God’s Great Mercy and Our New Birth
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.
The Goal of This Sermon: Worship
The goal of this sermon is set for me and for you in the first phrase of verse 3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Peter's response to God's causing his people to be born again, and raising his Son Jesus from the dead, and giving us a living hope, and providing us an imperishable inheritance in heaven is to bless God. "Blessed be God!" And if that is his response, it should be our response.
What he is going to talk about makes him exult and bless God. He did not have to tell us that. He did not have to begin by letting his emotions for God show. He could have begun in a cool, collected, dispassionate, unemotional way. He could have said: "My lecture topic today is regeneration. I have several related doctrines upon which I wish to discourse. Let me list them: 1) God; 2) regeneration; 3) hope; 4) the resurrection of Jesus; 5) inheritance; 6) heaven. Let us give close attention to these things." He could have begun that way. But he didn't.
And what that says to me, as a preacher, as I look at this text is: "Don't you begin that way either. Don't handle these truths like that." Peter begins with exultation and blessing and wonder because that's what these realities have produced in his heart. When he considers these things, he does not say coolly, "There, I have taught the truth clearly. My job is done. Do with it what you will." He says, "Blessed be God!" He does it here. He does it in 4:11, "To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." He does it again in 5:11, "To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Peter breaks out again and again in praise and blessing. He writes about the greatest realities in the universe with a worshipful spirit. He writes with exultation and wonder and awe and marvel and heartfelt gratitude.
Preaching as Worshipful Exposition
So when I consider what it is to preach on these realities here's what I come up with: Preaching is worshipful exposition. Preaching is worshipful exposition of glorious biblical reality. If you have the notion that what we do in this Sunday morning service is half worship and half preaching, you're wrong. It is half worshipful singing and half worshipful preaching (with some other elements stirred in that I pray are also worshipful). We can fail. We can sing without worshiping. And I can preach without worshiping. That's professionalism and formalism. And it's not our goal. Our goal is to worship from beginning to end.
Worship is when the mind apprehends great truth about God, and the heart kicks in with deep feelings of brokenness or wonder and gladness and admiration and gratitude, and the mouth says something like, "Blessed be God! O blessed and praised and honored and glorified be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So the first phrase of verse 3 sets our goal this morning. Our goal is to worship God; to see God's great reality with our minds, and feel God's beauty and wonder with our hearts, and speak and sing God's greatness with our mouths. That's what Peter did when he wrote about new birth. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." That's what we should do. There's the goal.
Five Great Realities That Lead Us into Worship
Now what truth, what great reality brought Peter to this exultation? If we limit our answer just to verses 3 and 4 there are five great realities about God that gripped Peter's mind and heart.
1. God's Great Mercy
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy . . .
There's the first one: God's great mercy. If you wonder if there is mercy with God, the answer is that there is great mercy. "According to his GREAT mercy." Peter is moved by that.
2. God's Work of New Birth
. . . who according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope . . .
There's the second reality about God that moves Peter: God is the one who caused us to be born again. New birth is God's work. His mercy not our work produces a new being called a child of God and an exile and alien in the world.
3. God's Work of Raising Jesus from the Dead
. . . he caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .
There's the third reality about God that gripped Peter: God raised Jesus from the dead. Verse 21 makes it more explicit: "God raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God." The resurrection is about God. God did it. So we trust God. We hope in God. And Peter says, "Blessed be God!"
4. God's Promise of an Inheritance
Verse 4: . . . to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away,
There's the fourth reality about God that gripped Peter: God promises an inheritance to his newborns. God is the begetting Father and God is the source of the inheritance. Fathers leave an inheritance to their children, not vice versa. God is the giver here. All the way through this passage he is the fountain. God is the one overflowing. We are receivers at every point: mercy, new birth, resurrection, inheritance.
Finally . . .
4. God's Work of Keeping Our Inheritance
[the inheritance is] reserved [literally: "kept"] in heaven for you.
Who is keeping it? Answer: God is.
So if you just take verses 3 and 4 there are five answers to the question: What great reality brought Peter to worship this way? What gripped his mind and moved his heart and opened his mouth to say, "Blessed be God"? The answer is:
- God is great in mercy.
- God causes us to be born again to a living hope.
- God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
- God promises an inheritance to those whom he fathers.
- (And) God is keeping that inheritance so that it will never, ever perish or soil or fade.
The Main Thing: God Causes New Birth
Now what is the main thing that God is doing here? The main thing is that God has caused new birth. His great mercy is the source of it. His raising Jesus from the dead is the historical triumph over death that makes it possible. Our living hope in a great inheritance flows from it. But the main work of God focused on here is the new birth. So let's focus on that: God caused us to be born again.
One of the reasons we don't exult in this like Peter is that we don't understand it, or we don't believe it. "God caused us to be born again." God fathered us into second being as children of God. We had no existence as his children. "That which is born of the flesh is [just] flesh," Jesus said in John 3:6. But "that which is born [again] of the Spirit is spirit." We had no living spiritual existence. We were what a human father and mother and common grace could make of us. But then God came on us and caused us to be born again. He awakened a new life. The life of faith and hope in God. The life of the Spirit in us.
But most of us have been taught one way or the other that God did not do the decisive work here, we did. And it is no wonder, then, that we do not respond like Peter: "Blessed be God, O blessed be God who by HIS GREAT MERCY did it!"
How Do You Know You Were Born Physically?
Let me get at this with a provocative question: If I asked you, "How do you know that you were born from your mother's womb?" what would you answer? You would answer, "I'm alive! I exist outside my mother's womb. I'm here." And that's right. And that is all the answer needed.
You would not answer, "I know I was born because I've got a birth certificate at home." Or, "I know I was born because I did some historical research at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and found a document with a little footprint on it that matches the curly lines on the bottom of my foot." Or, "I collected signed affidavits of three or four witnesses that saw my mother pregnant and soon after saw me in her arms."
You would simply say, "I know I was born because I am alive."
How Do You Know You Were Born Spiritually?
But now suppose I asked an average evangelical churchgoer today, "How do you know you were born again?" How many would answer, "Because I am alive to God. I have a living hope. I have a living faith. I once had no spiritual life and now I am alive spiritually, with spiritual appetites and spiritual enjoyments. Once I was dead and now I am alive in God. I know him, I love him, I trust him. I hope in him. I follow him. The proof that I was born again is my life today!"
How many, rather, would answer, "I know I was born again because I did what you must do to be born again: I asked Jesus into my heart; I prayed to receive Christ; I walked down an aisle and accepted Jesus; I have a card here in my wallet that I signed on June 6, 1952, where I pledged that Jesus is my Lord."
Why Would There Be Differing Answers?
Why would there be such a difference in answering how we know if we were physically born and how we know if we are spiritually born?
One reason is that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we had nothing to do with our physical birth. It was done to us. We did not cause it. We did not choose it. It happened to us and all we can do is be thankful for it or resent it. So it doesn't even occur to us to prove we were born by appealing to things that we did to get born. There aren't any. We didn't cause it. It caused us.
But when it comes to our spiritual birth — or second birth — millions of Christians don't believe that. We don't believe that our second birth was done to us and that we did not choose it or cause it. We have been taught in hundreds of ways that we ourselves bring about our new birth. That we choose it and we cause it.
So when we are asked, "How do you know it happened?" we tend to answer, "Because I did the things I was taught you must do to be born again." We don't say, with reality and authenticity, "Because I am alive to God." We infer our new birth from the things we did to cause it not from the things that it causes in us.
It is not surprising, then, that a kind of Christianity grows up around that self-understanding — that self-made Christian existence — which does not explode with praise over our new birth and say with Peter: "Blessed be God, O blessed and praised and thanked and loved be God — and God alone — who by HIS GREAT MERCY caused us to be born again."
The New Testament Picture of Our New Birth
God did it. And God will get the glory for it. This is the uniform New Testament picture of what happened to us.
- I was dead in trespasses and sins and God, in the great love with which he loved me, made me alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). I did not raise myself from the dead. God raised me.
- I was spiritually non-existent. I was a no-thing. Not even created. But then God created a new person, and I became a new creation in Christ (Ephesians 4:24; Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). I did not create myself. God created me.
- I was blind to spiritual things. Flesh and blood could not help me. But the Father in heaven mercifully and sovereignly opened my eyes to see that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:17; cf. 11:27; Acts 16:14). God caused me to see and acknowledge his truth.
- I was in utter spiritual darkness like the darkness over the deep before God made light. And then "God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- My mother and my father and pastor Gene Lawrence planted the Word of God and watered it, but it was God and God alone who did the miracle of giving life and making it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).
- I was self-willed, rebellious, proud, going my own way and would never in a hundred years have come to Jesus on my own, and God drew me: "No one can come to me [Jesus said] unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).
- I had no repentance in my heart, no sorrow for my sin or passion to change, but God graciously granted me repentance and lead me to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25).
- I had no faith, no desire to look like a weakling and depend on another. But God, in his great mercy, granted me to believe (Philippians 1:29) and saved me by faith. But this was not my own doing it was the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8f.). I believed. It was my choice to believe. But my choice was the gift of God; the effect and not the cause of new birth. I was born, as John 1:13 says, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
And Peter says, "God, in his great mercy, caused us to be born again." God did it, lest we should ever boast and fail to bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Timothy 1:9).
Let Us Bless God with All of Our Hearts
So let us bless God this morning with all our hearts that he has caused us to be born into his family and given us living hope. Some of you are being drawn and wakened by the Spirit of God this morning. Do not resist. Verse 23 says that we are "born again through the living and abiding word of God." May God make my words live with life-awakening power in your lives. Come, believe, and bless the Lord with us for this great saving work of new birth.