Monday, November 29, 2010

Preparing for Action - Set Your Hope Fully on the Grace to Come


We are starting a four-week Advent series this Sunday. The overarching theme is: “Prepare for Action: Readying Ourselves for the Arrival of the King.” I’ve chosen for this series four consecutive passages from 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter’s letter to the dispersed churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (v 1), in what is now modern-day Turkey. Why did I choose 1 Peter? I was drawn to this letter because Advent is a time when we remind the church that in its ministry and mission it is actually a time of preparation for the arrival, the coming, the advent of the One who is the King in the Kingdom of God. In churches that use the Lectionary readings for this time of the church year, the first Sunday in Advent places special emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Substantial portions of Peter’s letter are devoted to the anticipation of the arrival of Jesus. I like what John Calvin has to say about the epistle. He writes:
The main object of this epistle is to raise us above the world, in order that we may be prepared and encouraged to sustain the spiritual contests of our warfare. [Commentaries on the Epistle of 1 Peter, 27]
It is easy for the church, in this time of waiting, to become flaccid, to grow weary of engaging in “the spiritual contests of our warfare” of doing good (see Galatians 6:9). In the midst of Black Friday shopping, the obsession of gift exchanges at Christmas, and the culture’s lack of understanding of grace, it becomes very easy to grow weary. Paul had no room for that in Galatians, and, as we will see, neither will Peter in 1 Peter. As the time draws near for the arrival of Jesus, our excitement should increase, not decrease, each year. Our level of preparation for his arrival should be greater, not less. And our passion for all peoples to know Christ should grow exponentially as his arrival grows near. We are best reminded by Paul’s words to the Romans (13:11):
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
In this series, I will explore four of Peter’s exhortations to the early church which are also, I believe, applicable to us, as we continue our spiritual preparation from the second coming of Jesus. All four of these topics are basically answers to an overarching question: How do we glorify God in our preparations for the arrival of Christ? Here are the four exhortations. We are called upon to:
  1. Set our hope fully on the grace to come
  2. Be holy in all conduct
  3. Have a holy fear throughout the time of waiting
  4. Love one another in purity
This morning, we will focus on the first of those four answers – by setting our hope fully on the grace to come. Before we get there, however, we need to look a bit at what comes before in the letter.

The Foundation: Christians Have Been Born Again into a Living Hope

Peter beings his letter with a beautiful section of thanksgiving by reminding his readers, and us, that we are recipients of an inheritance:
[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.
There are a four things we should note about this thanksgiving. First, Christians are those who have received mercy. The mercy that they have received is the gracious forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, the result of that great mercy is that we now have what Peter calls “a living hope” into which we have been born again. To have a living hope means that the hope is the basis for life. The hope we have transforms the way we live. Third, as those who have been born again into eternal life, Christians have a promised inheritance “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” That inheritance is shared with Christ, and includes eternal life. And fourth, those who have been born again for this inheritance are, by God’s power, “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.” This means that if you are in Christ, you are as secure as He is. You have no reason for fear, because you are under God’s protection, right now.

The thing to note from this is that all of this has been done for you. This is the essence of the gospel. You do not chose of your own power to be saved and to receive these gifts. God chooses, according to his steadfast love and mercy, and gives to those whom he has chosen these gifts: Mercy and forgiveness, a living hope, an eternal inheritance that cannot be corrupted, and protection through faith for “the salvation read to be revealed at the last time.” If you have been born again, made regenerate, by the Holy Spirit, all of these things are yours, no matter what happens – pain, affliction, suffering, joy, love, happiness. It matters not what the particular circumstances of your life are at the moment. As a Christian, you have been born again into a living hope which is astonishing, even shocking, in a world that is so often filled with hopelessness. 

This Salvation Was Intended For You from the Beginning

Peter then shows us how this salvation was the intention of God from the beginning:
[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.
This salvation was the subject of the prophets. They spoke about the grace that was to be yours. I like how Peter puts this in very personal terms. The grace that the prophets in their diligence searched for was intended for you, beloved. So, for example, when Isaiah prophesied, as he did in today’s reading, that “[2] It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, [3] and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” That is a statement that refers to the final establishment of a kingdom to which peoples from all nations will come to receive the grace of God’s Word. This is a gift of God’s grace for you and me, a people who come much later in time, but who are just like the people to whom Peter is writing. The prophets did not see clearly when exactly the promised one would come, but they did know that he would suffer and enter into glory. On Thanksgiving at the United Methodist Church, I preached a sermon on just such a text, again from Isaiah, chapter 52:13-53-12, where the promised savior to come would be a man of sorrows, who would take upon himself the sins of the people, us, and impart to the people his righteousness. Can you see now what Peter is talking, then, we he speaks of the “grace that was to be?” That grace is found in Jesus Christ, and him crucified, the one whom we are waiting for.

What Peter says next is really amazing. He writes that the prophets received their revelations in such a way 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, things into which angels long to look.”

When you heard the words from the prophet Isaiah that Monica just read to you, did you receive them that way? Did you receive them as a promise of grace for you, these thousands of years later? When I read texts like this, I am amazed when someone by the recurring complaint that the bible “doesn’t speak to them.” Or that these dusty old parchments are “irrelevant.” All of it is relevant because, as Peter writes, they were writing about the gospel of grace without even realizing it.

But you realize it, loved ones, because you have heard the announcement of the gospel through preaching. When the Holy Spirit moves on a person who is dead in sin and by the preached word brings that person to eternal life, something has happened which is so glorious and stupendous that the angels themselves long to see it!

We speak so often in this culture about a longing to know the “magic” of Advent and Christmas. Can you see that how this “magic,” this gift, is actually a real thing in the life of those who have been saved? In our lives and in our conduct, do we live like people who have received such astounding blessings in the gospel of Jesus Christ that when people observe us they see the hope and peace that marks those whom have a treasure so amazing that the angels themselves long to fully comprehend?

If you really believe the truth of this salvation in the coming Christ, then this will effect a huge change on the way you live. Even the most commonplace transactions of life are transformed into a manifestation of grace in the life of the Christian. Here we are once again at the first Sunday in Advent. The wait is growing shorter even as I preach this word. If we have received such grace in the mercy and forgiveness of God, and that so glorifies God in such a way that even the angels long to look upon this, how then should we live in the now shortened time we have left until Christ appears? And now we get to the first of the four exhortations of this Advent season.

Gird Your Loins

The ESV has verse 13 as follows:
[13] Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I like the way the old King James has the beginning of verse 13. It reads, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” The phrase suggests that we are a people who are easily distracted by the temporary cares of the world and by the idolatrous pursuit of the worldly desires. We are a people who are constantly tempted by these things. Especially now. I am a person who is easily distracted. My wife can attest to this. How many of you, I wonder, are, like me, trying to simultaneously balance the culture’s passion for consumption with the expectations of attending multiple family and social obligations across increasingly huge geographic areas (those of you with kids you have moved from Jackson will know what I’m talking about)? Add to that pressures from work and pressures from the work we know are waiting for us on the other side of the few days we’ve taken off. Add to that the pressures many feel because of medical problems or the griefs suffered by those whose loved ones have died and you get a better understanding of why people long for something else during this season. The reason for the longing is that we’ve utterly forgotten the grace that will be presented and brought to us when Jesus Christ comes again. But here, we are exhorted to set or hope fully on the coming of the King, and to engage discipline over our minds so that we remember that precious hope.

As you have begun your own preparations for the Christmas holiday, have you deliberately set time aside to recall the great promises of the gospel, that you are destined for “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”? When you are in the checkout lane, will the person across the counter from you see someone who has that kind of hope? Will it come out in your interactions with others? Will it be made manifest in your own life because, as one who has such hope, you are filled to overflowing with peace and joy as one whom Christ has purchased at the price of his own blood?

He is coming, and the time grows short. What should we be thinking about? This advent, as we prepare for so much which is worldly and temporary, my prayer is that we will recommit ourselves to the pursuit of joy in the gospel – that in Jesus Christ, all has been forgiven, once and for all, that we’ve been set free from everything that would encroach upon our minds so that we can bask fully in the glow of the glory of the grace to come when Jesus arrives. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 28, 2010
First Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew

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