab earth. Not only do they add color and interest, plants are necessary for our lives and wellbeing. God designed them that way in His perfect creation.

Just as we need plants for life, so we need hope as well. You would never spend the time and effort to dig up the garden and plant your vegetable seeds if you didn’t have the hope of enjoying fresh lettuce, peas, and carrots later on. You wouldn’t go to work if you didn’t have the hope of a paycheck. Who would even get out of bed in the morning without hope of one kind or another?

But hopes are not all the same. Some may look real, but are only artificial and lifeless just like some plants made of silk and plastic which are not alive and will never grow and blossom. But then there is the hope the Lord gives us through the Easter message of the resurrection. It is a living, growing hope which fills us with joy and gives us reason to anticipate each new day. That is the real hope of which Peter writes in our text.

I.

What do you hope for? Is it warm weather, good health, steady income, or a comfortable retirement? There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but there is not lasting hope in any of them. People hope that violence and wars will give way to peace and kindness and that somehow, someway, all the pieces of their lives will fall together in just the right way. There is no real life in that hope either. The truth is that we cannot create our own hope any more than we can create a seed, put it in the ground, and make it grow.

But God can do it. In His mercy He has given us undying, eternal hope. Mercy is pity for the helpless. A condemned criminal’s hope is in the mercy of the court. A starving child or a wounded soldier’s hope lies in the mercy of others. We desperately need mercy because of our sin. We deserve to die and suffer forever.

But God is merciful. He loved us from eternity. He sent His Son to live a holy life for us and to take all our guilt upon Himself. The Father punished Jesus in our place. He made Him who had no sin to be sin for us. Through the water and Word of Baptism, God planted the seed of hope in our hearts assuring us that our sins are forgiven and we are now at peace with Him. Peter writes at the end of chapter one: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God(1 Peter 1:23 NIV).

II.

The leaves and branches of a plant are alive because they are connected to the main stem. Our hope is living because it is connected to our risen Savior. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead(1 Corinthians 15:20 NIV).

Jesus lives! Our hope draws life from that fact. We know that Jesus is truly God’s Son, just as He said. We know that He has taken away our sin and reconciled us to God. We know that because He lives, we will live too. Our hope is not a plastic and silk imitation. It is the real thing—just as alive as Jesus is.

III.

Our living hope includes all kinds of spiritual blessings, but the heart of that hope is a precious inheritance. We may receive earthly inheritances, but they don’t last. Taxes may eat them up, or they can quickly be spent and disappear. But the inheritance of our living hope is permanent: “incorruptible, undefiled, and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.[v.4]

Our inheritance is to live with Jesus in Heaven forever. It’s guaranteed. Nothing can alter the truth that Jesus paid for all sin, crushed the Devil, and won the victory. God has planted a living hope in our heart and promises to preserve us in faith by His power. No one can snatch us out of His hand. Read Romans 8. Paul writes there: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord(Romans 8:35ff. NIV).

As long as we are connected to our living Savior, our hope will survive and even thrive, no matter what happens here in life. By faith we know that Jesus will return, resurrect the same bodies we have now, and take us home.

IV.

But does Heaven seem far away? Do you get tired of waiting and wondering why Jesus hasn’t come back yet? Would you like some of the joy of Heaven right now? Look again at what our text says. We don’t have to wait. Joy is a growing, living reality through Jesus, “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.[v.8]

Peter’s first readers were being pressured and persecuted because of their faith. What was there to be joyful about? We too have burdens in life. What is there to celebrate when a loved one is in the hospital or when the obligations of working, paying bills, and taking care of life’s necessities become more difficult and complicated? Can we be joyful about being followers of Jesus when that means putting up with the critical and cruel comments of others?

We can have joy even then, for Peter says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.[vv.6-7]

We still have joyful hope, first of all, because these trials are only for a limited time. The longest they can last is a lifetime on earth. 75, 85, or 90 years can seem like a long time from our perspective, but not from the vantage point of eternity. Then it is just a tiny grain of sand on a vast beach. The apostle Paul endured suffering to a degree which we cannot comprehend. Yet he was not overwhelmed by it. He didn’t end up cynical and bitter. He was joyful. He wrote: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal(2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV).

The troubles of life serve a wholesome purpose in that they test the authenticity of faith. When you hand a store clerk a $50 or $100 bill, she may rub a special marker across it or hold it up to the light to make sure it’s genuine. Trials in life test faith to show whether it is the real thing.

They also serve a refining or purifying purpose. Gold is subjected to very high temperatures to burn off impurities, so that what is left is far better than what was there originally. God uses the trials of life to purify faith. Or think of a plant. You may start tomatoes indoors. But if they are to grow well outside in the garden, the plants have to go through a “hardening off” process in which they are placed outside for gradually increasing amounts of time. The wind and direct sunlight toughen the plants and make them able to withstand any weather which may come. God does that with our faith. “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope(Romans 5:3-4 NIV).

The Lord knows exactly what is needed and will never allow more trials than are good for us. Along with them He will provide all the help and strength we need to see them through. The end result is a sturdy joy strong enough to endure all the stresses of this life. It is an attitude of mind and heart that is certain of victory no matter how dark the days.

What is there to be fearful of? We are full fledged citizens of Heaven! Our sins are forgiven. We have peace with God. We have a living Savior protecting us and directing our lives. We have a mission to carry out in His name. We know that even the heartaches of life will serve for our good and that death leads to life for Jesus’ tomb is empty.

As we look ahead to the next few months, many of us will be spending time outdoors caring for our gardens and plants around our homes. It’s worth doing. It’s rewarding to plant a seed and watch a fragile life sprout and grow stronger. Far more miraculous is the living hope planted in our hearts by God’s mercy, made alive through Christ’s resurrection, and reserved safe in Heaven even while we experience the joy of salvation now. Don’t neglect that hope. Cherish it. Water and nourish it with the life-sustaining Gospel Word and Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. May the Lord cause that amazing spiritual plant to grow, thrive, and blossom with holy joy today and forever! Amen.

Jesus, my Redeemer lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage then be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?

(TLH 206:2)

—Pastor Michael M. Eichstadt


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