- Numbers 14:1-12
- 1 Peter 1:1-9
My dear brother and sister in the Lord, in many gardens grows a shrub with the botanical name brunfelsia latifolia, which is commonly known as Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow. This name comes from the way its flowers are changing in colour form one day to the next. Each bloom opens violet-purple, fade to pale lavender-blue, becomes almost white and is dead by the fourth day. The oldest flower is the least attractive, and the newest the prettiest.
In some way this corresponds with Christian life as God ordained it in Jesus Christ. Our yesterday is the least attractive, and our today looks somewhat better, but our tomorrow is the brightest.
Unfortunately the spiritual life of many Christians appears to be the opposite: there was a day when everything was fresh and bright, but was time marched on it became colourless, and might even be on the brink of death.
Was there progression and growth in your spiritual life? And in the spiritual life of our congregation? The Bible teaches in Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)
The sermon this morning is titled “Yesterday, today and tomorrow.” This message is from 1Peter 1:1-9.
God’s elect – yesterday
I use the word “yesterday” in terms of the life which was once outside of the will of God, but by God’s grace drawn into a relationship with Him. It is not the purpose of this sermon to explain the doctrines of election, sanctification and salvation in depth, but as these terms are undergirding what follows in the rest of the chapter we need to understand our “yesterday” in terms of the redeeming work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. So, briefly, follow along in your Bibles from verse 1.
A Chosen People
God’s elect, his church called from all eternity, is a people chosen by God the Father according to His perfect and immutable (unchanging) foreknowledge. This doctrine is referred to as predestination. We do not choose God; He chose us. He does so based on the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the Word.
A Sanctified People
God’s elect is a people sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This word also implies dedication. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of those whom God has chosen to present them to God as being holy. He sets us apart for service to God. As Moses and Aaron dedicated, purified or sanctified the sacred things to be acceptable to God in his service, so does the Holy Spirit sanctify us to service before God.
An Obedient People
As the blood of the sacrificial animal, which brought about forgiveness of sin was sprinkled on the altar, so the blood of Jesus Christ puts us in a relationship of being justified and forgiven, and therefore called to obedience to God.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is active in making us God’s children – his elect, his own people. Out of darkness (our “yesterday”) we are now called to be a chosen generation, a holy people belonging to God. This gracious act of God flows into the repentance of man. Called by God, we turn away from sin, and turn towards Him to follow Him. We leave our “yesterday” behind us and we walk (our “today“) in the light of his mercy and grace.
As such, as his people, we are his church. We are now strangers in the world, because our citizenship is in heaven. We are still in the world, but not from this world.
The “tomorrow” of God’s elect
But as we turned away from our “yesterday”, or our past, we now face a bright new “tomorrow”. We are put on a new path. Therefore we are a people of hope, because we have an inheritance awaiting us.
A People of hope
The perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary was not only enough to save us; the victory of the cross also became the victory over the grave. Jesus Christ was resurrected. And as such, He became the First-fruit, or the guarantee for all the elect to receive a new birth. As He was resurrected by the Father, so we receive from the Father as new birth, a new life. The old has passed away, the new has come. This gives us a hope. Now hope in the Bible is a sure anchor in the future. Christ ascended into heaven, and we learn from Ephesians 2:6 the following:
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6)
You see the anchor in Christ? In principle we already have that hope, that anchor. It is in heaven in Jesus Christ. He is our hope.
A People with an inheritance
Now if [because] we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if [because] indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)
God’s will, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, stands firm. Peter describes his inheritance with three words:
- “Incorruptible” means that it can never corrode, crack, or decay. It is death-proof.
- “Undefiled” means that the inheritance itself is in perfect condition. No tarnish or stain can dim its purity. It is sin-proof.
- That does “not fade” away means that it can never suffer variations in value, glory, or beauty. It is time-proof.
In this life an heir may die before an inheritance is divided. But the same grace that preserves the heavenly inheritance preserves us as heirs to enjoy it. God’s election of His people can never be frustrated. Those who were chosen in eternity past are saved in time and kept for eternity to come. The believer in Christ is eternally secure.
By God’s power our inheritance is kept safe. By faith we take hold of it. Faith is therefore the rope or chain connected to the anchor of our hope. By faith we are drawn towards our hope.
Not only was Jesus Christ crucified; He was also resurrected unto a new life. Not only was He resurrected; He also ascended into heaven. And He left us the sure guarantee that He will return again. Something of our salvation we already enjoy right now, but the full benefit of a new life in Christ will be revealed with his return.
God’s elect – today
Of course, between our “yesterday” and our “tomorrow” lies the “today”. There are many people who would want to escape the present to be raptured into glory with Christ right now. But that is not how it works.
Grief and trials
The people Peter addressed this letter to were scattered, probably because of persecution by the Jews or even the Romans. To be a Christian is not always easy. Some are called to suffer for Christ. But, Peter said, compared to an eternity with God, the present suffering is only for “a little while”. In Luke 12:4-5 our Lord says that times can be tough for Christians, but:
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)
So, Christians are not led past trails and tribulations, but through them. We are not exempt of hard times; the point is to not give up when those times come. Faith teaches us to trust God, even in difficult times.
Sufferings are neither purposeless nor fruitless. One of the many beneficial purposes of afflictions in this life for the child of God is to test the genuineness of his faith. Peter contrasts our faith with gold. Of all the substances known to man, gold is probably one of the most durable and sought after. It can be subjected to intense heat and might seem to be indestructible. But the truth is that gold perishes through use, pressure, and fire.
When prevailing conditions are favourable, it might be easy to be a Christian. But when public confession of Christ brings persecution and suffering, then the casual followers drift away and are lost in the crowd. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. Faith which refuses to pay the price is counterfeit.
Being prepared for glory
Genuine faith will result in praise, honour, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed. This simply means that God will reward every instance of faith that stood the test. He will praise those who are joyful though surrounded by trouble. He will award honour and glory to tried and suffering believers who were able to accept their tribulations as a vote of confidence from Him.
God’s elect – yesterday has faded out and today is shaped by tomorrow
It fills us with gratitude when we look back on God’s election, the gift of our salvation, our justification, and our sanctification because of the blood sacrifice of Christ and his victory over death. We give our lives to the Lord to thank Him for undeserved grace. But it is here where we perhaps fall short. I cannot spiritually grow by constantly looking back. I don’t only serve God just because I am grateful for salvation out of the bleakness of my lostness. When this is my only perspective, another problem can so easily sneak in by stealth: it is the idea that I have to repay God for his mercies. My dedication to God is therefore nothing more than an action driven by some form of guilt that I actually owe God. He has done so much for me, I have to do something for Him! This notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible – not explicitly in any case. How many Christians struggle with this problem! Their Christian walk before God becomes a series of payments because they feel themselves in debt before God.
This leads to spiritual stagnation and paralysis. Some see themselves as being caught in the “trap” of grace. I have to do something, because I am saved. The only thing that counts is passed sin, or my “yesterday”.
We have heard about the future. There is hope, there is an inheritance, and there is and eternity. That is our “tomorrow”! The child of God is called, not to attempt to “pay back” what is owed to God; we cannot do it! What the Bible is teaching is that there is even more grace stored up for us. It is by faith that we take hold of it. Good deeds which want pay back for salvation look back into the rearview mirror. Faith which understands mercy, on the other hand, builds upon gratitude and looks forward. When the going gets tough, it endures. It doesn’t give up. It says: because God was good to me in the past, I hold on to the future which is sure. More than that, in the midst of all the trails and tribulation, I rejoice. Paul says the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come. And this verse talks about inexpressible and glorious joy. He who sees the hope, he who takes hold of the future and serve God by faith, he grows.
The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land. Behind them was their “yesterday” – they were rescued from slavery. They looked back on their salvation. Ahead of them was their “tomorrow” – sure, because it was promised by God over generations. Then they struck the hard patch: they had to conquer and destroy the people who lived in their Promised Land. These were giants who made the Israelites feel like grasshoppers compared to them. And their eyes became fixed on their yesterday. God said: How long will they refuse to believe in Me? They lost sight of their tomorrow, and they lost faith in God. God struck them with the plague and a journey that would have taken them a few months to complete became forty years of wandering the desert.
There is the pale blue colour of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub. In as sense the tomorrow has the brightest blue. Don’t allow the troubles of today allow your tomorrow to be pale. And of course, your yesterday should not have the brightest blue. Our eternal hope makes us forget “yesterday”, and it shapes our “today.” AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 April 2018