Summary: God offers us hope that cannot fail us but he also calls us to lives of holiness
By Rev Bill Stewart
If you were watching TV on the April 12, 2009, you may have seen pictures like this one of Captain Richard Phillips shortly after his rescue.
Captain Richard Phillips
According to CNN.com:
U.S. Navy snipers fatally shot three pirates holding an American cargo-ship captain hostage after seeing that one of the pirates "had an AK-47 leveled at the captain's back," a military official said Sunday. The captain, who'd been held in a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean since Wednesday, was rescued uninjured ... Adm. Rick Gurnon stressed that while Phillips was rescued, more than 200 mariners remain captives at sea. "The pirates have a great business model that works for them: See ships, take ransom, make millions," he told reporters.
In Captain Phillips case he was rescued without a ransom being paid. But, as the report said, many sailors have only been released through the payment of a huge ransom. The idea of being "ransomed" was a very powerful image in the world of the first Christians. In fact, if was a life-changing idea! The language of ransom was standard biblical language for "salvation". Jews would have been immediately reminded of their ancestors being released by God from slavery in Egypt. But in the biblical world "ransom" was also a powerful image for Gentiles. They would have been immediately reminded of slaves whose freedom was purchased by the payment of a ransom. But how is that image powerful for us? We know, don’t we, that around the world today millions of people, especially women and children, still live in slavery – much of it secual slavery! But this morning I want you to imagine for a moment that you were Captain Richard Phillips taken captive by pirates off the African coast. ... And someone paid the million-dollar ransom to set you free – without any expectation that you would pay them back? ...
How would you feel?
What would you do once you were released?
How would your life change?
How often do you hear people who have had an experience like Richard Phillips say that it was a life-changing experience? A close friend of mine survived the Boxing Day Tsunami. The first thing he said in his email after reporting he was safe was that it made you reconsider your priorities. That's exactly the experience Peter is talking about here. It is also the reason he urges his readers and us to live holy lives – lives completely shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
One of the ways we can begin to understand a Bible passage is to look at the things the author repeats regularly and to ask ourselves why? The first repeated theme that stands out to me here in Peter's letter is the theme of HOPE. Three times Peter draws Christians' attention to their hope. In the sermon two weeks ago Chris spoke about the reference to "a living hope" in v. 3. In today's reading hear about hope again in verses 13 and 21:
v. 3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
v.13: Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.
v. 21: Through him [Jesus] you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
What do these verses tell us? They make it quite clear, don't they, that the Christian hope rests on the sure foundation of what God has already done in Jesus Christ. Peter reminds the Christians in exile that their hope is set on the future revelation of Christ because of the past resurrection of Christ. God "raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God" (v. 21). That's why The Message translation calls this section "A future in God".
Peter isn't just talking about Christian doctrine here is he? He is appealing to the early Christians' personal experience:
vv. 18-21: YOU know that YOU were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for YOUR sake. 21 Through him [Jesus] YOU have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that YOUR faith and hope are set on God.