by Roger McCay
15 December 2019
Sermon Passage: 1 Peter 1:6-9
Link to Audio Version
Did you know the loss of hope can kill you?
It is told of the experience of Maj F.J. Harold Kushner, an Army Medical Officer held by the Vietcong for five and a half years:
Kushner got to know one POW, a tough young marine who had already survived two years of prison camp life. The marine was a model POW, keeping himself in good health and leading the camp’s thought-reform group, mainly because the camp commander had promised to release those who cooperated. As time passed, however, the marine gradually discerned that his captors had lied to him. When the full realization of this fact sunk in, he became a zombie, refusing all work and rejecting all offers of food and encouragement. He simply lay on his cot sucking his thumb. In a matter of weeks he was dead. 
When he gave up hope. When he believed there was no hope for release—nothing he could do. He died.
There are so many in this world that experience suffering without hope. They are miserable. They have no concept of joy. They can see no escape from this world of torment.
Such is not the case for a disciple of Christ. Indeed, hope is a defining characteristic of Christians. Where there is hope, there is life. We hope in Christ. We have life in Christ. We have life in Christ. We hope in Christ. Consequently, in the midst of hardship, we can find true joy in Christ.
This concept is something that just does not compute in the world. The idea that we can rejoice, even in the midst of suffering various trials just makes no sense. But, they don’t have Jesus.
Peter explains this concept in our passage today (why we can have joy right now, even if we are suffering, due to our hope in Christ). Peter addresses the grief, purpose and joy of something we all know a bit about… trials of various sorts.
So, first, the Grief of Trials.
Now, you may remember from the sermon last week in Phil. 4:1-7 how we are commanded to rejoice always. We can do that because our rejoicing is not rooted in our happiness, which is fleeting. Rather it is rooted in the Lord, who is eternal, whose promises never fail, in whom we put our hope, and in whom we find our salvation. In the Lord, our perspective is moved from our present circumstances (with, perhaps, some idea of living a few years into the future) to the perspective of immortal beings who will live for an eternity in paradise. As we saw in 1 Peter 1:3-5, our hope is a living hope grounded upon the living all-powerful Lord God. It is an eternal inheritance worthy of God the Father who has bequeathed it to his children. It is also guaranteed by the Lord himself, who keeps it secure for us where no-one can snatch it away. So, as our joy is grounded in the Lord, we are enabled to rejoice no matter how difficult our circumstances, no matter what trials we are facing.
Thus, Peter says in v. 6, “in this you rejoice,” which can also be translated, “in whom you rejoice.” It is in the Lord God himself and the hope we have in him that we can rejoice. Peter, who is writing to a persecuted church, and has personally experienced the difficulties of persecution, then continues, saying you can rejoice, even “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
Various trials are just that, various. Lots of scholars try to narrow down the various (perhaps, down to just persecutions), but why do that? Peter says “various.” That’s an all-inclusive adjective upon which, in the immediate context, he puts no limits. So, trials can include temptations, persecutions, suffering, physical ailments, sickness, physical and mental disabilities, grief at the loss of a loved one, dealing with poverty, dealing with all the problems associated with being elect sojourners (exiles) in a world that is not our home (1 Peter 1:1); and whatever trials you want to include. These trials are real; they are grievous. They involve pain and suffering that hurts and haunts.
However, no trial can ever be anything other than for just “a little while.” This is from God’s perspective, of course. Our trials may last for 40 or more years or until the day we die. Even so, that is only “a little while”—not even an eyeblink in eternity. Hence, as Paul says in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” In the meantime, we deal with the struggles and pains inherent in a fallen world.