Sermon 04-16-2023: “Rejoice with Joy that Is Inexpressible”

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-9

Today and for the next six Sundays, I’ll be preaching a sermon series on 1 Peter I’m calling “Upon This Rock.” The title comes from Peter’s great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi, and it’s one reason Simon has the nickname Peter, which simply means “Rocky” in English.

In addition to looking at the letter at 1 Peter, I hope to tie-in experiences in Peter’s own life from the gospel stories that feature him.

But it is especially fitting that today is Confirmation Sunday—and that three of our church’s young people are making public their decision to receive Christ as their Savior and by God’s grace to follow him as disciples for the rest of their earthly lives. It’s fitting because here at the beginning of Peter’s first letter, in verses 1 and 2, we have what is practically a purpose statement for living a Christian life.

For what purpose, for example, did God choose Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan to be his beloved children through faith in Christ? Now is a perfect time for these new disciples, along with the rest of us more seasoned disciples, to hear this purpose—wouldn’t you say? 

And in verse 2, Peter identifies two main reasons: “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Then, in verses 3 through 9, he goes on to talk about how God through the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and makes us obedient—and how this happens through the testing of our faith. Finally he talks about the glorious result of living a faithful Christian life.

So… this sermon will focus on three questions: First, what does it mean to be “sprinkled with Christ’s blood”? Second, why is it necessary to be “obedient to Jesus Christ”? And third, what is the glorious result of faithful Christian living?

But, first, what does it mean to be sprinkled with Christ’s blood?

It makes sense, of course, to talk about our purpose being “obedience to Jesus Christ,” but that second part may sound strange: “for sprinkling with his blood.” And I want to start with that part of our purpose, because that’s the part of living a Christian life that happens first: To become a Christian, we must first be sprinkled with Christ’s blood.

When Peter talks about “sprinkling with [Christ’s] blood,” he’s talking about what? He’s talking about what I was preaching on during Holy Week and Good Friday: what Christ accomplished through his atoning death on the cross.

This “sprinkling of the blood” is an indirect reference to what the high priest did, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when he sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed bull and a sacrificed goat on what’s called the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. You can read about this in Leviticus 16:11 to 17. The mercy seat was the solid gold cover of the Ark. The Ark was a wooden box covered with gold. Inside the Ark were the two stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments. 1 This Ark was placed inside the inner room of the sanctuary known as the “Holy of Holies.” The Bible says that God’s Spirit resided in a special way above the mercy seat in that room in the temple known as the “Holy of Holies.” The high priest would enter that room once a year on the Day of Atonement, sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat, and thus make atonement for all the sins of God’s people for that year. Through this sacrifice the people’s sins were forgiven. 

As I’ve said a hundred times before, this atoning sacrifice pointed ahead to the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross—except Christ’s sacrifice was once for all time, not something that had to be repeated again and again.

In fact, here’s a detail from John chapter 20 that I wanted to point out in my Easter sermon but didn’t have time. But if you have your Bibles—and you should—please turn to John chapter 20. I want to show you something cool about John’s resurrection account. Recall from last week that Mary Magdalene and the other women find the empty tomb, they rush to tell the disciples, Peter and John check it out and go back home… But Mary comes back to the tomb. And that’s when she sees the angels. But listen to this detail in John 20, verse 12: “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.”

One at the head and one at the feet… Why that detail? I believe, along with many Bible scholars, that in addition to being a true and historically accurate detail, this is an indirect reference to the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant, on which the blood of the atoning sacrifice was sprinkled. Why? Because hammered into the solid-gold slab of the mercy seat were the images of two angels at opposite ends of it. When the body of Christ was placed there inside the tomb, his atoning blood was also placed there—as if God were showing us, symbolically, that Christ has fulfilled what those sacrifices in the temple only symbolized.

And as I said last week, the resurrection proves that Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins was accepted by God. It proves that through faith in Christ all of our sins—past, present, and future—have been blotted out by Christ’s precious blood! It proves that Christ has done everything necessary for us to be saved!

And Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan, this is now true for you! Because of your faith in Christ—that you either confirmed today or demonstrated through your baptism—through your faith you can know for sure that all of your sins—past, present, and future—have been fully atoned for, fully paid for… by Jesus’ death on the cross. You are forgiven. You have been “sprinkled by Christ’s blood.”

So now, when God our Father looks at you, he doesn’t see your sin any longer. Instead, a great exchange has taken place: On the cross, Christ took upon himself your sins—he suffered, he died, he experienced hell for them—and he gave you his perfect righteousness in return. What our Father now sees when he looks at you is not your sins but the perfect righteousness of his Son Jesus!

That’s the first part of what it means to be “sprinkled with Christ’s blood.” But something else happens, too, and Peter mentions this in verse 3: “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Those words “born again” refer back to Jesus’ teaching in John chapter 3. Because you are born again, you are now a full-fledged member of God’s family. Jesus’ Father is now your Father. And Jesus says in John chapter 17 that our Father loves you in exactly the same way he loves his only begotten Son Jesus. 2

Think about what this means… Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan… I happen to know and love your fathers. They are good men. But they would be the first to tell you that as good as they are, they are far from perfect fathers. Yet each of you can attest that your dads—sinful human fathers though they are—your dads love you more than life itself. They would gladly lay down their lives for you to save you. They would jump in front of a speeding locomotive in order to save you. They would fall on a live hand grenade to save you. They would jump in front of a bullet to save you. I hope they never have to, I’m just saying… they would do that for you without giving it a second thought! And it would be totally worth it to them.

Why? Because they love you… unconditionally. They don’t say, “I love you just long long as you don’t really mess things up! I love you just so long as you don’t ask me to sacrifice my life in order to save you. That’s where my love for you stops.” No! There’s nothing they won’t do for you… And again, your human fathers, as good as they are, are still sinners. Yet look how they love you! They have sacrificed for you literally every day that you’ve been alive. And they will continue to give whatever they have to give to help you. At least until you’re 18… or 21… or 25.

Now consider how you’re loved by your heavenly Father! Jesus talked about this… Jesus made this comparison between the way human fathers love us and the way our heavenly Father loves us, and he said this: “If you then”—and Jesus is talking here to human fathers among his disciples—“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 3

For the rest of your life, as you continue to trust in Jesus, as you continue to pray to your heavenly Father—because you’ve been sprinkled by Christ’s blood and born again into his family—you can be absolutely confident that your heavenly Father is always, always, always on your side; 4 he’s always working in your best interest 5… even through the bad stuff that comes your way… even through the hard stuff that happens in life… even during seasons of doubt… even when you really mess up because of sinful choices you make and your life has gotten off course… even when people hurt you, and they will… even when enemies are working against you, and they will… and you can be sure that your enemy the devil is always working against you!

Peter himself refers to these difficult experiences as “trials,” or the “testing of our faith,” and he says these trials are a completely normal and expected part of living a faithful Christian life. See verse 6: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” 

I’ll say more about the difficult trials we face in a future sermon—Peter comes back to the issue again and again throughout this letter… 

But my point for now is this: the Bible promises us that even when these things happen, it’s never because God is mad at you, or disappointed in you, or punishing you out of anger because of your sin. Rather, you’re enduring difficult trials because God is using these experiences, even transforming these experiences, into something that will be for your ultimate good. Because that’s what it means to be “sprinkled with Christ’s blood”!

But now let me tackle the second part of our purpose, and this is Point Number Two: obedience to Christ.

And let me begin with this story… For five years I pastored the Hampton United Methodist Church in Hampton, Georgia. That’s where the NASCAR track is—Atlanta Motor Speedway. And what I’m about to describe happened on separate occasions within months of each other to two young people who had grown up in the Hampton church that I pastored… These two young people grew up going to Vacation Bible School; they grew up in Sunday school; they stood up in front of the church and received a Bible when they got promoted to third grade. They grew up in youth group; they got baptized and confirmed, just like our young people today. And finally, they got blessed by the church when they graduated high school and moved away from Hampton. One went to college and one went to firefighter and EMS school.

The one who went to college got involved in a Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist college ministry. [If Leslie Baskette is there, it’s Georgia Southern!] The one who went to firefighter school started attending a non-denominational church with his new girlfriend, to whom he is now married.

But both of them, independently of one another—months after leaving the church I pastored—posted photos on Facebook of their getting baptized or reaffirming their baptism. And they were sharing words such as these: “Today is the greatest day of my life. Praise God, today I received Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. Today I am forgiven. Today I am saved!”

And all of my brothers and sisters at my church in Hampton—who had loved and cared for these young people for the past eighteen or nineteen years—joined them in praising God for their new commitment to Christ, their new faith in Christ, their new birth in Christ, their salvation

And that’s… greatHallelujah! Better late than never. I praise God that this story has a happy ending…

But, but, but… I wanted to ask my brothers and sisters… and I wanted to ask our church staff, including the part-time children and youth director who’d been there for 30 years… and I wanted to ask myself… and I wanted to ask all the previous pastors who had served this church over the years while these young people were growing up… I wanted to ask all of them—all of us—this difficult question 

Why did these young people have to leave Hampton United Methodist Church in order to find Jesus?

And I get it… None of us has the power to make someone believe in Jesus. Ultimately, whether we sincerely believe in Jesus and receive his gift of eternal life for ourselves is between them and God.

But please—Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan—please hear this warning: What happened today, what you participated in, what today represents… simply cannot be a rite of passage—like something you’re supposed to do when you reach a certain age—like getting a driver’s license, or going to prom, or graduating high school. And once you’ve done it, “Yay! I don’t have to think about that anymore.” No… Baptism and confirmation, as good and necessary as they are, do not save you—at least not apart from faith in Christ… 

And faith in Christ isn’t a one-time decision we make after we learn certain facts about doctrines related God, about his Son Jesus, about his plan of salvation, and about church history, and Methodist history…

Those two young people who grew up in Hampton got baptized and confirmed when they were 12 or 13, too—just like you did today. Yet when they reached 18 or 19, they would be the first to tell you, “We got baptized,we got confirmed, but we didn’t get Jesus

“We got baptized,we got confirmed, but we didn’t get Jesus

“We didn’t get Jesus until years later, and getting Jesus is the best part!” 

Sure, they got churchgoing… they got church rituals… they got pictures made with parents and grandparents and pastors… they got gifts for the occasion… they got the pomp and circumstance… But they missed out on the best part: they missed out on Jesus…a personal relationship with Jesus himself.

And what I need to say this morning is that—yes, by all means—“obedience to Jesus Christ” sounds like it’s not fun and not easy. But obedience is the only way to get Jesus… to be in a personal relationship with Jesus… to nurture and grow in your relationship with Jesus

You don’t get Jesus without also living a life of obedience to him!

Does that mean perfect obedience to him? No, you will still sin—even though you’re a Christian, even though you have been sprinkled by Christ’s blood and born again into God’s family. And as you become aware of sin, you can go to God with confidence, knowing, as John says in 1 John 1:9,“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 6

I got baptized in April of 1984, two months after my conversion. I was 14. As you can imagine, my baptism was deeply significant. I felt as if I were on a spiritual high; I felt very close to God. And then… the next day the lawnmower incident happened.

The next day, after school on Monday, I had to cut the grass. This was a push mower. And this was back in the days before you had modern conveniences like “electric starters” on lawnmowers or that little primer button that you’re supposed to push to make the mower easier to start. And this lawnmower, I’m convinced, was demon-possessed. Very temperamental. And sure enough, I pulled and pulled and pulled the cord on the starting mechanism. And it wouldn’t start!

And believe it or not, I was getting really angry about it. And I probably kicked the mower. Well, no, I definitely kicked the mower. And I also let fly a few unrepeatable choice words that described exactly the way I felt about this demonic machine!

And my mom, God bless her, saw me from the window at the kitchen sink, where she was washing dishes. And with great compassion she came outside and said, “Brent, Brent… what’s gotten in to you? It’s just a lawnmower!” She said, “You just got baptized yesterday, and here you are, losing your religion over the fact that the lawnmower won’t start!

“You were on a spiritual high, you were super-close to Jesus, like John Wesley, your heart was strangely warmedJust yesterday! And now this!”

What happened to me the day before was one of the most significant events in my life and here I was, acting in a way that was completely inconsistent with the meaning of that event! What terrible timing!

So let me share an important spiritual truth with you, Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan… Because of what you’re doing today—because of what today represents—that you have received Christ as your Savior and Lord and are announcing to the world that you’re going to obey him the rest of your life—guess what the means? It means that you’re going to be attacked. By the devil. At moments when you are trying your hardest to be obedient to Christ, as you are today by being confirmed or baptized, that’s often when the devil attacks the hardest.

Paul warns us, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This spiritual warfare is often what makes obedience to Christ so hard!

In this spiritual warfare that you’re now fighting, you’re going to fail… And you’re going to sin… 

Don’t be discouraged. Don’t feel guilty. God is not mad at you. God is not disappointed in you. God has not lost patience with you. God is not even slightly reluctant to embrace you and welcome you back and show you his favor when you repent. God’s heart always longs for you! Because remember: you are covered with the perfect righteousness of his Son Jesus! You have been born again into his family! So… when you sin—and you will—remember the promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

But obedience is hard… It was hard for Peter, for instance, when Jesus told him and his fellow disciples to get on board their fishing boat one night and cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus told them to do that. This was his idea. And Jesus was not a lousy meteorologist. He knew quite well that a terrible storm was brewing. He knew that his disciples would be battling wind and wave, literally baling water, struggling to keep the ship afloat, and desperately afraid for their lives. He knew that this storm he was sending them into was going to test their faith like never before. He knew that instead of trusting in him,these disciples were going to be terrified.

He knew that they were going to fail this test! Peter and the other disciples go to Jesus in a panic. They’re probably mad, they’re hurt, they’re definitely afraid. And Jesus is sleeping, by the way. He’s asleep in the stern of the boat while the rest of them are frantically trying to save their lives! The nerve of Jesus to be sleeping in the midst of what appears to be a life-threatening storm! How dare he do that

So Peter and the disciples go to Jesus—wake him up—and say, “Lord, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” 7

They fail that test.

By the way, how is Jesus able to sleep in the midst of what seems to be a life-threatening storm?

Only one way… By not being worried. By not being anxious. By trusting completely in his Father to take care of him. By trusting in his Father more than he trusts in what he sees and hears and feels and experiences: “Yes, by all means, circumstances seem overwhelming right now, but let me tell you about my Father! My Father’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, or his ear dull that it cannot hear! I’m going to trust in him because with him, all things are possible.8 Everyone else who’s not Jesus knows full well that it’s nearly impossible to sleep when we’re worried!

If only we could be more like Jesus!

Well, fast forward about 15 years. The apostle James, the brother of John, one of the sons of Zebedee, has just been martyred for his faith. Herod Agrippa I has him executed in the year 44. And then he arrests Peter and puts him in prison, chained to soldiers on each side of him. The church is praying for Peter—and there’s a great lesson there about the power of prayer, but guess what? I’m sure the church was praying for James, too… and he just got killed. 

Peter must know that he will likely die, just like his good friend and fellow apostle died.

And Peter was in this situation for one reason only: He chose to be obedient to Christ, and Peter knows as well as anyone and more than most that obedience is hard.

Now let’s look at verse 7: “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands.”

He doesn’t die. God rescues him by sending an angel. But notice those words: “He”—the angel—“struck Peter on the side and woke him.” 

Woke him? Wait! How was Peter able to sleep? He was facing death every bit as much as he was facing death on that boat on the Sea of Galilee! Where was the old Peter? Where was the panic? the fear? the anxiety?

Maybe he was able to sleep in the same way Jesus was able to sleep… Because in the intervening years he had learned to obedient to Christ, to trust in Christ more, and his faith had grown… it had grown in part because God kept testing his faith, and using this testing to strengthen it. That’s what Peter himself refers to in verse 7 when he says that faith is “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.” Faith in Christ, Peter says, is more precious than gold… and back then, gold was the most precious thing of all!

And this is Point Number Three: What do we get as a result of obedience?

We get treasure!

Faith in Christ, Peter says, is more valuable than the world’s most valuable treasure. And why wouldn’t he be? Look what faith in Christ gives us: Look at verse 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

How much would you pay for a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”? Could you put a price tag on it? Wouldn’t it be worth everything. Peter says that’s what’s available through faith in Christ. Notice the sequence that Peter lays out: Your obedience to Christ leads to the testing of your faith, which leads to the strengthening of your faith, which leads to inexpressible joy.

I want inexpressible joy! Don’t you? 

Lord, do whatever is necessary to let me possess inexpressible joy… If that requires greater obedience to you, so be it. If that requires testing, trials, and suffering, so be it. If that requires laying down my life—as it would later require Peter’s laying down his own life… that scares me, I’ll be honest… but if that’s what I need to do to have inexpressible joy, even then, so be it.

So here’s my main message to Jovi, Bryan, and Ethan… and the rest of us: Treasure Christ above all. He’s worth everything!

  1. Exodus 34:1
  2.  John 17:23, 26
  3.  Matthew 7:11
  4.  Psalm 118:6; Romans 8:31
  5.  Romans 8:28
  6.  1 John 1:9 ESV
  7.  Mark 4:38
  8.  Isaiah 59:1

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