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Joining the unashamed

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-9

There is a Fifth Great Awakening sweeping the nations in these days. More people are coming to faith in Christ every day than ever before. David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia documents 82,000 new Christians every day. More Muslims are becoming Christians than ever before, many of them after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. This movement is touching the globe.

It started in South Korea after the devastation of the Korean conflict. Today that nation is one-third to one-half born-again Christian; five of the ten largest churches on earth are in South Korea. Last year the Koreans sent more missionaries into the world than America did.

There is a worship movement in Australia, a Pentecostal movement in Central and South America, a tribal movement in sub-Saharan Africa. As many as 100,000 people come to Christ each day in the underground church movement of China. China is now the largest Christian nation on earth.

In Cuba, a million people have come to Christ in the last ten years. I have preached there seven times, and am amazed each time at what God is doing on the island. My last time there, last fall, we saw 330 people make public professions of faith on the Sunday morning I preached. Not because of me—the day before, 294 Cubans knocked on 1050 doors and shared the gospel with 5,000 people. As a result, 330 made a public commitment to Christ in a church which is four feet from the Communist headquarters.

God is at work in these days. But of the 82,000 Barrett documents as coming to Christ every day, only 6,000 are in Europe and North America, combined. How can we join the Fifth Great Awakening? How can we experience the power, peace, and purpose of Jesus as they are experiencing his grace and joy? How can we join the Fifth Great Awakening? By experiencing the First Great Awakening.

This Easter I wanted to bring a message I’d never preached before. For 25 years as a pastor I preached each year on Easter, of course. I didn’t want to rerun one of those messages. As Janet and I were talking about this service, I was drawn to a passage I’ve never preached before in all my ministry, much less on Easter. But I believe it is God’s word for you and me this morning.

Meet Peter

Our author is “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1). When you think of Peter, what images come to mind? A Galilean fisherman, eking out a living with his fishing line, a peasant fisherman struggling to get by? That’s how many people see him.

One of the activities of our ministry is to lead study tours of biblical lands. A month ago I was back in Israel. One day we visited the ruins of Capernaum, the village where Peter lived when he met Jesus. We went to the house which 20 centuries of tradition has marked as that of Peter. It is the largest house yet discovered in the entire area, and is located closer to the Sea of Galilee than any other.

We know that Peter and Andrew, James and John operated a fishing consortium. They had many boats and hired servants. They exported fish across all of Israel, even to the palace of the High Priest himself. And Peter was the CEO of their company, living in the largest house in Galilee, on the lake. If he were alive today, he would fit right in with us.

He turned from his business to follow Jesus, when his Lord called him to “fish for men.” Peter is named first in every list of apostles in the New Testament. He was the first to call Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”; in reply, Jesus told him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not withstand its assault” (Matthew 16). Peter was the one disciple willing to get out of the boat to walk on the water to his Lord. He was with him on the Mt. of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

But when Jesus needed him most, Peter failed his Lord. He denied knowing him three times. He fled his cross, and went back to his fishing business. But Jesus didn’t give up on Peter. He came back to Capernaum, to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter recognized him, jumped from his boat and swam to him. Jesus forgave him and restored him and called him to “feed my sheep.”

This Peter would do for the rest of his life.

He was with Jesus at his ascension, and with the disciples in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit filled them on the day of Pentecost. He preached the Pentecost sermon which led 3,000 to Christ and birthed the church. He testified for his Lord before the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court which had sentenced Jesus to die and could do the same to him.

He was used by God to raise Dorcas from the dead, to welcome Cornelius and the Gentiles into the church, and to pastor the great church at Rome. When Nero called him to renounce Jesus or be crucified, Peter asked that he might be nailed to the cross upside down, since he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as did his Lord.

Meet Jesus

What made the difference? What turned Peter from a coward who denied knowing Christ to one of the boldest preachers and missionaries in history? Easter. Easter changed Peter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changed this man, and sparked in and through him the first Great Awakening, a movement which has swept the nations and is now embraced by two billion people on earth. Easter happened.

Peter wrote his letter to Jewish Christians scattered across the Roman Empire. Here’s what he says to them about the One whose resurrection we celebrate today.

First, Easter is a “living hope” (v. 3). It is a constant, continuous, transforming fact. Easter doesn’t come once a year—it comes every day. Jesus is alive, every day. He is Lord, every day. Our culture likes to separate the spiritual from the secular, Sunday from Monday, religion from the real world. Jesus doesn’t. He is King and Lord of every day. In him we have a “living hope,” a daily relationship with the God of the universe.

Second, when Jesus is your “living hope,” his resurrection is yours. Easter is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (v. 4). You are immortal. If Jesus is your Lord, you will never die. When you take your last breath here, you take your first breath there. You step from time into eternity, death to life, earth to paradise. Jesus said, “He who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).

When Jesus is your daily Lord and King, he not only promises you eternal life to come, he promises you strength today.

Easter is help for hard times: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (vs. 6-7).

“All kinds of trials” are common to life. Jesus warned us that “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

But the risen Christ is ready and able to strengthen you, to encourage you, to guide you and help you and forgive you and empower you. When we make him our King every day, we “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (v. 8), for we are “receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (v. 9).

Conclusion

Easter changed Peter, and God used Peter to change the world. That was the first Great Awakening. It proved mightier than the mighty Roman Empire, and has led two billion people to make the risen Christ their God and King. Now the Fifth Great Awakening is sweeping the nations again. Will we join it?

Will we make the risen Christ our “living hope” by crowning him our King every day? Will we begin the day by putting it in his hands, submitting ourselves to him and asking him to guide us and bless us and use us? Will we trust him for eternal life to come and ask his strength for life today? Will we pray through the day, giving him our problems and mistakes and fears and trusting his power and guidance when we need them most?

Let’s close with my favorite confession of faith, which was written by an African Christian, a man later martyred for his faith. I invite you to make its commitment your own:

I am part of the ‘Fellowship of the Unashamed.’ I have Holy Spirit power. The dye has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal in heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of compromise, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops. And when he comes to get his own, he’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.