An Indescribable Joy

If you were here for the sunrise service last week, you heard Warren joke that the staff chose straws for that early service. Well, today’s services are sort of like that, too. The pastors and musicians have been incredibly busy during Lent. They led weekly studies, extra services, and Jody had considerably more sermons than usual since he preached every day of Holy Week at Greenwood Forest Baptist Church.

So-I’m the short-straw winner for today! As many of you know, I finished lay pastor training about 8 months ago and really I am honored to preach today. Thank you.
Please join me in prayer:

God of all that is good and faithful and joyful, send your Spirit to our time together. May we hear your words and respond in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen

1 Peter 1: 3-9

Easter was a week ago. The Kirk was crowded; we had extra chairs that went into the narthex. There were girls in new pastel dresses and boys in new khakis and button-down shirts. There were complete families sitting together because their college student was home. We had three services including the one at 7 a.m. and everywhere there was special music. It was a glorious day of celebration and joy!

Now it’s a week later. The crowd is smaller; the brass ensemble has gone home. The extra chairs are put away. We went back to work and school this week. Jesus has risen-but well, that’s old news, as they say.

I’d like to suggest that in the season of the first Easter maybe emotions were just the opposite. I think that a week after Jesus rose there was more excitement than on Easter day. Although the Bible is clear that the first Easter morning included joy-it is also clear there was confusion and uncertainty. The women who went to the tomb and the disciples who heard about it, reacted with bewilderment and questioning. We certainly don’t know all their questions, but we can imagine some of them. You saw what? Wait, who rolled the stone away? You saw Jesus? You talked to him? Think about how they must have wondered a hundred things all day long.

I’m guessing there were plenty of others just like Thomas. Even though we know him best, I’m sure there were others who would have agreed with his statement "Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

And Jesus was generous and understanding when he told Thomas a week later to "Reach out your hand and put it in my side." There is no mention that Thomas actually touched Jesus, but he certainly saw him. And that was enough for Thomas. He immediately responded with a clear and concise declaration of who he now knew Jesus to be, "My Lord and my God!" Those words might sound routine to us, but when Thomas spoke them, they were anything but routine. They were an amazing affirmation of faith. Thomas was decisively announcing that Jesus was God. Jesus was not just Lord as in king or leader, but more importantly Thomas was saying this man with whom he and the others had spent the last three years was truly God! Thomas certainly doubted no longer. His faith was firm and he announced it to everyone. My guess is that all around there was more certainty and joy than a week earlier. So unlike those of us who may be feeling a little less joy today, I suspect the disciples were feeling more excitement than the day Jesus rose.

And now fast-forward several decades. By then the Holy Spirit had visited the disciples at Pentecost with power and excitement. Peter had baptized thousands. Paul had been converted and was traveling throughout the known world. Christianity was spreading far and wide. Can you feel it? There is excitement everywhere! And the writer of 1 Peter wants everyone to hear all about it. Did you hear his words like indescribable, imperishable, and glorious? Anyone who uses all those adjectives, and more, within three sentences has something amazing to relate!

But who was this writer? Despite its name, the letter was most likely not written by the apostle Peter, but instead by someone using his name. Although we might consider that unethical, it was common practice during much of the time that Biblical texts were written for a writer to use the name of someone better known than him to give his document more credibility. So, it is believed the writer was someone who lived after Peter. When this letter was written, the author was probably in Rome writing to the early churches in Asia Minor. It appears he was trying to encourage them during a time of trial or hardship. We don’t know exactly when the letter was written but probably near the end of the first century.

Despite not knowing these exact details related to the letter, we can certainly hear the author’s excitement. He clearly has a message of hope and joy that he wants to share. And he’s not only sharing his joy, but also his faith. Just like Thomas, he wants us to know he believes in Jesus the Christ, in the resurrection, and in the living hope it brings. He’s excited about it and wants to share that with his readers then and now. He wants us to grab hold of this excitement and let it permeate our lives. He wants us to take this to heart and know it really matters.

I want to spend a few minutes considering this great news from 1 Peter. If it would be helpful to you to have the text in front of you, it is 1 Peter 1:3-9 which is on p. 232 in the New Testament of the pew Bibles. Listen again to some of v. 3 and 4: "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth… into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Although I’ve written a statement of faith a few times and may have talked about our new life in Christ, I’m certain I didn’t use words like those. My words were more measured, analytical.

What would you say? How would you explain the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? My guess is that most of us would use a sort of standard phrase like, "eternal life" or even "the life everlasting" from the Apostle’s Creed. Those phrases work-they cover the basics. But they are sort of like saying the "bride was pretty" or "gas prices are high". If we really want to others to know how we feel about the situation wouldn’t it be more effective to say: "the bride was exquisite in her cream-colored gown" or "gas prices are going through the roof."

That’s what the 1 Peter writer is doing with his words. He’s got some amazing insights and he wants us to know all about them. And this is a great day to hear his news. Our Easter excitement may be fading and the reality of life and work and struggles and conflicts are back again. So we need to be reminded about the trumpets playing and the great news of the angels at the empty tomb.

1 Peter goes on in v. 5 to say we are "protected by the power of God". It’s easy to hear those words without thinking about them-but consider for a minute, "protected by the power of God." That’s the power that created the universe; the power that led the Israelites; the power that raised Jesus. And 1 Peter says that through our faith that same power protects us-by believing we are surrounded and upheld, protected, by that same power.

And this faith that gives us protection is "more precious than gold" says the 1 Peter writer in v. 7. Again-think about that. Think about the value of gold-what we pay for jewelry or what it costs for those who might purchase gold. That’s valuable. That matters-and yet, he says our faith matters more than that. Our faith is of more value than even our jewelry. Women, look at what you are wearing today, would you give it up for your faith? All who are married, would you give up your wedding ring for your faith? I ashamed to say, but I’m not sure I would. My wedding ring is something very, very important to me. But we’re reminded our faith is of even greater value than all our jewelry and all our gold!

And then in plain simple words v. 8 reminds us that we love Jesus. We are not often so straight-forward. That’s hard to say. Remember how hard it was to say "I love you" the first time to someone very special you were dating. But here we are reminded that Jesus is indeed someone very special whom we love.

And finally our ecstatic writer says we "rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy" because we are receiving "salvation for our souls." This goes back to his words on eternal life. Our statements of faith are dry in comparison to his poetry. Who says "salvation for our souls?" But that’s exactly what will happen when we get to heaven our souls will be kept safe for eternity. And truly that will be more joyful than we can imagine.

So is this guy, this first century writer using the name Peter, just some "pie in the sky" sort-somebody with a "too-good-to-be-true" message? No, he understood the reality of his audience, too. He told them, and tells us clearly in v. 6 and 7 that we might "suffer various trials" and that our faith may be "tested by fire." The folks in the first churches to read these words may have been harrassed by the authorities for their faith and some may have been arrested. We have trials, too; some big, some small. Work is challenging. One of the children is struggling in school. Your marriage is difficult. Dad has taken a turn for the worse. It’s hard to make the mortgage payment. In the middle of all that, it’s easy to lose the joy, to put Easter behind us. We can quickly forget the benefits of our faith. We see and feel the reality around us and the encouragement of our faith looses its luster.

But these words from 1 Peter are a gift to wake us up, to shake us loose from whatever troubles us so we can remember how absolutely amazing it is to have a faith more precious than gold. We can remember God does not leave us. Jesus’ resurrection does not fade. These truths never die. Our faith can stand firm. Our joy can remain.

And then we might even sing a song I suspect many of you remember from a retreat or camp:

I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus,
Down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

So friends, let’s keep the excitement of Easter. Let’s remember the gift of our faith. Then we will sing with a joy that only knowing Jesus as our Lord and our God can bring!






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