When God Keeps Us Guessing

The promise of harvest

The promise of harvest

Read: 1 Peter 1:10-12

There are plenty of things that get us feeling impatient. It only takes one (very stupid!) driver to cut you off in traffic, or someone who does not know how to merge, to remind us how quickly awe loose patience. We are so used to having things quickly. We don’t know about something, we Google it. It gets dark, we flick a switch, and there’s light. The evening gets cool, we turn on instant heat. We are becoming unaccustomed to wait for anything, and our capacity to become impatient seems to increase in a daily basis.

Of prophets and angels

Peter gives us an angle on impatience that might surprise us.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10–11, NIV)

At a very basic level, this passage reminds us that many of the things we get impatient about fall into the well known category of “first world problems”. More importantly, this is telling us that prophets like Isaiah and Zechariah, when they spoke of the suffering of the Messiah, did not actually understand everything they were writing.

Think of what Isaiah wrote:

Is 53:1-6

Or Zechariah’s words

““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10, NIV)

Why were these words a mystery to them? Well, they thought the Messiah would be a mighty warrior who would come and restore the fortunes of Jerusalem. The idea of the Messiah suffering did not make sense. Sure, they knew they were writing about God’s redemptive plan. They knew it involved his grand design to restore his people, to bring grace and forgiveness for sin. But there were too many gaps, and not enough dots to make the connections.

…they never received an answer

This is where impatience is relevant: they asked what it all meant, they searched the Scriptures they had, they engaged in rigorous study. But they never received an answer.

Surprising, isn’t it? Even those who wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Spirit did not fully understand the depth of their own words! They were told a day would come when it would all make sense, but their day was not that day. They just had to wait.

Even more surprising is what we read in verse 12:

“…Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:12, NIV)

Even angels!

You’ve probably had it in the heat of summer, you’ve been outside working in the sunshine, and you go inside – for while everything seems dark. This is the image Peter uses about the angels – it’s like they are in the full light of God’s presence, and they are  peering into the dark room of human existence. They can see things moving around, but they can’t quite work out what’s happening. It may be because they are not part of earthly existence. It may be because they are not human. Either way, they longed to understand, but could not.

And then there’s us

Why do you think Peter wrote these verses? Why is he telling us this? Did he just want clear something up about OT prophecy? Fill us in on the doctrine of inspiration?

There’s more to it. Peter’s readers had their backs against a wall. Persecution was breaking out. Christians were losing their livelihoods, and their lives. Some of these people were refugees. Driven out of their homes, away from their families, left it all behind. Surely they must have asked what was going on. Why this suffering? Why this pain? Lots of questions, and to this point, God had kept them guessing.

Here’s the thing: Peter wants them to know that God has not forgotten them. Things are not out of control, even when they are hard to understand, even when there’s pain, confusion, and you want it all to stop. He wants them to see that even the people they look up to, the prophets – the very people who wrote their scriptures – even they had unanswered questions. More: the questions the OT prophets asked, how the Messiah could suffer, how he would be glorified, what it all meant – these very Christians, Peter’s people, they could understand it. They could see it. They did get it.

They could see Jesus was the greatest gift of grace, because they had received him. They could see how he suffered on the Cross as a sacrifice for sin, how he was bruised for their iniquities. Some of them may even have witnessed Jesus die in Jerusalem. They could see the glory of the risen Christ, the wonder of his return to the Father, the wonder of his rule over all things. They knew he was now seated in the most powerful place in the universe. So they actually understood things the prophets and angels could not understand. In that sense Peter’s readers were the fulfilment of things written and revealed centuries before.

“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” (1 Peter 1:12, NIV)

Now, think about that from where you sit today. We are followers of Jesus, believers – have you ever considered that you understand a depth of the Gospel which even the first readers of this letter did not understand? The prophets wrote about the Messiah and how he suffered.They wrote how he would be vindicated and glorified. But they didn’t get it.

Peter’s first readers: they were suffering. They could look at the Messiah, and see how he suffered and was vindicated in the resurrection. They got it. And they must have also looked at their own suffering, and been encouraged because they would one day be vindicated. Through Jesus, they were a new people. Through Jesus, they would be raised. Through Jesus, they would become victorious in his good time through his grace and power. And these are the very connections Peter will make for them as the letter proceeds.

Mystery remains, but victory is guaranteed

Now, we can take this message to heart, can’t we? There is much that we don’t understand. A whole lot we have to be patient about. Promises of things to come which seem like a dream.

In the same way the prophets needed to be patient, in the same way Peter’s hearers needed to be patient, so also we are called to be patient. To endure what Eugene Peterson calls ‘the long obedience in the same direction.’

To have faith. To trust. And not give up.

The prophets did not understand, but they trusted God’s plan of redemption. Peter’s hearers understood more, but they still had to trust God’s plan of redemption while their friends were thrown to the lions and others were used as candle for Nero’s parties.

And you, do you need to trust? Don’t you ever find yourself asking, does God know what it’s like to suffer? Does God know the anguish of having to trust in a time of grief?

Yes he does. More than we know. Don’t you think the father grieved when he saw his Son suffer the pangs of hell instead of you? Wasn’t it tough for Jesus in the Garden? When he had to entrust himself to the Father? In grave fear for the suffering of the Cross, sweating blood. He still prayed, “help me look beyond my circumstances and trust you, Father. Not my will, but your will be done.”

Jesus knows. He suffered. He was glorified. And because he is a mighty and powerful saviour he can help you in your time of trial.

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17–18, NIV)

This is important. Sometimes things stay unclear. Despite all your prayer, all your pleas, the promises you make. You get impatient. You get angry. Think of these prophets. Things stayed unclear for them, but God was just as faithful. God’s faithfulness and his ability to save you, to give what you need, do not depend on you understanding everything or having everything explained to you.

Think of those prophets: You get the picture more than they ever did. Think of these readers: they got it, they suffered, and they still trusted God. Think of Jesus in the garden, he suffered, he trusted the father, and he crushed the head of Satan.

His Spirit – the same Spirit who moved the prophets to write, the same spirit who opened the heart of Peter’s readers to believe, the Spirit of Jesus himself – this Spirit lives in you. And he will assure you that in Christ, God will bring you to victory!

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NIV)

Three summers ago we planted two grape vines on our garden. My son in law, Daniel, grew up in the Barossa, so he knows a bit about growing vines. He said, you won’t get any grapes the first summer. And he was right. He said, the second summer, you’ll get some grape trusses forming. Was pretty excited that we would get some grape clusters! Daniel said: “Cut them all off.” I listened in disbelief. Cut them off? Yep. Cut them all off. You want to concentrate on building a strong vine, build the root system. Let the goodness go back into the plant for that second summer.

To the casual observer, it would have looked weird, seeing me cutting off all the trusses of flowers. But now, the third summer is just around the corner. I get out and look at the vines – which are thriving – and we have oodles of clusters forming. The harvest is going to be wonderful.

You know this, right? Sometimes, it’s not just hard to see what’s going on, we actually can’t see, and we actually don’t understand. But what we do see in the Gospel we have received is more than Isaiah saw. Even more than angels can see or understand.

Do you realise how blessed you are to know Jesus and what he has done? Do you realise how much treasure the Lord has already shown you?

Just look at Jesus, the ugliness of the cross, and how it opened the floodgates of grace.

Just look at the resurrection, his rising, and see glorious new creation in all its wonder.

Look at his rule, at how he has poured his Spirit into your life, in the church, and trust that our great God has us in his glorious hand.

Yes, while we’re this side of heaven, mystery may remain. But in Christ,  the victory is certain.

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