“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
We saw in the previous article that Peter is providing us here with a description of what I called quintessential Christianity. This is what Christian living is in its purest and most godly form, after faith has been tested and refined by the fire of suffering.
First, observe that in v. 8 Peter says that his readers, and of course this would include you and me also, have never “seen” Jesus in the past and even “now” do not “see” him. Peter and the other apostles and hundreds of men and women who were contemporaries of Jesus and lived in Palestine when he did, had the incredible privilege of seeing the Son of God incarnate. They were eye witnesses of the God-man Christ Jesus. We are not.
But don’t think that puts you at a disadvantage to them. As great and glorious as it would have been to see Jesus, the fact that we didn’t does not mean that our faith and love and joy in him is any less genuine or less fervent or less passionate or less pleasing to God. Of course, the day is coming when we will see him perfectly and forever, but at least for now, we are in the same position as were those to whom Peter wrote his letter.
In fact, let me go even further and say something that may strike you as outrageous when you first hear it. I first heard it from a sermon that John Piper preached. I thought he was nuts when he said it, but on deeper reflection, I think he’s right.
“The gospels,” said Piper, by which he means the written record of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, “the gospels, are better than being there!” He continues:
“Hundreds of people in Jesus' lifetime saw him physically and never really saw him. ‘Seeing they did not see,’ Jesus said. There is a seeing that is infinitely more important than seeing with the eyes. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul describes it like this: ‘The God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ There is a spiritual seeing in the heart of the glory of God in the face of Christ, and without it no one is saved.
How does it happen? How is this kind of seeing happening? It happens through the Word of God. When the gospel of Christ is preached, we can see Christ more clearly for who he really is than many could see in his own lifetime. If you read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with openness to Christ, you can see the true glory of Christ far more clearly than most of the people who knew him on earth could see him—Nicodemus, the Syrophoenician woman, the Centurion, the widow of Nain, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the thronging crowds. They saw a snatch here and a snatch there. But in the gospels you get four complementary portraits of Christ inspired by God and covering the whole range of his teaching and his ministry.
The gospels are better than being there. You are taken into the inner circle of the apostolic band where you never could have gone. You go with him through Gethsemane and the trial and the crucifixion and the resurrection and the meetings after the resurrection. You hear whole sermons and long discourses—not in isolated snatches on hillsides but in rich God-inspired contexts that take you deeper than you ever could have gone as a perplexed peasant in Galilee. You see the whole range of his character and power which nobody on earth saw as fully as you can now see in the gospels: you see his freedom from anxiety with no place to lay his head, his courage in the face of opposition, his unanswerable wisdom, his honoring women, his tenderness with children, his compassion toward lepers, his meekness in suffering, his patience with Peter, his tears over Jerusalem, his blessing those who cursed him, his heart for the nations, his love for the glory of God, his simplicity and devotion, his power to still storms and heal the sick and multiply bread and cast out demons.
Though you do not now see him, yet in another sense you do see him far better than thousands who saw him face to face. You see the glory of God shining in this man's face at every turn in the gospels. And because you see him with the eyes of the heart, you love him and trust him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. This is true Christianity.”
Now, whether or not you agree with Piper isn’t important. What’s important is to realize that your historical distance from Jesus in the first century is no impediment or obstacle to your loving him and trusting him and enjoying him. That’s the important thing to remember!
So, if not physically seeing Jesus is no hindrance to true Christian faith and life, what is the quintessence of it? What is Christianity? What does it mean to be a Christian? Peter mentions three things.
First, it is loving Jesus. The word “love” itself needs defining because today it can mean almost anything which means it means almost nothing!
When Peter speaks of loving Jesus he means unashamed, extravagant affection for the Son of God. Though we do not see Jesus with our physical eyes, we still love him. One need not see Jesus in the flesh to experience unbridled passion for him. Rather, we see him in the revelation of God’s Word and the Spirit quickens in our hearts and souls an affections a passion and love for him that is undeniable and unquenchable. The first and greatest commandment is that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and will. That is what Peter has in mind here.
When King David spoke of this kind of passion for God he compared it to the plight of a thirsty deer, alone and desperate in the desert. Even as the deer pants after the water brooks, so our souls long for the Son of God (Psalm 42:1-2; cf. 63:1). To love the Son of God, to experience passion for Jesus, is to yearn from the depths of one's being for his presence and his smiling approval. To love him with the energy of our whole soul is to settle for nothing less than his will and his ways.
Loving Jesus means experiencing him as precious and dear for all his character and virtue. It means prizing him above all that is prized. It means valuing him above all that is valuable. It means treasuring him above all that is costly. It means praising him above all that is praiseworthy.
Second, it is trusting Jesus. The word “believe” in v. 8 means more than giving mental assent to doctrinal truths about Jesus. It certainly includes that, and any attempt to trust someone you don’t know is ridiculous and dangerous. If you naively say you are trusting “Jesus” but refuse to describe and assert certain things about the “Jesus” you are trusting, you may end up trusting a figment of your own imagination.
But there is far more involved. It also means yielding to him, relying upon him moment by moment, entrusting ones soul to him, turning to him at all times for strength and encouragement and hope. It means experiencing him as reliable in all that he has promised. It means obeying him in all his counsel and guidance.
Can you imagine saying to the Lord Jesus, “I love you, but I don’t trust you”? Or conversely, “I trust you, but I don’t love you”?
Third, it is enjoying Jesus.
The end-product of a faith that has been purged and purified is joy inexpressible and full of glory. This isn’t to say that joy is absent prior to the onset of trials. We are responsible to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), before, during, and after hardship. Peter’s point is simply that the quality and sincerity and fervency of joy are both refined and intensified by trials. Thus far from being secondary or something to suppress and avoid, joy is described here as that which characterizes Christian experience in its highest and most sanctified form. Two things in particular are said about joy in Jesus.
First, Peter describes it as being inexpressible or unutterable. This is a joy so profound that it is beyond mere words. It is ineffable, all-consuming, overwhelming, speechless joy! This joy defies all human efforts at understanding or explanation. The words have not yet been created that would do justice to the depths of this kind of joy. The human tongue has not yet been found that can articulate the heights to which this kind of joy elevates us. You’ll never know this kind of joy until you can’t find words to describe it. This is joy that declares, “I will not be confined to the dimensions of your mind or reduced to the definitions in your dictionary.”
Second, Peter also describes this joy as full of glory or glorified. This word evokes images of God's glory in the Old Testament, that bright, shining radiance of his presence. This, then, is a joy shot through and through with the resplendent majesty of the beauty of God's being. It is not fleshly joy, or worldly joy, or the joy that comes from earthly achievements or money or fame. It is a joy that has been baptized, as it were, in the glory of God himself.
But there may be even more involved in Peter’s use of the phrase “filled with glory.” The “glory” here may also be a reference to the glory of the coming age when our salvation is consummated and we enter into the fullness of our relationship with Christ. His point then would be that even now, in the present, though we do not see Jesus, we experience something in advance of the great and indescribable glory of that coming day. The future glory has broken into the present and changed us forever.
In the final analysis, what makes this joy good and godly and holy, rather than the kind of carnal and depraved and useless joy so often evident in our world? What makes joy ugly or beautiful? Depraved or noble? Dirty or clean? The answer is, of course: the thing enjoyed. That is what determines the character or moral quality of joy and ultimately determines the moral quality of your own soul.
John Piper nails it when he says that if you enjoy pornography or deceitfulness or people who have abandoned integrity and purity, then your heart is dirty and your joy is dirty. If you enjoy cruelty and arrogance and revenge, then your heart and your joy have that character. Or the more you get your joy simply from material things, the more your heart and your joy shrivel up like a mere material thing. You become like what you crave. That is why the focus of our joy must be Jesus!
When we return to this in the next article we’ll take note of the inter-connection or relationship that exists among love, faith, and joy. What we’ll discover is that you can’t have one without having all three.