1 Peter 1:3 - The Great Mercy of God
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.1 Peter 1:3
Peter writes his letter to Christians scattered throughout much of Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. Many of them are Gentiles, new to the Christian faith. He writes to encourage them, for they were going through a time of suffering and persecution.
In this day and age such suffering is hard for us to imagine. Generally speaking, we lead a good life. We have bread on the table, a roof over our heads, and we earn a decent living, which even allows us to have some luxuries that our forefathers would never have dreamed of. We can also worship the Lord our God in freedom. But for these Christians in Asia Minor, it was quite different. They suffered many hardships.
In light of this, it may seem surprising that Peter starts off his letter in the way that he does. You would think that he’d begin by coming with some words of sympathy and by drawing attention to their plight. Instead, Peter focuses on the Lord and on what He has done.
He refers to the great mercy of God the Father. His mercy is great in comparison to man’s mercy. For within our own human experience, mercy is something that depends on the arbitrariness of the one who is in a position to extend or withhold it.
For example, in the United States when a criminal is sentenced to death, the final appeal for mercy can be made to the governor of the state. And then it depends on the whim of the governor whether or not that person will go to the electric chair. Many external factors will play a role. A condemned person will have greater success with a governor who is principally opposed to capital punishment than with a governor who has no such scruples. But there is more than that, for such a decision also depends on the circumstances. If there has been a rash of murders just prior to the appeal, there will be great pressure on the governor to allow the execution to take place as a deterrent for others.
We should not think that God operates in a similar way. When we think of God’s mercy, we should do so within the framework of the covenant. His mercy means that He is faithful to the covenant promises to which He has bound Himself. He does not go back on his word. When He makes promises, we can be sure of the fact that He will keep them. His mercy doesn’t depend then on the kind of mood He is in, or on the pressure exerted by some outside influence such as the devil, who makes his accusations against us, telling God how sinful we really are, and how we don’t deserve his mercy.
No, God’s mercy depends on his great love for Himself and for those who belong to Him. He gives us the forgiveness of sins unconditionally. He tells us that we will not suffer the death penalty because He has visited that sentence on his Son, Jesus Christ.
That is why Peter in this text also mentions the resurrection. Through the resurrection of Christ from the dead we have been born anew to a living hope. That is the joy and the blessedness that the recipients of this letter may have.
With such a perspective, their hardships through persecution ultimately do not matter. These circumstances fade into the background. For they are alive – they are alive in Christ. They do not have to doubt that for a moment, because God’s promise is sure.
And thus we too, when we struggle with our faith, wondering whether or not God’s mercy also extends to us, shouldn’t focus first of all on our personal circumstances, but on the promise of the covenant; namely, that we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. God gives these to us without us having to earn any part of it. All He wants us to do is embrace his promise, to believe that Christ died for our sins. This doesn’t depend on the worthiness of our faith, nor on whether our sin and guilt are greater than somebody else’s. No, it only depends on his great mercy in Christ.
And then also our temporal circumstances fade into the background. We can be joyful in the midst of both prosperity and adversity. Thanks be to God and his great mercy!