Ok, He's Here; Now What?
December 26, 2010 Series: Advent 2010
Topic: Stand Alone Passage: 1 Peter 1:3–1:9
Good Morning Damascus Road.
I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas. For the last month we have been going through ADVENT, the anticipation of the coming. We have been looking at the HOPE that God gives through His promises of the Messiah. Over and over again, as the people worry about their current situation, He reminds them of the day when the Savior will come. We spent a week focusing on the LOVE that God showers on us in the gift of His Son. The reconciliation that we receive as adopted sons and daughters. Last week we put the spotlight on PEACE. We looked at what it took to bring peace, and that our King reigns on His throne. Then we came together for Christmas Eve and shared an amazing time of JOY. Joy that the Messiah had come, and that He had paid once and for all for our sin.
And then we got to go and celebrate Christmas with our families. So this is a post ADVENT sermon, the anticipation has been realized … but it is very much part of ADVENT. We’ll call it ADVENT +. Because the reality of it is that the coming of the Messiah is a changing event. It has implications well beyond a day, or a lifetime. It changes the world, and it changes us. As Sam so clearly pointed out, A Baby changes everything. Most of us know this. What we are confused on what it means to change.
And so, confused at to what the goal is, we just live. We take things as the come, allowing our emotions much more weight than God’s truth. We see glimpses of the peace of God, we also see conflict and pain. We want to be healing agents in the world, but we are afraid that we will cause more problems than solutions. We aren’t really sure if we are supposed to be free or in bondage, victorious or enslaved, redeemed or a work in progress. And the answer is YES, we are. We need to understand this dichotomy of redeemed but not righteous if we are ever going to know who we are and how we are to live.
So let’s turn to God’s Word for the answer. Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 1 (turn all the way to the back and then flip back 6 books and you’re there). Verses 3-9 will give us a framework from which to have this discussion.
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. 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. 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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
So Peter seems to be talking about two different things here. In verse 3, his language is very present, in the moment. He is speaking about the kingdom that is here. He then goes on to talk about a kingdom that is to come. He talks of a future inheritance, being kept in heaven, to be revealed. So which is it? Has the kingdom of God been established, or is it yet to come?
Once again the answer is YES. The Kingdom of God is here, and it is yet to come. His kingdom has been established, but it has not been brought to full completion. This is known as Now but Not Yet kingdom, or Inaugurated Eschatology for those who like big words. Eschatology being the study of final things, and Inagurated meaning it has begun. And so, in many ways the study of final things is actually an exercise in HOPE. And so while many people use eschatology to try to pinpoint the day of Christ’s return, to fear being left at the rapture, or avoid bar code scanners, Peter seems more interested in how it affects us NOW, in the time in between Jesus’ two comings.
He wants us to realize that the kingdom of God is not just an event that has happened or will happen, but something we experience now, something we will experience more completely in the future, and that Jesus is the one who will sustain us until we get there.
Peter starts with The Now.
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.
So Jesus came, and in His great mercy gave us the gift of Himself. As we have been talking about for the last few weeks, this gift was not simply a one-dimensional compassion, which wipes us clean so that we can be shiny happy people holding hands, free from any aspect of Sin. It is an arrow in the heart of Satan. It is a once and forever victory over Sin and Death, to the extent that these things can no longer hold dominion on this earth, even if they seem like they do. We have a God who not only has the power to conquer, but already has.
This is the VICTORY that we have in Jesus. At this point, He has chosen to show express His glory through grace, and we are the recipients. We are born again. We have a new hope – a living hope. We are a new creation. And as a new creation, we recognize that our rebirth was meant to bring about change. So the question is: what is this change?
In Colossians 3 (1-7), Paul talks about what it looks like to live in the NOW with a God who is on His throne:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
So to be reborn, you have to die. That is a pretty significant part of sharing in Christ’s victory that we have a tendency to overlook. We must recognize that in order to actually experience the victory of Christ, we have to give up our desires. We still experience the same elements of this world (we eat the same food, see similar things, etc), but we experience them with a heart that has been refocused from our glory to His.
This sounds like a good idea, but when you actually try to uproot what is earthly in you, you will find it much deeper and intertwined than you would ever wish to admit.
This was the case for me. I am a pastor for goodness sake. And as a lifelong church person I had become pretty good at justifying my actions, and making everyone else believe that my motives were pure. God stepped in and more or less called my bluff. And in that moment I had the choice to allow my very convincing mind to justify it all, which was very tempting, or to come face to face with how truly earth centered my mind was and is. But the thing about it is that this single sin that God chose to push on opened up a window to my own depravity that I had honestly never seen before. And it was horribly frustrating. I was reminded once again how far from righteous I really am. But in that frustration it was also exciting. It was exciting because I was also reminded of the living hope that is within me. A hope that can reconcile me, a hopeless failure into the family of God. A hope that can continually refine me into a witness of the King. A hope that doesn’t exist without His kingdom being established.
The New Birth that both Paul and Peter refer two have two aspects, a renewed mind that leads to renewed living. This is what we are reborn to. And while the birth happens once, in the same way that we are only born into the world once, there is/or should be continued growth, called sanctification. And this growth happens not by our own strength, but by the Holy Spirit working in us. So Jesus sacrifice on the cross gives us hope that is living and active NOW in our lives. But we must not forget that the joy that we experience now is but a foretaste of the glory to come. Going back to 1 Peter, verse 4-5, we see that the consummation of God’s glorious kingdom is yet to come.
The Not Yet
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.
The VICTORY of Jesus has already happened, but it will not be revealed until He returns again. As Sam talked about last week, His second coming will be far different than His first. No one on earth will be wondering if He is God. There will not be arguments as to whether or not He fulfills the prophecy. By nature of His glorious appearance ALL WILL KNOW THAT HE IS GOD. The dividing line will instead be whether His coming is good news or bad. When Jesus comes as a judge, in His full glory and wrath, there will be a stark contrast between those who have been raised with Christ and those who are still living for their own desires.
Those who are in Christ anxiously await this coming! Not because we have done anything to keep us free from the wrath of God, but because Jesus, through His power is guarding our inheritance. So as we live in the NOW, we look forward to the NOT YET.
The inheritance that is being kept for us is described in three ways: Imperishable, Undefiled, and Unfading. We are going to unpack these three words as they hold the keys for how we are to hold fast to a future glory.
First, our coming inheritance is IMPERISHABLE. What a concept. We live in a finite world, we have no concept of something than cannot be destroyed. Everything dies. And even those things that seem to be exempt are not. You can go to old growth forests and see trees that have been around from the time of Christ, but all it would take is an overzealous lumberjack or a spark to put an end to it.
But even more than physical death, we all understand the pressure to justify our existence…to show that we are still worthy of our position. We live in a world that says,’ what have you done for me lately.’ It does not take much to fall from the towers we have built. But in this one case, our position has been assured…it is imperishable. And the only reason it can be assured is because we are not the ones responsible to maintain it. Later in 1 Peter he states it this way:
the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
The reason that we have hope is that we know that the weight is not on our shoulders.
Next we read that our inheritance is UNDEFILED. Once again a concept we have no ability to attain. As said earlier, the more we discover our sin, the more we realize that we are merely scraping at the surface. Every action of ours on this earth is layered with sin. Yet we are to receive an inheritance that is perfect.
This means that the inheritance will be the way that creator intended it to be. Free from sin. Not tainted with the pain, worry, and suffering that occupy the majority of our lives. And it will be undefiled because it will be held together by the presence of a Holy God. This is what we have to look forward to, Eternity in the Perfect Presence of God.
Finally, our inheritance is UNFADING. You might think, that sounds a lot like imperishable. But the idea behind imperishable is power, the concept of unfading is one of beauty. Most of us have the attention span of a small child. We trade jobs like baseball cards, and the average American moves 12 times in his/her lifetime. Many of you are surprised that the number is that low. We get bored. EASILY. And so for many of us, the concept of an eternity doing anything sounds more like torture than it does joy. Especially if it is sitting on a cloud in a toga, playing a harp. But no matter what you have decided heaven is like, you are probably a bit hesitant with this forever idea. Which is why Peter reminds us that the beauty of being in the presence of God does not fade. It can not and never will cease to be enough. He created us to enjoy Him, and so it will be fulfilling exactly what we are created for. Forever. Without losing its flavor.
And so we have seen the VICTORY that we have NOW in Christ through His resurrection and the promised inheritance that we have NOT YET waiting for us in heaven. And our hope exists in both of these victories together, not in either alone. It is very tempting for us to live in a NOW kingdom, or a NOT YET kingdom, and both will cause us to worship Him incompletely.
If we hold to a NOT YET only existence, we will live a joyless life simply trying to get to the end. You can spot these folks a mile away as they refer to life as a speed bump to eternity, always talk in ‘them’ and ‘us’ distinctions with anything outside of the church, and believe that fully abstaining from life is what God intended when He created the world. Now, none of these things are sins that will keep you out of heaven, but they will certainly keep you from joy. A NOT YET only life forgets that God created this world perfectly, to reflect His glory. It is not only joyless to deny the common grace that God has given to this world, but it is also sinful. Hear me out, I don’t believe that abstaining from certain things is wrong, and I actually believe that you can worship God through acts of sacrifice. What I am talking about is this turn and run from anything that might possibly mess up my perfectly paved path to heaven. This idea that the reason God didn’t just take us up to heaven at conversion was just to see if we could make it. Because what Peter makes perfectly clear is that you aren’t holding the reservation. Any trial that we come up to is not a pass/fail test…instead it is God strengthening us in faith. Because if sustaining the gift given in Jesus is up to you, you are in trouble. So stop sitting on your hands for fear of falling out of the grace of God. GO. LIVE.
A NOT YET only theology also minimizes the power of Jesus on His throne and overlooks the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. It is not only afraid of the world, but views the world as outside the redemptive power of the gospel. While the complete restoration of the world will not come until Jesus is here, we can certainly bring a certain amount of the Shalom that Sam talked about last week. If we are given the truth of the gospel and born again to live a new life, there should be at least some aspect of imaging our reconciling God by bringing His truth to our own small part of His creation.
We need to make sure that we are not the disciples locked in a room after Jesus death, but the bold, victorious disciples of Acts 2 who go out preaching His word without fear, but also without expectation of success. Which is actually where I think we tend to lean.
I think most of us can see how a NOT YET only life would be problematic, but just as dangerous is the NOW only. A NOW only theology leads us to believe that God’s will is for us to have it all now. And that comes in a few forms. It can be the prosperity gospel: that all of the promises of God are to be experienced now, which leads to measuring one’s faith by their finances. It can be the social gospel: that the power of the Jesus is for us to put an end to suffering, leading to a measuring of faith by what you do. Or, and this one certainly hits home for me, the culture gospel: that the purpose of the gospel is to change culture for Jesus, leading us to a place where faith is measured by relevance. Now, there are certainly aspects of all of these in the Christian life: God does bless believers in a specific way through the revelation of His Word, He does ask us to act in the world to bring about change, both socially and culturally, but these actions are an overflow of a heart that is in awe of the sovereignty of God. AND remains submitted to His authority, AND continues to recognize that He is the agent of change.
One of the worst things that can happen to the Church is for it to taste success, because earthly success has a funny way of changing people. It doesn’t take too many pats on the back to start believing that you really are great, and set yourself, or your church, or your denomination or movement up as some kind of perfected model for all to follow. Start believing that any church that isn’t DR, or doesn’t play loud music, or isn’t doing things the way that we do them is flawed, or in need of help. See how easy that is.
And it can be more personal. You can easily believe that whatever you do, by nature of your success, is the will of God. And you can add to the glory of God to the end of all your sentences, and refer to everything you do as missional, or kingdom work, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are driving the bus. That your decisions are based on what works, on what YOU like, and you start believing that you have found heaven on earth. This is an over-realized kingdom. It puts too much of the focus on us. We need to keep a close watch on our hearts to make sure that we are not using God as the tool for our own works based justification or self indulgent lifestyle. Yes, we are part of the story, but we are a very small part, and this is not the culmination of the journey.
In verses 6-9, Peter describes living this small part:
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. 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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
And so we have defined very clearly what a NOW only and a NOT YET only theology look like, lets spend a few minutes looking at what it looks like to live in the tension of both.
Peter says that the TRUTH of NOW is directly related to our NOT YET outlook. It is easy to see the pain in the world, as a matter of fact, he says that we also will be grieved. But with eyes toward the future we realize that the pain of this world will result in praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ now and when He comes again. Though we cannot see how this is possible, we believe because His Word tells us that it is so. And all that is now dim will be made clear at the revelation of Jesus Christ returned.
Additionally, our JOY in the NOW comes from our understanding of the NOT YET. Too many times we want to measure our joy with earthly measurements. Instead, we are to measure that which we do see by that which we don’t. What I mean is this: as Christians we recognize that this earth is not all that there is. This earth is a mere glimpse of what is to come. And so as wonderful as the things we experience are, they pale in comparison. And the world that we experience is broken. So even the greatest things we see, taste, touch…are incomplete. But coming is the day when the bad things will be made good, and even the great things made better. We feast on God in this world, but realize that we are feeding on mere table scraps at the present. We enjoy the now, AND we look forward to the great supper of the Lamb.
Finally our NOW living is fueled by our NOT YET expectation. Our job is not to conquer this world for God, He alone can and will do that. Our purpose is not to make Jesus relevant to those who are blind to Him. Instead, we are to follow him. Jesus continually calls His disciples to simply follow him. Lay down their cross and follow. This means walking away from their old lives and toward Him. How do we measure success in this? We don’t, and this is why it is so hard for us. If we could somehow know that we are succeeding at this Christianity thing it would be so much easier…it is why people create ways to measure faith. But we are not called to succeed in faith, simply to be faithful. We just keep walking. We fall. We get up. We just keep walking. We spend our time going to church, practicing the spiritual disciplines, praying, loving each other, not because this brings a level of success, but because this is what the walk looks like.
The book Pilgrim’s Progress paints a beautiful picture of what it is to live IN BETWEEN. In the time of NOW and NOT YET. The book tells the story of a young man named Christian who hears the gospel, is changed, and leaves family and friends to start a new journey from ‘The City of Destruction’ where he has lived, to the ‘Celestial City.’ Early in the story Christian comes to the foot of the cross and the huge burden that he has been carrying falls to the ground. He has experienced the Now of the new birth; he has been freed from his slavery to sin. But his journey is just beginning. He still has a long way to go. He still has to struggle with his earthly desires…he no longer carries the burden, but though his goal is the Celestial City, he is constantly drawn off the path by his sin. His mind is fixed firmly on his destination, but he must also keep living in the moment. This is the tension of our lives. And this is not a new tension.
I am going to end with the story of the Ascension from Acts 1.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Throughout His life, Jesus’ followers were always trying to crown Him king, but He rebuffed them. After He rose from the dead, they thought, okay now is the time, but rather than restoring the kingdom, He went up to heaven. As they sat trying to figure out what had happened, two angels appeared and shook them out of their trance. And the message of these two is still true today.
HE IS COMING AGAIN. Don’t just stand here looking up to heaven. GO. Live as witnesses.
This walk is not something we do in private. Instead, God has given us the church to help support us in joy until the final days. Paul writing to the church in Ephesus, says it this way:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.