by Roger McCay
1 December 2019
Sermon Passage: 1 Peter 1:3-5
Link to Audio Version
It is told of a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital, who received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. She took the boy’s name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn’t fall behind the others.” It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got outside the boy’s room that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn’t just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.” The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” Before she could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. We’ve been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. … It’s as though he’s decided to live.” The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
There are different kinds of hopes. There is the faint hope, like the 80-yard hail-Mary in a football game with your team down by four with one second on the clock. Then there is hope like that of the boy in the burn unit, a hope of the middling variety, yet a hope powerful enough for the boy to have a complete turn-around in his treatment, even restoring his life. Thirdly, there is the hope grounded in the character of a person.
Now, putting our hope in a person can carry with it all sorts of doubts. This is because we know people. Such hope is necessarily limited by the person’s character, power, reliability, and work.
So it is that Christians can sometimes be insecure in their hope. They wonder if they really are saved. They wonder if when they die they will find themselves in hell; or whether they really will see Jesus; or if heaven will be long and boring; or if they will get a mansion; or if there will just be nothing, as they would just be dead. This insecure hope is due to the focus of one’s hope. If our hope is based on our own character, power, reliability, and work (and I’d include a misunderstanding of the nature of faith in the category of work), then this hope is no hope at all due to our sin, not even a faint hope. In fact, that hope, which is no hope, is the base of all other religions, and has nothing to do with Christ. That hope is a dead hope.
In utter contrast to such a false, dead hope, Christians rightly base our hope on God’s qualities. Hence, in the Lord, we have a living hope, finding ourselves utterly secure. In 1 Peter 1:1-2, Peter has already shown how our hope is based on the Lord’s election and foreknowledge, irrevocably grounding our identity in God. “The Lord is our God, and we are his people.”
Peter now elaborates on our salvation, this living hope, praising the Lord who has secured our immortality and the bountiful inheritance we will enjoy for all eternity. Peter begins with a praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” He proceeds to then glorify the Lord due to three aspects of hope: our future hope, which we’ll look at today; then our present hope, and finally our promised hope (which we’ll examine later).
What we see is that our future hope is secured in the Father’s character, his great mercy. This attribute of God is nothing new, and is expounded upon throughout the Scriptures. In the OT, the word for mercy is often translated as lovingkindness, or steadfast love. It is tied in with the Lord’s very name and covenant making deeds. Thus, in Ex. 20:6 and Deut. 5:10, the Lord is identified as the God “who shows mercy to thousands who love him, and keep his commandments.” Then in Ex. 34:6, the Lord identifies himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”