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You know, God has a funny way of giving us his gifts. If God gives us a good gift, he’s not going to let it go to waste, or let it sit on the shelf and collect dust. God is going to put that gift to work, drive it home, and make it sink in.
Take the Christians Peter was writing to in his first letter. God gave them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that Jesus died and was buried, but has been raised victorious over death and will never die again. Jesus has death behind him once and for all. And everyone who is joined to Jesus has the promise that we will be raised with him, that death will not have the last word with us, but that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised from the dead to new and perfect life when he returns.
God gave them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And what happens to them? They’re persecuted for it! They lose their families and friends over it. They are maligned and slandered over it. They are threatened and probably even physically assaulted for it.
These Christians lived in what today is Turkey. At the time it was a Roman province. And at the time they had something called the Peace of Rome. Rome promised peace and prosperity so long as you played by Roman rules. And that included the demand to worship Caesar as Lord. So when these Christians heard the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead, making him Lord and Christ, that suddenly put them at odds with everyone and everything. To confess that there is one lord, and it’s not Caesar, was to make you an outsider and even a troublemaker. It was the rule of Caesar, after all, that provided the prosperity and the order of the land. And so these early Christians became outcasts. They were maligned as evildoers and troublemakers, even if they lived upright and outstanding lives. They were attacked and physically beaten. They were shunned at home, in their businesses, and by the courts of law. If they were free people before they came to confess that Jesus is Lord, they were now treated like slaves. If they were wealthy before they came to confess Jesus as Lord, they were now considered untouchables in business and trade.
God gives them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and what happens to them? They lose everything for it! They suddenly have to bear a whole load of cross and suffering along with it.
But here’s the thing. This cross and suffering only drove them further and deeper into the good news. This cross and suffering drove them all the more to rejoice, treasure, and hold fast the gift of Jesus’ resurrection. As Peter says, “in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Yes, they may have lost the company and respect of their family and friends. Yes, their reputations may have been damaged and destroyed. Yes, they may have had to face the daily threat of violence and even death. But in the crucified and risen Jesus, they have an inheritance that cannot be taken away by violence, or diminished by slander, or destroyed by death. They have been given a new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. No matter what they stand to lose now, they have a Lord, Jesus Christ who will raise them from the dead and make all things new. In fact, the more and more they stand to lose, the more and more they rejoice in the riches of God’s mercy, who has given them a treasure far greater than anything they stand to lose—the inheritance of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
God gave them the good news that Christ is risen. And rather than let that gift go to waste, or sit on the shelf and collect dust, God put that gift to work, drove it home, and made it sink it. Since they have something that can’t be touched by the violence done against them, the evil things said about them, or the material goods taken from them, the suffering they endure only makes them stronger. It only drives them deeper into and draws them closer to the treasure they have in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The suffering they experience is like a refiner’s fire. It burns away everything they put their hope and trust in, everything they look to for all good and comfort in life, everything they think they can’t live without, and so it purifies their hope and strengthens their souls on what is true and good and lasting—Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.
How does God drive the resurrection of Jesus home? He sends cross and suffering so that we can cling all the more to the hope we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This has been a strange and difficult Easter. This Easter it has been easy to despair over what we don’t have. For one, we didn’t get to celebrate Easter together. Normally we have Easter together. We eat brunch together, we sing hymns together, we receive the Lord’s Supper together. And the more and more faces we see, the more and more people join their voices in the response, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia, the more our faith is strengthened by the faith and joy of fellow Christians. And to be honest, nothing is quite as uplifting as gathering in the early morning hours to sing the good news of Christ’s resurrection and to receive the promise of resurrection and life in His body and blood. But that didn’t happen this year.
For another, social distancing is becoming manageable–we’re finding ways to get by. But it’s heartbreakingly empty at the same time. Technology is great because you can still see the faces and hear the voices of the people you care about. But when it’s all over, it’s hard not to realize that you’ve been staring at a screen this whole time, and you don’t have what really counts: the actual presence of another human being. And let’s face it, technology never quite works the way it should, and someone is always left out. It’s maddening!
When this all started, we had to scramble to figure out how to manage it. And now that we’re kind of figuring it out, it’s hard not to yearn for life as normal. But the thing is, it’s not clear when or if life as normal will ever return. From what I understand, Dr. Fauci said the virus could be seasonal, and who’s to say another virus won’t come down the path in the near future. It’s possible that the normal life we yearn for is never coming back!
This Easter it’s easy to despair over what we don’t have. But look, the cross and suffering we’ve had to bear doesn’t diminish the good news of Jesus’ resurrection; it strengthens it. We may have lost our Easter service together and the traditions we love. We may have lost the company of our friends and family. Life as we know it may be a thing of the past that we won’t get back. But in the crucified and risen Jesus, we have an inheritance that cannot be diminished by social distancing, or lessened by sickness, or destroyed by death. We have been given a new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. No matter what we stand to lose now, we have a Lord, Jesus Christ who will raise us from the dead and make all things new. In fact, the more and more we stand to lose, the more and more we can rejoice in the riches of God’s mercy, because He has given us a treasure far greater than anything we might lose—the inheritance of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
And that means this isn’t a time to despair over what we don’t have as much as it is a time to rejoice in what we do have. No matter what the present lacks and no matter what the future holds, we still have something to rejoice in, an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading—Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
1 Peter 1.3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.