We’re coming to the end of 1 Peter today. Right at the beginning, Peter wrote about how, in his great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope and into an inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade, but which is kept in heaven for all who trust in Jesus Christ. And the living hope he gives us is the hope of the resurrection; and the inheritance he has stored for us is eternal life in God’s presence. While we go on living on the earth, we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials which God has sent into our lives to test the genuineness of our faith. Nevertheless, despite the grief we have to suffer, we can also rejoice because of the great hope and the great inheritance God has given to us. Those are two of the great themes which we find in Peter’s first letter: the great hope God has given to every believer concerning the life to come; and the suffering and trials every believer has to endure in this life.
But there are two other themes which we also find in this letter. There’s the idea that we’re only strangers and aliens in the world, because our true home, our real home, is in heaven, where Jesus Christ our Saviour is. But then, even though we’re only strangers and aliens in the world, nevertheless, while we go on living on the earth, we must endeavour to live good lives each day. And that means we’re to be the best citizens we can be; and we’re to be the best workers we can be; and, if we’re married, we’re to be the best spouse we can be. So, we’re only strangers and aliens in the world, because our true home is in heaven. Nevertheless, while we go on living on the earth, our life here on earth ought to reflect the glory of heaven so that our unbelieving neighbours will see the good things we do in obedience to our Heavenly Father; and — who know? who knows? — they too might come to believe as well.
So, we’ve come across those four themes: our great hope for the future; but our present sufferings; we’re only strangers here; but we’re to live good lives here. Today we come to the final verses and to Peter’s final words of instruction for us; and it begins with verse 6 where Peter writes:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
Humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand means accepting and submitting ourselves to God’s will for us. And given everything that Peter has already said — about suffering grief in all kinds of trial; and about going through painful and fiery trials — it seems clear that, when Peter writes about humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand, he means we’re to accept as God’s will for us all he trials and the suffering which he had sent into our lives.
We believe — don’t we? — that our God rules and reigns over all; and that nothing happens to us — including the trials we face — which is not part of his will for us. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:
he … upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
Therefore, the Heidelberg Catechism goes on to teach, believing this,
[we] learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faith God and Father for the future….
Well, that’s what it means to humble ourselves, or to submit ourselves, under God’s mighty hand. It means accepting that he’s the one who rules over all; and it means accepting that he sometimes sends troubles and trials into our life; and it means we’re to bow before our God and we’re trust that our Heavenly Father loves us and knows what is best for us.
So, we’re to accept and submit ourselves to God’s will for us. However, look at the promise which is attached to what Peter says: humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, so that he may lift you up in due time. Peter is once again directing our attention to the glory of heaven, which awaits all of God’s faithful people. While there may be suffering in this life, God has prepared for us a glorious future in his presence. And in due course, when the time is right, the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; and when he comes, all of God’s people will be lifted up; and we will be glorified in his presence; and made perfect for ever. Just as the Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself by coming to earth as a man in obedience to his Father’s will, and just as he humbled himself by dying on the cross to pay for our sins in obedience to his Father’s will, so we’re to humble ourselves and we’re to submit ourselves to our Father’s will for us. And just as, after all that he suffered, the Lord Jesus Christ was exalted to heaven, so we too, after all that we have to suffer in this life, will be exalted to heaven.
After all that Peter has said in this letter, about the suffering of God’s people, it’s no surprise that he should come back to this theme at the end of his letter, to remind us once again that we need to submit to God’s will for us, whatever it is. But it’s no surprise that Peter should also come back to the theme of the glory to come in the future, because this is our comfort and our encouragement in this life. When we face trials of many kinds in this life, we’re comforted and encouraged by the promise that one day, if we persevere, and don’t give up, then God will lift us up to the glory of eternal life in his presence.
That doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t care what we go through in this life. It doesn’t mean he’s an unsympathetic tyrant who is unconcerned for our welfare. On Sunday evenings, we’re going through the book of Exodus which begins with the story of the Israelites in Egypt. And remember the Pharaoh? He didn’t care about the well-being of the Israelites, did he? He put slave masters over them; and he forced them to work hard in their fields and in their building sites; he made their lives bitter with hard labour; and he dealt with them ruthlessly. And when they complained about their hard work, the Pharaoh replied: ‘Lazy, that’s what you are. Lazy! … Now get to work.’ Well, our Heavenly Father is not like the Pharaoh, because look what Peter goes on to say about him in verse 7:
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
No matter what we have to go through in this life, no matter what grief we have to suffer, no matter what fiery trials we may face, we need to keep believing that our Heavenly Father cares for us.
So, what does that mean? Well, think of the Lord Jesus before he was arrested, and how he went to the Mount of Olives. Do you remember? Luke tells us that he was in anguish and his sweat was like drops of blood, falling to the ground as he thought about all that was about to happen to him, and how very soon, he would take upon himself the punishment for our sins. And being in anguish like that, sweating like that, he bowed before his Father in heaven and he prayed. He prayed. And do you remember the outcome? Luke tells us that an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. Well, I’m not saying an angel from heaven will appear before you; but I’m saying that our Father in heaven, who cares for us, will hear and answer our prayers when we come to him and cast all our anxiety upon him. Or think of the time when the apostles Peter and John were arrested and threatened and warned never to preach about the Lord Jesus again. And after they were released, what did they do? They gathered with the other believers and they prayed. They prayed. And the Lord heard and answered them and filled them with his Spirit so that they were able to preach the word of God boldly.
So, think about our anxieties: all the things that we’re worried about; all the things that our troubling us; all the things that our too much for us; all the things that keep us awake at night; and all the things that are on our mind throughout the day. We’re able to cast them all on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us and will therefore help us.
And how do we know God cares for us? It’s simple really: he cared for us so much that he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all; and since he gave up his Son for us and for our eternal salvation, then there’s no good thing that he will withhold from those who trust in him.
So, as Peter draws his letter to a close, he reminds us that we’re to humble ourselves, we to submit ourselves, under God’s mighty hand, believing that in due time, he will lift us up to the glory of heaven; and in the meantime, while we wait for that day, we’re to cast our anxieties upon him, believing that he cares for us.
But Peter hasn’t finished yet; there’s more. He tells in verses 8 and 9 that we’re to be self-controlled and alert; and we’re to stand firm in the faith. Look with me again at those verses:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
To help us understand these verses, think for a moment about a climber who is holding on to the cliff face. And he’s holding on to the cliff face so that he will not fall and hurt himself. And just as that climber has to hold on to the cliff face, so believers have to hold on to the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to cling to him by faith, because we know that whoever clings to him by faith will be saved.
But, of course, during our life, we face all these trials and troubles. And all of these trials and troubles put pressure on us. They press down upon us. But so long as we cling to Christ, we’re okay; and we’re okay, because we’re still clinging to the one person who can give us eternal life.
But, you see, the Devil comes along; and he tries to get us to let go. He wants to break our faith so that we will let go of Christ and fall away from him and from his salvation. And the Devil will use the trials we suffer in this life and the troubles we face each day to put us under pressure and to try to get us to release our hold on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, since that’s what he’s trying to do, what should we do? Well, Peter teaches us here that we we need to be self-controlled and alert, so that we’re ready for him when he comes at us. And we need to resist him when he begins to put pressure on us. And how do we resist him? Well, by standing firm in the faith, which means we’re to cling to Christ more and more. When troubles come, when we suffer grief in all kinds of trial, we’re not to loosen our hold on Christ — which is what the Devil wants us to do — instead we’re to hold on to Christ even tighter than before. We need to cling to Christ with all the strength he gives us, so that, no matter how great the pressure on us gets, we’ll not let go, but will continue to trust in Christ. That’s what it means to stand firm in the faith; and that’s how we resist the Devil: we resist the Devil by clinging to Christ.
So, when I visit people in hospital, or when I go and see people who are going through a hard time, very often I’ll pray that their faith will not fail. And I pray for that because I know that the Devil is likely to come along and use their illness, or use whatever trials they’re going through, to put them under pressure so that they will let go of Christ. That’s what he wants most of all: he wants us to give up our faith so that we will fall away from Christ and his salvation. And so, he uses our illnesses and our troubles to get us to doubt God’s goodness and his faithfulness and his care. He’ll whisper in our ear: ‘God doesn’t care for you. If he cared for you, he wouldn’t let you suffer like this. If God loved you, he wouldn’t let this happen to you. God doesn’t love you.’ And if we listen to the voice of the Devil, we’ll let go of our Heavenly Father and we’ll let go of the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour; we’ll let go of the God who is able to save us. And so, when I visit people who are in hospital, and when I visit people who are struggling, I pray that their faith will not fail, but that, no matter what happens to them, they’ll continue to trust in the Lord.
Well, the Devil uses the trials we suffer and the troubles we face to weaken our faith. Do you know what the Lord uses to strengthen our faith? Well, he uses what we do on Sundays to strengthen our faith, because when we gather together like this on Sundays, God uses his word and his sacraments and the prayers we offer to strengthen our faith. By our prayers, we’re able to seek his help; and through the reading and preaching of his word, and through the sacraments, he reminds us of the greatness of his love for us. And every time we’re reminded of the greatness of his love for us, then we’re reminded again of why we ought to trust in him and cling to him. The Devil whispers in our ear: ‘Look at how you’re suffering. God doesn’t care for you. There’s no point trusting in him.’ But the Scriptures and the sacraments, they say to us: ‘Look at how Christ suffered for you. That’s how great his love is. So, cling to him.’
So, we’re to submit ourselves to God’s will for us; and we’re to stand firm in the faith. And in verses 10 and 11 Peter once again directs our attention to the future glory which is awaiting us in the life to come. And so he writes:
And the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever. Amen.
When Peter says ‘after you have suffered a little while’, he’s referring to our life here on earth. Our life here on earth is very much a life of trials and troubles and sorrow and sadness and heartache. We all know what it is to weep. And as well as coping with all the sorrow and sadness of this troubled life, believers also have to contend with all the suffering that comes because of our faith in Christ, because the Devil is against us, and an unbelieving world is against us.
But here’s the hope that Peter gives to those who trust in Christ: after you have suffered for a little while in this life, there’s the eternal glory of the life to come which God has called us to when he called us to put our faith in Christ. So, while there may be suffering and sorrow now, there’s glory to come. That’s God’s promise to all who believe. And the suffering and sorrow lasts only for a little while, because it’s only for this life; but the glory is eternal and will last for ever and for ever. That’s also God’s promise to all who believe.
And so, while we may suffer in this life, the day will come when God will restore us. In other words, while we may feel broken now, and though the world may feel broken now, one day God will put all things right so that everything will be the way it was meant to be. Do you often wish you could start again? That everything in your life is broken and you’d like to start over? Well, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God will begin to make you new in his life; he’ll begin to make you new, helping you to change what needs to change; and helping you to put right some of the things which are wrong in your life. He’ll begin the work in this life; and he’ll bring it to completion when Jesus Christ comes again to restore everything and to make everything new.
And whereas we often feel weak and vulnerable now — and we do often feel weak and vulnerable now (don’t we?), because there’s so much in our lives which we can’t control and which seems too much for us — nevertheless, God will make us strong and firm and steadfast for ever when we come into his presence in glory.
And if we wonder how God is able to do this, Peter reminds us in verse 11 that to him — to our God who has promised to do all this for us — to him belongs the power for ever and ever. He’s almighty and all-powerful and he’s able to do all that he has promised for us.
And so, as we come to the end of this letter, a letter which often deals with the reality of suffering in this life, we’re reminded once again of the glory that is waiting in heaven for all who believe in God’s Son. So, 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 — 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.