The Second Sunday of Easter April 15, 2012
1 Peter 1:3-9
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
195, 203, 201, 207(4-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.
Dear fellow-saints through Christ Jesus:
Are there any “sure things” in life? Some would say, “yes—death and taxes.” Neither of these certainties make us very excited, though, do they? As for finding other sure things, they can be hard to pin down. Your job might seem secure—until you lose it. Your health might seem good—until you get sick. You might have a good circle of friends—until you have a falling-out with them. Times change. Life changes. And “sure things” are hard to come by.
The word that jumps out at us in today’s Scripture lesson is inheritance. The Apostle Peter says that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we have been given a new birth into an inheritance. I. It will not perish, spoil, or fade away, and II. It remains certain even through trials.
How would an inheritance rank on a list of “sure things”? Some people think and act like an inheritance is something they ought to be able to count on. After all, if we are anticipating an inheritance, it’s a pretty sure thing that the benefactor is going to die some day. But in reality, earthly inheritances are not always so certain. For one thing, you may be an heir to someone who doesn’t have any material wealth to pass on to you. Or you may think you are going to inherit something only to find out that what you thought you were going to get has already been spent or given to someone else. Just ask Esau in the Old Testament if an inheritance is always a sure thing. He lost his inheritance to his brother Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:29-34). Then there is the fact that you have no real right to an inheritance anyway, that’s why it’s called an inheritance—you did nothing to earn or deserve it.
Suppose even that you have actually inherited something of earthly value. Does that inheritance last forever? Is it a sure thing? Of course not. If it is money, it will eventually be spent, perhaps even wasted. If it is goods, they will wear out. The kinds of inheritances that are so commonly given and received are not “sure things.” They may not even last a lifetime.
The inheritance that Peter talks about, however, is different because it is not an earthly inheritance. It is not money or property. It is an inheritance that is “reserved in heaven for you.” [v.4] We are talking about everlasting life with Jesus. That is the great inheritance, namely, that you will be raised from the dead at the Last Day when the last trumpet shall sound and you will inherit a place in the new earth, the home of righteousness, as Scripture calls it. The Bible says: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54 NIV).
We have been given access to this inheritance because we have been given a new birth. It is not a new birth in a physical sense—we have not come out of our mother’s womb more than once—but a new birth in a spiritual way. We have been brought from spiritual darkness into spiritual light. We have been brought from unbelief to faith. Once we did not trust in Jesus nor in His forgiveness and the salvation He gives, but now that has changed. We have been born again. We are Christians. Now we are heirs who possess the sure hope of everlasting life (cf. Titus3:7). Now we are in line to receive the inheritance.
But is it a sure thing? It is, because our new birth into this inheritance is founded on a sure thing—the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We would have no new birth and, therefore, no hope of receiving the inheritance if Jesus had not risen from the dead. In fact, if He had not been raised, we would still be in our sins. His return to life means that the sacrifice He made on the cross when He carried the guilt of the world has been accepted. God the Father has said, “Yes, my dear Son, you have suffered the punishment for the sins of all. It is enough now. The debt is paid. Therefore arise!” Romans 4:25 puts it this way: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (NIV). He was raised from the dead to declare us “not guilty” and win for us life in Heaven.
The heavenly inheritance that is guaranteed to all believers is also guaranteed not to pass away like an earthly inheritance might. Peter says that it is “incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away.” [v.4]
This is a great comfort to us who are accustomed to a life in which everything perishes, spoils, and fades. The flowers we see this spring will run their course. Some of them appear and disappear in a very short time, only a couple of weeks. For ourselves too it is true enough that “we don’t get any younger.” Our bodies fade with time and age. The things that we own also lose their luster, winding up in junkyards and garbage bins. But this remains for you and for every Christian: your inheritance in Heaven.
For you, though your life may have its ups and downs, its triumphs and its setbacks, Heaven always stands. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, so you will be raised to life forever. When the Lord said, “goodbye,” to His disciples on the evening He was arrested, He left them with the same comfort. He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3 NIV).
The Devil tries in many ways and with many temptations to get you to think that your heavenly inheritance is not so certain as it actually is. As He whispered to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that?” (cf. Genesis 3:1) he whispers to us as well, “Did God really say that those who trust in Jesus would receive eternal life? Isn’t that just an imaginary hope?”
The Christians to whom the Apostle Peter wrote his letter were living in the days of the wicked Roman emperors just several decades after the resurrection of Christ. The Christians were openly persecuted and faced intense pressures to deny their faith. Surely some might have wondered at times if their heavenly inheritance was just a dream or if it was reality. It may be that we have found ourselves doubting when pressures are applied to us.
It is at those times we are invited to remember that we will inherit the crown of glory that will not perish, spoil, or fade away. Peter puts it this way: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials…” [v.6]
Hardships in our lives will come, just as they have come to every generation of Christians before us. Sometimes these hardships will even be a direct result of our faith in Christ or our taking a stand for the truth. This may come as a loss of friends, disagreements with others, and other ways. But no hardship of any kind needs to diminish the joy we have in our heavenly inheritance or the certainty that we will receive it.
We are, in fact, “kept by God’s power” [v.5] so that the trials through which we must pass do not become greater than we can bear. The words of Peter call mind the life of Job in the Old Testament and the way in which he was shielded and kept by God’s power.
Job faced one tragedy after another, from the loss of his family to the loss of his health, but God did not allow Satan to do anything to Job beyond what He had decided would be good for the strengthening of Job’s faith. Through it all Job was comforted by the certainty of His heavenly inheritance saying: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 NIV). You know too that your Redeemer lives, is risen from the dead, and guarantees your life in Heaven.
Thus the trials we face are not things that break us down and crush us, but rather are refining moments. Like gold which must be heated to high temperatures to burn off the impurities, so our faith, which is much more precious than gold, is also heated to high temperatures so that doubts, misgivings, apprehensions, and things like that which pollute it can be purged away. God brings us through the fire, shielding us by His power.
“The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume that thy gold to refine.”
Christ is risen from the dead and has given us new birth into a sure and certain inheritance in Heaven. This is Peter’s message to us today. The inheritance will not perish or fade away. Nor can it be shaken by the troubles and difficulties we must endure in this life. Be glad in this! The Apostle even says: “greatly rejoice.” [v.6] You have been made children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. The inheritance is yours!
Even though you cannot see Him now, the inheritance is yours. Even though the resurrection of all the dead has not yet taken place, the inheritance is yours, for you are receiving the goal of your faith even now—the salvation of your souls. The work has been done. Jesus has risen from the grave to seal your forgiveness and you have been given a new birth into a life that will never end. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.