Fullness of Joy

April 16, 2023 homily on 1 Peter 1:3-9 by Pastor Galen

Something that brings me joy this time of year is seeing all of the beautiful flowers springing forth from the ground. Last fall our family planted a whole bunch of flower bulbs in various places around the parsonage and the lot next door, and to be honest, I sort of forgot about them during the winter. But sure enough, this Spring they have been springing forth—red and white and yellow and pink tulips, and bright yellow daffodils. And that’s in addition to the bulbs that keep coming back up every year, some of which were planted long before we moved in.

We are fortunate to live in the Northern Hemisphere where we celebrate Easter when it’s Spring, because these glimpses of new and renewed life make it a little easier for us to believe in the resurrection. (The Dean at the seminary where I work likes to say that it takes a lot more faith to believe in the Resurrection if you live in the Southern Hemisphere where the weather is getting colder and winter is beginning to set in during this time of the year!) 

But truly, all we need to do here is look at the world around us to be reminded that things that appear to be dead or dying are often still very much alive. And just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean that it’s not there or that it’s not real. Bulbs that are buried underground and might have been forgotten during the winter are in fact just waiting for the right time to spring forth from the ground.

A Living Hope

In 1 Peter chapter 1, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). And he goes on to say in verse 6, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6,7). 

In other words, Peter is saying here that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead should fill us with hope and indescribable joy—even if and when the circumstances around us seem bleak—because Christ’s resurrection reminds us that this life is not all there is. We have an eternal inheritance waiting for us on the other side of the grave—waiting just below the surface, just waiting for the right time to be revealed. 

The Christians Peter is writing to here in this letter were Gentiles—in other words, they weren’t Jewish, like Jesus’s first disciples. And these non-Jewish Christians were at least one generation removed from the time when Jesus had lived and died and was resurrected. Some of them had not even been born when Jesus walked on this earth. So, like us, they had never seen Jesus in the flesh, before or after he rose from the grave. Like us, these next-generation Gentile disciples had to hear and listen and read the stories passed down second-hand from those who walked and talked with Jesus. And like us, they had to rely on the eyewitness testimonies of Christ’s initial followers who had seen him appear to them in his resurrected body over the course of 40 days before ascending into heaven.

Trials and Tribulations

This is why Peter’s encouragement here to these next-generation Gentile disciples is so apropos, since he says, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8). I love the fact that here Peter is honoring the faith of these young Gentiles—acknowledging their deep and genuine love for Christ. Even though they never had the chance to meet Jesus in the flesh, their love for him is real, and they are standing strong, even in the midst of the challenging circumstances they are facing. But Peter knows firsthand how difficult it can be to endure trials and tribulations, and how tempting it can be to deny or walk away from the truth.  But Peter also knows what it is to be forgiven, restored, and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. And so Peter’s letter was written—to encourage these young Gentile believers to continue standing strong, and not to abandon or deny their faith in Christ.

The challenging circumstances that these young Gentile believers were facing were related to their faith in Christ. You see, these next-generation Gentile disciples lived in a time and place where it was not popular to believe in Jesus. It wasn’t that the people around them thought that their religion was quaint, old-fashioned or out-of-date. Rather, the Romans thought Christianity was quite dangerous! Roman society was very hierarchical, for example, with very established social structures. And there was a fear that conversion to what was seen as an outside foreign religion such as Christianity would lead to the upending of the very social structures that Rome worked so hard to maintain. 

Indeed, some of these fears were grounded in reality, since Christianity is in its nature radically inclusive and egalitarian. As Christians, we believe that each and every one of us is equal in the sight of God. And this radical inclusivity and equality were demonstrated in first-century Roman society in that in the Church, slaves and free people worshipped freely together, and both women and men spoke and prophesied in church and held positions of leadership and authority. And this was seen as dangerous, and something to be feared.

But in addition to fears and concerns based on the true nature of the Gospel, the Christians that Peter was writing to were also subject to slander and misunderstanding from their neighbors, family members, and former friends. You can imagine, for example, all of the rumors that circulated about these Christians, and what they did when they gathered every first day of the week and ate bread that represented the body of Christ, and drank wine that represented Christ’s blood.

And then of course there was the reality that Christians did not participate in the cults of the Greco-Roman gods. (Did you know that early Christians were actually considered atheists because of their refusal to worship these other gods? In historical documents from that time period, Christians were actually referred to as “atheists!”)

And so the rumors were flying around about them—some based in reality, some distortions of reality, and some just flat-out falsehoods, as rumors tend to go. Even if the Christians were not being physically persecuted, we all know how painful it can be when people who used to be close to us speak negatively about us or cut us out of their lives. And the Gentile believers no doubt paid other costs for their faith in Christ, including financial—since some may have been hesitant to hire them or do business with them because of their faith in Christ. 

And I’m sure that there were some Christians who were tempted to just give it all up, to throw in the towel, who were wondering whether it was even worth it at all.

Like Pure Gold

But Peter is saying to them, Don’t give up, it will all be worth it in the end! And how do we know this? Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus rose from the grave, we have hope and fullness of joy (as the Psalmist says). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is eternal life and goodness in store for us, if we will just hold on a little while longer. 

By saying, “even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials” here in 1 Peter 1:6, Peter is pointing out that the trials that we have to endure in this life are minuscule in the light of eternity, and not only that, but they actually serve to make our faith even stronger, and shine even brighter. It’s like how gold, when it is refined in the fire, is purified because of the fire that it goes through. In the same way, our faith is strengthened and purified and made even more glorious when we endure trials and tribulations for the sake of Christ.

Now there may be some of us here today who may be wondering whether following Jesus is worth it. We too live in a society where it is not popular to be a follower of Christ. It used to be that Christianity was seen as old-fashioned or quaint, but now it’s seen as downright dangerous. Christians are often thought to be narrow-minded and bigoted and anti-science (and the list could go on and on), and sadly these perceptions are often true of so many people who claim the name of Christ. And then, of course, there have been the many recent scandals inside the Church, scandals that unfortunately churches and religious institutions have often tried to hide or cover up. Rather than owning up to our mistakes and holding the guilty parties to account, we’ve so often tried to sweep them under the rug, or worse, blame the victims.

But while the criticisms levied against people of faith have often been true, they are not true of every Christian. And yet so often as Christians, we are assumed to be guilty by association, and we experience the negative consequences of being associated with institutions that have covered up abuse and blamed the victims, and used the name of Christ to justify their own bigotry or homophobia or animosity towards those who are not like them. And some of us have even been victims of these things ourselves.

And so it could be tempting to just throw in the towel, to walk away from it all, or at the very least to hide the fact that we are followers of Christ.

Reborn Into a Living Hope

But this is where the Apostle Peter would say to us today, Don’t give up! Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t deny that you know him! If we can have hope all throughout the Winter that Spring will come again, and if we can have faith that the bulbs we planted in the Fall will Spring forth into new life in the Spring, then surely we can find hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that fact that because he is alive and has risen, we too have been reborn into a living hope, “and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4).

And so let us hang on just a little while longer, knowing there is salvation in store for us. That the trials and tribulations that go through in this life are minuscule in the light of eternity, and that they are actually proving to make our faith stronger—like gold being refined in a fire. And even if and when we make mistakes, even if and when we turn away, there is grace freely available to us. Christ stands ready to welcome us back again, no matter how far away we have strayed.

And even though we don’t see him, and have never seen him in the flesh, we can have faith that there is life and salvation awaiting us, just below the surface, just about to break through. We may not see it, but we can know that it is real. We can trust that Christ will return to make everything right, and the world will see him in all of his glorious splendor and praise and worship him for who he truly is. Then truly we will rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy!

He Lives Within My Heart!

And indeed, this joy is available to us today, no matter what circumstances we go through. Because eternal life with Jesus starts here, and now, because Jesus has risen from the tomb, and has given us his Holy Spirit to live and work within us. This is why the song we sang earlier this morning says:

I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today, I know that he is living whatever foes may say I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near.

In all the world around me, I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast, the day of his appearing will come at last. 

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King! The hope of all who seek him, the help of all who find, none other is so loving, so good and kind.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.


Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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