Every once in a while, we’ll hear someone say that such-and-such is the most important doctrine in the Bible or the most important event in biblical history. “Because,” they’ll say, “if that had not happened, everything would have stopped at that point.”
We can say that about Jesus’ Incarnation, His Virgin Birth, His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. Each one is a vital aspect of God’s plan for redeeming this runaway planet. But to say that one is more important than the other is like choosing one link of a chain as superior to the others.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for you….”
That’s how I memorized these two verses a generation ago. Here is how the NIV says it:
“Praise 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–kept in heaven for you.”
One more? Here’s Eugene Peterson’s take on the same two verses:
“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life, and have everything to live for, including a future in Heaven–and the future starts now!” (The Message)
Okay, first a brief analysis of the contents of these two verses, then the celebration of them.
Peter begins by blessing God. He should, and so should we. It all begins in the heart of the Father, everything you and I appreciate about being disciples of Jesus.
1. God is its Source.
2. Mercy is its Cause.
3. The resurrection of Jesus is its culmination.
These three I’m calling the three causes of our eternal blessed state:
God is the great Initiator. “God so loved the world that He gave….” “God loved us and sent His Son…”
God’s mercy is the biggest surprise and most welcome wonder of the universe. After all, it’s not like he was duty-bound to create us or see us or care for us in our need or have patience with our philandering. He could just as easily have said, “Oops!” and wiped out humanity with one sweep of his hand. But when God saw us in our blind groping and stumbling, His heart was touched and He felt compassion.
I wonder if you have given thanks lately for the mercy of God. Paul wrote, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
Mercy, simply stated, means God feeling compassion for our helpless state and choosing not to give us what we deserve but something far better.
The wonderful James Richardson, one of my mentors, used to tell about an angry man who stood in a church business meeting and bellowed, “All I want is what’s coming to me!” A little lady sitting nearby tugged on his coat-tail and said, “Sit down, George. If you got what was coming to you, you’d be in hell.”
The resurrection of Jesus is the “fini!” stamped on God’s plan to rescue humanity. The empty tomb and the rolled-away stone with the angel sitting on top sporting a Mona-Lisa smile (I’m betting!) sent shock waves throughout the community of the faithful just as it did the conspiracy of the dunces. If Jesus was alive, everything He said was true, every promise He made was good, and everyone who fought against Him was in big trouble.
They would have been, had it not been for His mercy.
The Father and His mercy…gave us the Son and His resurrection…producing the believer and his blessings!
Then, Peter mentions three results of these three causes:
1. We are born again
2. We have a living hope.
3. We have a heavenly inheritance.
“Begotten us again.” Those who are in Christ have been born all over again. We are “a new creation.” (II Corinthians 5:17) Peter and we remember what Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Being reborn in Christ is primary, of the highest importance. Every other command and duty given to humanity is secondary to this. At the end of his discussion on circumcision, Paul issues this verdict, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)
“You must be born again.” (John 3:7)
“A living hope.” Now, a dead hope would be like putting your trust in, oh, say, Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. Great men to be sure, but they are dead. Anything they can do for you, they’ve done it. To expect anything further from either is to set yourself up for a major disappointment.
“This hope we have as an anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:19) Somewhere we have heard that one can live a month without food, a week without water, a few minutes without air, but not another second without hope.
“A heavenly inheritance.” Interestingly, the Apostle Peter does not go into any kind of detail here about Heaven–I expect he told us all he knew–but simply declares that waiting out there ahead of believers is an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, and reserved.
Interesting set of modifiers there. Whatever God has waiting for us in Heaven–Jesus called it “the Father’s house” where He was going “to prepare a place” for us (John 14)–it’s vastly superior to any inheritance one might come by in this life.
To emphasize and illustrate what these four terms mean about our heavenly inheritance, suppose you get word you have inherited an estate in a far country.
1) Suppose when you arrived, you found that the inheritance was a farm or a ranch and that, left untended, all the animals had died. Your prized estate is basically worthless now. That inheritance was not incorruptible or imperishable.
2) Suppose when you arrived you discovered the neighbors had ravaged the place, graffiti was everywhere, the house was cleaned out, and it was unliveable. Your inheritance was not undefiled.
3) Suppose the estate was composed of prized antique automobiles, but in the absence of a caretaker, they had rusted and lost most of their value. Your inheritance was not unfading.
4) Suppose a distant cousin with claims of his own to the estate had beat you to the place and set up residence. The only way you can get him out is to hire lawyers, go to court, and hope for the best. Your inheritance was not reserved for you.
Whatever God has awaiting us in heaven (“eye has not seen and ear has not heard the things God has prepared for those who love Him” I Corinthians 2:9), we may be sure it is wonderful beyond description. Professor and friend Fisher Humphries says, “We know heaven is going to be wonderful because earth is so fascinating.”
There is so much to celebrate here.
We have a Heavenly Father who looks at us with compassion. He is the father of Luke 15’s parable of the Prodigal Son. He is the Father of Matthew 22 who throws a great feast for His son and invites the lame, the blind, the poor. Best of all, He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have a risen Savior. After Jesus died on the cross for our sins, had His story stopped there, we would be forming memorial societies to commemorate His life and celebrate His goodness. But nothing more. We would be stuck with a dead hope.
I was involved in a confrontation with the disciples of an eastern guru once who were telling gullible young people that in every generation God had shown up on earth in human form. Moses was God, Abraham was God, Krishna was God, Jesus was God, Mohammed was God, and–would you believe?–their guru was the latest incarnation of the Creator.
I asked them, “What do you make of the resurrection of Jesus? All the other people you named died and were buried. Jesus rose from the dead. That would make Him a zillion miles above all those others. What do you do with that?”
Their answer stuns me to this day. “Oh, we don’t think anything that happened 2,000 years ago has any possible meaning to us today.”
In so few words, they did away with the significance of the written revelation of God and the risen Lord.
The right answer to that response from the guru’s followers is this: “The point of the resurrection is that He’s still alive. Jesus is still with us. And that means every other reality has to line up with Him or it won’t work.”
When asked how to be saved, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
So, we celebrate our merciful God, our risen Savior, and our waiting inheritance.
C. S. Lewis wrote to an American friend, “I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter.”
His letter was dated June 28, 1963. He was in Heaven within five months.
We have plenty to celebrate. Let’s walk out of here with joy in our hearts, a smile on our faces, and a good word for everyone we meet.
The Lord reigns!
Dr. McKeever – Powerful insights which, I am most certain, will be preached throughout God’s Church as soon as some can get into their pulpits!