1 Peter 1:3-6 frames the message this morning. It offers a word of encouragement and a reminder that our ultimate salvation is in the safest place.
Praise be to God and the 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, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
This is the word of God. You may be seated.
The safest place on earth is Fort Knox, colloquial for the U.S. Bullion Depository. It houses 137 billion dollars worth of gold—5,000 tons of precious metals—behind a 22 ton door. The combination to that door has been disseminated to 10 different staff people. Each person has a partial code; no one person knows the total code. The code has to be inserted one person at a time. Behind that door in the treasury is the safest place on earth. But even if you are crafty enough to break the code and get in, you wouldn't get far. You would have to get past armed guards, missile tanks, Apache helicopters, infrared surveillance, video cameras, and concrete reinforced granite walls. If you try to break in, you're going nowhere. At the height of World War II, Fort Knox had the privilege of housing some of the most precious documents in the world: the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the Gutenberg Bible. It's housed the crown jewels of the English family and some of the national reserve of other European countries.
Let's move from the public, historical emphases of protection to a more private, individual protection. People build houses now with safe rooms. Yet you can go to showings of these houses, and the guide will point out where the safe room is. That seems counterproductive to me. But what do I know? There are some situations where all the protection in the world cannot shield us. Last week the richest man in the world was diagnosed with cancer. The eternally youthful Dick Clark died. When the man was 70, I thought he was 17 years old.
In reality there is no safe place on earth that can protect us from the inexorable realities that threaten our lives. Nowhere is safe; no amount of money can protect you from aging, weakness, disease, and death. We are all subject to these realities, and there are no safe places on earth that can protect you from them, regardless of who you know, where you've been, what networks you're hooked up with. God knows, we try. So we ask ourselves, Are there any safe places? Is there a place that protects our future, a place humanity cannot touch, problems cannot reach, that is overseen by an ultimate Protector that doesn't allow any tragedy to come up against us? You are at church so you're supposed to say yes. Where is it and how do we access it?
Our inheritance is safe.
Peter reminds us that there is a safe place and a powerful Protector who watches over our future salvation. Our ultimate salvation has been protected this morning by a strong Protector. God is presiding over our future to make sure what he has paid for is safely deposited in your hand. This text this morning is painted to teach us that our ultimate salvation is kept in a safe place. That salvation, our inheritance, is being presided over by a Protector that will not allow anyone or anything to tamper with what he himself has put in safekeeping.
Peter is writing to a group of Christians. They are new believers, a new community that has been called together in the name of Jesus Christ. They are marginal, they are temporal, and they are persecuted. They are living in modern day Turkey. They are camping out on the borders of Iran. And they are under strict, intentional persecution from the local police. They are living under the terror and threat and tyranny of these officials. They are suffering because they believe Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and they are being persecuted for what they believe in. In the face of pressure and persecution, Peter writes to them that God has established something for them, that he has reserved something for them. He has guaranteed a deposit, an inheritance for these believers.
We always shout at the wrong time and over the wrong stuff. I want you to remember how you're looking at me this morning. Five minutes from now I'm going to pay you back. You're making me go into commercial mode. Because you think what I've been talking about isn't exciting. You've been thinking, This is mundane, this is nothing. I want to go down the street where they're talking about how I can get a car and a house and some clothes. What I'm going to give you today will outlast your car.
Peter says, "Your inheritance, your ultimate salvation is kept in a safe place." Now, God cannot renege on what he says. God is a gentleman. He is not dishonest; he does not lack integrity. If God makes the promise, he will keep it. God is not deceptive. God says, "You have an inheritance." The people that Peter's talking to are poor, marginalized Christians. God is saying to Peter, "Tell them I have an inheritance for them." Don't mistake this for what many people do. Your inheritance isn't a line of credit.
He describes this inheritance in verse 4. He uses four words to characterize our inheritance. See if you can pick them out. This inheritance never perishes, it never spoils, it never fades. Now, let's see if you're smart. Fourth, it is kept by a divine Protector.
It never perishes
Our inheritance never perishes; it's imperishable. In chapter one of 1 Peter, Peter points out a few things that are imperishable. Your new birth is imperishable, the word of your redemption is imperishable, the mercy of God is imperishable, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is imperishable, and the inheritance that God puts your name on is imperishable. These things will not spoil. They're undefiled.
It never spoils
PDC is a chemical protector—we call it Scotchgard. When you buy different kinds of fabric, you're asked, Do you want to put some kind of protection on it, so that if you spill coffee or stain it with jelly you can wipe it off and it won't stain or spoil your fabric? And we say yes. Unfortunately, all of us have been contaminated by the chemicals in this chemical. It tears up your liver; it messes up your internal organs. So your cloth is protected, but your body is torn down. But when God keeps your inheritance from spoiling, it doesn't hurt you; it helps you.
It never fades away
But he doesn't just keep it undefiled; he keeps it from fading away. Your inheritance is unfading. When Peter used that word, he could see one of the runners in the Olympic Greek games wearing the laurel wreath, the "stephanos" crown. It was neatly placed on the head of the victor, who ran up the steps next to the king, and the king held up the hand of the winner. But that laurel wreath is short-lived. It was made out of a plant, so after a day or two, those leaves would start withering. They would dry out and turn brown and then start falling away. What the victor won disappeared. But when you win your inheritance from Christ, it shall never fade away.
It is kept by God
Why? Because it's been kept by a Protector that cannot be bribed. It has been kept. The word kept is in the perfect passive— it implies that what God did in Jesus Christ back then has a positive effect right now. The power that resurrected Christ in the past is the same power that preserves your inheritance right now. Not only God is looking at that gift, but he cherishes it. He protects it. He looks over it. His eternal surveillance is on it. Anybody that tries to disqualify you from claiming what God has already put in his account shall be turned away, because the Lord is keeping it.
If you don't find excitement in that, chances are you're not a Christian. Let me say it one more time: If you don't see the joy in God keeping your inheritance, the door of the church is open. Christ didn't save you to get a job. I know that's a popular way of thinking right now, but God didn't save you to get a car and a house and more money. That's the result of being a good steward with the life that God has given to you. Christ sent Jesus that you might be reconciled back to him. And the Lord is keeping your inheritance.
Our inheritance depends on God's truth.
Maybe you're asking, "Wait a minute, Pastor West, I'm no attorney, but I've been around long enough to know this: Inheritances are always contested, so how can I shout over somebody else contesting me over my inheritance?" That's why I like you all—you ask all the right questions. Sometimes people do contest these wills and documents by undue influence, where one person exerts influence over another to pressure them into making a different decision than the one that has been documented. It's like a son threatening his aging mother and saying, "Unless you give me more of the inheritance, I'm going to slam you in the nursing home." We know these kinds of things have happened. People also point to incompetence. They ask, "Did the person that wrote the document not include me in the inheritance because they were not of sound mind and body?" This becomes a ground of arguing against the document. There are also times when fraud can be interjected, where one person says to a parent, "I know my sister's involved in criminal activity," putting her in a negative light to change the parents' intention. Or a person could appeal to ambiguous language. The language used in the document could be interpreted in a number of ways.
God knew that all of these kinds of things could happen, so he sent me here today to reassure you that he cannot be unduly influenced. Satan can't bring enough against you for God to change his mind. God is not incompetent. Those that try to challenge his character have to remember that God is completely competent. Anybody that says God is incompetent is incompetent themselves. He cannot be accused of fraud because his name and nature are truth. If God doesn't stand on truth, he stops being God. Since he can't stop being God, he can't stop being the truth. "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
There's nothing ambiguous about the Bible's language. It's got an Old Covenant and a New Covenant, and covenant means testament. That is the will of God in the Word of God. God has already signed his document, and it's in your hand. If you want to know what you're going to inherit, read this document: new birth, living hope, and resurrected power in Jesus Christ. People may contest wills on earth, but they can't negotiate with God in heaven. He stamped it with his blood, and wrote your name on it, too. So if you get weary and heavy laden and tired and doubtful and feel like you can't go on, remember this: God has already signed the document and your name is on it. Your name is under lock and key. Nobody can steal it. He's written your name in the palm of his hand, and nobody can pluck it out. Your inheritance is secure.
Our inheritance compels us to trust God.
One final thing: while your inheritance is kept for you, you are being kept for your inheritance. He is keeping you so you can enjoy your inheritance. I'm not talking about what God did through Jesus Christ on the cross. That's already been settled. But while I'm on planet earth, I'm still bound in my earthly tent. But one day my earthly tent is going to shut down and I'm going to move out, and God's going to prepare for me another building not made by the hands of men, my eternal house.
But Pastor West, can you believe God? I know I'm in church and I'm supposed to say "amen" in church, but can I really stake my claim, rest my hope, my future on what God says? Yes, you can. That's why you should read this document called the Bible. Verse 5 describes for us what God's going to do, "… who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." God has declared that your inheritance is being kept for you.
Many times the Chinese blend the characters they write in to come up with new words. For instance, when they want to describe crisis they draw the characters for "dangerous" and "opportunity" blended together. A crisis is a dangerous opportunity. In the same way, when writing the word for integrity, they draw "person" and "word." So for the Chinese, integrity is honesty of one's word. If the word and the person don't match, they lack integrity. Some of you all remember a time when people said, "Let's shake on it." Your word is your bond. People get agitated when you say "I'm going to do it" but then you don't. Now we need legal documents for legal documents for legal documents. But according to integrity, when a person and a word come together you can believe them.
When God sent Jesus, the Word became flesh, he embodied integrity. If God said it, it doesn't matter whether you believe it or not. Let God settle it for you. Your inheritance has been settled up in heaven. Your salvation is kept by the power of God through faith. God says, "I'm going to keep it. I just want you to have faith to experience my power on earth." Don't wait for heaven to know that God can make a way. I may sound crazy in the face of a culture that doesn't believe, but I don't just believe God. I see what I believe. You may not get happy about it, but I do. When we're in the longest recession in American history, and our church got the nerve to build a facility, I don't have to guess whether God was able to make it happen. I can see God is able. Don't just talk about God, do God, believe God, trust God.
What have you been waiting on? If God can keep your inheritance in heaven, the Lord can help you on planet earth. What have you been praying for? Pray, but then get off your knees. Go to work. Believe God and go about your business. Watch God work it out. Have faith in God. He is in control. You just need a little faith. Not big faith, not gargantuan faith, not Herculean faith, not titanic faith, just faith the size of a mustard seed. And you can say to your mountain, "Unemployment move. Sickness move. Marital problems move. Disobedience move."
He is able to do the utmost. He is able to make a way out of no way. He is able to pick you up when you're falling down. Take your battle to the Lord. Jesus will make a way. He'll wipe the tears from your weeping eyes.
Ralph Douglas West serves as founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls (Brookhollow Baptist Church, Houston, Texas).