We are going to do something a bit different for the next couple of weeks. I feel God has had this on my heart for some time now. We are going to do a Study of the entire Book of 1st Peter—probably not as thoroughly as we do on Wednesday Night Bible Studies—but a deep look at the message and context of the Book because I honestly feel there could not be a more perfect Book written for our generation, living in our current culture and predicament, from which to draw knowledge, inspiration and direction. This is my favorite way to study Scriptures—as they were written. So, let's jump in and let God's Word speak to our hearts.
The author of 1st Peter is none other than the very Peter who was the disciple of Jesus. The one whom Jesus always named among His closest three friends (Peter, James and John—usually first named, even among them). The one that Scriptures suggest Jesus chose to live with during a period of His ministry. The one who stepped out onto the water in faith—and sank. The one who had the nerve to reprimand Jesus when He said He would be killed; the one who first recognized and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah; the one who swore he'd never forsake Jesus, no matter what the others did, but denied Jesus the most vehemently three times afterwards; the one rebuked by Jesus more than any other disciple and praised by Jesus more than any other disciple. The only one whom Jesus mentioned by name, when telling Mary to proclaim His Resurrection to the disciples; the one so dangerous to Satan's cause that Jesus Himself said that He was praying for Peter as Satan's attack sifted and purified him; the one who left the Upper Room after being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost and boldly accusing Jesus' betrayers and murderers—calling all to repent of their rejection of Jesus—and bringing 3000 souls to accept Christ that day. Peter writes this Book many years later, near the end of his life. The most probable location is Rome (Paul there in prison). In his sign-off in Vs. 5:13, he says he's writing from "Babylon". This Book, and 2 Peter, written near the same time were his last works just a short time before his death. We will reveal more about his intent and his audience as we delve into the Epistle.
1 Peter 1:1: in the introduction, Peter identifies the recipients of his Epistle: "The Pilgrims of the Dispersion!" This introduction reveals why this Epistle was so important then and why it is so important to us here and now. The Letter is addressed to Jews and Gentiles alike, in five different Roman Provinces located in Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey. The Greek word used for "pilgrim" in the opening here can be understood in two possible ways (probably both): 1) many of the Jews who were in Jerusalem and surrounding areas after Jesus' crucifixion were being persecuted and hunted for their faith in Christ (Paul/Stephen) and had fled to other areas. 2) the Jews and Gentiles alike in any areas in which they lived now were strangers who thought and acted differently; who stood out immensely from everyone around them; and were not really totally accepted anywhere they went—much like the Jews in their dispersion to Babylon 500 years before. As we will see, they are in the beginning stages of persecution even in these Provinces to which they had fled (A.D. 60-65). It was during this exact time that Paul was imprisoned in Rome—about the time that Emperor Nero burned Rome and blamed Christians. Paul was probably executed around the very time of this Epistle. So, the recipients were living in a very real and growing time of trouble. By A.D. 112, just 60 years later, Pliny the Younger, Magistrate in Asia Minor wrote to Emperor Trajan asking if he had to kill so many Christians or just certain ones. meaning the persecution and the growth of Christians was immense. We have so much in common with the early Christians who received this letter from Peter. We are in the beginning stages of dislike and persecution. Our beliefs and lifestyles are beginning to cause a notable and serious rift from mainstream society and even the laws of the land. We are beginning to look and feel more and more like Pilgrims everyday ourselves—strangers now beginning to live in a foreign land; beginning to look more and more towards our true Home—our final destination. Peter writes this letter to (A.D. 60-65) encourage these Pilgrims in their situation; to teach them how they should behave during this difficult time, and to reveal the purpose behind much of what they were facing. Can you not see how this Letter could be personally written and addressed to us right here today?
1 Peter 1:2: It's very important that Peter opens his Letter reminding these Christians they have been "Elected" by God "According to His Foreknowledge!" This does not mean that we are chosen, with no will of our own. If it did, we could take the same wording and reasoning to proclaim that Jesus Christ had no choice in His own Crucifixion: Revelation 13:8, 1 Peter 1:20. Jesus makes it clear that He has called to many who will not answer in their own choice: Matthew 22:1-5, 8, 14: many had an invitation, but many of the called were not worthy—why? Because they chose not to accept His gift. Those who are chosen are those called—who react in acceptance, thanksgiving and obedience. The true meaning of election is so much more powerful and comforting. It means that God, in His foreknowledge of our reaction to His gift, our lives lived for Him in love and obedience, called us His elect before we were ever walking the earth. And has a plan laid out for us before we are even born. And for those of us who will choose to live for and serve Him in this time and age, through these current trials, He already has our course laid out before us. We only need to step out into His power and plan. [Now get this next point—it is what we have begun to lack in our comforts of the day in which we have lived our lives.] In this introduction, Peter acknowledges their unsure position in a life of rejection and resistance, and then immediately reminds them of the reality of their true position behind all of the present chaos; of their real worth and purpose, hidden behind the fake and temporary view of the world around them. They were the ones God had seen as His people—His beloved bride—long before that day. God knew they were there and He had sanctified them (set them apart)—for obedience to His work—covered them in His Blood; made them perfect and ready for such a time as this. They were not forgotten, hated, rejected minorities, as the world saw—they were chosen, placed, and made ready for this time. We have to shake that overwhelming feeling that we are all now unwanted, minority rejects that our time and place are fading; that we are living in a progressively difficult and intimidating world as Christians (and that we should drop our faith or hide out). We were chosen, called out, and prepared for this time and place. Accept that calling and revel in it rather fear and reject it. This is our time—maybe our biggest purpose in life thus far. Remember when the Jews were becoming the hated minority in the Persian Empire during the time of Esther? God had placed an ordinary, seemingly insignificant girl in their midst as well. Mordecai, her cousin, sent her this message: Esther 4:14. We are not here by accident or chance either. We need to recognize our worth and purpose through the reality of God's plan and not the current social view of our faith, and get excited and ready—not depressed and withdrawn. Or else God will use someone else to save His people
Now that Peter has reminded them of who they are in reality verses how they feel in their current circumstances, he goes on to tell them the real reason they can have hope and joy: Peter 1:3-6: “Living hope” / "In THIS you greatly rejoice in a Salvation that is incomprehensible and imminent. Peter wants them to focus on the reality of the Treasures that are about to be uncovered—a time and place of amazement that is real, and that nothing we go through can take away. He wants us to realize this is our point of focus and hope. Our reality behind this seemingly victorious horde around us (coming from one who was there). Every person who is fighting to do away with Christ, hating Christians, hurting others for their own benefit, living completely self-absorbed, tearing this world apart to get what they want, will very soon see their entire reality change. The proud mouths speaking hate against God's people will be closed. Defiant and hurtful people will bow their knee before the King. The overwhelming flood of chaos, violence, perversity, lies and hate will be stopped in a moment by Jesus Himself. Peter has reminded them of who they truly are, even in their lowly state, and of the true, powerful reality behind the present dark situation. Then he gives the mission behind what they are currently facing—and incredible strength to draw from in the struggle: 1 Peter 1:6-9. Peter says the trials they are now facing—the same trials we have now begun to face—being misfits in the culture, being misunderstood; our love and good intentions being represented as evil and wrong; our rights to follow Christ being questioned and withering, are all present, so that the genuineness of our faith may not only be found to endure the fire—but that our faith might bring praise, honor and glory to our King at His appearing in the fire.
How could our faith bring praise, honor and glory to Christ as it is tried in these times? By showing resolve and peace in the face of changes and potential loss; knowing it is for our King; knowing what is coming soon; knowing what has been done for us. By having joy in the chance to prove our love rather than crying about how tough it is in life. By holding onto what we have in this world lightly and not being identified by or wrapped up in our lives here. We are pilgrims. By not compromising with the ways around us, but staying solidly on the side of righteousness and love. By loving the people who are misled, not returning hate. By giving more time and attention to Him and His Word than the messed-up distractions of the world. By truly keeping our eyes, minds and hope on what is shortly to come, rather than on what is around us.
In this last section we will explore today, Peter follows this challenge to purify our faith in trials with an awesome reminder: that we are not alone; that we now belong to an ancient, amazing family: 1 Peter 1:10-12. Peter reminds us that the prophets of old would be thrilled to see the things come to pass which we count as history—the actual event of God coming to earth to suffer and die humbly—an event they could only prophecy and dream about. An event so unimaginable in all of the Universe that the angels of Heaven look on in wonder as it unfolds. How passionately would these ancient believers be living for God today if they saw how Jesus had lived out all of the unbelievable sacrifices revealed to them in pieces? Peter tells us these prophets knew they were not writing for their own time or benefit—but for us—for their brothers and sisters in the future, for our time. We are joined to an ancient subculture which existed in every generation before us who stood as persecuted warriors for Christ. They did their part in faithfulness—even to bloodshed—to tell of the coming King; to preserve His Word and His love, and to exhort and comfort those of us who follow their heritage and one another in their struggles. Now it is our turn to carry the torch in these most troubling of times. Our current home is beginning to look more and more like Babylon, and we have become the exiles living in a foreign land. We are united as brothers and sisters with these precious Saints of our past, as they look on, and we are to stand in unity with one another now, as they did, to maintain that strong tribe of believers willing to suffer for the cause of our King, and one another: Hebrews 12:1-3. I believe one of the hardest things for this generation of Christians to do is to separate ourselves from the rapidly shifting culture, enough to genuinely see ourselves as pilgrims—as foreigners. We have to wake up and admit the reality of where we are, and that begins with admitting that life in this culture as we know it has passed. And fitting in as a Christian will never be the norm again. And rather than lament what is being lost, we need to let go of what we have held to up to this point, and openly embrace a new, different life, carrying the torch for Christ through our age, until His soon return; as a band of foreigners, holding onto the ways of Home, until we are Home again.
This letter could easily have been written directly to us from Peter today. So, let's read his closing statements of chapter one as though they were. In light of all Peter has just said, here is how he says we should respond: 1 Peter 1:13-25.
It is our turn to carry the torch in our generation; to hold the line; to just live it.
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