What does the church need as we continue to face this pandemic? And what does the world need, something different? No. The answer is the same. We need God’s simple gospel. We need to point one another back to the person of Christ. Not only his example (1 Peter 2:21), but to remind one another of the hope we have in him (Colossians 1:27). For we can find confidence and comfort in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension while we await his glorious second coming. Perhaps you think this is an oversimplification. But consider the Christians who lived in the first century, under antagonistic Roman rule.
When the early church suffered persecution, the apostles reminded them of the simple gospel.
When the early church suffered persecution, the apostles reminded them of the simple gospel. They encouraged them to keep their faith in Christ, following his example in suffering, knowing that their hope in him was not wasted or wishful (2 Thessalonians 2:4-7). So the gospel encouraged people going through concentrated suffering, that is, persecution. Therefore how much more should this good news encourage us today, as we navigate COVID-19? We need this same gospel now.
Remember the Gospel Hope
Peter used the simple gospel to encourage believers who were in exile because of their faith (1 Peter 1:1). He reminded them of their salvation in Jesus, encouraging a grieving church to rejoice in its hope (1 Peter 1:6). He refers to their “living hope,” “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:5). This sure hope is secured by God’s mercy, guarded by his power, and explicitly located in the work of God’s Son. Therefore, with them, we can rejoice even if for a little while we are grieved by various trials (1 Peter 1:6).
Peter didn’t come up with a clever alternative. He reminds us what God is doing in Christ.
Peter didn’t come up with a clever alternative to encourage his audience. He reminded them about what God was doing for and in them through Jesus Christ. He pointed them to the simple gospel. This is both the ultimate encouragement for believers and good news for a hopeless world. Whatever we’re facing, we can have joyous peace because of the hope of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Paul strikes a similar note to Peter. He says, “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12), as we anticipate “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). This same hope is ours in God’s simple gospel today. We too can say with Paul, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Rely on God’s Answer in the Gospel
But telling people to simply rejoice in the gospel can sound inconsiderate. It appears unconcerned with trying and tough situations, even out of touch with reality. But that is not the case. For the gospel is God’s answer to a grieving and broken world. God saw our hopeless situation and in his infinite wisdom sent his only Son to rescue and redeem. Believers already enjoy the beginnings of this restoration by faith.
The gospel is a powerful antidote to the malaise of discouragement we’re suffering.
For this reason Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). The gospel is God’s answer to a grieving and hopeless world. Therefore it is surely also a powerful antidote to the malaise of discouragement we’re suffering at present. The gospel is and must remain the church’s ultimate means of encouragement.
Rest in God’s Promises
Now, the Bible never overlooks or undermines the pain caused by whatever it is we are going through. Jesus wept when he arrived at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35). Peter speaks of grief in our trials (1 Peter 1:6b). He acknowledges the seriousness of our circumstances and suffering. But he encourages them to rejoice in the fact that they have a living hope in the face of death. Therefore the exhortation to rejoice in your salvation, even when one is suffering, does not undermine one’s situation.
Believers have a living hope in the face of death.
Peter goes so far as to say, “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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Thus, without denying the realities and struggles God’s people face, we should follow Peter’s example. That is, we should rest in God’s simple gospel and remind others of it. We must continually point one another to the source of all hope, beyond present trials and hardship.
This is not cold or matter of fact. Rather, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). Thus we must “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15b). All the while we must never forget, or fail to remind our brothers and sisters, to “rejoice in hope”.
Rejoice in the Simple Gospel
As we have all been affected by COVID-19, directly or indirectly, our encouragement should centre on the gospel of our hope. The world needs to be reminded that they can find God-given hope in Christ Jesus. Christians need to be reminded of that hope too, through the preaching of the gospel, so that we can rejoice in our hope: the salvation of souls, the redemption of our bodies, and the good news that we are born again to a living hope.