This morning we begin a new sermon series which is somewhat of an oddity around here. Over the next several months we will endeavor to work our way through 1 and 2 Peter.
It is fair to ask: “Why study these books at this time?” First, we affirm “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (or in the way of life that is pleasing to God) so we want to hear what these books have to teach. Second, 1 Peter is addressed to people who are under the stress of life. The book is addressed to those who feel the press of a hostile society and the discomfort of the demands of life. These believers were facing the very real threat of persecution. They were people who had been exiled (forced to leave home) because of their faith. Certainly these people were unsettled and perhaps confused. Does this place of “unsettled confusion” not sound like an accurate description of our own lives?
Third, 1 and 2 Peter are like handbooks for Christian living. They contain practical truth that, if followed, will produce hope for real life. The book of 1 Peter is not “pie in the sky” sloganeering. It is solid teaching for real problems. The theme throughout the book is hope. Sadly the idea of hope is often seen as wishful thinking in spite of the facts (Like I hope the Cubs win the World Series). The hope Peter talks about is solid, deep and anchored to the character and promise of God.
Chuck Swindoll tells us the value of hope,
- When we are trapped in a tunnel of misery, hope points to the light at the end
- When we are overworked and exhausted, hope gives us fresh energy
- When we are discouraged, hope lifts our spirits
- When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going.
- When we lose our way and confusion blurs the destination, hope dulls the edge of panic.
- When we struggle with a crippling disease or a lingering illness, hope helps us persevere beyond the pain.
- When we fear the worst, hope brings reminders that God is still in control.
- When we must endure the consequences of bad decisions, hope fuels our recovery.
- When we find ourselves unemployed, hope tells us we still have a future.
- When we are forced to sit back and wait, hope gives us the patience to trust.
- When we feel rejected and abandoned, hope remind us we’re not along…we’ll make it.
- When we say our final farewell to someone we love, hope in life beyond gets us through the time of grief.
In the first two verses Peter gives us the foundation for hope. I hope to show you this morning three principles that will serve as a foundation for our study.
Peter Speaks as an Apostle . . . We Should Listen to Him
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ
When you get mail from the Post Office the first thing you do is look at return addresses. If you are a person who relies on e-mail or even likes to read posts on Facebook or Twitter or blog posts, one of the first things you do (whether you realize it or not) is identify where the post is coming from. There are some e-mails I never even open. These are ads or political announcements or information in which I am not interested. I simply delete them. There are other e-mails I might browse before I delete. However, if there is an e-mail post from a family member, a church member, or a friend . . . I will open the note and read it carefully and attentively.
This letter is from Peter. He identifies himself as an Apostle. An apostle was someone who had been with Jesus (with the notable exception of Paul). They were given a special authority by Christ which was like the Prophets of old. God used these men to transmit His Word to the world. In 2 Peter 1 the apostle tells us,
16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
He was a witness to the work and ministry of Christ. He writes,
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21]
Peter was a normal guy. He worked as a fisherman before he followed Jesus. He had a unique personality. He was impulsive and his eagerness sometimes got him in trouble. If you were with us for our study of Luke you are well aware of many of Peters’ failures. However, as an apostle, he speaks with the authority of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.
In other words, this is not some kind of self-help book or a book written by someone who wants to share his/her insights and passions. This is not like the words of Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz. These people may provide helpful counsel but you need to sort out the good from the bad. Peter speaks as one inspired (or led) by God. Because of this we should listen to and pay attention to his words with great seriousness. God is speaking through Peter. We should pay close attention.
Christians are Foreigners . . . Embrace It
scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1b)
The people to whom Peter wrote were foreigners literally and figuratively. They may have been Jewish or Gentile believers (there are arguments on both sides). They were banished to outlying areas of the empire because of their faith in Christ.
When someone comes from a different place they often stick out. We notice
Their skin color
The strangeness of their language
Their different style of dress
A physical irregularity
Their different customs and practices
Foreigners often are pushed aside by others. Sometimes we are afraid of them. Sometimes we just simply don’t want to be around anyone who is “different”. We may actually feel such people are “beneath us”. At times we may even think of them as being out to get us and dangerous to the status quo.
Peter understood that being a true follower of Christ will make you a foreigner in this world. This is because when we become a follower of Christ we turn down a different course than the rest of the world. We are, if you will, “swimming against the current” of the world.
In 1 Peter 2:11 Peter calls us “aliens and strangers in the world”. In Hebrews 11, the great “faith chapter” in the Bible, we are told the story of faithful people in the history of God’s Kingdom. The author ends with these words,
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. [Hebrews 11:13-16]
Becoming a Christian makes you an oddball, a foreigner in the world. This is because as believers have
- Different values (we pursue holiness above happiness)
- Different basis of truth (God’s Word over our feelings or even earthly law)
- Different definition of “life” (not the length of years but the relationship we have with God)
- Different approach to material things (they are tools rather than treasures)
- Different definition of “success” (faithfulness over applause)
- Different approach to relationships (commitment over pleasure)
The more faithfully you follow Christ, the more different you will be. Being different will make you a target. Realize this and embrace it. If you will do this you will not be surprised, offended, or even discouraged by the world’s response to you. It is foolish to try to “fit in” with the world. You can’t “fit in” and still be faithful.
Christians are Chosen . . .Anchor your Hope to it
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood
Peter draws a great contrast between what we are in Christ and the way we are seen in the world. The world views us as oddballs. Yet in the first words of the letter he calls us the “elect” and now he says we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”.
The word elect (or chosen) means to be “called out”. It is a picture of a family who is looking through a list of orphans and from there chooses to adopt one of the orphans. They have “elected” that child to be part of their family.
The contemporary world and the contemporary church is “me-centered.” We talk about being saved because WE walked down an aisle, or WE chose Christ, or because WE were baptized. We make it sound like the key element of salvation is what WE did. We are saying that we deserved salvation because of our actions: we were wise enough to make the right choice, or to do the right thing.
This is really what we want to believe. We like the idea of being masters of our own fate. We like to think that we are all-powerful while God sits back and waits to find out what we are going to do in regard to Him.
The Biblical proclamation is different from our popular understanding. The Bible tells us throughout the Bible (Old and New Testaments) that our salvation is not based on how good WE are but how loving HE is. This is called the doctrine of election. It declares that God has been involved in every aspect of your life. He has been wooing you from the day of your birth and before. God is committed to you! Your faith is no accident- it didn’t just happen; God brought it to pass, as a miraculous work in your heart.
It is important that you not miss Peter’s point! He was writing to those who were living as foreigners in the world. They felt alone, attacked, defeated and tossed aside by the world. Peter encourages them to change their focus . . . instead of drawing their sense of worth and identity from public opinion (or even from what they see in their own mirrors) he encourages them to embrace what God says about them. They are not cast-offs, they are chosen!
God chose Israel not because of their power, might or their goodness. Instead we read,
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deut. 7:7-9)
God chose us not because of who WE are but because of who HE is. I’m sure God has His reasons for those He chooses; but it is not because we deserve it. The Bible tells us that God, through the Holy Spirit, has placed in us a desire for Him; a desire that leads us to choose Him. That’s how we are both chosen and freely choose Him.
Some object to this idea and say if God influences our choice we are no longer free. Yet every choice we make is influenced. Our choices are influenced by genetics, upbringing, culture, personality, experience, circumstance, education, the influence of media, and by our friends. The Bible says we come to faith because God influenced (or drew) us to Himself.
Peter says we have
been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Notice the three persons on the Trinity here. God the Father chooses us. God the Son makes our salvation possible through the shedding of His blood. And God the Holy Spirit works our new relationship with God out in our daily living (to be sanctified is to be made holy).
This has practical implications. Because we are the elect who are chosen by God,
Our salvation is not based on our performance but on God’s work on our behalf. We are not saved because we are “doing good”. We are saved because He has chosen us for His own. Salvation is given, not earned. Like the adopted child, we don’t have to wonder if we are loved. We know we are, because we were chosen by God through Jesus Christ.
We don’t have to keep looking over our shoulder. God is not watching to see if we are going to “mess up” so He can send us to Hell. God is working in us and through us. Even in the hard times of life we know that the Lord is “working for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God is on our side and is working to help us grow in Him.
We serve and obey Him not out of fear but out of joyful gratitude for grace that is undeserved. It is a bad analogy but think about the way a dog wants to please its owner. A dog recognizes the person who takes care of them. They love and respond to their owner because they love and trust their owner. We should love God in much the same way.
How do we know if God has chosen us? It may sound overly simplistic, but it is true: if you come to real, vital, and life-changing faith in Christ, it shows that God has chosen you.
So here at the beginning of this letter Peter gives us three simple truths: 1) He is speaking as an Apostle so we should listen to Him. 2) As believers we will be going against the flow of the rest of the world; we will be different and we should accept that fact. 3) We are chosen by God and we should anchor our hope to that fact.
These truths lead us to some basic questions:
1. Do you think you can live a good enough life to earn eternal life? Can you earn God’s favor? If this is what you believe, you don’t understand the depth of your sin. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We can never attain the holy standard God has set by our own efforts.
2. Are you willing to entrust yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you run to Him for forgiveness? Do you believe that His death was sufficient payment for your sin? Will you trust His Holy Spirit to help you experience real change in your life? Will you fully and completely trust His promise? If so, then you are chosen by God to know grace, mercy, and new and eternal life.
3. Are you living your life trying to be popular? If so, then there is a good chance that you are compromising the truth of the gospel. Christ-followers are not antagonistic to the world, but we also are not to be like the world. We live by different values and are pursuing different goals. If that is not true in your life, then you may be a “believer” in name only. If you are living by the values of Christ, then there are going to be some people who don’t like you. Accept that fact and move on.
4. Finally, do you view the Bible as a book of wise sayings, or as the unchanging and authoritative Word of God? Do you pick and choose from the Bible or do you submit to its authority in your life? The Bible is not simply the inspiring thoughts of men . . . it is the Word of God who is sharing His heart and plan with His creation. We ought to read it that way.
The Christian symbol for hope is an anchor. How well an anchor holds in a storm will depend on where your anchor is placed. Hope is the same way. We can anchor our hope to our commitment to the Lord. The problem is that we know we are fickle. One minute we are fervent in commitment, the next we are negotiating our faith to get what we want. That anchor is going to have trouble holding in the fierce storms of life. The other option is to anchor our hope to God’s commitment and promise to us. It is to rely on the fact that He loved us before we loved Him and that His commitment to draw us to Himself is unwavering. If we place our anchor in Him that anchor will hold no matter how fierce the storm.