Okay. So last week Peter began a letter to Christians who lived almost 2000 years ago. And he began by calling them “God’s elect” — which is a good thing! Peter was saying that these Christians were members of the new nation of Israel, a new nation made up of people from many different nations, many different languages and ethic groups.
But then he went on to call them “exiles” — refugees, foreigners, displaced people. Which is bad!
But then we learned that it was true. These Christians lived in some of the most culturally diverse provinces of the Roman empire — that were also some of the most intensively Romanized provinces of the empire. Basically, everyone in those provinces really was a foreigner in one way or another. Many of them were migrants from other parts of the world; but even those who were native to those provinces were being actively colonized by Roman culture and concepts.
And what this meant is that everyone in that corner of the world was being confronted with a choice: they could voluntarily adopt Roman values, Roman culture, Roman religion, and receive all the benefits of being citizens in the most powerful empire in the world — or they could try to resist Rome…and be swallowed up anyway.
And most of the people of these provinces were choosing Option A. They were allowing themselves to be Romanized. Because at least that way they got to live! — and they got to have some kind of chance to move up in Roman society. They were motivated by the fear of homelessness and death; they were motivated by the desire for life and a place to belong.
But the Christians of these provinces had been rescued from Option A. They had grown up under Option A, and they knew that the benefits of Romanization were an illusion. They knew that the only way to move up in Roman society was by giving away your soul, your humanity. So they did not want to go back to that!
But — just like everyone else — they also did not want to die. They did not want to be homeless. They did not want to be forced out to the fringes of society.
So they had questions for Peter. Questions about the relationship between Christians and the Roman empire. Are we supposed to resist the empire, or support it? Are we supposed to preach sedition or cooperation? Are we supposed to withdraw from Roman culture or engage with it and perhaps transform it?
And these are our questions also.
Peter began to answer our questions last week by going right back to the foundation of all reality. He pointed out that the God who created everything through his Spirit and his Word is the same God who has now transformed these diverse people into one international Christian nation, a nation whose borders are defined by baptism, not by geography or language or ethnicity or anything else. Which means that, in the eyes of the world, we do not quite fit in. We are refugees, foreigners among the empires of the world.
But this just leads to a second set of questions: what does it mean to be a citizen of this new international Christian nation? What are the benefits? What are the costs?
The Roman empire, the Chinese empire, the American empire, the Islamic empire — every empire on earth is always very clear about its investment portfolio. The benefits are: continued life, a chance to own land, a change to gain wealth or power or influence or whatever turns you on. The costs are: loss of individuality and independent thought, complete submission to empire values and culture…
So, in order for us to make an informed choice between Christianity and the empires of the world, really we want to know: what are the costs and benefits of citizenship in Christ’s nation?
Peter is going to begin to answer these questions today.
He begins with worship:  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
And then he goes on to outline the benefits of citizenship in 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.
Okay. So, according to Peter, there are two main benefits of citizenship in Christ: new birth into a living hope, and new birth into an inheritance.
So, of course, now we want to know: what is this ”living hope?” And what is this “inheritance?”
And the simple answers are these: our “living hope” is the resurrection of our bodies, and our “inheritance” is the resurrected earth we will one day live on.
And our response is: “…oh.”
Because simple answers are not really helpful, are they? Those are the right answers — we know that! — but they do not seem especially relevant to our situation. We are asking about how to live now, in this world. We are not asking about the next world.
But as usual, Peter is not actually offering us simple answers.
These are simple words: “hope” and “inheritance”; they do have simple meanings that even a child can understand. But, like many simple words in the New Testament, these are words with a deep and profound history behind them. Last week we discovered that, for Peter, the words “elect” and “exiles” have simple, surface meanings — and they also have meanings that are deeply embedded in the story of God’s relationship with his people in the Old Testament. These words “hope” and “inheritance” are the same.
Peter does want us to arrive at the simple answers — but he also wants us understand the history behind these answers. These words will be just words to us — until we get a chance to see them in action. Only after we have seen them in action will we be able to say, “Oh! Now I really get it!”
So, let’s go back and try to understand what part of Israel’s ancient history Peter has in his mind when he writes these words:
He begins here by saying praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So God is not our father, he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But this is our Lord Jesus Christ.
How did he become our Lord? Well, last week Peter said that we have been chosen to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. That sprinkling was a reference to the Old Testament baptism in animal blood that turned the slaves-in-Egypt people of Israel into the adopted-by-God people of Israel. Peter was saying that our New Testament baptism in Jesus’ blood did the same thing for us: it turned us into the adopted-by-God people of Israel.
So, basically, when we accept Jesus as our Lord, then God also becomes our Father.
So: God actually is our father after all. He has given us new birth into a new family: his family. God’s family.
Okay so far.
But why did the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ allow his Son to die just so we could receive this new birth into his family?
Well, Peter says, it is because of his great mercy that he has given us this new birth.
…okay. Mercy sounds nice, of course.
But here, again: a bit simplistic, perhaps?
Ah! But this just means we should ask ourselves what Peter means when he uses this word “mercy”. Does this word “mercy” also have some deeper historical layers of meaning for Peter?
The answer is yes. Peter uses a Greek word for mercy that has deep connections to an ancient Hebrew word for mercy. And that Hebrew word for mercy is one of the deepest, richest words of the Old Testament, because it is used to describe God’s covenant-bound love for his people.
In other words, when Peter says the word “mercy” here, he is not thinking about the kind of mercy an impartial judge shows when he allows a criminal to go free. Peter is thinking about the kind of mercy that a father shows when he sees his beloved child fall into a flooded river, the kind of mercy a husband shows when he hears his wife screaming when she is attacked. Peter is thinking about the most active, the most passionate, the most desperate kind of mercy we can ever imagine, because it is a mercy motivated by love.
For Peter, this word “mercy” is a very strong action word.
And sure enough, when we look into the Old Testament, we get to see God’s passionate mercy in very clear action during the Exodus from Egypt. We are told that the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. And because God was bound into a covenant relationship with their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — because God’s own honour was at stake — God heard them and sent them a messiah save them, a messiah who was willing to risk his own life to save them, just like any father or husband would do if they found their family members being abused.
And this is why Peter associates this kind of passionate mercy with new birth: because a child that falls into a flooded river is as good as dead, a woman who is overpowered by evil men loses her sense of personhood. And so, when a father or a husband risks his own life to rescue and restore those to whom he is bound by covenant, then it is very accurate to say that they have been given a new birth, a new life. That is what the ancient people of Israel received when they were sprinkled with animal blood at the foot of Mount Sinai: a new birth from ”slaves in Egypt” into ”children of God”. And that is what Christians receive when we are sprinkled with Jesus’ blood at the foot of the cross: a new birth from “slaves of the world” to “children of God”.
So: why did the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ allow his Son to die so that we might receive this new birth, this new identity as members of his family?
In short, Peter is saying that God saved us because he feels the same passionate mercy, the same covenant love for us that he felt for the people of Israel. He heard our cries of despair just like he heard their cries of despair. And he answered us in the same way he once answered them: by sending a Messiah who spent his own life to save our lives from slavery.
Okay. We are making progress here. Now we understand what part of Israel’s ancient history Peter has in mind when he writes about being “sprinkled”, when he writes about “mercy” and “new birth”: he is definitely thinking about the brand new nation of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.
And this helps us begin to understand what Peter has in mind when he writes about ”a living hope” and “an inheritance”.
Because that brand new nation of Israel would have been asking the same questions we are asking now: what are the benefits of our new birth into this new nation?
Well, the first benefit of their new birth was hope. A living hope.
So of course we have to ask: what did that mean for them?
It meant that their lives finally had meaning and dignity. When they were slaves in Egypt, nothing they did, nothing they built, was for themselves. They existed only for the benefit of their Egyptian overlords. And as soon as they ceased to be useful, they died, leaving nothing behind.
So, for them, a living hope meant the opposite of all that. A living hope meant that from now on they would grow up and marry and have kids and work and build homes and all these things would finally be for themselves, for the benefit of their own nation, not for someone else’s!
The first benefit of their new birth was God’s promise that they would have a future.
The second benefit was related to the first: they had a living hope now because now they also had an inheritance.
And what did an inheritance mean for them?
It meant a homeland. Property that they would be able to pass down to their children so that they would also have a living hope, a secure future! In those days economic security was tied to ownership of land, and it is still that way in many parts of our world even today.
So the second benefit of their new birth as a new nation was God’s promise that he had set aside a homeland for them.
This is the ancient history Peter is thinking about when he says that we Christians now have ”a living hope” and “an inheritance”. Except that, in Peter’s mind, those Old Covenant benefits to the ancient people of God are nothing compared to the much greater benefits God has given to his New Covenant people through Jesus Christ!
See, at Mount Sinai, the people of Israel were given new birth into a living hope that their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren would have a chance to live meaningful lives for themselves and for the sake of their own families.
At the cross, we were given new birth into a living hope that we will never actually die! That is what Peter means when he says that our living hope comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: the fact that our Messiah now lives beyond the reach of death means that we also live beyond the reach of death. And this means that, not only will our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren get the chance to live live meaningful lives — but we will get to live to see them live those meaningful lives!
— let’s pause for a moment just to think about the implications of that:
Because we have been baptized into Christ and given new birth, we are one day going to get to see the fruit of our lives ten, twenty generations from now! And we are going to get to see how we are the fruit of all the generations that came before us…
Mmmmm. We’ll revisit that in a bit —
So Peter is saying that our living hope is almost infinitely greater than the hope ancient Israel received.
In the same way, at Mount Sinai, the people of Israel were given new birth into an inheritance: the promise of a homeland. All they had to do to claim this inheritance was walk there and enter. And all they had to do to keep it was: be obedient to God’s law, and teach the next generation to do the same.
Simple, yes: but not so easy. If you are familiar with the story of ancient Israel, then you already know that they found it very difficult just to walk there and enter! It took them 40 years to cover 11 days of travel. And then, even after they did manage to claim their inheritance, they found it very difficult to keep: because they found it very difficult to remain obedient, generation after generation, to God’s law.
In other words: the inheritance the people of Israel received could perish. It did spoil. It faded away through neglect and disobedience.
But at the cross, we were given new birth into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
Now: why can’t it perish, spoil or fade?
Because this inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power.
So Peter is also saying that our inheritance is almost infinitely greater than the inheritance ancient Israel received because our inheritance is kept for us: we cannot lose it through disobedience, because we are not the ones holding it! Our inheritance is there; we are here; but our inheritance is guaranteed because we are shielded by God’s power. And this protection, this preservation that we receive from God comes to us only because of faith, not because of our religious works.
In other words, when Peter says that through faith we are shielded by God’s power, what he means is that, like little children, we ask our Father for help whenever we need help, and our Father answers every time. He does not make us jump through various religious hoops first. He does not say, “Well, let’s see first if you have earned enough points for me to protect you.” No: he hears our cries for deliverance, and he acts to guarantee that we will receive our inheritance.
But now we want to know: what exactly is this inheritance?
If it is kept in heaven for us, then we have to assume it is some kind of spiritual inheritance, right?
Well…not quite. Since our living hope is the promise that we will be physically resurrected just like Jesus, then presumably we are going to need some kind of physically resurrected place to live.
And that is what Peter says in verse 5: this inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
When Peter talks about “salvation” being revealed in the “last time”, he is not talking about some kind of purely spiritual thing where we get sucked up to heaven. He is talking about a…super-physical event when Heaven comes down to earth and transforms it once and for all on the Last Day.
See, Peter’s understanding of world history was shaped by the Old Testament prophets. And the Old Testament prophets all envisioned a sudden Day of Judgement when God himself would descend in physical form to deliver his people from the empires of this world, and transform the earth into one world-wide garden where he himself will live with his people forever.
And later on in his letters Peter is going to talk more about the Last Time, Judgement Day, and all that. So don’t worry, we will be returning to this topic in the weeks to come.
For now we’ll just focus on Peter’s main point here, which is that our inheritance is real, it is physical, it is going to be revealed at a distinct moment in time. The inheritance Peter has in mind is an earthly inheritance: the promise of a world made new, where all diversity will be perfectly balanced under the rule of the Messiah, where every life will have meaning.
Really, he is saying that our inheritance is almost infinitely greater than the inheritance ancient Israel received…because our inheritance is the entire earth! an earth that has been completely made new, an earth that will never perish.
Okay. So now our questions have been thoroughly answered: our “living hope” is the resurrection of our bodies; our “inheritance” is the resurrected earth. And we have seen these words in action in the Old Testament — we have seen what they meant in the Old Testament — so now we are better able to feel the living weight and complexity underneath the simplicity.
But we still have one unanswered question, don’t we: how are these future things relevant to our situation today?
Because, just like the ancient people of Israel after they left Mount Sinai, we are also a refugee people who are still on the way to our promised homeland. We are a refugee people travelling across a desert, surrounded by hostile nations who want to stop us.
What do these future benefits have to do with our lives right here, right now?
Yes, these are promises for the future. But they change everything about how we live in the present! Without our new birth, without our living hope, and without our promised inheritance, we would be nothing more than a random collection of runaway slaves wandering lost in the wilderness. But because we have been born again through baptism, because we do have a living hope, because we do have an inheritance, we are now a united nation of free people travelling to a fixed destination. And this makes all the difference in our everyday lives!
For instance: before we were sprinkled with Jesus’ blood — before we were sprinkled with the cleansing waters of baptism — we were slaves to the empires of this world. We actually had no real identity except as cogs in some giant machine. We had no real identity except the one that was assigned to us, or the one we could make for ourselves.
Those of us who grew up in more traditional, collective societies were taught that our identity is assigned to us. Those of you from a Buddhist, Hindu, or Islamic background know what I am talking about: traditional societies are quite rigid, with a tendency toward fatalism. Meaning that, if you were born near the top of your society, lucky for you! If you were born near the bottom…oh, too bad: there’s really nothing we can do about that! Right?
In a traditional society you are basically a slave to the identity you were given at birth — the only difference between people is that some have a very pleasant slavery near the top, while others have a very unpleasant slavery near the botttom.
And those of us who grew up in more modern, individualistic societies cannot understand why traditional people do not rebel against this slavery, because it seems so obvious! But people in modern societies fail to realize that, while the cost of traditional societies may be slavery, the benefit is stability.
In traditional societies, we greatly value stability. Because stability means a steady economy, a regular food supply, peace rather than war…and if this means that we must be slaves to an identity that is assigned to us: okay! It is worth the price.
But more modern societies value flexibility over stability. Yes, flexibility means an unstable economy — but, if you are fast, if you are smart, you can take advantage of that instability and make a fortune overnight. In other words: in modern societies it is possible to change your identity.
Those of us who grew up in more modern, individualistic societies were taught that identity is something we assign to ourselves. If you were born near the bottom, nevermind: if you work hard, if you get a good education, you too can rise to the top! And this is how people in modern societies define freedom.
But those of us who grew up in more traditional, collective societies cannot understand why modern people are so blind to the superficiality of self-assigned identities! People in traditional societies know that making a lot of money does not change the fact that you are still a low-class person with a low-class mentality; putting a crown on your head and calling yourself a king does not make it so.
And the thing is: modern people instinctively know that their societies are superficial, and this produces a lot of insecurity. We all know that it is not enough to crown yourself king — now you have to persuade all the people around you to accept your new identity. But the people around you are going to resist being persuaded, because they are busy trying to persuade you that they are the true king! And this is how modern people end up in slavery to their own need for acceptance by others.
So in a traditional society you are basically a slave to the identity you were given at birth. But in a modern society you are a slave to the identity you have given yourself. The traditional kind of slavery is more obvious, the modern kind is more subtle; but they are both slavery. And the truth is, all of us here today have actually grown up somewhere between the traditional and the modern, we have been influenced and enslaved by both ways of thinking.
The end result is the same: before we were baptized into Christ we actually had no real identity except as cogs in the great colonizing machine of our cultures.
But our baptism into Christ changed all that.
For those of us who were enslaved in traditional societies, trapped in an identity that was assigned to us from birth — well, now we have been given a new birth, a new identity as a child of God. And there is no one on earth who enjoys more freedom than a child of God!
For those of us who were enslaved by modern societies, trapped by the pressure to create and defend an identity for ourselves — well, now we have been given a new birth, a new identity as a child of God. And there is no one on earth who enjoys more security than a child of God.
Our new birth — our new identity in Christ — gives us true freedom and true security right here, right now, in real life.
And because we have this new identity in Christ, now we also have this living hope, this promise that our lives have lasting value and meaning.
Before, when we were slaves to the empires of our world, we did not have a living hope:
Those of us who grew up in more traditional societies were taught that our value comes from being an effective cog in the machine, and that the meaning behind our existence is to make our afterlife as least torturous as possible.
Those of us who grew up in more modern societies were taught that our value comes from our ability to move up to the top of the machine, and that there is actually no meaning behind our existence, that there is no afterlife to worry about!
Modern people thought that by deleting the afterlife, they were setting themselves free from the fears of traditional societies. And maybe that is true! But meaninglessness has resulted in a whole new set of fears, in a whole new kind of despair. Because if there is no point behind existence then…what’s the point?
But our living hope in Christ has delivered us from our traditional fears and our modern despair: the fact that we are going to live forever means that our value no longer comes from being an effective cog in the machine or from rising to the top of the machine — because we are going to outlive the machine!
The fact that we are going to live forever means that everything we do in this life now has meaning and significance — because now we have continuity!
Allow me to explain what I mean:
In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, we are told that a life apart from God is meaningless because there is no continuity.
This is how the writer put it: I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This is meaningless.
But imagine with me, now, again, what it will be like to know whether the person who came after me was wise or foolish! Imagine what it will be like to meet our distant descendants and find out what they made out of what we began! Imagine what it will be like to meet our distant ancestors and show them what we have made out of what they began.
We were wondering what practical effect our future resurrection has on our lives today? — well: now we know that everything we do will have an effect that will echo in eternity. The future that is unknown to us now, will one day be the past that we will look back on and say, “Oh! Now I understand why it had to happen that way! Now I understand the meaning behind all of these events in our lives!”
So our future living hope changes everything about how we see our lives unfolding today.
And because we have this new living hope in Christ, now we also have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Through our baptism, we are now citizens of the nation that is going to outlive every other nation on earth. Which means that we actually stand to inherit everything.
And since we are one day going to inherit everything…why should we care about what the empires of our world have to offer?
Those of us who grew up in more traditional societies were taught that wealth and power and status are usually attached to land ownership. And those of us who grew up in more modern societies were taught essentially the same thing: that is why borders and passports still matter.
Now, some of us own property. Some of us do not. Some of us are highly educated. Some of us are not. Some of us have stable careers. Some of us do not. Which means that, in the eyes of the world, some of us look more stable and productive than others. But those differences are actually superficial. And we all know this, even though we do not want to know this. We all know that laws can change, that property can be confiscated, that educations can become irrelevant, careers can become obsolete. We all know, in the back of our minds, that we are all just one disaster away from potential homelessness.
And it was that fear that kept us cooperating with our traditional and modern societies: we were willing to give away our souls, our humanity, our freedom in exchange for some kind of guarantee that we will have land and a home.
But this promise of our eternal inheritance in Christ has delivered us from our previous obsession with land and property and career and everything else we thought would make life worthwhile. Now we know that it does not actually matter if we own property or not, if we are highly educated or not, if we have a stable career or not. Because, as citizens of this new international Christian nation, we are all going to the same place. Our destination is fixed and guaranteed and waiting for us, and we are going to arrive there together, in the moment it is revealed in the last time.
So, we were wondering what practical effect this future inheritance has on our lives today? — well: now we know that as we dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ, we are not simply storing up treasures for ourselves in some disconnected heaven, we are investing in our own earthly inheritance to come.
We all work now because we expect to get paid next month. We plant seeds now because we expect to reap a harvest next year. We buy property now because we expect that in three decades we will see a return on our investment. So how would it change our investment patterns if we really understood that we are going to be around in 500 years — 1000 years, 10,000 years! — to claim our returns?
Last week we started this letter with some important questions for Peter: how are we, as Christians, supposed to interact with the empires of this world?
And Peter began by telling us to deliberately change the way we look at reality. He called upon us to accept the fact that among the empires of this world we are actually refugees, foreigners. No matter how close we may seem to the center of our societies…we are actually on the fringes. But nemind! — because in reality we are in the center of our Father’s affection. We live in the centre of the only kingdom that really matters.
But all that just led us to ask another set of questions: what does it look like to live as citizens in this new international Kingdom of Christians? What are the real world benefits? What are the real world costs?
Today, Peter began by describing the benefits: we have a new birth into a future living hope and a future living inheritance: the promise of a resurrected eternal life on a resurrected eternal earth. Basically, Peter just told us that the reason Jesus’ kingdom is the only one that matters is because Jesus’ kingdom is the only one that will survive Judgement Day. And since, through baptism, we have a secure citizenship in Jesus’ eternal kingdom, we know that we will survive Judgement Day.
And that is great news!
But these future benefits do not just give us confidence on the Day of Judgement, they also give us confidence now, today. Our living hope means that our lives now have value, meaning, significance that we never had before. The promise of our inheritance means that nothing we do on this earth is wasted, because it is all going to be carried over to the new earth and given back to us as a return on the investments we made in this life.
…and, in closing here: this is where begin we realize that, by answering our question about benefits, Peter has also begun to answer our questions about how to interact with the empires of this world.
We were wondering if we are supposed to resist or support, withdraw or engage, accept or transform…but now we are beginning to realize that our relationship with this world is actuallytoo complicated for simple binary answers. The power-structures of this world are destined for destruction, which means there is no point in participating or investing in them. But now we know that some things from this world are going to be preserved, carried over into the next world, and those things are worth our investment and participation.
But how can we tell which parts of our world are worth investing in, and which parts we should just leave alone? And once we figure that out, how are we supposd to invest or leave alone?
Mmm. Those are such a good questions!
I’m sure Peter is going to answer them. But you’ll have to keep coming back to find out.