When it comes to finding balance and stability in this life, a lot of people, especially followers of Jesus are feeling like the world has gotten a bit wobbly?
· Have you noticed that the world around us is changing? Navigating this culture as a Christian seems to be more and more challenging.
It was for THIS VERY REASON, that the book of 1 Peter was written.
It was on Peter’s heart to share some words of INSIGHT and COMFORT with a collection of Christians who felt like the proverbial rug was being pulled out from under them!
In a nutshell…
The purpose of Peter’s letter was to ENCOURAGE and STRENGTHEN Christians who were suffering under cultural confusion and stifling persecution.
And as OUR WORLD and CULTURE seem to be showing signs of shift, perhaps we could use some encouragement and strengthening as well!
And what better place to come to God’s word for answers and reassurance!
Before we dive in, I want to give you a picture of some of the primary themes 1 Peter touches upon:
PRIMARY THEMES OF 1 PETER
· Salvation and Sanctification
· Dealing with Authorities
· Persecution and Suffering
· Advice for Married Couples
· Lessons for Leaders
· God’s Justice and Judgment
But in the overall sense, what we might call the view from 30,000 feet…1 Peter is a book that was mainly written to help buoy the spirits of Christians who felt like they were drowning under the waves of cultural change and religious persecution.
Once again, how timely is that for our day and age!?
If there is a key word that I believe would summarize the intent of Peter’s letter it would be the word HOPE.
Let me ask this question that you can answer in the quiet of your heart today:
Are the current cultural upheavals and shifting sands of society causing you to despair? To be anxious? To be filled with fear?
If so, here’s some good news: God, writing through Peter’s pen, wants you and I to know that there CAN BE hope in the midst of the storm and light in the midst of the darkness!
So, to start things off today, we are only going to take on the first two verses from the first chapter of 1 Peter.
Ready to go?
1 Peter 1:1-2
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
If there is a phrase that really frames the start of Peter’s letter it is how Peter addresses the recipients of his letter: “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion”
Another version of the Bible puts it this way:
"To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."
Here, Peter is describing the recipients of his letter.
He calls them elect exiles!
Other Bible versions refer to this collection of people as either strangers, sojourners or pilgrims.
· What in the world does this mean?
· Who are these people?
Let’s begin with the fact that Peter referred to them as exiles.
Have you ever been in a place or situation where you felt completely out of place? Maybe you didn’t understand the language or the culture. Whatever the case, all you knew was that you didn’t fit in.
Well, the same thing often happens to us when we become Christians.
I don’t know about you, but after I gave my life to Jesus, some of friendships, my activities and even some of my employment situations didn’t seem the same to me. I felt different, sort of like a stranger or an alien.
Well, in a nutshell, Peter is writing to a number of Christians who lived under a steady stream of harassment and persecution, and as a result they were people who constantly felt pushed around and unappreciated.
It felt like they didn’t have a place they could call home!
One of the main reasons for all the negative vibes and the bad treatment of Christians was rooted in some events that took place in Rome.
So what happened in Rome that made it so tough to be a Christian?
In 64 AD, the city of Rome was almost wiped out by a fire that burned for an entire week.
Many of the Roman citizens believed the fire was started by their Emperor, Nero.
· The rumor on the streets that was being spread about was that Nero wanted build new buildings and structures throughout Rome, and the only way he could do that was to get rid of the buildings and structures that already existed.
· Now, historically speaking, the validity of these rumors has never been verified, but for the people of Rome, who were angry and frustrated with so much loss, it didn’t really matter
· Their anger towards Nero burned as hot as the fires that had destroyed 70% of the city they called home.
So Nero, feeling the pressure and wrath of the citizenry, sought out a scapegoat. He felt the need to pin the blame on someone else to get some the hostility pointed at him redirected.
Well, guess who Nero chose to play the role of his scapegoats?
And because of Nero’s decision, the Christians of that day certainly felt the wrath of Roman society.
Now, at the same time all of this happening, persecution of believers was already a fact of life.
· Some Christians were persecuted by their own families.
· Some Christians were harassed because of a perceived association with the Jews.
· Some Christians were mistreated because they refused to worship the Emperor.
· Some Christians were persecuted because Christianity was viewed by some as an obscure or bizarre cult.
· Some Christians were persecuted because they couldn’t go along with some of the customs and practices that were considered normal and acceptable in the Greco-Roman world.
But the devastation of Rome seemed to bring things to a NEW LEVEL OF PERSECUTION…so much so that Peter, obviously moved by the Holy Spirit, felt it necessary to write a letter of hope, advice and encouragement to a collection of people who felt like they didn’t fit in anywhere.
More and more, these Christians felt like strangers…like aliens…like they didn’t fit in anywhere
Here’s a truth we all need to grab hold of: when we become a follower of Jesus, we automatically find ourselves as a people who no longer really have a foundational connection to this world!
Jesus put it this way when He prayed for His disciples in John 17: He described them as being in the world, but not of it!
Now, this doesn’t mean that we are to simply hide out until Jesus return.
No! As followers of Jesus, we have a very important mission while we remain here on the earth!
· We have the mission of sharing the Gospel!
· We have the mission of expressing God’s compassion!
· We are here to love, serve, and share!
But, the reality remains that we really do have a different place we call home!
Paul wrote this important passage of scripture to the Philippian Christians which helps us understand this reality of being strangers and aliens:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Here’s the deal: the moment we give our life to Christ, and begin the journey of following Him, our roots to this world begin to be pulled up!
We, for all intents and purposes, have become citizens of heaven!
No wonder much of what is going on in the world around us can begin to seem so strange and foreign!
And as a result, life can become a bit more difficult and challenging!
Bottom line: living life as an alien, or a stranger, or a pilgrim, or an exile isn’t easy. In fact, it can be painfully brutal.
It can be a time in life when people feel alone and unwanted, as well as harassed and persecuted.
Kind of depressing huh?
I mean, who wants to be known as an alien or an exile?
But, if you notice in verse 1 there is also another word that Peter uses to describe these struggling saints:
He refers to them as THE ELECT.
Another word for ELECT is the word CHOSEN.
Even though many of the Christians of Peter’s day the world were being treated with disdain or disgust, God had a completely different perspective!
God considered these believers to be a people who very much had a home with Him.
In fact, a general takeaway from reading the Bible as a whole is that God seems to have a special place in his heart to reaching out to those who have been discouraged and displaced. Consider the words and sentiment from Psalm 68:
Psalm 68: 4-6
Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him. A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity…
In essence, Peter’s message to these hassled and harried Christians was this: you may be totally rejected by the world, but KNOW that you are completely accepted by God!
2 verses into his letter, Peter sought to offer comfort his readers by reminding these Christians of their glorious calling as believers!
Sometimes this concept of God choosing us can be difficult to comprehend.
Why would God choose me to be part of his family?
Well, it isn’t because we’ve done anything to earn it!
No, the truth of the matter is that we are called into God’s family solely by HIS choosing, not ours!
So, the rest of verse 2 serves as an explanation of how the adoption of process of God works:
Peter breaks things down into three unique components:
1. According to the foreknowledge of the Father
The idea here is that way back…I mean WAY BACK…back before the creation of the world, God chose those people who would become His family of followers!
His choosing wasn’t based on merit or performance or impressiveness, but was rooted in MERCY!
Which is really good news!
See, if God chose us based upon our abilities and our performance, He would surely have to pass over us. Remember, Romans 5:8 reminds us that when Christ died for us, our status was listed as that of SINNER! But God chooses us because of His great love, His great mercy and His great power
2. In the SANCTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT
The word sanctification is a big theological word that simply means SET APART.
For every Christian, there is a point in time where the Holy Spirit of God draws a person out of the darkness and into the light.
It is the Holy Spirit who begins working on our heart and mind, giving us a true perspective about our sin, and opening our eyes to the truth about our need for a Savior.
Ephesians 2 gives us an view of this incredible reality:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
What an amazing process this is!
God literally takes people heading in one direction, and then supernaturally puts them on another track!
3. For OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST AND SPRINKLING BY HIS BLOOD
The third component in our election is the work accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
If Jesus didn’t die in our place, our salvation could not be realized, because the debt of our sin would never have been paid!
As we worked through verse 2, did you notice that all 3 members of the Trinity of God were at work in bringing about our salvation?
...As far as the Father is concerned, I was saved when He chose me before the foundation of the world.
...As far as the Son is concerned, I was saved when He died for me on the cross.
But as far as the Spirit is concerned, I was saved around 1970 when I first heard the Gospel and responded in faith.
So even though we may be viewed as exiles, aliens and strangers in the eyes of the world, we are if fact the elect, the chosen and the adopted in the eyes of God!
Which means that even when the world we live in can seem wobbly and unstable, we can reflect upon the fact that we are confidently able to rest upon the firm foundation of our relationship with our heavenly Father.
We may be exiles, but we can relish in the fact that we are ELECT exiles!
Peter closes out these verses with of introduction with a simple prayer found at the end of verse 2:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Which is exactly what these beleaguered believers were in need of!
They needed the grace of God to strengthen and encourage for the uncertainties that may lay ahead.
And they were in need of peace to calm the hearts and minds.
Now as we come to wrapping up our study of these two verses, please note what Peter did NOT pray on their behalf: He didn’t ask that these scattered saints be delivered from all their problems and challenges!
Instead, He asked God to provide them the necessary tools to be able to endure as well as excel in the face of mounting difficulties!