In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ | Daily Bible Readings

I’ve lived in rural Australia for almost 24 years. In that time, I’ve seen my share of plagues. Locust plagues. Mice plagues. Frog plagues. A plague of water, although we usually call that a flood. Mosquitos. And this summer, it’s been crickets. It’s been annoying trying to keep them out of the house, and I say that as a huge cricket fan. Yes, life in rural Australia is often like, “What chapter of Exodus are we up to today?”

But I believe a much more serious plague is affecting the world today. A plague of despair. A famine of hope. People have lost a purpose to live for. People used to live for their family or for their career, or for God and king and country. So passionately that they’d give their lives for these ideals.

But it seems people don’t believe in those things anymore. Many live for themselves and their own happiness, and have found pursuing happiness as hard as chasing the wind. Our stories used to be about how good things were going to be in the future. Now they are about how bad things are going to be after the next impending disaster. People live like footballers who are ten goals behind with only five minutes to go. Like soldiers who’ve been overrun by the enemy and are beginning to rout. Like dead men walking.

Almost two thousand years ago Christianity swept through the world. And the disciples of Jesus took with them two things that attracted others to the gospel.

Firstly, they had their ethic of love. They loved God with all their heart and each other as brothers and sisters. They cared for the weak and protected the defenseless. They worked together to bring freedom to the oppressed.

And secondly, they had their unshakeable hope. They believed in their message of forgiveness and life, and it didn’t just work like a drug, a sedative to help them cope with their problems. It was a motivation for change and for action, even in the face of real dangers like being thrown to the lions. They literally took up their cross and followed Jesus, believing that if they shared his fate, they would share his future. They believed in something worth living for. Something worth giving their life for.

Today, we look at this hope and our message will focus on our Bible reading in Peter’s first letter chapter 1:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

Praise be to God. May he be eternally blessed by all his creatures. Because he is no dead god. He is no false god. A god of stone or wood or gold, made and created by the skill of human hand. But he is the God who has made us and revealed himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whom Jesus trusted with all his heart. Whom we can trust with all our heart. For his mercy is great, wider than the ocean, higher than the sky, deeper than our most unfulfilled wishes. So great that it includes us, not because of what we have done, but despite what we have done.

Praise be to him, because he has given us new birth. For we have all made many mistakes and we have so many regrets and we wish we could go back and redo them and start all over again. But for all our wishing, all our good intentions, all our New Year resolutions, all our vows and solemn oaths that this time it’ll be different, we can no more bring about true and lasting change in our own strength than we can crawl into our mother’s wombs and be born again as fresh as a daisy.

But what we cannot achieve for all our striving, God can do. For in his great mercy we have new birth. It’s not just forgiveness. A clean slate. A fresh start. But it is also the promise that through the Spirit of Jesus we may be transformed into a new person. Not a different person than ourselves, but a better version of ourselves. Our true selves. A person who can say, “No,” to all the mistakes that we regret, and can say, “Yes,” to all the good that we wanted to do but never got around to.

Praise be to God for this new birth. A new birth into a living hope. For our hope in God does not die like my hopes for playing cricket for Australia, which crashed against the rocks of my lack of talent. Our hope does not die like our ambitions at work which can be set back by being passed over for promotion or sudden unemployment. Our hope is not crushed by a sudden dry spell in the weather or by chronic illness or by inflation or recession or by mishap or misadventure or misunderstanding. Our hope lives and endures through bad news and bad reviews, despite heat of summer and chill of winter. It lives on longer than the peak of our physical strength and mental agility. Our hope is living because its source is alive.

For we have new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our hope lives because he lives.

Jesus was dead and buried. He had given his life in his heroic struggle against the forces of human hate and misery. He had surrendered his spirit into his Father’s hand and breathed his last. His body taken down from the cross and buried in haste in a tomb of stone.

The women went there, expecting to find his corpse to salvage some kind of dignity and respect from his demise. But his body wasn’t there. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels asked, like they had made a mistake. Like they had gone to the wrong place. Like they were doing something wrong. “He is not here! He is risen!” they exclaimed before scolding them for forgetting Jesus’ own solemn promise.

The women ran back to the others with the news, but they weren’t believed. The disciples were broken people, shadows of their former selves. Their hopes had died with Jesus. Listen to the two talking to the stranger they met on the road.

Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

They had hoped. How they had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem them, to make all their wrongs right. With all their strength of mind and will they had put their hopes in Jesus. And as they trudged the lonely miles from Jerusalem to their village those hopes tasted like ashes in their mouth. They were broken men, dead inside, little knowing that the source of all their hopes was alive and kicking in their midst.

How foolish you are, the risen Lord Jesus scolded them, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?

Their hearts burned at his words, and they recognised him later in the breaking of bread. As slowly as they had trudged home for dinner they found new vigour to run all the way back to Jerusalem. This is despair turned into living hope. It didn’t help them cope with Jesus’ death. It spurred them into action so that they ran with the news.

Where did they find this energy? From where did they get the motivation? Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All their hopes were in him. Without him they were broken, dead men walking. But their hope was restored when Jesus showed himself alive and well. Not because he had escaped death, but because he had been rescued from being among the dead. Those who escape death live on to die later. But those who are raised from the dead are troubled by death no longer. It has already happened. It’s behind them, not ahead. In their past, not a part of their future.

Our hope lives, because the source of our hope is alive from the dead. Death is behind him. It can no longer touch him. It is in his past, not a part of his future. He is the Lord of the living and the dead, so that whether we live or die, our hope cannot die. Because in him we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

We have an inheritance because in Jesus we are the children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and heirs with him to the kingdom. Not by right of birth or as a reward for our good deeds. But by right of the new birth we have only in the great mercy of God.

It’s an inheritance that can never die, that can never waste away, that can never disappear, because it belongs to our Lord Jesus and is held securely in his hands. All worldly riches will fail us. Our cars will turn to rust. Our deposits will be consumed by inflation. Our clothes will go out of fashion. Our heroes disappoint us and our political leaders let us down. But our heavenly inheritance awaits us, still as brand spanking new as the first Easter day.

This is our hope. The resurrection of Jesus announces the victory of God’s love over hate, of God’s justice of evil, of God’s life over death. This message is not just a sedative that helps us cope with the disappointment of real life. It inspires action, when others can’t see the point of even trying. It inspires perseverance, when others just want to give up. It inspires courage, when others are paralysed by fear. It is something worth living for, worth giving our all for.

The paper and the TV are full of bad news, and the next plague is just around the corner. But it is time to start believing the good news of the victory of God announced in the resurrection of Jesus and to let this good news inspire our hope and courage for our every day choices and actions.