Glorified in You

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has just commended the Thessalonian believers for their steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution, which was evidenced by their ability to endure the suffering well. Their faith under fire was something Paul admired because he knew first-hand what it was like to live for Christ in a fallen world. He too had suffered persecution and been forced to endure all kinds of affliction and pain for the cause of Christ.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

And Paul wants them to know that their suffering for Christ, while far from enjoyable, did have a purpose. He tells them that it is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). Now, it’s important that we keep this statement within the context of Paul’s entire thought. He is not suggesting that their suffering is the result of God’s judgment of them. He is trying to get them to view their current suffering in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. With the phrase, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” Paul is directing their attention to the second coming of Christ. While the suffering they had to endure made little sense to them now, it would be on that day. Paul pointed the believers in Rome to this future event as well.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 ESV

It is when the Lord returns that He will rectify the injustices that have taken place in the world. He will make all things right. And Paul assures them that Jesus will “repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). The day is coming when the tables will be turned, and the victims will become the victors. With His return to earth at the end of the period of Tribulation, Jesus will judge the nations of the earth, including Babylon, the kingdom of the Antichrist. In his book of Revelation, John records God’s pronouncement of judgment against this end-times capital of wickedness.

…for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. – Revelation 18:5-6 ESV

The very fact that Christians suffer in this life is proof or evidence of the injustice caused by the presence of sin. The wicked attack the righteous.

The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming. – Psalm 37:12-13 ESV

But Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that their present suffering is not in vain. The day is coming when God will reward the righteous and repay the wicked.

When the wicked see this, they will worry;
they will grind their teeth in frustration and melt away;
the desire of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 112:10 NLT

And Paul assures them that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (2 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The reality of their future glorification was what they were to focus on. Present suffering pales in comparison to future glory. And the apostle Peter points out that suffering brings us into communion with Christ. He suffered in His earthly life, and so do His followers. And because He was raised to new life, every one of His followers will be as well.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

The key to understanding suffering is perspective. This life is not all there is. Present pain is a poor indicator of God’s mercy and grace. Persecution that results in affliction can cause us to question God’s goodness or to doubt His power. But Paul would have us focus on the future “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). It is easy to wonder whether God is just when immersed in seemingly unjust circumstances. But God operates on a different timeline than we do. And any delay in His judgment or unwelcome pause in the meting out of His vengeance is not to be viewed as inability on His part. He will act.

The point Paul is trying to make is that the suffering of the Thessalonian believers is temporal. But the suffering of the wicked will be eternal. They may appear to be on the winning side at the moment, but the day is coming when they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They will find themselves enduring an eternity of separation from God’s glory, goodness, mercy, and grace. But when Jesus returns, He will “be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). Their future reward far outweighs their present suffering.

So, in the meantime, while they were having to endure suffering and enduring in this life, Paul encourages them to keep on keeping on. He wants them to remain committed to their faith in Christ. And that was his constant prayer concerning them, that God would make them worthy of His calling of them. In other words, that their present lives would reflect the reality of their future hope in Christ. Rather than sitting around waiting for the Lord to return, they were to make it their goal to live for Him in this life, that His name might be glorified through them.

They had the ability to glorify Jesus Christ because they had the Spirit of Christ living within them. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead was present in them and able to empower them to not only survive but thrive in this life.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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Present Sacrifice for Future Reward.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:44-52 ESV

The kingdom of heaven, while not quite what the Jews had anticipated, was of great value and worth. While it failed to live up to the expectations of the Jews, for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, the kingdom was worth any cost to obtain. That seems to be the point behind this small collection of parables.

But not only does the kingdom of heaven have great value, it will require considerable cost from those who choose to be a part of it. While salvation is free, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, it does require commitment. In the first parable, Jesus described a man who found a valuable treasure in a field. But the field did not belong to him, so the treasure was not legally his to possess. So, greatly desiring to make the treasure his own, he sold all his earthly possessions and used the money to purchase the field. He had discovered something in that field that no one else knew existed. And he recognized that it was of far greater value and worth than anything else he possessed.

Jesus had already told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). And Matthew will later record Jesus telling His disciples, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). The kingdom life is a rich and satisfying life, but it does require commitment and come with significant costs.

A big part of the message that Jesus is trying to make with these parables is that the full benefit of the kingdom of heaven is future-oriented. Unlike the kingdom the Jews were expecting, the full significance of the one Jesus is describing will not be fully realized in this life. In fact, Jesus will later give the disciples some important details regarding life in His kingdom. Matthew records an encounter Jesus had with a young man who was very wealthy. This well-off and well-intentioned young man presented Jesus with a question: “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:17 NLT). He was looking for the one thing he didn’t have and couldn’t buy: Eternal life. But he believed he could somehow earn it. So, Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). But upon hearing these words from Jesus, the young man walked away dejectedly, “for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22 NLT).

Now, what Jesus says next is very important, because He told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). This statement blew the disciples away because, like all Jews, they believed wealth was a sign of a man’s righteousness and God’s blessing. So, Peter interpreted Jesus’ words as meaning that self-sacrifice was the key to reward, which is what led him to respond: “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Then Jesus replied:

28 “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT

They would receive their reward in the future. The kingdom of heaven would not come to earth until the Son of Man sat on His glorious throne after His second coming. In the meantime, the sons of the kingdom would be required to sacrifice all in this life. Unlike the rich young man who refused to give up earthly treasures for a future heavenly reward, the disciples would find themselves sacrificing the temporal for the eternal.

Jesus’ second parable supports this point. A merchant in search of a pearl of great value finally finds what he has been looking for, and immediately sells all he has to possess it. He spares no expense to make this treasure his own. He considers his current possessions as expendable and any price he must pay, justifiable. Again, Jesus seems to be emphasizing the future reward of the kingdom. In both parables, the men had to sell all they had before they were able to enjoy the treasure they sought. This would have taken time. It would have required a period of great sacrifice and incredible commitment as they slowly sold off all they owned. The enjoyment of the reward would have had a built-in delay. And in the meantime, they would have experienced the obvious ramifications that accompanied the selling off of all their earthly possessions. Until the first man had raised the full price for the land and the second man was able to afford the cost of the pearl, they would have done without. But they were willing. For them, future reward was worth the price of present sacrifice.

The third parable Jesus told, while slightly different in nature, continues to support His overall premise. In this story, Jesus used common imagery to which His disciples would have been highly familiar. He described a fishing net being thrown into the sea. As any fisherman knew, this process would have taken time. The net would not immediately fill up with fish, but would do so over an extended period of time. Then, when the signs indicated that the net was full, the fishermen would have hauled it to the surface. At that point, there would be a process of sorting the catch, keeping some while throwing out others. And Jesus made His point perfectly clear, So it will be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:49 ESV). At the present time, the net of the Gospel is in the “sea” of the world. It will one day be slowly gathered in, but not all who find themselves within the net will end up as part of the kingdom of heaven. There is a future day coming when Jesus will differentiate between the good and the bad, the saved and the lost, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one.

If you recall, Jesus has already taught His disciples that not everyone who calls Him, “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all who appear to serve Him will be accepted by Him in His future kingdom.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

But for those who are willing to sacrifice now, their future reward will be great. Those who are sons and daughters of the kingdom will discover this life to be one of great cost. It will require endurance. It will demand commitment. But it will be well worth it.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” – Matthew 5:10-12 ESV

Those who are willing to sacrifice now, placing their hope and trust in the future reward promised to them in Christ, will not be disappointed.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Spiritual Supplements.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.   – 2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV

If God has supplied everything we need for living the godly life to which He has called us, are we free from having to bring anything to the table? Do we play any part at all? Peter quickly eliminates any notion that we have no responsibility in our own spiritual growth. He has just reminded his readers that they have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). This is because God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). And it is through those promises that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). So, with that reality in mind, Peter encourages his audience to “make every effort”. The Greek could be translated, “giving all diligence”. They are to contribute something, in addition to or alongside of, that which God has supplied. And they are to do so diligently and earnestly. There is a sense of urgency to Peter’s words. He is not making a suggestion, but communicating a non-optional necessity. This is something they must do and the sooner, the better. He is going to provide them with a list of seven character qualities that should mark the life of every believer. And Peter points out that we are not born with them. We are not even “born again” with them. He says that we are to “supplement” our faith with them. The Greek word Peter uses is interesting. It is epichorēgeō, and it comes from another Greek word, chorēgeō, that means, “to furnish the chorus at one’s own expense”. The preposition, epi, seems to convey the idea of time, place or order. Faith is the necessary ingredient and the only prerequisite for salvation, but it is to be followed in close order by this chorus of qualities, and they are to be added “at one’s own expense”. This doesn’t mean we self-manufacture them or develop them out of thin air based on our own human effort. But we must strive, alongside the Spirit and with His help, to see that this things are added to our faith. In essence, our faith is to grow and produce fruit in the form of tangible, visible character traits.

Peter begins with virtue. The New Living Translation calls it “moral excellence”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action”. This ties back to Peter’s admonition in his first letter, “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). This moral purity or excellence of character is to show up in every area of life. It is to be internal as well as external. Virtue is not to be a facade we manufacture to fool those around us. It is to flow from the inside-out. Next, Peter adds knowledge. His idea here seems to be moral wisdom, the ability to know what is right and wrong. Good behavior is dependent on a solid understanding of what God demands and expects. Paul talks about this very thing in his letter to the Romans.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

God wants to change the way you think. The word, orthodoxy, refers to right beliefs. But the word, orthopraxy, refers to right behavior. Moral knowledge or wisdom that does not show up in moral purity is worthless.

Next on Peter’s list is self-control. This has to do with temperance or moderation. It is the ability to master one’s desires and passions, especially sensual desires. Paul put it this way:

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

Knowing what to do is of no use if we lack the self-control to follow through on that knowledge. The night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he prayed in the garden and was forced to confront His disciples about their inability to stay awake. They lacked self-control, so He said to them, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41 NLT). Paul confessed, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT).

The next characteristic on Peter’s list is steadfastness. It is a word that conveys patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The journey of faith is a long-term, life-long commitment. Knowing what is right and having the self-control to do it is great, but not if it cannot be maintained over an extended period of time. Jesus described this kind of short-term, impatient person in a parable He told to the disciples.

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. – Matthew 13:20-21 NLT

No endurance. As soon as the trials of life show up, they give up. But our faith is going to require an ongoing, steadfast, never-give-up-no-matter-what kind of endurance that lasts to the end. Jesus told us “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 NLT). He was not inferring that some will lose their salvation. But He was stressing that endurance is a hallmark characteristic of those who have placed their faith in Him, and within whom He has placed His Spirit.

It should come as no surprise that Peter adds godliness to the mix. After all, he clearly stated in his first letter, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God. As His children, we should emulate His nature. We are sons and daughters of God, so our behavior should reflect that reality. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned him of the state of affairs that would mark the end times.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… – 2 Timothy 3:2-4 ESV

What’s interesting is that Paul goes on to say that these very same people will have “the appearance of godliness” but will deny its power. What a minute? Look at that list again. Do any of those characteristics even remotely come across as godly? No. But we have to keep in mind that they are qualities that issue from the heart. They can remain hidden from view. So, these people were capable of appearing one way, but on the inside, they were something completely different. Godliness is not just an outward action, but it stems from an inward disposition that is determined to do what God desires. It stems from a desire to please God in every area of life.

What does Peter mean by “brotherly affection”? It is the Greek word, philadelphia, and it literally refers to the love of one brother for another. Jesus matter-of-factly stated, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). John expands on the words of Jesus, providing us with even further insight into what this kind of love entails.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. – 1 John 2:9-11 NLT

The kind of love John and Jesus are describing is a tangible expression of love that can be seen and felt. It is not a sentimental, Hallmark-card kind of love that shows up in words only. It gets fleshed out in acts of mercy, compassion, and kindness.

And on top of this brotherly-focused love is to be added agape love. That’s the Greek word Peter uses. And it is the highest expression of love. It is the way in which God has loved us. It entails selfless sacrifice. It is a love that expects nothing in return. In other words, it is not self-serving. This is not a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of love. Jesus described this kind of love in stark terms.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 NLT

Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He gave His life for us. And that is the kind of love that is to characterize our lives. Jesus came to serve, not be served. He came to sacrifice His life for those who hated Him. Jesus didn’t love the lovely, the lovable, or those who loved Him back. And John reminds us that our love should emulate that of Jesus.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. – 1 John 3:16-18 NLT

These things are essential to healthy spiritual life. They are like supplements to aid in our spiritual development and formation. Like vitamins and minerals are necessary for our physical well-being, these seven characteristics need to be added to our faith on a daily basis, so that we might grow stronger and more vibrant in our faith. Having a bottle of vitamins in the cabinet will not make you healthier. You have to take them, regularly and over the long-term. Having these seven characteristics pointed out to you is pointless if you are not going to add them to your spiritual life. Which is why Peter said we are to make every effort to supplement our faith with these things. They don’t replace our faith. And we do not add them apart from faith. But they are the fruit of our faith. We must believe that God desires these things for us and that He will empower us as we strive to make them a permanent part of our lives.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 ESV

What Paul taught, he fully believed. His belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what fueled his ministry and personal life. It was also his firm, unwavering belief in the reality of our future redemption and glorification that motivated all his efforts. Quoting from Psalm 116:10, Paul says, “I believed, and so I spoke.” To understand why Paul chose this particular verse from this particular psalm, you must remember what Paul has just finished discussing with the Corinthians.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV

In these three verses, Paul describes the nature of his earthly ministry. It was difficult and at times, dangerous. And, no doubt, Paul chose to quote from Psalm 116, because it had become near and dear to his heart during those many times of trials and troubles. The second part of the verse he quoted reveals that this psalm carried special meaning for Paul. “I believed, even when I spoke:I am greatly afflicted’.”  Even Paul’s cries to God during his times of difficulty were driven by his belief in God. The psalmist shared that same faith in the sovereignty and compassionate mercy of God.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live. – Psalm 116:1-12 ESV

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living. – Psalm 116:8-9 ESV

What shall I render to the Lord
    for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people. – Psalm 116:12-14 ESV

Paul had experienced the mercy of God, not only in his conversion experience, but in the everyday struggles of life. And he wanted to share the news of God’s mercy and compassion with anybody and everybody. Paul assures the Corinthians that all he has done by way of sharing the gospel was done for their sake. “All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15 NLT). The greater good of men and glory of God were what motivated his efforts. And it was these was two things that prevented him from losing heart or growing discouraged, no matter how much difficulty he may have had to face.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT

Paul could relate to the psalmist when he wrote:

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
    So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
    I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
    for the Lord has been good to me. – Psalm 116:5-7 NLT

Paul was motivated by the mercy and grace of God. He believed in God’s presence and trusted in His power. Yes, his body was dying and he knew what it was like to suffer physically as he went about his ministry. But he was able to rest in the knowledge that God was with him in this life and would one day reward him with eternal life. From Paul’s perspective, his troubles and trials were nothing more than “momentary light afflictions.” He was able to say, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! ” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). He chose to view his struggles in this life from a positive, rather than a negative perspective. They would be short-lived but have a long-lasting influence on his life. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul reminded them,

…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. – Romans 8:17-19 NLT

Suffering precedes glory. This life will have its difficulties. Jesus promised it (John 16:33). But this life is not all there is. There is more to come. And it was Paul’s belief in the reality of the resurrection and its guarantee of our future redemption that kept him going.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

It is our faith in the future that provides us with strength for the present. Having a future-focused faith keeps us from fixating on our troubles and trials, as if they are reality and heaven is nothing more than a fantasy. But Paul reminds us, “the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” Like a runner who keeps his eyes on the finish line, we are to run the race of life with endurance, willing to suffer the pains and difficulties associated with this world, because we know the completion of our race will bring with it a reward that far outweighs all the effort we have had to exert along the way.

The writer of Hebrews provides us with some powerful words of motivation:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. – Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT

 

Living In God’s Love.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Paul picks up where he left off in verse one of this chapter. “For this reason…” He repeats that very same phrase, because he is took a brief aside to discuss the mystery of the church in verses 2-13. Now he is ready to make some application regarding this unity of Jews and Gentiles into one household of God. Back in chapter one, Paul had prayed for their spiritual enlightenment. He asked that God would give them “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17 ESV). Now in chapter three, he tells his audience that there is another prayer request he offers up on their behalf. He prays for their spiritual strength. “…that according to the riches of his glory he [God] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). In chapter one, he prayed that they might know God. Here he is praying that they would be “filled with all the fullness of God.” Earlier he prayed that they might know the hope to which they had been called. Here he is praying that their knowledge of that hope would strengthen their faith. The author of Hebrews described faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith and hope go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Faith makes that for what we hope become as real and tangible as if we already possessed it. But hope is not based on what we can already see. Paul told the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25 ESV). Jesus promised to send His Spirit. God has guaranteed us eternal life. Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us. But we can’t see any of these things. We have no tangible, visible proof. They are unseen by us. But by faith, we believe them to be true and real. Why? Because they have been promised to us by God. We trust His word. We rely upon His faithfulness. And the Spirit of God provides us with the strength we need to believe, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty. Paul’s desire was that Christ would continue to dwell in their hearts through faith. He was not insinuating that they could somehow lose their salvation. But he was concerned that they could begin to lose their focus on the sufficiency of Christ in their lives. He wanted them to know that they were “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17 ESV). They were firmly and securely planted in the love of God through their faith in Christ. But Paul wanted them to fully comprehend that fact. He wanted the Holy Spirit to provide them with the strength necessary for them to fully comprehend just how powerful and vast God’s love for them really was. 

It is one thing to have a knowledge of God. It is another thing to understand and appreciate the love of God. It is when we begin to comprehend His incredible love for us, as displayed in His sacrifice of His own Son on our behalf, that we are able to see life through His eyes, not our own. We stop seeing every little trial as a punishment and start viewing them as opportunities to trust in a loving God who has great plans in place for us. When we begin to focus on all that God has done for us and all that He has promised to do for us in the future, we feel His love and we gain strength for the journey. He has not left us. He will never forsake us.

This all boils down to an understanding of and appreciation for God’s love. It is He who had saved them. In the midst of their sinfulness and helplessness, God had intervened, sending His Son to die on their behalf. Paul put it in simple, yet profound terms: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The apostle John adds the important distinction that Jesus did what He did out of love as well. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 ESV). The love of God and His Son for us should encourage and empower us. It should flow through us. Paul prayed that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. This is not a prayer that his readers would become gods, but that the very nature of God – His love, mercy, grace, righteousness, compassion, selflessness, and holiness – would fill us and exude from us.

And Paul had every confidence that what he was asking from God would be provided by God. Why? Because He is “able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV). God doesn’t just have the power to save us, He has the power to sanctify us. And He has made it possible by placing His Spirit within us. His power is not just an external force working from the outside in. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides within us, transforming us from the inside out. His love for us not static. It is actively revealing itself in His ongoing activity in and around our lives as He molds and makes us into the likeness of His Son. God is patiently, lovingly working within individuals, but also within the church. He is doing things we cannot see. He is accomplishing works that are invisible to our eyes. But in faith we wait expectantly. We hope confidently. We labor joyously. We endure patiently. We are loved. He is faithful. And He is far from done.

Stand Firm in God’s Grace.

Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ. – 1 Peter 5:12-14 ESV

At this point in his letter, Peter begins his closing. It would appear that he has had help in putting his thoughts in writing from Sylvanus, which is probably a reference to Silas. Sylvanus is the Roman form of the Greek name, Silas. So as Paul had done in many of his other letters, he dictated his thoughts to Silas and he wrote them all out. But it seems that Paul took up quill in hand and wrote these final sentences on his own. He states, “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12 ESV). HIs personal, handwritten conclusion to the letter was to act as his seal of approval, affirming its content. And the “true grace of God” to which he refers encompasses all that he has said in the last five chapters.

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. – 1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. – 1 Peter 3:18, 22 ESV

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. – 1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV

Peter has exhorted and declared that all of what he has written in this letter is the true grace of God. And he tells them one last time, “Stand firm in it!” The grace, mercy, love, power, faithfulness and sovereignty of God are to be the foundation on which we stand. It is God’s unfailing plan of redemption, as made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection, that forms the solid ground on which we are to find the firm footing for our faith. We will suffer for the sake of righteousness in this life. We will discover that living for Christ in a fallen world is difficult and requires confidence in the presence and promises of God. Our motivation and inspiration must come from our belief in the grace and mercy of God. We must believe as Paul did. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). We must listen to the words of Paul when he wrote, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV).

It is by or according to God’s grace that we were saved. His grace is the means by which we are being sanctified. His grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor towards us, keeps us safely and permanently as His children. All that we are and all that we have is according to the grace of God. And it is on that grace we are to stand. He is not yet done extending His grace to us. There are more blessings to come, more promises to be fulfilled. We must constantly remember the words of Peter as he closed out this letter.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:10-11 ESV

When reading this final paragraph from Peter’s letter, I can’t help but recall the words from the old hymn, My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

A Gracious Thing.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

Peter now turns his attention to those within the church who were servants. The actual Greek word he uses is οἰκέτης (oiketēs) and it refers to a household servant or domestic. In many, if not all, cases these people were actually slaves. Theirs was not a normal case of voluntary employment. Those for whom they worked were considered their masters. They were obligated by Roman law to obey their masters It is thought that as many as 1 in 3 of the population of Italy were slaves. In the rest of the Roman provinces it was as much as 1 in 5. So slaves were a major part of the Roman economy and social structure. The Ancient History Encyclopedia provides a glimpse into the Roman perspective on slavery.

Slavery, that is complete mastery (dominium) of one individual over another, was so embedded in Roman culture that slaves became almost invisible and there was certainly no feeling of injustice in this situation on the part of the rulers. Inequality in power, freedom and the control of resources was an accepted part of life and went right back to the mythology of Jupiter overthrowing Saturn. As K.Bradley eloquently puts it, ‘freedom…was not a general right but a select privilege’ (Potter, 627). Further, it was believed that the freedom of some was only possible because others were enslaved. Slavery, was, therefore, not considered an evil but a necessity by Roman citizens.(Mark Cartwright. “Slavery in the Roman World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 01, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /article/629/.)

Peter does not address the institution of slavery. Instead, he speaks directly to those within the church who happened to be slaves or servants. That is the amazing thing. The very fact that these individuals were part of the local body of Christ speaks volumes about the church’s view of them as individuals. They were considered equal members of the body of Christ and were addressed as individuals with both responsibilities and rights. So Peter talks directly to them, giving them very personalized and specific instructions regarding their behavior. They were to “be subject” to their masters. He repeats the phrase he used when speaking to the church as a whole about their relationship to governmental authorities. These slaves had another issue. They were under the authority of their masters. They were obligated by law to obey. But Peter gives them a new way of looking at their role. In fact, he says that they were to treat their masters with all respect, whether they were good and gentle or unjust. And in Peter’s estimation, if a slave was suffering because of his faith in Christ, it was a “gracious thing.” The word he used was χάρις (charis). Charis was used by the New Testament authors to refer to God’s good will, loving-kindness, and favor. It was “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues” (“G5485 – charis (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

They were to view their suffering as a sign of God’s grace and a reminder of His ongoing transformation of their lives into the likeness of His Son. He reminds them that enduring suffering for doing wrong accomplishes nothing. But enduring suffering for doing what is right and good “is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20 ESV). When we endure suffering for the sake of Christ, our actions not only please God, but God is pleased to use those times of difficulty to mold us and make us more holy. Paul told the believers in Rome, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV). Suffering that comes as a result of our faith is to be expected. For a slave in Peter’s day, the ridicule and shame that would have accompanied their faith would have been great. They were not viewed as people. They were property. Their masters would have seen their new-found faith in Christ as a threat. They had no rights. A master seeing their slave mixing in with other individuals of other classes of society as part of the church would have infuriated them.

But Peter reminds the slaves “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV). Then Peter explains how the example of Christ applied to them. Throughout His suffering on this earth, Jesus “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). He kept His faith in God. He knew that His heavenly Father was watching and would reward Him for His faithfulness. He never took His eyes off His calling. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). And it was the suffering of Christ that provided the means of salvation for mankind. By his wounds we have been healed. It was His suffering and death that made it possible for slaves, servants, masters, men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles and people from all walks of life to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. Christ’s suffering had a purpose. So does ours. It produces endurance, character and hope. And it reveals the grace of God as He uses anything and everything in our lives to produce in us the image of His Son.

In This You Rejoice.

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. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV

Where do you find your joy in this life? To what do you turn to for hope as you make your way on this topsy-turvy journey of faith? Peter would say that your joy and hope should be based in nothing less than your “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). It is the promise of eternal life and our final glorification that should bring us joy and give us hope. The promise of life to come should strongly influence the life we live. So much so, Peter says, that rejoicing is the norm even “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Our circumstances in this life do not derail us because we have our hope firmly planted on the life to come.

For the believer, trials and testings are nothing more than opportunities to prove his or her faith. The issue has less to do with the quality or quantity of our faith, than with the object of our faith. God has promised us eternal life. His Son has pledged to return for us and to take us to be with Him. Heaven is our ultimate destination, so we are able to endure all that this life throws at us, knowing that these temporary testings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). The trials of this life provide us with proof that our faith is well-placed. Our hope and joy are not dependent upon the circumstances of this life. When bad things happen, rather than panic, we remind ourselves that any “light momentary affliction” we suffer in this life is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).

Peter assures us that our faith will not fail us, not because of the quality of our faith, but because of the faithfulness of our God. Because our faith is placed in Him, it will survive the fires of adversity. It will prove to be more precious, more valuable, than gold. But we must remember that the final proof of our faith will be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It will be on that day we fully realize that our faith in God was safe and secure all along. We will have survived. We will have endured and come through the testings of this life unscathed. In fact, we will be purified, without sin, spotless in our moral character.

Peter reminds us that the outcome of our faith is “the salvation of our souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ESV). Our faith should have a focus. It should long for what God longs for. It should seek that which God has promised us: our adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Paul boldly claimed, “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NLT). On this earth, we are stuck in these fallen, earthly bodies. They are prone to sin and saddled with the baggage we inherited from Adam. They are decaying and dying. They are lust-filled and earth-bound. But the day is coming when we will receive new, redeemed bodies. We will be as Paul longed to be, delivered from “this body of death” (Romans 7:24 ESV).

Where our faith comes in is simple. We have never seen Jesus, but we believe in Him. And Peter says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him”  and “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). Why? Because we trust Him. Our hope is based on that which we do not yet have. Paul put it this way: “hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Romans 8:24 NET). We have forgiveness of sins. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have a right standing with God. But we do not yet have heaven. We hope for that which we do not yet possess and cannot yet see. And we rejoice in it because we are fully confident that it is ours. Jesus promised it. “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:3-4 NLT). And when Thomas asked Jesus to explain what he meant by “the way,” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Faith in Jesus is the way. Hope in the promise of eternal life made possible by His death and resurrection is the means by which we rejoice now in what is yet to come.

A Living Hope.

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 Peter 1:3-5 ESV

Peter was writing to a church that was facing persecution. He was trying to encourage them in their faith by reminding them of who they were in Christ. And it is interesting to note that the very first thing he emphasizes is their inheritance. As they were going through earthly trials, he attempts to redirect their attention to their heavenly hope. He calls it a “living hope” because it is unending and undying. It is unstoppable and, therefore, inevitable. And it is a hope based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was once dead, but was raised to life again by the power of the Holy Spirit, and He now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is where we should long to be. He told the disciples that He was leaving, but that He would be returning for them one day. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Peter reminded his readers that their inheritance was “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” and “kept in heaven” for them. It is for that hope we wait. It is for that future hope our bodies groan. Paul said it this way, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24 ESV). As we live in this world, it is very easy to forget about the world to come. Heaven can become an abstract, somewhat ethereal concept that is hard to imagine, let alone long for. We can tend to view it as some kind of nebulous reward that we will receive after death. But in the meantime, we live with our attention and our appetites firmly rooted in the here and now, and attempt to place all our hope in this life. But Peter would want us to remember that we are “exiles” here. This is not our home, no more than Babylon was the home of the Israelites for the 70 years they were captives there. Egypt was not the home of the descendants of Abraham, even though they had lived there for more than 400 years. God had promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would be their home. The Promised Land was to be their inheritance. And while they had to suffer and wait for the day God’s promise would be fulfilled. they were to keep their hope firmly focused on what God had promised. The author of Hebrews, in his great chapter on faith, reminds us of those Old Testament patriarchs who lived their lives with a future-focused faith, hoping in and waiting for the promise of God.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16 NLT

They were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. There were expecting more. But if we are not careful, we can become like the Israelites who, after being set free from bondage in Egypt and making their way to the promised land, began to look back. At the first sign of trouble, they started longing for Egypt. When the journey got rough, they found themselves viewing a return to slavery preferable to enduring hardship on the way to that which God had promised. When we lose sight of heaven, we make earth our hope. When we take our eyes off the prize, we tend to seek rewards that are temporal in nature, rather than eternal. We settle for less. Unwilling to suffer in this life while we wait for what God has in store, we seek to find our satisfaction and contentment in this life. But Paul had a different outlook. He said,  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV).  He was heavenly-minded and it gave him a much more healthy perspective on his earthly life.

God has something incredible in store for us. The problem is that we can’t see it. It’s invisible to our eyes. We don’t know exactly what heaven looks like. We can’t make out what our experience there will be like. So we tend to focus on what we know and what we can see. We begin placing all our hope in this life, demanding from God that He give us our inheritance NOW. We want heaven on earth. But again, Paul would have us consider that hope is not hope if it is based on what we can already see. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25 ESV). Heaven is invisible to us. It it outside our range of view and beyond our faculties of comprehension. Yet Peter tells us that God is guarding and protecting us in this life so that we might enjoy that which we can’t see – “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Our salvation has an ending, a completion point. It culminates in heaven. We have been born again to a living hope – the hope of eternal life.  

The Valley Between Two Mountains.

Two-MountainsFor you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. – Hebrews 12:18-24 ESV

The author of Hebrews compares the Christian life to that or a long and arduous journey. Because of his Hebrew audience, he most likely has in mind the more than 40 year journey the people of Israel took to get to the land promised by God to their forefather, Abraham. That had been an ultra-ultra-mega-marathon, covering thousands of miles and four decades. And it had required incredible endurance and a constant awareness that there truly was a goal in mind. They were headed somewhere. They had an actual destination. Even on those days when it all felt pointless and mind-numbingly repetitious, they had to keep walking and trusting that God knew what He was doing and Moses knew where he was going. At times, they had their doubts and felt free to make them known.

In these verses, the author contrasts Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. The first mountain was from their past. It was the place, early on in the Exodus story, where God had met with Moses and given them the Ten Commandments. It had been a terrifying and life-changing moment for the people of God.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. – Exodus 19:16-19 ESV

The physical manifestations that had accompanied the presence of God that day had left the people in a state of fear and anxiety. The Exodus account goes on to say, “when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19 ESV). The dramatic physical display they witnessed that day left them terrified. None of them missed the significance or symbolism of it all. Their God was powerful, holy, transcendent and not to be trifled with. The dramatic display on the top of Mount Sinai was intended to reinforce in their minds the holiness of God. It was also a reminder of their own sinfulness. That fact would be reinforced by the giving of Ten Commandments by God to Moses. But if you recall, the first time Moses returned from the top of the mountain with the tablets in his hands he found the people worshiping the golden calf. Just days after the pyrotechnic display on the mountain that had left them trembling in fear, they had determined to make their own god. So Mount Sinai would forever be a symbol of God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. The law God gave them would prove to be a constant reminder of their own sinfulness and incapacity to live obediently.

But Mount Zion was a different mountain and represents an altogether different encounter with God. Mount Sinai was physical in nature and could be seen and touched, albeit at pain of death. Yet Mount Zion is a spiritual mountain. There is no smoke, fire, thunder, lightning, or ban against coming near. Mount Zion is not only approachable, it is preferable. It is our final destination. It represents “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22 ESV). During the reigns of David and Solomon, Jerusalem was a powerful city, the capital of the Jewish empire. It was in Jerusalem that Solomon built the temple. It was there that the people came each year on the Day of Atonement to make sacrifices to God. As the people journeyed from the surrounding areas up to Jerusalem, they would sing the Songs of Ascent found in the psalms. One of them says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 125:1-2 ESV). Jerusalem, Mount Zion, represented the presence of God. It was there that God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. It was to Zion the people walked in order to celebrate the various feasts and festivals. It was there they went to receive forgiveness of sin and to have their relationship with God restored.

For believers, our final destination is also Mount Zion. It represents our heavenly home – “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” We are on a journey to a place where we will encounter God, but rather than experiencing fear and trembling, we will enjoy peace, acceptance, joy, and a freedom from sin and sorrow. There will be no condemnation. There will be no need for the law to remind us God’s holy expectations. We will be holy. There will be no conviction of sin or any need for the law to expose our sin anymore, because we will be sinless. In a sense, the Christian life is a journey from one mountain to another. It is a long, sometimes difficult trip away from the mountain where man’s relationship with God was marked by law, rule-keeping, disobedience, fear and failure. It is a daily walk toward another mountain where we will find complete forgiveness, the redemption of our bodies and our final glorification. Paul reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV). We are on our way to Mount Zion. That is our final destination. It is our home. And while the journey there may seem long and at times difficult, we must keep our eye on the prize. We must never turn back to Mount Sinai, marked by rules and a constant reminder of our guilt and sin. Mount Zion is our home, where we will be with all those who have gone before us and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24 ESV).