I turned on the TV preparing to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Utah Jazz in basketball. It was Wednesday, March 11 of this year. I was not prepared for what I saw that night. Instead of positioning themselves on the court for the tip off, players milled around while game officials gathered the coaches for whispered conversations.
Then to the shock of local fans, and thousands of TV viewers, officials called off the game and instructed everyone to leave the arena, without a word of explanation. Commentators were speechless with amazement for what seemed a long time. Then word came that a Jazz player had been tested and found infected by the highly contagious coronavirus. Proceeding with the game was considered dangerous to players and fans. All NBA games were cancelled until further notice.
We now know what “further notice” means, not just for athletic events, but for businesses, schools, churches, and for the American economy. Nationwide, thousands of families mourn loved ones who have died. Words like pandemic, epidemiology, and social distancing have crept into our everyday vocabularies. The plague has disrupted every aspect of life in America, and evidently it will for some time to come.
The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to people who were facing a great crisis. They had believed on Jesus and were now following him. Because of this they were facing opposition, outright persecution, and in some cases, the threat of death. Peter wrote his letter to re-emphasize the gospel, and to prepare them to suffer for the sake of Jesus.
Like our public health physicians, Peter was obligated to tell the truth and to help his readers face their situation realistically. He did not resort to happy talk and empty platitudes. He told them about the possibility of suffering for their faith in Jesus. Life was about to get more difficult and he wanted his Christian readers to be ready.
I urge you to read Peter’s letter with the present crisis in mind. I do not wish to imply that our situation compares to the sufferings of the first century martyrs. But we do need now, as always, the comfort of God’s word which tells believers that “he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Peter’s letter is full of hope. “Set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). “Your faith and hope are in God” ( 1 Peter 1:21). “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” ( 1 Peter 3:15).
In the New Testament, “hope” is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation. Peter knew his readers might be tempted to lose hope when they were being persecuted for their beliefs. The troubles started in Rome and were spreading to the provinces. The Christians were thought to be a threat to society. Their worship practices were misinterpreted and slandered. Some were being martyred because they refused to worship the emperor as a god. In his letter, Peter directed their attention away from their circumstances to the living God, the source of their hope.
This is what distinguishes Christian hope from mere optimism. Optimism seeks to put the most favorable interpretation on circumstances. Biblical hope, on the other hand, is centered in God. This is what gives certainty when the outlook is uncertain. Believers are said to be “chosen” by God (1 Peter 1:2) for his special purposes. Peter says God “foreknew” them. This is the same word he used in verse 20 to refer to Christ who was foreknown, destined, chosen to be the Lamb of God before the foundation of the world.
So, while believers may sometimes feel like strangers in a dangerous world, we are, in fact, precious to God. Thus, in the opening lines of Peter’s letter, we find God revealed as Father who has chosen us, Holy Spirit, who has set us apart, and Jesus Christ who has redeemed us by his blood. This trinitarian God is the source of our hope. At all times, but especially in a time of trouble, we look to him as the God of hope.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1 :1-2).
We all hope for an end to the pandemic. We are tired of being quarantined, hidden away from life as we knew it three months ago. We don’t like wearing masks and missing out on events like Thunder basketball. I think the apostle Peter would say to us that God is in control and he knows what he is doing. He is reminding us that God is our only real hope.
Pastor Randy Faulkner