The Strongest Comfort and Statement in Trials

Why do they ask for a reason for the hope that is in you? “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Anybody asked you that recently? It’s embarrassing. Why would anybody come up to you and say, “I don’t get you?” And then the next thing out of their mouth is, “What are you hoping in?”

Unveiling the Theme of Hope in 1 Peter

Why would they ever say that? Why would anybody take that angle in interacting with a Christian? Why would they ask that? That’s a huge theme in this letter. First Peter 1:13, having given all the reasons for hope in 1 Peter 1:1–12, he says, “Therefore, girded up the loins of your mind, be sober, hope fully, and grace is being brought to you. Hope in the blessing that’s coming. Don’t fear them. Don’t be troubled by them. Don’t let your hope be their approval. They can tell.”

These unbelievers watching these Christians as Peter sets them up can tell, “You don’t put your hope in the same thing I put my hope in. I can tell you don’t. The way you handle money is different. The way you respond to criticism is especially different.” So if you’re willing to be slapped around verbally on a talk show host, and wait your turn, and answer with rational clarity and gentleness, you’re not like these other folks. You must be hoping in something else besides your rhetorical powers to dominate. What are you hoping in?

Behaviors Reflect Hope

So I think it’s the behavior of returning good for evil that causes the world to say, “Most people don’t do that because most people get their happiness from being praised, and being proved, and being esteemed, and being liked.” Well, you must get your happiness from something else. You must be hoping something else is going on here. “What do you know that I don’t know?” That seems to be the gist. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Wouldn’t that be wonderful if somebody came up to you because they’ve been watching you at work for a few weeks and they said, “What are you hoping? What are you hoping?” Because hope evidently governs behavior in Peter’s mind. It does. What you hope in and what you hope to get your blessing from, to get your happiness from, to get your strength from, to get whatever you want to get from, that’s your hope.

And if it’s what the world wants, you’ll behave like the world, and the world will not be the least impressed. You’ll just be one of them. You’ll be like water off a duck’s back as far as they’re concerned, ‘cause you’re hoping the same things they hope in.

But if you hope in something different and then your behaviors shift according to the fact that you have new passions that are not according to your old ignorance but according to your new knowledge about this inheritance that you’ve got in heaven and how blessings are going to be ten thousand times more valuable than what you could have gotten by retaliating in this moment, then you’re going to act different, and they’re going to see it. And what are you hoping in?

What ‘Being Prepared’ Means

And I just want to give you some freedom here because this text used to really oppress me. I don’t think it should oppress you. This text says “be prepared.” So you feel “Oh shoot, I got a lot of homework to do. I got to read some books on Apologetics by John Frame, and I got to be ready with every answer to every objection that they bring against Christianity,” and so this is oppressive here. That’s the way I used to feel about this text.

“Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone.” It doesn’t say to anyone who asks you for six reasons that you can prove the resurrection from the dead. It says, “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for hope that’s in you.”

Well, you can do that. Any believer in this room? I’m a true believer. I’m sure there are nonbelievers here, but any true believer, I could invite you to the front right now, and with just a little coaching, I could draw that out of you. It’s there. You are a Christian because you have reasons for hope. That’s what you are. And the answers are things like, “I have hope because God in his mercy caused me to be born again to a living hope.”

Now, they may not know what you mean, and they may not believe what you say, and they may regard that as hocus-pocus and voodoo. But that’s true! That’s the right answer. That’s your first answer: God, in his mercy, caused me to be born again. That’s why I have hope. He gave me through Jesus and his death from my sins and his resurrection from the dead, a living hope, and an inheritance that I will live forever and not be condemned by God, and his wrath will not wipe me away, and I’ll be welcomed into his presence with joy forever.

That’s my reason for hope. You have an answer. This text is not telling you, “Prove historically and logically and by some sophisticated apologetics education the answer to all their questions are false, and yours are right.” This is not there.

This is saying, “Read 1 Peter,” which is what I did. I’ve got it back here at the end, and I have thirty-five promises that are in this book, either explicit promises or implicit promises for why I have hope. Thirty-five of them in this letter. We’ll just memorize three of them, or you don’t even memorize them. You know them already. And you just tell them some things that give hope to Christianity.

The Essence of Christian Testimony

Now, they will maybe, if they don’t walk away at this point, get around to say, “Yeah, but how do you even know that’s true?” Because you’ve just used Bible language to describe your experience based on things that happened in history. He died for you. He rose again. He reigns. He gave you his Holy Spirit. He’s helping you. He’s promised you eternal life. These are all biblical truths that they don’t buy. They don’t even live in that world. And so they’re going to ask you, “Well, how do you know that’s even true? How do you know that book is just not magic?”

Now, at that point, you do need an answer, and the answer is, why are you a Christian? Because I presume a Christian is a person who’s willing to die for Jesus. And you don’t die for falsehoods. You don’t die for things you’re crossing your fingers for. You die for convictions that you’ve seen enough to be sure I’m going to die for this. Why would you have that?

Why would you have that? And all of you just need to go home this afternoon. If you don’t have that right now on your lips, go home, get out a half a sheet of paper like this, pencil, and write down why do I believe in the truth of Christianity. Just write it down. And if you say, “I don’t know. It was my mom’s idea.” You’re in trouble. You need to get on your knees and say, “I’m scared, God. I am scared right now because I’m just aping what’s around me, and I’m just loving this community. I like the music. And I got a lot of friends. And frankly — I’ve never even thought about it.”

God is not honored by being trusted for no reason, and you are not honored by being trusted for no reason. That’s foolish. To trust somebody for no reason doesn’t make them look good. It makes you look stupid. The answer is something like this for all of you. I’ll just give you the words.

You say to your unbelieving friend, you’re sitting at Pizza Hut or wherever, and you say, “I got to know Jesus by reading the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. I just read them. And I read them, and I met him there. He talks there. His eyewitnesses talk there. And what I saw there won my confidence. I can’t walk away from the Jesus that is presented in the Bible as though he were a liar or a lunatic or a mere legend. He took me. He won me.”

That’s what you say because that’s true. And you may not even have language to say it, but it’s true for you. That’s what happened. In the preaching of the gospel, in the reading of the stories of Jesus, in the work that he did for you, they’re shown forth a truthfulness and authenticity, a character, a kind of person that took you — one you held you to this day. He holds. You cannot walk away from him.

And the unbeliever listening to you, if he’s touched by the Spirit, will be absolutely fascinated with that answer because he operates, or she operates with a kind of very limited way of validating the past scientific kind of — and they just heard you go at it a completely different way, like you met a person in the narrative of that person’s life and the speaking of that person through the word. You met that person as he’s presented there. And that portrayal validated itself, vindicated itself, such that you can’t view it as mythical. And that’s valid because that’s true.

Jesus does stand forth from the Bible as self-authenticatingly true. He does. And we’re responsible to see that and to believe. So don’t be excessively burdened. Be a little bit burdened enough to spend a half an hour writing your testimony on a half sheet of paper, then fold it up, put it in your Bible, and if you need to read it every now and then, just so you’ll know why you have hope from all the reasons that there are in the Bible. And then why do you credit the Bible?

I just wrote a book on this which will come out next year called A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. So I want to be helpful in this regard ‘cause I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of.

The Role of Conscience in Witnessing

Do it with “a good conscience” (1 Peter 1:16). How many of us fail in our witness ‘cause our conscience is bad? You did something stupid on the internet last night, pornographic thing, or you spoke harshly to your wife, and now you’re walking down the street, you get into a conversation, you feel like an absolutely inauthentic jerk. And you’re supposed to bear witness to the glories of Jesus and the greatness of eternal life, but this person who just asks a reason for the hope that is in you and you feel dirty and you feel inauthentic.

That happens, and that’s why Peter says, “Keep a good conscience.” Because you probably won’t give too many witnesses to unbelievers if you operate with a dirty conscience all day long. How do you get a clean conscience? How do you get a clean conscience in two ways, biblically?

One is you go to Jesus, and it says in Hebrews 9:14, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The blood of Jesus cleanses the conscience. That’s the bottom line. We will never perform well enough to have a perfectly clear conscience, right? You’ll never do enough good things and avoid enough bad things, say, “Now clean conscience!”

However, lest you draw an inference from that, that’s false. It says in Romans 14, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (Romans 14:22). In other words, if you don’t act against your conscience, you’ll have a clear conscience.

So there’s the foundational, solid, final resting place in Jesus, who’s cleansed my conscience from dead works to serve the living God. He’s made me whiter than snow. “Come now, let us reason together. . . . though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). “You are white as snowbear witness to me.” And there’s the daily warfare not to trip up and act against that so that you feel rotten.

You fight at both levels. You fight by faith in the blood of Jesus. And then, on the basis of that, you do your best not to follow temptation into sin, and let’s wake up in the morning feeling dirty and incapable of bearing any witness to Jesus.

A Non-Sovereign God Offers No Hope

Let’s go to 1 Peter 3:17. We will take questions in the last session. Do questions in that session. I can tell by the pace we’re going, we’re getting nowhere, but I’m having a good time. And maybe we can do another LAB sometime on the rest of 1 Peter. We’ll get as far as we can.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). Does that bother you? Does a lot of people. “What? It might be God’s will for me to suffer when I’ve not done anything to deserve it. I’ve done good. I’ve done good, and I’m suffering for it. I lost my job ‘cause I took a good stand?” That might be God’s will, “if that should be God’s will” (1 Peter 3:17).

So it’s another thing we love here at Bethlehem College and Seminary. We love the sovereignty of God because of texts like this. Imagine the alternative. Imagine the horror of the alternative. God sees me get fired, or God sees me get beat, or God sees me get killed, and he says, “What was that? I didn’t want that to happen. Where’d that come from?” That is not comforting.

There are people that teach that in this city that God didn’t know it was coming and therefore had no plan for it, and therefore, isn’t he good? No, he’s not good. He’s dumb. He’s not God. And that’s not comforting. He has a non-God god. He doesn’t know what’s coming. He doesn’t control the world for wise and holy purposes. It’s not the way Jesus argued, and it’s not the way Peter argued.

So I would ask here, “What are reasons for why God might will this?” Let’s just look at a few texts, then we’ll take a break.

Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [all four] to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place [namely, the murder of Jesus — the greatest sin]. (Acts 4:27–28)

The reason I put this text upfront is because it is absolutely a watershed text. Come to terms with this text above all other texts on suffering. This text teaches that the worst sin in the universe that has ever been or will ever be committed in any of the murder of God was planned by God through wicked men like Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles who drove the nails, and the peoples who cried, “Crucify him. Crucify him.”

All of those were doing whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. If that weren’t true, we’d have no salvation. So remember this. Just keep in mind this as your kind of an overarching sense of whether God rules the sufferings of the world because it’s hard to say to some people he rules the sufferings of the world that involves sinning.

The Mystery and Beauty of God’s Will

Keep in mind that if he doesn’t, the cross wasn’t his idea. And if it’s not his idea, there’s no salvation. The whole Bible unravels because the center of it, which is the cross and Jesus dying for our sins, was somehow other than God’s plan. The whole Bible describes it as God’s plan. The whole Old Testament is going there. It’s scripted. The throwing of dice for his clothing is scripted. “I thirst” is scripted (John 19:28).

God was planning every detail of the murder of his Son. Therefore, it must be possible for God to govern wicked men and all their abuses of Christians without himself being wicked. That’s what we teach here. We think that’s just foundational to absolutely everything. To be able to have a view of God that he’s sovereign over the wickedness of the world without being wicked. He wills that sin be without sinning.

That’s a category that is foreign to most human brains. God wills that sin be like the murder of his Son, which is the worst sin. And if he can do it with the worst sin, he’s got no problem with other sins. God wills that sin be without himself sinning. And you don’t need to give a completely satisfactory, rational, philosophical answer for how that can be. You just say it is because the Bible shows that it is.

Let Jonathan Edwards and his ilk figure out how it is. And if you want to go there and climb that mountain, read The Freedom of the Will, but you don’t have to. I’m very happy in conversations to say, “There are mysteries that I’m willing to live with in this life, and one of them would be how God can completely control all the acts of the world, including the sinful ones, and not himself be sinning or evil or wicked or unjust or anything that is bad, I cannot give a final answer to.”

I could try, but I know the flaws or the inadequacies of my answer. So that’s the first text, and maybe it would be good.

I’m just looking to see. We’re supposed to take a break now, and I’ve got a bunch of more texts on this, but maybe we’ll pick it up there. So where we’re going to pick it up is this right here. “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will” (1 Peter 3:17). Why would it ever be God’s will for you? For you, not just Jesus, but for you to suffer? That’s where we’ll go when we’re back.