Hope begins with worship. But what should a suffering church praise God for? Peter blesses God for his sovereign grace. God has caused us to be born again, and he is guarding us for a salvation to be revealed. In these ‘causing’ and ‘guarding’ mercies, the suffering church has ample reason for praise. Peter gives the words that we need to hear most under the burden of affliction. You will find your living hope in suffering when you recognize and adore the sovereign grace of God in your salvation.Excerpt from the sermon
Hope Begins with Worship
1 Peter: Hope in Suffering—1 Peter 1:3-5
Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
May 3, 2020
Surprising First Words
When someone you know suffers a significant loss, say the death of a family member, what is the first thing that you say to them? I can tell you what I might say. I would express my sincere condolences for their loss. I might express my prayer that God would enable them to grieve well, or even that he would use this terrible situation to be the means of saving lost family members. I think that we can all agree that we would certainly not want to make an insensitive remark. Pat statements and glib responses are an unfortunate normality, especially in the Christian community, where we have a theological sense for the situation but not always the wisdom in how and when to communicate it. I know many who have been hurt by fellow believers who made an insensitive remark in a time of grief. So what is the first thing that we should say to those who suffer?
As we consider the afflicted church in Peter’s day, his first response to them is quite surprising. Peter begins the main body of his letter with worship. Peter knows that God’s people need real hope as they suffer for being Christian under the iron fist of Rome. Last week we saw that Nero is on the throne. The church is suffering terribly under his tyrannical reign. Throughout the Empire, identifying as a Christian could get you killed. Now Peter is writing to instill hope in the suffering church, and he begins with worship. This starting point is probably not where we would instinctively start, but it is the key to hope for the Christian community. Peter draws their gaze from their present sufferings to the one who has saved them and is bringing them to glory. In the blessedness of God, we find our living hope in suffering.
Beloved, hope begins with worship. But what should a suffering church praise God for? Peter blesses God for his sovereign grace. God has caused us to be born again, and he is guarding us for a salvation to be revealed. In these ‘causing’ and ‘guarding’ mercies, the suffering church has ample reason for praise. Peter gives the words that we need to hear most under the burden of affliction. You will find your living hope in suffering when you recognize and adore the sovereign grace of God in your salvation.
Beloved, hope begins with worship, and the suffering church finds its hope in praising God for his sovereign grace. That grace is highlighted in two ways in our passage today, and it forms the basis of our hope and adoration as a suffering church.
1. God Is the Cause of Our Salvation (1:3-4)
The suffering church worships God for what he has done for her in the past. In verses 3-4, Peter praises God for three particular reasons.
First, Peter blesses God for the divine cause of our salvation. In verse 3, he writes, “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.” The principal basis for worship is that God chose to save us. We did not choose it for ourselves; salvation was never our choice. God made it for us. The word that Peter uses here is quite interesting. More literally stated, Peter is saying that God “rebirthed us,” or that God “born-us-again.” Those phrases make for bad English, but it reinforces the point that we are entirely passive in our salvation. A baby does not choose to be conceived. Nor does a fetus decide to be born. That decision is entirely outside of the baby’s control. Likewise, God is the cause of our salvation, and we had no chance of salvation apart from God’s choice to save us. God’s sovereign mercy is the foundation for all praise and worship.
Second, Peter blesses God for the divine means of our salvation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means of our living hope. Our hope is living because Jesus is alive. Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). As a suffering church, there is no greater assurance than to know that amid death, whether that be natural death or by the hands of wicked men, we have an eternal, living hope in Christ. For a suffering church in a cruel world, the sovereign mercy of the Lord, through the resurrection of Christ, is the most excellent comfort. Tom Schreiner comments, “Believers have an unshakable hope for the future, for Christ’s resurrection is a pledge of their own future resurrection.” Beloved, the Christian hope is not based on a fanciful dream, but on real, historical facts. And there are few facts more certain than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the power of this fact converted the brutal Roman Empire to the Christian faith in less than three centuries. That is a profound witness to the truth and power of the resurrection. The suffering church has an unshakable and eternal hope. Whatever happens to us on earth, we will be raised with Christ in glory. And we have this hope as a pledge in the resurrection of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Third, Peter blesses God for our heavenly inheritance. He says that we are born again… “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). In Christ, God has given us an inheritance that is far more certain than the most significant legacy you could ever receive on earth. Note the solidity of our birthright. We have been born again to an inheritance that is imperishable. Human riches don’t last. Indeed, most estates do not make it past the second generation. The money is spent and gone. But our inheritance will never perish. Our inheritance is also undefiled. We will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). But in the new creation, there will be no defiling sin or corruption to spoil the new world. Our inheritance is also unfading. The idea is that our inheritance will never lose its luster. It will be as an unfading flower. The radiant glory of our bequest will go unblemished through all eternity. It is ironic how the most exciting treasure on earth eventually loses its ability to bring joy. But our inheritance in heaven will forever be as lovely and as captivating as on the first day we received it. Finally, our inheritance is kept in heaven for you. Our God who caused our salvation in eternity passed is also the one who is keeping it for us even now. Beloved, wicked men may take your goods on earth, they may even take your life, but nothing can steal away our inheritance in glory.
Beloved, hope begins with worship, and we can find our hope in praising God for his sovereign grace that caused our new birth. He is the cause of our salvation, and he has given us a living hope through the resurrection of Christ. And he is keeping safe our imperishable inheritance in heaven. But if that were not enough, the suffering church has more cause for hope in worship because God’s sovereign grace is still at work today.
2. God Is Guarding Us for the Day of Salvation (1:5)
Peter’s adoration continues in verse 5. He blesses God for his sovereign, protecting grace that is preserving us for the day of salvation. As elect exiles, we are described as those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Peter’s praise is directed at three aspects of God’s sovereign, protecting grace that is with us even to the present day.
First, Peter blesses God for his divine guardianship. One might easily assume that our living hope is only a promise for the future. Thus, we could easily say, “a lot of good that does for me today!” You could imagine the suffering church feeling this way. But as if to alleviate that fear, Peter directs their hope to rest upon God’s present grace that is at work to preserve them for their future blessing. To this point, John Calvin writes,
We are to notice the connection when he says, that we are kept while in the world, and at the same time our inheritance is reserved in heaven; otherwise this thought would immediately creep in, “What does it avail us that our salvation is laid up in heaven, when we are tossed here and there in this world as in a turbulent sea? What can it avail us that our salvation is secured in a quiet harbour, when we are driven to and fro amidst a thousand shipwrecks?” The apostle, therefore, anticipates objections of this kind, when he shows, that though we are in the world exposed to dangers, we are yet kept by faith; and that though we are thus nigh to death, we are yet safe under the guardianship of faith. But as faith itself, through the infirmity of the flesh, often quails, we might be always anxious about the morrow, were not the Lord to aid us.
John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter
Beloved, the executioner’s blade may strike, but it has no power to harm our souls. Remember what Jesus said to the twelve disciples before he sent them out as missionaries, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:28-31). Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father, and you as God’s beloved child are worth far more than many sparrows. God is guarding you this very day for a salvation yet to be revealed. He is with you. He is an omnipotent bodyguard. Nothing happens to you apart from his will, and nothing that does befall you in this present life will be able to keep you from the treasures of joy that God is holding for you in the future, because God is preserving you even now for those blessings. The power of God is guarding us right now, for what will be given to us in the future.
Second, Peter blesses God for the means of divine guardianship. The means by which God protects us is faith. We must remember that faith is a gift of the new birth. When God caused our new birth, he gave us faith as the response. This faith is not something that we conjured up in order to be born again. No, God gives it to us as a gift after he makes us alive in Christ. This is why Paul can say to the Romans, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). Beloved, faith is the means by which God preserves us for the day of salvation. If you want to know if God is with you, you can rest assured of it by that faith that keeps you walking forward. That is God’s gift to you. This does not mean that we won’t have moments of doubt or worry, but faith will get the victory in the end. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks to this in chapter 21:3, “This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.” Therefore, whether our faith is weak or strong, God is protecting our souls for the day of salvation. We can say with the psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Ps. 91:1-2).
Third and finally, Peter blesses God for the goal of divine guardianship. Peter says that we are being guarded “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). All of God’s sovereign actions in the past and present are working towards the goal of our future hope. There is a salvation ready to be revealed. The day of judgment and glory is coming. That day is ready even now. And Peter says to the suffering church at the start of verse 6, “In this you rejoice.” Beloved, God’s great mercy is immense and overwhelming. Though we may find ourselves in a dark sea of suffering on earth, we have a living hope in glory that is anchored in the harbor of God’s sovereign grace. For a suffering church, hope begins with worship. Therefore we can adore our Sovereign Lord with Peter, saying, “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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
A Practical Help: Train Your Instincts in Suffering by Singing the Psalms
Beloved, let’s take a practical cue from Peter. When we face suffering as the people of God, may our first response be to worship our sovereign Lord. Hope begins with worship, and our first instinct in suffering should always be to praise the Lord for what he has done, for what he is doing, and for what he will do for his people. Discouragement can scarcely stand when we sing of the Father’s love for us in Christ. It bolsters our faith, and gives us a foretaste of glory. In that way, there is nothing quite like the power of song to lift our hearts from the pit of despair. A psalm from our psalter that gives me regular comfort is Psalm 125, “All, like Mount Zion, unmoved shall endure whose confidence in the Lord is secure. Like hills encircling Jerusalem around, always the Lord will his people surround.” I cannot tell you how many times that psalm has echoed in my soul amidst difficult circumstances. Another example from our psalter would be Psalm 23, “Though in a valley dark as death, no evil will I fear; your rod and staff they comfort me, for you are always near.” Singing the Word of God, and particularly the Psalms, is a powerful antidote for despair. I commend it to you wholeheartedly. Indeed, this instinct to sing the Word of God was ingrained into Peter himself at an early age. He would have grown up singing from the Psalms in the synagogue. The psalms of praise and lament taught him to lift his gaze to heaven even in the darkest valleys of his experience. In fact, Peter draws from the Psalms over 10 times in this letter (that equals at least two Psalm-allusions per chapter, twice with explicit citations). Singing the Psalms was Peter’s consolation in suffering, as it has been for so many throughout church history. For example, the Huguenots were a group of Reformed Christians in France. During the 16th and 17thcenturies, they were heavily persecuted for their faith by Roman Catholic leaders. As many as 100,000 Huguenots were martyred, and almost 300,000 fled the country as a result of the terror. But it was the singing of the Psalms that gave them courage in the valley of death. Louis Benson explains,
The familiar use of Psalms in worship only emphasized the power of their appeal to the individual experience, and made Psalmody as much a part of the daily life as of public worship. The family in the home, men and women at their daily tasks, were recognized as Huguenots because they were heard singing Psalms. The Psalter became to them the manual of the spiritual life. It ingrained its own characteristics deep in the Huguenot character, and had a great part in making it what it was… to the Huguenot, called to fight and suffer for his principles, the habit of Psalm singing was a providential preparation. The Psalms were his confidence and strength in quiet and solitude, his refuge from oppression; in the wars of religion they became the songs of the camp and the march, the inspiration of the battle and the consolation in death, whether on the field or at the martyr’s stake. It is not possible to conceive of the history of the Reformation in France in such a way that Psalm singing should not have a great place in it.
—Louis Benson, “John Calvin and the Psalmody of the Reformed Churches”
Beloved, Peter’s instinct in suffering is to praise our sovereign God. Hope begins with worship. As I have said already, I can think of no better way to train your soul for that instinct than to sing of our living hope with the Word of God. The same could be said for memorizing Scripture. But when you sing the Psalms, you get both. You can sing it and memorize it at the same time. So whether you sing it, or memorize it, let God’s Word sharpen your instincts in suffering. Learn from Peter here. He has shown us how the suffering church finds its hope in praising God for his sovereign grace. God has caused our salvation through the new birth, and he is guarding us for the day of salvation by our faith. Hope begins with worship. Therefore, we can adore our sovereign Lord with Peter, saying, “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”
 Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2405.
 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 30.
 Our psalter being, The Book of Psalms for Worship (Pittsburg, PA: Crown & Covenant, 2009).
 Louis Benson, “John Calvin and the Psalmody of the Reformed Churches,” in Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1901-1930), Vol. 5, No. 2 (June, 1909), 73.