Sermon: A Reason to Praise God, Even in Hard Times

Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Epistle Lesson, First Sunday After Easter (aka, the Second Sunday of Easter), Series A
Listen to the sermon here!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter begins our Epistle by praising God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (v. 1). It certainly isn’t difficult to praise God when things are going well. When life is turning up daisies we will often bless, thank, and praise God readily enough. But, over the past several weeks things have not been going well for many people. Anxiety and fear are rampant because the world is changing before our very eyes in ways that we didn’t anticipate and don’t clearly understand and, for the most part, are out of our control. So, when things are not going so well, do we still praise God? If you or someone you love has a serious health issue, do you find yourself blessing God? If you are out of work or having a hard time on the job, do you still find it easy to give thanks to your Creator? Is God still being praised in your life when the money runs out? Often enough, life becomes hard, and that is when it can become much more difficult to thank and praise God.

St. Peter the Apostle wrote a letter of encouragement to Christians who were experiencing hard times. It would seem that their trials had not as yet taken the form of physical persecution. Instead, on top of the daily trails of life, they were experiencing social scorn, shaming, slander, and harassment. It is clear that their suffering was challenging their faith. Peter claims that despite our trials, we still have reason to praise God. Since God has shown mercy towards us in the past, have have hope for future, even during hard times in the present.

God’s Past Mercy Towards Us

So, Peter starts out by praising God. May God be blessed, he says, because of his mercy. We can praise God even during hard times because God has shown mercy to us. This is why we give praise to the Lord. Purely out of his own goodness and mercy he gave us life and hope, and not because we earned or deserved it. This mercy is anchored in past events. The Father sent his only begotten Son to die for our sins and then raised him from the dead. We praise God because Jesus did not stay dead on Easter morning.

Christ’s resurrection is a reason for us to praise God, not just because Jesus lives, but because, by God’s mercy, we live. Through the resurrection of Christ, we have been born anew. From the moment of our conception, we were stone cold dead. Our hearts continued beating, and our lungs breathed oxygen, but we were, in fact, spiritually dead. A dead person can do nothing.  He does not do good works.  He does not make decisions.  He is merely a corpse, and there’s nothing he can do to change his condition. Being spiritually dead means that “by our own reason or strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him,” (Sm. Cat. III.2). So, when we speak of being born again, we are talking about the change that God’s grace works in us. We are given the gift of faith. We are brought from spiritual death to life. God has given life, not only to Jesus, but to us.

We can see what mercy here means because, no matter who our actual parents were, God himself has become our father. God fathered us by the resurrection of his Son. What God did for Jesus on the first Easter he has begun to do for you, through Word joined to the Water. In giving life to Christ, God gave new life to all those who are united to Jesus in Holy Baptism. This isn’t just an external thing, but it is a transformation which happens in the very depth of your being. A new life has come to birth within us, because the new creation has already begun in the resurrection from the dead of Jesus. That’s why we say that Baptism is “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5). So, we can praise God because, as Christians, we have experienced God’s mercy in our own past when we were given the new birth in Holy Baptism.

Our Future Inheritance Preserved For Us

God promises that in the future, he will make all things new, and he has already begun with us. Just as God gave the land to Israel as an inheritance, so God has promised that a New Creation is our inheritance. There is a new world, a new heavens and a new earth coming. The resurrection of Jesus means that the new creation has already started. The great day of the renewal and recreation of all things has already begun. For those united to Christ and his death and resurrection by Holy Baptism, that day of new creation, has already dawned. We are “his new creation, by by water and the word.” (The Church’s One Foundation, TLH 473:1).

Our inheritance will be revealed at the last day, but God has it ready for us now. It is finished. Nothing need be added to God’s preparation. The salvation that God has got ready does not need a few final touches from us, nor are we called to serve as consultants in designing God’s plan. God’s salvation, finished, perfect, and unchangeable, is kept for us by God himself. We have “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal,” (Mt 6:20). It’s kept safe in Heaven so that, one day the curtain may be drawn back; and then our earth will be transformed and permeated with God’s presence, love and mercy.

We can praise God even during hard times because God our inheritance is kept safe for us in heaven. God has, through the resurrection of Jesus, already started his new creation. At the moment it is being kept safe, out of sight, in Heaven. Some people may worry that their inheritance will be eaten up by taxes, lost through speculation, or rendered worthless by the time they receive it. This can not happen in our case. Salvation won’t rot or decay. It will never become impure. It will never wither or become old. The New Creation which the baptised will inherit is totally permanent. Nothing in this world will ever effect it. Not catastrophes, nor pandemics, nor human sin, nor decay can affect it. You can praise God because nothing will take away your hope for salvation because it is safe and secure with God, under lock and key in heaven!

In the meantime, we are Guarded by God

An inheritance is no good to the heir unless he lives to enjoy it. If that new creation is kept safe for us, that means we are being kept safe for it. We can praise God even during hard times because God put us under guard through faith until the great day when our salvation will be revealed. It is as if God has us in protective custody. God has put us under arrest, as it were, to keep us safe until all is completed. But what about those hard times? Sometimes it may look like God is doing a very good job keeping you safe!

Trials and hardship should not surprise us, or cause us to doubt God’s faithfulness. In fact, it is God who says that it’s necessary for us to undergo trials. We should actually be glad for them. The world watches to see if Christians are truly different. It’s in adversity that the difference ought to be most apparent. God has promised that he will guard and keep us during hard times. Peter’s point is that when gold has been smelted through a refining fire it burns up all that’s not genuine. Our faith is being smelted in the fire of various kinds of trials in this life. Fire does not destroy gold: it only removes impurities. God sends trials to strengthen our trust in him so that our faith will not fail.

The trials and hardship we go through refine and purify our faith. Why faith? Because faith is not about what we do, but what God has done for us in Christ. Faith is trust in God’s mercy. Enduring hard times will show us how much we appreciate God’s past work in our lives and how much we trust his promises for the future. The trials we experience or only but for a moment, but by tenaciously clinging to God’s promises come hell our high water, we are guarded. Our trials keep us trusting; they burn away our self-confidence and drive us to our Saviour. The fires of sickness, financial ruin, persecution or death will not reduce our faith to ashes. We have God’s promise that no trial will be more than we can bear (1 Co 10:13), because the God who works for us also works in us. We are guarded through faith. God has given us faith. God has given us a living hope through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of his Son. God uses trials and hardship to purify our trust in his promises, and keep us firmly connected to Jesus through whatever trials come our way. How can we respond except with a love for him and for all that he loves?

We praise God for what he has done for us in the past: Jesus died and rose for us! Through Holy Baptism, God gave us the new birth and we experience a taste of resurrection life here and now. We praise God for what he surely will do in the Future. Our inheritance is something we can always count on, always have hope in, something we can always praise God for! In the present, despite anything that may befall, God places us under guard through our trust in his promises given to us in Christ Jesus. However much we may be suffering, we have good reasons to praise God for his immeasurable mercy towards us.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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