Gospel Longing – 1 Peter 1:10-12

by Roger McCay
12 January 2020
Sermon Passage: 1 Peter 1:10-12
Link to Audio Version

Whenever studying the Scriptures, it is good to bear-in-mind the answer to the question, “What is the author’s purpose in writing?” Peter, in his first epistle, doesn’t keep us guessing on this matter. He says in 5:12, “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”

So, as we study Peter’s letter, we know he is “exhorting and declaring” what is “the true grace of God.” On this truth we have a firm foundation upon which to stand. Because of this truth, we are able to stand firm in God’s grace, no matter what might come.

Peter wrote to a persecuted church in order to encourage them in the midst of their tribulations. His words were not platitudes. Due to hard gospel realities, the church could really and truly find joy even in the midst of suffering.

Starting off his epistle, Peter reminds the recipients of who they are—elect sojourners, exiles in this world, citizens in the Kingdom of God. This world is not their home. They are God’s people. God has called them as his own. They have been born again (what we call the first resurrection), having been brought from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. They have a living hope in Christ, who was resurrected from the dead, and who rules in Heaven over the heavens and the Earth. They are adopted children of God the Father, with an eternal inheritance worthy of him and secured in heaven by the power of God.

Despite all this, paradoxically, it is necessary, at times, for them to suffer in the world. Yet, even in their suffering, they possess joy—joy in God and the truth of his grace.

Suffering is ultimately only ever a temporary thing. Suffering even serves a purpose. It tests the genuineness of their faith. It purifies and refines their faith, which is more precious to God than gold. Christians come out of suffering better than they were before, empowered by God’s Spirit to do his will, confident in the Lord, and confident that their faith is sure.

Through it all, Christ Jesus is the love of their life, even though they have never seen him. In his love expressed to them on the cross, he has saved them, and they long for his return. Standing firm in their faith in Christ, they rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory no matter what life’s circumstances might be (pain or bliss). In Christ, in his blessings, they find the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls.

If you are a Christian, a disciple of Christ, these words are about who you are, your hope in Christ, and the grace of God in which you can stand firm.

Peter, after outlining these wonderful truths, rather than moving immediately on to the hortatory aspects of his message, digresses a bit in verses 10-12. Tim Keller helps explain why:

He [Peter] anticipates somebody saying, “Okay, I’m a Christian, I think. At least I believe in all this salvation, and I believe in Jesus and that he died for me in all that, but I’m not rejoicing in my trials. I’m not moving on through my suffering, feeling like I’m being purified like pure gold. Not at all. I’m not rejoicing in my sufferings. What’s wrong with me?” [1]

Peter’s answer to this?

“The reason a lot of us who do believe in the good news, in the gospel, still are not able to handle our troubles is we do not know how to look into the gospel.”[2]

In order to find that inexpressible joy in suffering, we need to look into the truths of the gospel—like the prophets and the angels. But most people don’t. Most Christians don’t. Most only read the Bible sporadically.

People say, “Well, I know the facts of the gospel, and all the elements the Apostles Creed. I get that Jesus died for me, and I trust in Jesus to save me. What more is there to really know?” Such a question betrays the problem. If you have ever looked longingly into the gospel, you wouldn’t ask such a question.

It’s like how when you want to teach kids something. Perhaps they’ve grown up in the church and heard the Bible stories in Sunday School. So, they know a bit about the Bible, the gospel, and about Jesus. You sit down with them, oh, around sixth-grade or so, and you want to explain a parable to them, perhaps from Mark 4. Yet, it’s typical, as Keller puts it, for the kids who have been in church for a while to say, “I already know that. I know Jesus died for my sins. What are you telling me about that for? Everybody knows that.”

You ever tried to teach a child something and they insist, I know, I know, I know? And, you look at them and think, “No, you really don’t know”?

Understanding the gospel is more than just head knowledge. It’s more than just grasping the basic facts of things. To really understand the gospel, you have to inquire into it; you have to longingly gaze upon it; you have to dig into it; you have to turn over every stone you can find; you have to interrogate it; you have to wrestle with it; you have to be obsessed with it, studying it and pondering it all the time—like the prophets and the angels.

Peter is saying, “If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to handle your troubles. You won’t feel that joy when you face various trials.”

Peter, here, also gives us a key to understanding the Scriptures. It’s all about Jesus. Jesus is the key. And with that key, the Scriptures are unlocked for you. A certain joy becomes accessible. The Spirit of God works with and through his Scriptures, which he inspired, to enable us.

Look at vv. 10-11. Here, Peter tells us how:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

The prophets longingly delved into God’s revelation of the gospel. They prophesied about the grace that is ours and diligently inquired into what the gospel was all about. They desperately wanted to know who the Messiah would be, when he would come along, and all the circumstances of his coming. But, the Spirit of Jesus, who inspired the entire Old Testament and the prophets, only gave them a little bit of knowledge. The Lord, in his progressive revelation, revealed what was enough for them at the time. They saw glimpses of what was to come in Jesus. They knew he was coming. They knew he would suffer, and they knew he would be glorified. They also found joy in him.

The prophets were, for the most part, terribly persecuted. They suffered greatly for the gospel (Matt. 5:12; Acts 7:52). Despite this, even though they lamented, they could also rejoice. They were enabled to handle various trials through the power of the Spirit and the Word that had been revealed to them. They could say with Habakkuk, who wrote in chapter 3, vv. 17-19:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

The whole Old Testament is full of Jesus. Every verse is about him, whether the law, the historical books, the wisdom books, or the prophets—every single verse. This was the point Jesus made on the road to Emmaus. This was the point he made when he said he came to fulfill the law. This is what Peter is emphasizing here. This person you love, who you long for, is found in his Word. It was his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who spoke through the prophets. If you love him, if you long for his voice, you will find it in the Old Testament. You will find him. You will get to know him better. You will come to better understand his sufferings and glory. And you will come to understand and rejoice in your own sufferings now and in the glory that is to come. What a wonderful thing we have in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

Yet, people read their Bibles sporadically.

Take a look at v. 12.

12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,

The Spirit of Christ, in his revelations to the prophets of old, let them know that there was more to come. They knew they had truth. They knew their message to the people from God was for them in their time. They also knew the message was looking to the future One who would come, who would suffer and be glorified. They knew that their labor for the Lord would find its ultimate fruition in the one by whose Spirit they prophesied. They wouldn’t see the Christ in their life. But they knew all the truth they proclaimed would help the people in the future, who would come to recognize him by their words and understand his sufferings and his glory.

It came to pass that the apostles took the mission from the prophets after Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation. We have been studying this battle-hand-off (so to speak), as we have been working through Acts over the past few months. We’ve seen how Peter repeatedly appealed to the prophets to support his proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what he’s saying here. The present message of the gospel and the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ were the objects of interest for the entire OT.

While the prophets never got the full picture in their life, the good news they longed for has now been revealed and is proclaimed—who the Christ is (Jesus), the time of his coming, along with his sufferings and subsequent glories.

And that’s the thing about the gospel. It is a historical fact. It’s not a bunch of nice philosophies or teachings of wisdom. It’s not a body of ethics. It’s not moralistic teachings. It’s not a bunch of rules. It’s not a five-step model of dealing with grief. The gospel is a report on what God did historically in this world. It is the good news of Jesus Christ: his coming; his birth; his life; his teachings; his death on the cross; his resurrection; his ministering after his resurrection; and his ascension to heaven, from where he now rules at the right hand of God. These things are testified to by witnesses who knew him, his apostles. The gospel is their report on who the Christ is, the time of his coming, his sufferings, and his subsequent glory.

All the other things (wisdom, ethics, morality, how to deal with various trials, and so on and so forth) spin off of these concrete historical events. For, they would have no substance without the historical reality of Christ’s work.

The revelation of Christ’s work is found in the revelations of the OT and the NT. And it is by his work and his grace that we are saved through faith in him. The mysteries of the Christ have been revealed.

Yet, people read their Bibles sporadically.

At the end of v. 12, Peter refers to these things of the gospel as the “things into which angels long to look.” It is not that the angels don’t know the facts of the gospel. The terminology here has the sense of a gazing with longing, an obsessiveness, the beholding of a wonder of which they cannot get enough. It is an ongoing continual process for them. The sense is the gospel is so wonderful, so mind-blowingly awesome, that the angels never tire of it and constantly seek to bask in its glory.

The gospel is so much more than just a body of knowledge that can be memorized, and so memorized, completely understood. Keller puts it this way, “It’s not just a body of information, but it’s truly a kaleidoscope of insights, endless insights into how it applies to you, endless insights into the multidimensional richness of it, endless insights into what God has done.”[3]

This is why when we study scripture passages that we’ve studied before, we are constantly amazed at how much more we get out of them. Then we study them again, and we get even more. Lightbulbs are constantly popping on in our head. Insights come to us that leave us in awe and wonder. This never ends, in our studies. The wonders never cease.

And when, like the angels, we gaze continually and longingly into the Scriptures, we find that when various trials come, we can rejoice; we do rejoice. This is the work of God in us through his Word and Spirit.

Yet, people read their Bibles sporadically.

Keller says, “We think we know it.” However,

If you know it, why are you living the way you are? If you know it, why are your troubles overthrowing you? If you know it, why do you still take your identity from what people say about you? Why do you take your identity from what’s happening, your accomplishments? Why do you take your identity from your dress size? Why? … if you really know the gospel? You don’t know it.[4]

The prophets, the apostles, and the angels, all knew the bottomlessness of the gospel. Do you know it? That Bible you hold in your hand, do you take it for granted?

Now, while people generally read their Bible sporadically, there are those who read it every day and who diligently study it. I know quite a few folks who do. If this is you, that is great! Read and study all you can. Only good can come from such a practice.

However, both corporate and private studies are necessary. To most effectively delve into and behold the wonders of the Word of God, it is necessary to benefit from the Spiritual gifts of other Christians, who bring discernment, wisdom, knowledge, and insights to the study of the Word. Even more, your private studies also allow you to contribute to such studies, benefiting the whole body and not just yourself.

My friends, you have opportunities to gaze upon the wonders of the gospel here at MPC. We are studying the whole Bible, both Old and New Testament in the various studies currently underway. Despite this, only a fraction of this congregation takes advantage of these opportunities.

Be adventurous. Come to Sunday School. Be daring. Come to Evening Worship. You will never ever regret it. And, if you want to be really heroic, volunteer to lead or facilitate a Bible study, teach a Sunday School, or help with the youth. You learn and come to understand more when preparing to teach and while teaching.

Let us faithfully and regularly read and study the Bible, both together and in private. Let us meditate on the Scriptures. Let us find and take advantage of every opportunity to gaze into the wonders of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us delve deeply into the whole Word of God, for the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, is revealed in them.

Then, when those various trials come (temptations, suffering, what have you) … when they come, you will be ready, enabled to stand firm in the grace of God, rejoicing in Christ.

Because the whole of Scripture reveals the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians must diligently study it from cover to cover.


[1] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013), “What is the Bible,” sermon on 1 Peter 1:10-12, preached on 10 October 1993.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.