A Living Hope in the Face of Uncertainty
This Easter will be different as Christians are unable to celebrate together physically. But the wonderful hope of Easter offers a timely encouragement for us and unique opportunities for the gospel.
Easter Sunday this year will be strange and unique. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, for the first time in living history, Christians will be unable to gather physically to celebrate the glorious good news of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his triumph over death, sin and Satan.
Whilst many will be able to join a virtual service online, they will connect to encourage one another against a background of fear and uncertainty, as the virus continues to claim victims and disrupt ordinary life.
However, the fact that we will not be able to meet on Easter Sunday as we usually do does not change the wonderful truth that we will remember. The historical fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus to glorious new life is the foundation of the Christian faith, and also the heart of the hope that we have.
In light of the coronavirus crisis, the need for this hope is both more immediate and more precious than we often appreciate.
A Wonderful Hope
The opening of 1 Peter (1:3-8) reminds us of the wonderful hope that the resurrection of Jesus brings.
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.
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. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…
If we have repented of sin and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, then God has been merciful to us and given us new birth into "a living hope." This new birth is nothing less than the gift of Jesus’s resurrection life, recreating us and delivering us from the spiritual death of our sinful rebellion against him. Jesus’s resurrection has gained for us ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade’, and which no one can take from us because it is kept in heaven for us.
The certainty of this hope is what enables Christians to endure the trials and difficulties of life in this hostile and cursed world. Peter was writing to Christians who were facing increasing marginalisation and pressure from the wider culture, and the very real likelihood of persecution and even death for their faith. Peter was writing to encourage them to stand firm in their faith because it is ‘the true grace of God’ (1 Peter 5:12).
Only those who have a confident hope of a glorious eternal inheritance will be able to ‘greatly rejoice’ even amid such trails (1 Peter 1:6). If we know that our true life lies outside of this world of space and time then we do not need to cling on to what we have and enjoy in this world, but will be able to trust God and accept even death rather than deny Jesus as our Lord. Countless Christian martyrs down the ages have testified to the power of this hope.
A Positive Purpose
Peter wants these Christians not just to endure their sufferings but to understand that God has a positive purpose in them, which is preparing them to receive their eternal inheritance.
The trials they face will act as a test of their faith, which will prove that it is genuine in the same way heat proves that a metal is pure gold rather than an inferior alloy. The end result will be that they have greater assurance of their salvation because they have stood firm. Then, when Jesus Christ returns to consummate his kingdom, there will be praise, glory, and honour as they take possession of their inheritance.
The resurrection hope that Peter wanted these first-century Christians to enjoy is exactly what we need as twenty-first-century Christians facing the coronavirus crisis. As death stalks the land in such a vivid and indiscriminate way, we can be sure that death has been defeated and that we can look forward to an eternity enjoying the new creation in the presence of our redeemer.
Our trials are much less severe than those that these early believers faced, and than those that many of our brothers and sisters around the world continue to face today. But that is even more reason for us to ensure our resurrection hope enables us to greatly rejoice despite the testing circumstances.
It is this resurrection hope that gives us the faith to see that God is using the trials we are facing to test the genuineness of our faith and bring us greater assurance that we have been born again and have a glorious inheritance. As our faith is thus tested and proved genuine, we will have renewed boldness in our evangelism and witness, even in the face of hostility and rejection.
Whilst it is the resurrection that assures us of this hope, it is the death of the sinless Lord Jesus in our place on the cross, bearing the just wrath of God in our place, that obtains it for us.
Easter may not feel the same this year but we need to remember that in essence it remains exactly the same: the resurrection is still true; Jesus has redeemed us and our sins have been forgiven; whatever happens, we have a glorious eternal future. This should bring comfort and joy to our hearts.
It should also inspire and encourage us to share the glorious Easter message of hope with those who are anxious and have no hope because they do not know the Lord Jesus.
As Christians, we ought to stand out as different in our society precisely because we have a hope and joy that seems irrational – and which would be irrational if it were not for the fact of the resurrection.
Let’s make the most of every opportunity this Easter: not just to encourage one another afresh with the hope of the resurrection but also to explain to others "the reason for the hope you have" (1 Peter 3:15).
Reports from many of our churches suggest that significantly more guests are ‘visiting’ their online services than came to their physical meetings. Unlike Christmas, many churches usually see relatively few visitors at their Easter services, even though the resurrection is the very heart of the gospel message that churches proclaim.
Somewhat ironically – or providentially – the fact that we are unable to meet physically this Easter might mean that we have a wonderful and unique opportunity to declare the hope of the resurrection to those who most need to hear it.
Let’s pray that God would have mercy upon them and grant them new birth to resurrection life, so that they come to know this hope for themselves, and that they may join us in sharing in the eternal inheritance Jesus has secured.