By Martyn-Lloyd Jones
AT THE VERY beginning of his letter the apostle Peter bursts forth into this mighty and magnificent doxology. After a very brief salutation he suddenly breaks forth in these thrilling and powerful words. In so doing the apostle was not doing anything unique. He was doing what all the early Christians did, what all the writers of the New Testament epistles invariably do. The moment they mention the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ they burst forth into much the same thrilling ascription of praise. Take the apostle Paul, for example, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3); and so on to the end of the fourteenth verse of that wonderful chapter.
The Characteristic of True Christians
That is the great characteristic of the true Christian always, as it is the great characteristic of the New Testament, and as it was the characteristic note of the early church. The early church was characterized by praises to God, and by a sense of joy. "Blessed be the God and Father!" That was their note, and as we have seen, it came out all at once. But that note of praise and joy was not confined to the early church. If you read the long history of Christianity you will find that the note of praise and joy has been characteristic of the church in every period of revival. At every time of reformation and renewal this original note has come back, so that the church again has been thrilled with a sense of "wonder, love, and praise." An apostle like Peter, even when he writes to people who at the time are suffering a good deal of trial and tribulation, cannot take up his pen without starting out in this mighty and magnificent manner.
Very well! Before we as Christians go any further let us ask ourselves some obvious questions. Is this the characteristic note of our Christian life and witness? Is this what we feel? Is this our response to the Gospel? Is this our actual experience in the modem world, and in spite of everything awful in the world about us? On this Easter morning, this is surely the most important thing for us to say to ourselves. We claim to be Christians. We make our public profession of faith. But in the last analysis what is the test of it all? Is there within us the spirit that was in the apostle Peter and in the people to whom he wrote?
Of those people the apostle was able to declare: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1:6). A little later he wrote about Christ: "Whom not having seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and fall of glory" (1:8). Peter said all that about ordinary folk like ourselves. On this Easter morning we meet together claiming to believe this wondrous fact of the resurrection of the Son of God. But the important question is: What is our feeling, what is our reaction, what is our response to this mighty message that we claim to believe?
Can we say that we are like the apostle, and that contemplating it all we have nothing else to exclaim, but that we feel: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? If that is our position, the words that we are going to consider will confirm and strengthen us, adding to our joy and assurance. But if we cannot say that honestly, then let us pay heed to what the apostle tells us. Here, fortunately, as is the custom of the inspired writers, he lets us into the secret of why he felt that way himself, why he had to burst forth into this mighty praise, adoration, and thanksgiving.
So let us follow the apostle. With him let us meditate on this wondrous fact of the living hope. In essence he tells us that the Resurrection is central and vital to the whole position of the Christian. Notice the line of thought: "Blessed," says Peter, "blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope." But how has it all been done? "By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." That is the center, that is the foundation, that is the thing which makes it all possible, and likewise brings it all to us. Here then is the controlling principle: apart from the resurrection there can be no Christianity. The resurrection of Christ is vital; it is absolutely essential.
Were it not for the resurrection of Christ, the apostle could never have written about the living hope. If you question that, read in the Gospel according to John the beginning of the twenty-first chapter. There after the crucifixion and death of Christ, you see the apostles, Peter among them, utterly downcast and disconsolate, despondent, and despairing, so much so that Peter turned to the others, and said, "I go a-fishing." He felt that he must do something to relieve the tension and the sense of despair. What was it then that transformed him into the "apostle of Hope," who was able to exclaim, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which hath begotten us again unto a lively hope"? It was this, the Resurrection!
This truth then is basic and foundational. If a man does not believe in the resurrection of Christ, whatever else he may believe, he has no right to call himself a Christian. The great message that the apostles preached, as you will find it in the Acts of the Apostles, was this: "Jesus and the Resurrection." But for that mighty truth, they would not have preached at all. This was ever their theme: "Jesus and the Resurrection."
The Meaning of the Lively Hope
What is it then that the Resurrection does? Why is it so central and so foundational? For your consideration let me divide into two parts what the apostle here says. The first thing is that the resurrection of Christ gives us "a lively hope." A better translation here would be, "a living hope." If it is living, of course it is lively. A thing that is dead does not move, but if there is life there is liveliness. Why does the apostle trouble to describe it in this way? No doubt he is contrasting it with the vague, the shadowy, and the uncertain. Today there is much that passes for Christian hope, but when you test it by his adjective "living," or 'lively," you at once expose it as counterfeit.
What is the message of Easter morning? Is it simply some vague saying that spring has come again, and that after the death of winter there are signs of life? Is the Easter hope something vague and general, belonging only to nature? There are many who tell us that this is all the day can mean to us: that there is always a turn; that you go round the circle of the year, and in time come back to the spring. So we must never despair! That, they assure us, is the message of Easter, something vague, nebulous, unreal.
That is not what Peter is talking about. "Who hath begotten us to a living hope." Something substantial-, something certain, something vibrant with life and power. Of course that is essential, he says, because the great thing about this hope is that it enables us to live. As I have already reminded you, the apostle was writing this letter to people who were experiencing a very hard time: "Now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1:6). That is the background of Peter's first epistle. In every chapter he refers much to adversity.
In the second chapter he says, in effect: You are having a hard time but understand this, you are simply "following in his steps, who did no wrong, neither was guile found in his mouth, and when he suffered, he threatened not" (2:22-23a). In the fourth chapter Peter refers to adversity in the time of Noah and the few godly folk left alive in that godless age. Again, in the fourth chapter, the apostle says: "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing had happened unto you" (4:12). Don't be surprised! And in the final chapter he leads up to a glorious doxology, with these words at its heart: "after ye have suffered a while" (5:10).
In other words, the New Testament is intensely practical. This is not a story or a fairy tale, not the optimism of the novelist, or the cheeriness of a politician. No, no, this is Christian realism. This does not minimize difficulties, problems, and trials: The whole purpose here is to show that whatever they are, however bad they may be, however dark, ugly, and cruel, it does not really matter to us who believe. We have a "living hope" that can hold us, sustain us, and enable us not only to endure, but to be "more than conquerors." Hence we can look at it all, and in the face of it all, we can smile.
In the eighth chapter of Romans Paul says the same thing: Everything is against us. "We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." And yet it doesn't really matter! "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (8:36b-37). This is the living hope. The living hope not only enables a man to go through the very worst that hell can produce against him. This lively hope also enables him to do so with assurance, and with a sense of triumph. This is the apostle Peters message to us at Easter time: "We have been begotten again unto a lively hope."
How does the Resurrection accomplish all this? As we go along from point to point I trust that we are examining ourselves. Do you now have within you this assurance that you are "more than conqueror"? In your personal life, in your married life at home, in your business or profession, in the group to which you belong, and in the whole world as it is today, what is your reaction to your circumstances? Does this mighty fact of the Resurrection give you a sense of certainty and of assurance, of triumph and of joy? Are you "rejoicing in your tribulations," and lifted up above them all, so that you can look at them all and exclaim: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"? Here then for us is the important matter. To us who believe in the Resurrection, does it bring us today this "living," this "lively hope"?
Here we must divide our answer into two sections. In the first place the Resurrection does this because of what it did to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. That is the starting point of faith. That is what I meant at the beginning by emphasizing as the whole basis of Christian faith the fact that the resurrection of Christ is literal. What I mean by literal fact is that the apostle is not merely referring to the truth that the Lord Jesus who had been crucified on Friday was still alive in the spirit realm. What the apostle refers to is that the Lord Jesus literally came out of the grave; that He came out of the grave in His body; that the body which had been crucified on Friday, which had been taken down when He died, and which had been placed in the sepulcher, that very same body had come out of the tomb. Hence the empty tomb lies at the basis of all our Easter hopes.
I am emphasizing this, of course, for a very good reason. Probably you have been reading, as I have been reading in various newspapers, articles about the Resurrection, about Easter, and about related truths. Doubtless you have found that nearly all of them refer only to the fact of 94 survival." That of course holds true, but it is totally inadequate. We are not here today merely to celebrate survival of personality. That is not the message of Easter. The survival of personality was believed in before Easter, and is believed in today by many who are not Christians at all.
No, no! The specific message of Easter is this, that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified and was buried; that He was raised from the dead in His body; that He came out of the tomb a complete personality, with His body and everything else; and that He left His grave empty. Hence the details that appear in the twentieth chapter of John's Gospel, as in the other three. How careful they are to note that the napkin which had been round His head lay in a position different from that of the other grave clothes. The sacred writers give such details to show that the Resurrection is literal, historical fact. The record is so minute as to satisfy any detective who wishes to investigate. For the great fact of the resurrection of our Lord's body and evidence is as definite and certain as for any other event in the long history of the human race.
The Meaning of the Resurrection
Once again, Christ was raised by God the Father. This we learn from our text, as later from verse twenty-three, and elsewhere in the Epistles. What does this mean? Looking at it in the light of the New Testament, the Christian way of looking at the Resurrection. Here is the Eternal Son of God, the Second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity. Having from eternity been in the bosom of the Father, and having spent His eternal existence in that ineffable glory, at a given point He entered into time. What for? What did He do? He took unto Himself our human nature. He entered into this world, into our realm of sin and death. As the apostle Paul says, Christ "was made of a woman, made under the law."
These things you cannot understand, except theologically. They mean that He who was divine and glorious also became human and lowly. "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14a). Not only was He born of a woman. He was also "made under the law." As a Man amongst men He came into this world of sin. He did not cease to be God, but in addition He also became Man, a complete Man. He had a human body, such as you and I have, with bodily infirmities. There was in Him no element of sin, but there were infirmities. They appear whenever you read the accounts of His life in the pages of the four Gospels. And as a human being He was subject to temptation. As God He could not be tempted with evil (James 1:13), but as Man He not only could be, He was so tempted. He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15b). When He came into this world He identified Himself with us fully.
All the opposition of the devil and his followers, all the malignity of hell, was turned upon Him. Those enemies of God, those infernal powers, were determined to destroy Him, because they knew that He was the Son of God. In the Gospels you find the demons recognizing Him and begging Him to leave them alone. Indeed, the entire forces of hell were massed against Him. They were determined to destroy Him, and thus to thwart the whole purpose of God connected with His coming. Finally, we see this conspiracy of evil coming to its climax. Not only were all those powers set against Him as the Son of God. At last we see Him being led to the Cross, there to be nailed, and to die.
What is happening at the Cross? According to the Scriptures, as Peter puts it in his second chapter here, God was laying our sins on Him, "who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (2:24a). Or as Paul puts it, God "hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). What does this mean? It means that there on the Cross of Calvary's hill all that the Law has to say against sin was said. All the punishment that the Law metes out upon sin and guilt, evil and shame, was poured out upon Him.
That is what was happening at the Cross. All the righteous demands of God's Law were being fulfilled. All the consequences of sin were being poured out upon Him. That was what he was doing, what He had come to earth to do. Sin led to His death. Sin was the cause of His crucifixion. 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission" of sins (Heb. 9:22b). And so He died. His body was taken down and buried in the grave. Then came the momentous fact of the Resurrection. This is the truth, says Peter, in effect, that thrills me and grips me, moving me to cry out in wonder and adoration. Christ did not remain in the grave. He was brought out of it, unscathed and conquering. He appeared to His chosen followers, ascended into heaven, and again took His seat in the everlasting glory.
That is the first and the most important thing for us to grasp. But what does it mean? Let us listen to the exposition of it by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. In the sixth chapter he puts the truth like this: "Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God" (6:910). Do you get the significance to that? It is the heart of the Gospel. Note that word, "once"! "In that he died, he died once." Now, says Paul, "death hath no more dominion over him." Once on earth death did have dominion over Christ.
That is the whole marvel of the Incarnation and all that the Son of God did on earth, with all that was done to Him. He subjected Himself to all that the Law had to say about sin. He was "made of a woman, made under the law," the Law against sin. Not that He ever sinned, or was ever sinful. But as a part of His identification with us He took His place at our side. For that reason He submitted to baptism: "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). In order to deal with the problem of our sins He had come into the world. He became one with us. He was under the Law, the Law that condemns. The Law condemned Him because of our sins. "He died unto sin once."
He died once, but no more, forever! The Resurrection is the great announcement of the momentous fact that Christ has finished the work He came to do. He is no longer "under the law-," He is back in glory. Why? Because He has done everything that the Law could demand. Now the Law has exhausted itself upon Him, and He will die "no more." He need not have died at all. Deliberately He came into the realm of sin and death, in order to deliver us from it all. Now He dieth "no more; death hath no more dominion over him!" That is the meaning of the Resurrection. He has gone back into the realm above and beyond sin and law and death. He has conquered that entire realm, and He has returned to the glory from whence He came. That is the meaning of the Resurrection.
The Union With the Living Christ
That is the basic fact about the Resurrection. But that is not all. The apostle says that because of what happened to Him on the Cross you and I have this "lively hope." Yes, but likewise because of what has happened to us. "What has happened to us?" says someone. "What do you mean?" The answer comes from the words of the apostle: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope." Notice that phrase, "begotten us again." What does it mean? In the twenty-third verse of this chapter Peter uses exactly the same word: "Being born [or begotten] again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever."
God "hath begotten us again." We have been "born again unto a living hope." This is the very term that the apostle uses. What does this mean? It means that the Christian not merely believes in Christ as the Son of God, and believes that He was raised from the dead. Of course he believes that! You cannot be a Christian without believing that. But that is not the whole truth about the Christian's beliefs. The Christian is a man who knows that he has been regenerated unto a living hope. He has been born again unto a lively hope.
What does this mean? Regeneration means "new life." We who believe have been "born again unto a lively hope." Until you are born again, you will never have this living hope. The natural man does not have it. He is without Christ, "having no hope, and without God in the world' (Eph. 2:12c). The only man who has this living hope, the only one who can smile in the face of death, is the man who has been regenerated, begotten again, born again. Someone asks, "How did it happen?" The answer is, "By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." We are regenerated, born again, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, through the medium of Christ's Resurrection from the dead. Born again unto a lively hope!
How does all that come about? In many ways it is the most remarkable of all the Christian doctrines. It is the doctrine of our Union with Christ. We are one with Him. What happened to Him happened to us. Again let Paul expound the doctrine, in Romans six. "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid," says the apostle. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection" (6:1-5).
Then the apostle goes on: "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.... Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (6:9, 11). This is the truth that he utters everywhere. Listen to it in Colossians: "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God' (3:3). Also in Ephesians: "You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.... But God, who is rich in mercy ...
en when ye were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ ... and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2:1, 4-6). All that comes to pass because of the Resurrection.
This is how a man gets the living hope. It comes because he is joined to Christ. He is in this blessed state of union with Christ, so that what happened to the Lord Jesus also happens to him. Christ and His people are one. He is the Head; we are the body. When He died, we died. When He was buried in a grave, we were buried with Him. When He arose, we arose. So the apostle says that as He is dead to the law, dead to sin, and dead to death, so are we! A Christian is a man who can say: "Death has no dominion over me!" As a Christian he at last "falls on sleep." He has already passed through what death really means. Because Christ has tasted death for him (Heb. 2; 9:9), he himself will never "taste death." He is alive with Christ, now and for ever more. He has "begotten again [regenerated] unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." That is how it all happens.
The Resurrection of the Believer's Body
What does this all lead to? The apostle Peter says that the Resurrection leads to a "living hope." What then is the living hope? It is "an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4). What is the hope of the Christian this morning? It is not merely survival, not simply immortality. Let me remind you again that before Christ ever came into this world men in Greece believed in human survival after death. In order to believe in the Resurrection you need not fall back on the phenomena of Spiritism. If you do that, you are denying the Resurrection. This was not merely some spirit making an appearance. This was the body that had been crucified, itself risen and glorified and appearing to certain chosen people. The message of Easter morning is not merely survival, not simply that we shall go on living after we die. The Easter hope is something infinitely beyond that.
What is it? It is essentially this: the resurrection of the body. Our spirits, as we have seen, are already resurrected. We have been "begotten again ' ""born anew," "regenerated."
A man who is a Christian is one who is already renewed in spirit. Yes, but here we learn that he shall also be renewed in his body. It means, says Peter, that in heaven we shall enter into this inheritance, and that we shall enter into it as complete personalities. The hope of the Christian is not that he will go to some vague, shadowy realm, some sort of Elysium. No, forget all that, and all the other nonsense of Spiritism. The resurrection of the believer is real. It comes to the complete man-not to a spirit floating in some atmosphere--but to the complete man, body, soul and spirit, renewed and glorified, and ready to enter into his everlasting inheritance. This is the living hope to which we have been begotten: "To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4, 5).
What does all of this mean? It means that God once made this world perfect, a paradise. In it He put a man, who was perfect. And God is not going to be satisfied until all that has been restored. Hence I do not spend Easter morning in protesting against atomic and hydrogen bombs! I have a message that is infinitely higher. This old world is doomed. It is a sinful world, an awful world, and man can never make it a good world. He can protest, he can march, he can pass acts of Parliament. But he can never make the world good, because the sin is in himself. When he lived in paradise, he turned it into a place of shame.
O No! Man can never put this world right, but God can, and He will. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." A lively hope of what? That this old world is going to be renewed! The regeneration is going to take place in the entire cosmos. When? When the Lord Jesus Christ comes again in glory. The Lord Jesus Himself tells of "the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory' (Matt. 19:28b). That is the Christian message. He has triumphed over all His enemies. He is risen, and He is seated at the right hand of God. What is He doing? He is waiting until His enemies become His footstool (Ps. 110:1). Then He will come back to earth again as "King of kings and Lord of lords." He will destroy out of existence all that is sinful and vile, ugly and foul. He will renew the whole creation, and bring in His glorious kingdom. The City of God, the New Jerusalem, will descend, and God will make His tabernacle amongst men.
This is what the living hope means to us. If we are Christians we shall be there. Not as vague spirits floating in a nameless sea of existence. No--but in this body as glorified, delivered from all vestiges of sin and shame, weakness and wildness. You will be identified as yourself. You will be in a glorified body. "Our citizenship is in heaven," says Paul to the Philippians, "whence also we wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change this our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working of that mighty power by which he is able to subdue even all things unto himself" (3:20-21).
That is what the inheritance means. It is coming, and I am looking forward to it. I know now that I have been born again unto this hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Oh, the blessedness of this knowledge! You and I dwell in an old world that may at any moment be blown into nothing. Does that depress you? Does the idea monopolize all your thought? Is that the one thing always on your tongue? If so, I do not hesitate to assert that you are a very poor Christian, if a Christian at all.
By faith the Christian sees this old world after the coming "regeneration." Meanwhile he has his eyes fixed on another land. What does he behold about it? It is "incorruptible;" it will be "undefiled;" it will never "fade away." Nothing from outside will be able to affect this "incorruptible" realm. The devil and all his cohorts, with all their diabolical powers, will have been cast into the lake of destruction, whatever that may mean, and there they will be helpless. Nothing evil or sinful will enter into it, for it will be "undefiled." And it will never "fade away." It will go on and on, in everlasting glory! That is our Easter hope. That is our Christian inheritance. That is the truth into which you as a Christian have been born again. That is the truth to sustain you in all your trials.
So this morning as I look over this evil, sinful world it does not depress me, because I expect from it nothing better. Whatever may be going against me, whatever may be happening in my own body, this is what I must expect, because of sin. But though I die, I shall rise again. I shall see Him face to face. I shall see Him as He is, and I shall be like Him, like Him in a body glorified, with every power renewed. And I shall be living in a realm that is incorruptible and undefiled, a realm that can never fade away.
The Message of Easter Morning
That is the living hope of the Resurrection. That is the message of this Easter morning. And that hope is absolutely safe and secure. The Resurrection itself guarantees it all. Every enemy has been destroyed. Christ has conquered them every one. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the inspired author states all this clearly. Having written that God has put all things under Christ, the apostle goes on to say: "But now we see not yet all things put under Him." "I agree," the apostle says, in effect, "but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor" (2:8c-9).
Christ is our Forerunner (Heb. 6:20). He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come again to receive us unto Himself (John 14:2b-3). We shall "reign with him as kings and priests." We shall judge the world." We shall even judge angels." That is Christ's guarantee, and nothing can stop it. Can death? Of course not, for He has already conquered death! Can the devil? No, Christ has vanquished the devil. Can hell? No, no! "0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory? ... Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"! (1 Cor. 15:55, 57). The resurrection of Christ announces that He has conquered every enemy. He has vanquished every foe. He has risen triumphant from the grave. Neither death nor life, neither hell nor anything else, can prevent or delay the coming of His Kingdom in all its glory. He alone is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Christian people, do you have this living hope? Are your eyes fixed upon the inheritance that He has purchased for you? Is there within you at this moment something that is crying out-it may be feebly-crying out from the hopelessness and the despair, the sin and the shame, the failure and the disgrace, the disease and the death of this life-crying out triumphantly the words of our text?
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you." Reserved for you by the very same God who also keeps us, gives us wisdom and power, with ability to endure and to triumph in spite of everything. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!"