Third Sunday in Advent December 13, 2020
1 Peter 1:7-13
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
63, 62, 76, 97
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
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. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
The Apostle Peter here speaks of genuine faith, that is, real faith. But what is genuine faith? Is it faith that is sincerely held, not mere pretense or empty words? It is surely is that, but it is also more than that. Genuine faith is belief in something that is itself genuine and real. People may have sincere faith in many things, but if their faith is in something that is false or foolish then it is of no value.
The story is told of a high school football team that hadn’t been doing well. For several seasons they had lost all of their games. In an attempt to get them to do better, a well-to-do man in their town offered to give each member of the team a new car if they had a winning season. At this offer the team became highly motivated and worked hard. By the time of their first game they had faith in themselves; they really believed that they could beat the opposing team. But they still lost that game. They had sincere faith in themselves, but that wasn’t enough; they didn’t have the ability, the skill, or the strength to justify that faith.
When Peter talks about genuine faith here He means faith in Jesus Christ. That is genuine faith because Jesus is genuine. Faith in Him is real faith because He really is the Son of God. Jesus really is the Savior who came down from heaven. Jesus really did take away our sins when He died for us. Jesus really did rise from the dead on third day and ascend into heaven and He really will come again as He has promised. This is why faith in Jesus Christ is genuine faith. This is why it is—as Peter describes it here—more precious than gold.
Faith in Jesus Christ—because it is faith in something real—yields great benefits. This is true not only for the future but also here and now. Faith in Christ is a great help to us for our daily living.
This doesn’t always seem to be true because here and now our faith is tested, sometimes severely tested. Peter here speaks of our faith as being “tested by fire.” This is part of the picture of our faith as gold. If something is made of real gold, it can stand up under testing by fire. Fire isn’t going to destroy gold. So also, since our faith in Jesus is genuine, it can stand to be tested.
What is it that tests our faith in Jesus? For one thing, it is the fact that we do not see Him. Peter refers to this feature of Christian faith twice in our text. Because we don’t see Jesus we have to endure the taunts of the unbelieving world that we are putting our faith in something that isn’t real. “Where is your Jesus?” the unbelievers ask us, especially when we have trouble in our life. If Jesus is real, if He has real power, then why doesn’t He just take away our troubles or spare us from them altogether. Because we do not see Jesus, doubts also arise in our own hearts because of our sinful nature. Our faith in Him is not always strong, yet even a weak, struggling faith in Jesus is still genuine faith. This is so because Jesus the object of our faith is always strong, even though we may feel weak.
Because our faith is genuine it withstands this testing. Jesus is real. His incarnation, His life, His passion and death, and His resurrection are real. Though we don’t see Him with our eyes we do find Him, we do have Him in the word. We find Him in the Old Testament. Peter here speaks of the prophets who wrote of Christ long before His birth in Bethlehem. The Holy Spirit revealed Christ to men such as Moses, David, and Isaiah. Peter here even calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Christ,” for the Holy Spirit’s work is to reveal Christ. Even now this is the Spirit’s work; He reveals Christ to us as we hear and read and study the Scriptures. He reveals Christ to our very hearts and leads us to believe in Him so that we have Him as our Lord and Savior. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit—because He is God the Holy Spirit—was able to testify beforehand of “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow.” He foretold the passion of Christ in most amazing detail in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 and other places. He foretold the resurrection of Christ in Psalm 16 (compare with Acts 2:29-32). When we compare what the prophets wrote of Jesus with what we learn of Him in the four Gospels, we find Him to be the fulfillment of all that the prophets wrote.
Jesus is real and genuine. We meet Him and get to know Him in the four Gospels. If we doubt Him we need only go back to the Word, there we will always find Him. When we read of Him and hear Him speak in the Word, the Holy Spirit renews and strengthens our faith in Him. We find Him to be real also in our own experience. We call to Him for help in our troubles and He answers us. He is true to His promises. He sends us the help that we need.
Even now faith in Christ yields great benefits. Peter speaks of them here. He says that though we haven’t seen Jesus we love Him. He says that though we do not see Him, yet believing, we “rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” There is real joy in knowing and believing in Jesus; it’s a joy so great that words fail us for expressing it. He’s a true Friend who is always by our side. He is always available to us in the Word; we have only to look for Him there. He is always available to us in prayer; we have only to ask and it will be given to us, as He promises. Faith in Jesus sustains us even in the worst and hardest of times because Jesus is above this world. In all our troubles we hear Him assuring us, “In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He isn’t subject to the limitations of this world or of sinful human nature. And our joy in Him is “full of glory”; it is inspired by the heavenly glory of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.
Our present situation in which we do not see Jesus will not continue forever. He will come again, and then “every eye will see Him.” (Revelation 1:7) Then also our faith in Christ will be seen to have been genuine. It will be “found,” Peter says, “to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Christ.” Then Jesus will acknowledge all who had faith in Him before God the Father (Matthew 10:32) and before the holy angels (Luke 12:8). Then the Father will honor all who had faith in His Son Jesus (John 12:26).
Peter also says that when Christ comes again we will receive “the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” Full salvation is the outcome of the faith that we hold in our hearts now. We will be delivered from every evil and from death itself. We will live forever in perfect joy with God.
With what Peter says here we can see how genuine faith in Christ is more precious than gold. Gold, as durable and lasting as it appears to be, will perish. In this world it can be taken from us. In death we will most certainly leave it behind. And at the end of time it will perish with the rest of the world when “the elements will melt with fervent heat.” (2 Peter 3:10, 12) Genuine faith is more precious, for it will endure and will yield the fruit of eternal life.
With all this in mind, let’s do what the apostle counsels here: “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober.” The girding up of the loins is a graphic picture; it is the tying of the belt around the waist, the preparation for activity, for work, for traveling. Our life is a journey with eternal life as our destination. Every day we set out on another day’s march. That’s important to keep in mind, every day. Let us be serious about our life, not careless or frivolous. Let us be careful to maintain this faith that is more precious than gold—by hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament. And then “rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 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.