Teaching Series Introduction:
It’s a strange new world. When the world is all topsy-turvy, what difference does Jesus make in our lives? From the book of 1 Peter, we will rediscover the importance of being ‘strangers’ with purpose who make a difference in our world, all because Jesus first came to bring blessing and hope to us.
Title: Hope That Really Is
By: Tim Chilvers
Date: 18 October 2020
1 Peter (Chapter 3, verses 13 to 22)
What are you living for? How would you answer, if someone asked you? Many of us in our society might say something about making a difference/caring for family/making money/having a good time. Peter tells these first-century Christians to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that they’ve found. How prepared are we, and what is this hope anyway?
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Good morning, everybody. Isn’t this brilliant being able to both be here and through the wonders of technology being able to be in people’s homes both here in Birmingham and wider around the world? We’re in the middle of a series called, A Strange New World, in which we’re looking at a letter a guy called, Peter, wrote thousands of years ago to some followers of Jesus. And today, as we’ve already thought, we’re thinking about hope. Now I don’t know about you, but one of the things that we all need, we’re all longing for is some good news, some hope. It seems that every news thing that we look at there’s more challenge, more difficulty, more uncertainty, whether it’s lockdown, Brexit, politics, emotional health, elections or just plain relational tensions. We long for good news don’t we? I was in Cannon Hill Park the other day in Birmingham. I don’t know if you’ve seen it by the Mac there by the pond, on a Saturday afternoon there’s a group of skaters that gather together in the afternoon and they just hang out playing music just having a great time skating. And it’s infectious as you walk past them that they just seem to be wanting to have a good time.
And I went on their Instagram feed and it says this, it’s called, Skate Brum. And it says, “It’s all about the skating, good vibes and positive energy.” Hands up if we want that. We want that, don’t we? Good vibes, absolutely. We can see why it’s so attractive. And this series that we’re thinking about today and over these last weeks, now written is a letter that’s written to some people who are in really difficult situations facing real hardship, real suffering, real loss. And in the passage that Bim has just helpfully read to us there’s three things, three ways, three aspects of hope that can change our world even today, whoever we are.
There’s three things on offer for us today. And the first thing on offer is this, there is a vaccine for fear. We all long for the vaccine for this COVID-19, don’t we? Companies all around the planet working really hard to try and get a vaccine, and whether it be by Christmas or by Easter, or by the summer, or by whenever it is nobody knows. But in the passage that we’ve just read there is a vaccine on offer for all of us, a vaccine for fear. Let me read again to you these words that Peter wrote. He says this, “Who’s going to harm you if you’re eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is, right you are blessed. Do not fear their threats, do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” Now the particular situation they’re in is they’re facing opposition, they’re being criticized and condemned, and manipulated by others. But what Peter says about fear I think is really important for us today in a society where so many of us are just frankly afraid.
He quotes from the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, and let me read to you the words that he reads from the Old Testament. And I think they’re stunning and when I read them my jaw kind of dropped. Isaiah eight says this, “Do not call conspiracy everything that people call conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.” And then he goes on and says, “The Lord almighty is the one that you’re regarding as holy, he is the one that you are to fear.” One of the thing that is everywhere at the moment is conspiracy theories. Some of us love them. Some of us watch TV programs about them. Some of us, if we’re honest, pay a little bit too much attention to them. Because there’s conspiracy theories all the time at the moment, whether it’s about 5G, whether it’s about, Meghan Markle, whether it’s about the elections, whether it’s about our mysterious global elite that somehow like puppets are controlling everything. Social media is rife with it, TV channels thrive on it.
And we’re reminded here that conspiracy theories are not new and there is a vaccine to the fear that they create. Partly the vaccine is really recognizing that many of those conspiracy theories are frankly just nonsense, but also they play on fear because they’re all about people out there controlling my life. But actually the Bible points to the fact there is a conspiracy but the conspiracy belongs to heaven. When we’ve got the right view of God and see that he really is God and he’s good, and he is over all it changes how we see the immediate even now. We see even the threats that they faced and the things that we face right now very, very differently. We fear less because our loving God is God.
And I was reminded of this personally last year. Many of you will know, one of our sons has some complex disabilities and last year we had a situation where he had a seizure and we had to call the paramedics. And they arrived, it was New Year’s Eve, I think it was. They arrived and in this moment, where any parents will know this situation if you’ve had this situation with paramedics, where frankly you’re doing your best to retain the element of being in control, but deep down your heart is beating a million times. And there was a particular moment as the paramedics were doing their stuff… There were two paramedics, one of whom was clearly more experienced and then the other, this woman who was just training. And she said to me… She looked at me and she said, “He’s going to be okay.” And then she did something that I will remember for years to come. She put her hand on my shoulder, back in an era when you could do such thing, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “And you’re doing okay, dad, too.” And then she said, “It’ll be okay.”
Those few words, by somebody who knew what they were doing, changed everything. And I sensed, as I was preparing this for this morning, that it might be that God wants to say to some of us, wherever we are, whether we’re in the room now or at home, “You’re doing okay. You really are. It’ll be okay.” Because God is God, he is good. And some of need to hear that, our father in heaven saying, “You’re doing okay. You really are.” Now hear me, that’s not saying that bad things won’t happen, because the context is, even if you suffer for doing what is right there are difficult things, but we see it differently. There is a vaccine for fear because Christ changes how we see it. God has got you in his hands. And some who you’re not even sure whether you’d call yourself a follower of Jesus, but you know if you look back through your life, even through the most challenging times, you’re able to trace the reality that even there you knew that God has got you, he really has. So there’s a vaccine for fear. That’s the first thing, the first offer of hope.
The second is this, not only is there a vaccine to fear, there is an alternative to rage. I had an experience the other day in Kings Heath Park carpark just down the road from us here. I had parked my car and I… Take it for granted, it wasn’t the best piece of parking I have ever done in the world. And so then when I came back to my car the woman who had parked next to me, she was fuming, properly fuming to the point she wound down her window and really let rip to me. Now what was interesting to me was not only that rage, but what was interesting was what it did in me because she drove off and what did I do driving? I was furious. And I don’t know about you, but it seems at the moment there is so much rage and anger around. On social media, wherever you look everybody wants to be destroying other people.
Listen to these words from Peter, verse 15. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I love those words, gentleness, respect. Contrast that with much of the social media. Contrast that with much of the election stuff, talk of Brexit, whatever it might be, gentleness and respect. Here Peter is simply saying that when people criticize, when people critique or when they question, come to those questions, those critiques with gentleness and respect. Always be ready to do it in an attitude that fills the other person up. And I wonder if one way that today we might respect other people is by not presuming wrong motives in people’s criticisms or questions.
I’ve seen the tendency in my own heart over these last few months that when there’s somebody I disagree with or I differ from to always presume they’ve got bad motives whereas mine, of course, are pure. Whereas maybe a way that we respect each other is to recognize it might be we just differ, and so then we can discuss together to find out what is the best way forwards. So how do we do that though? Well Peter says, verse 15, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” It’s only when we put Jesus on the throne of our lives, as it were, that we’re then able to treat everybody else with respect and gentleness.
How? Well, because when Jesus comes into our life and he’s driving our car of our lives, we see ourselves and we see other people differently. We don’t see ourselves more highly than we ought and we don’t see other people more highly than we ought. And we don’t see ourselves lower than we ought, and we don’t see other people lower than we ought. We see each other as people for whom God stepped in because of love to rescue. How then can I not treat others with respect and gentleness? When Christ is Lord tribes become less. So, there’s an antidote to rage and there’s a vaccine for fear.
But there’s a third thing on offer for all of us today and it is this, Peter says there is a gift that keeps on giving. How does that fear disappear? How does the rage get trumped in our lives? Listen to what Peter says, verse 18. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you go God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” That one verse, I think is one of the simplest descriptions of Christianity because you’ve got the righteous, the right one, Jesus himself swapping places with the unrighteous one, me and you, and us. Because of that we have a clear conscience regardless of the story of our lives, regardless of whether the past is something that we’re proud of or not, regardless of whether the stuff in our life right now is something that we want to keep hidden or not, Jesus the righteous one swaps places with us. Wants for all to bring you to God.
And therefore, you don’t have any fear before God because it’s not based on what I do, it’s based on what Jesus has done, he’s taken my place. And therefore, there’s no rage anymore towards others because actually, I recognize that my stuff has been dealt with by God in the same way that I can therefore trust him with other people’s stuff too. And the beautiful thing is that this is once and for all. Now I don’t know if you’ve had a COVID test. Just put your hands up in your room if you’ve had a COVID test. Interesting, a few of us here have had COVID tests. What struck me the other day, which I hadn’t really clocked, is that of course, if you go for a test and then you get the results and the result is negative, it’s only negative then. The moment you walk out of that testing room you could still catch it. And I hadn’t quite clocked that because I sort of saw this as being the, ah, if you just have a test and it’s all okay, fantastic. And it’s great, hear me right, we need more testing. I get that.
But the difference is how we see Jesus. This is, wants for all, the righteous, for the unrighteous. They need to be retested. And I struck by a story recently from Riverside Money Advice. One of the ministries, the brilliant ministries here at Riverside is a money advice. You help people with all sorts of financial issues and debt stuff. If that’s something particularly relevant for you I’d really recommend you exploring that. But there’s a great story from a guy called, Andrew, who had some difficult times in life, went through and benefited massively from Riverside Money Advice. And as a result had an encounter with Jesus himself that changed everything. And this is what Andrew said about that moment he realized who Jesus is and what he’d done, and that moment he accepted Jesus into his life. These are his words, “A weight came off me and a voice said that my sins were forgiven. I felt a power that I can only describe as if I was in a powerful carwash.” Isn’t that brilliant, Jesus swapping places with us.
And it might be that you’re somebody that you’ve got questions yourself, and you know that in your world there’s a past that you want to be set free from or stuff right now that you’ve begun to realize that maybe God cares for you and wants to do something with that. The Alpha course that we’re running is a perfect opportunity for you. It started last week, we’re running it on Wednesdays. It’s on Zoom and all the details on the screen will be right now. But if you’d be interested in coming along and just chatting about the big questions of life that loads of other people have just like you, go onto our website, you’ll see a link through there to be able to get the details to sign up. I’d really encourage you to do so. Millions around the world have done it.
Why are we exploring these big questions, because we need hope. We need a vaccine for fear. And it’s when we realize God has stepped in on our behalf that we find hope. We need an antidote to the rage that we find within and it’s only when we realize what God has done for us that we discover that piece. And it’s only when we realize that Jesus died on a cross, and not only died on a cross but do you notice how the passage ends? He rose up from the grave. That’s how we know there’s lasting hope so that whoever we are, even in the face of real hardship like these people were, there is hope for all eternity. That’s good news. That’s the hope that is on offer for all of us and the hope that changes everything in the middle of challenging days like this.
So we’re going to pray together. And what I’d love us… I’d invite you to stand. So here in the room if you’re able to stand and at home you may like to stand as well. And I’m simply going to pray for us. And wherever you are you may find it helpful to hold open your hands, as it were, just to sort of say, “God, I’m here for you.” And I’m simply going to pray asking that hope would be real for you right now. And it might be that there are some people who are working in the NHS and right now you really need hope. Or it may be some others who you know the stuff going on in your life right now is just so consuming you need God to show you hope to take away fear.
Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you that you are the source of hope. And I pray that right now, both in the room and wherever we are in Birmingham or beyond, Holy Spirit, we thank you that you’re present with us. Even now we’re by your spirit, would you just bring hope, we pray in the name of Jesus. Peace. For those NHS workers so burdened, Lord, just bring peace, strength. For those of us with real challenge at the moment bring hope, we pray. Knowing that in Jesus there is hope not just for now but for all eternity because you Lord Jesus are alive. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
- What’s the best news that you’ve heard in the last month? What was so good about it?
- Read 1 Peter 3:13-22. Peter is writing to some Christians to remind them of the good news of Jesus. They are really struggling and suffering, and yet several times Peter points them back to Jesus to change their perspective. Note down the places he does this. How, according to Peter, does Jesus change how we see suffering?
- During the talk, Tim referred to a ‘Vaccine for fear’. What, according to verse 13-15, is the basis for this ‘vaccine’? (You may like to also read Isaiah 8:12-13 for a helpful backdrop.) What might this ‘vaccine’ look like in your life?
- In verses 15-17, Peter helps his readers deal with people who are against them. What principles does he suggest, and how does this differ from contemporary ways people deal with debates, arguments and differences of opinion?
- What does it look like in practice to answer people with ‘gentleness and respect’? What do you think it means to ‘always be prepared’ to do so?
(N.B. Verses 19-21 are some of the most perplexing and complex verses in the New Testament. Even today scholars don’t agree about what Peter actually means! And, because we can’t be too certain, it’s important to not get distracted by any particular interpretation. However, there are certain things that do seem fairly clear: 1) Peter knows that Jesus is alive, and that his death and resurrection have a massive impact on how we see suffering; 2) when we suffer for doing good, Jesus is both our ally and role model ; 3) Jesus has dealt with the powers of evil, and so our baptism is a public declaration to the world that we are relying on Jesus to carry us through suffering, evil and death; 4) In the same way that the ark carried Noah and family to safety, so too does Jesus carry his followers to safety – unjust suffering is never the final word. There really is hope!)
- In verses 18-22, Peter highlights all that Jesus has done. Because this is a very complex passage, you may find it helpful to simply note down everything that is clear to you from these verses. What impact do these things have on your life? How do they change the way you see yourself, other people, and how to cope in times of suffering?
- Take some time to pray for people you know (maybe even yourself!) who are really suffering at the moment. Pray that they/you would know the real and certain hope of Jesus.