If you have a Bible available to you, would you turn with me to I Peter. I want to first show you something about this letter or tract, that we call I Peter, that is awesome, wonderful, breathtakingly fantastic. It’s found in the very first verse (1:1). I encourage you to look at it for yourself. It’s the first few words of the first verse. It’s this:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…”
Do you realize what that means we have with this document we call I Peter? We have five chapters from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, the One who is ruling all of creation right now, the One we love and praise, the One we’re waiting for! This document was written by His apostle Peter. That’s breathtaking when the significance of that dawns on you.
This man followed Jesus as one of His closest companions from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry until he saw Jesus taken up into heaven. This man heard everything Jesus taught in public and in private. He conversed with Jesus regularly over breakfast, lunch, and dinner and on many long walks.
Remember the occasion when Peter got the name Peter (when his name before had been Simon). One day Jesus asked him and the other eleven closest disciples (Matt 16:15ff), “So the crowds say this and that about who I am, but who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke up, “You are the Messiah, the promised one, the Son of God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter,” which in Greek is petros, and it means a rock or a piece of rock. Then Jesus said, “and upon this petra [a little different word] I will build My church.” Petra means a rock bigger than a petros. Petra is like a mass of rock or a bed of rock. So Jesus says with all His twelve closest followers before Him, “Simon you’re a piece of rock and on this bed of rock, I’m going to build My church.” I think the bed of rock He was referring to was all the apostles of which Peter was a part. He was looking into the future and saying that He would build His people (that’s what “church” means, it means a group of people), His empire on the bedrock of His apostles. Paul said the same thing in Ephesians 2:20 where He wrote to Christians saying, “you are God’s house built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Then Jesus said to Peter, something He also would say later to all the apostles, He said (Matt 18:18), “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Jesus was telling Peter that “the day will come when you will serve as a representative of heaven on earth. The day will come, Peter, when you will bind things, you will give commands, you will say to people this is required, you must do this, and it will be exactly what heaven has also decreed. And you will loose things, you will say to people that’s not necessary, that’s not important, you don’t need to worry about that, and that will be exactly what God in heaven has also loosed. One day, Peter you will be so guided by the Spirit of God that you will serve as heaven’s representative on earth.”
When Peter wrote this letter he had become as Jesus said, he was heaven’s representative. There’s good evidence that when Peter wrote this letter it was toward the end of his life. From the contents of the letter it’s evident that Christianity by this time had spread throughout the Roman empire, and Peter is in Rome which he metaphorically describes as Babylon at the end the letter (I Peter 5:13). And early church tradition tells us that it was in Rome that Peter was executed. So this is, I think, toward the end of his life. He is serving as an apostle, a representative of Jesus Christ. What he binds and looses in this little book is what has been bound and loosed in heaven. As we open I Peter and begin to read, we’re entering holy ground, looking at insights and wisdom and commands and promises that are from God of heaven and the Lord Jesus Christ and are transmitted through an earthly messenger.
Because of that, I want to absorb into my heart the truths and instructions of this book, and try my best to instill them in your heart. That’s my plan for sermons for a little while.
I Peter, I think, is one of the best books for new Christians to study, because it really comprehensibly covers how to live as a Christian and it’s so full of encouragement to live that life.
We’re just going to look at the first two verses. Here Peter describes the Christians to whom he’s writing who are scattered throughout five provinces of the Roman Empire with terms that clarify the nature and privilege of being a Christian.
He describes Christians first of all as…
Those who reside as aliens
That’s not like little green Martians, but aliens, as in foreigners. Other versions translate it strangers, exiles, pilgrims, sojourners. It means people living in a place that is not their homeland; people whose citizenship is different than that of the general society in which they’re living.
I think the idea, as Paul wrote in Philippians 3, is that though we live on earth, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” And then he mentions one of the privileges of our heavenly citizenship. He says, “from heaven we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” The king of the kingdom of which we’re citizens, is the King of Kings, the Lord of lords, with power to make all things submit to His will. And one day He will come for us in this foreign land, and with His great power He will transform our weak, aging, decaying, inglorious bodies into conformity with the body of His glory. From the looks of some of our bodies we ought to be pretty excited about that.
Hebrews 11 explains the idea of being strangers and exiles as living here with our sights set on a better country, a heavenly one, and a city whose builder and architect is God (Heb 11:10,13-16) and living in such a way that we might attain to the better country and city.
What are Christians? Christians are people living with the mindset that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” And they’re living their temporary life on this earth not to fit in and grab and get all they can for themselves here, but they’re living in such a way that they might attain to the better or lasting country to which God calls us.
And that way of life results in a couple conditions that are usually also true of literal strangers and sojourners. Living for the home not of this world, first of all, makes us different in many ways from many around us. It makes us strange in our culture. And secondly, because it makes us strange, it also results in us being lightly esteemed by some. It makes us targets of eye rolling and jokes and ridicule, or worse.
I came across something last week that explains this as well as anything I’ve ever seen. It was written by a Christian in the second century and it’s called the Epistle to Diognetus. This early Christian wrote this letter to this guy Diognetus who’d expressed interest in Christian faith and practice. And in the middle of the letter he wrote about how Christians live in the world as strangers and foreigners. He wrote this:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language, or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life… With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them [exposing children was a way of killing children that you didn’t want maybe because of their gender or deformity. Christians didn’t do that like their culture]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.”
Was Peter writing to people like you? Do you reside on earth as an alien, stranger, foreigner? What’s the goal and objective of your life? Is it limited to the here and now, or are your sights set much higher? Do you talk different than the fellas at work? Do they know not to ask you to join them on Friday night because you won’t participate with what they do? Do you do like they do when the boss isn’t around? Do you fill your mind with different stuff? Do your unbelieving friends and family know not to ask you to come fishing with them on Sunday morning? Are you noticeably different? Do you ever get accused of being uptight, old fashioned, no fun, out of touch? Do you, by choice, not fit in because you’re seeking something beyond this world?
Secondly Peter describes Christians as…
Those who are chosen
Selected, picked; like at recess when you were a kid before you played kickball, two kids were team captains and they picked teams, each captain took turns choosing players for their team. Christians are those that the God of heaven has chosen to be on His team. Peter thinks Christians should know something about their chosen-ness. And so he explains some about it here. He explains on what basis we were chosen. It was “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” He explains the manner in which God chose us. It was “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” And he tells us a purpose for which God chose us. It was “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.”
Now, there’s a lot of heated debate in church and scholarly circles about what all that means. We’ve even had a little debate about this among ourselves not too long ago in some Wednesday night classes. It’s not an easy subject. But aren’t you fortunate I’ve got it all figured out and I’m here to tell you what all that means… No, I’ll just give you my understanding of this for your consideration and let you wrestle with it to your own conclusions.
One of the big debates about God’s choosing or selection is if it’s meant in a corporate group sense or an individual sense. In other words, is the sense of it simply that God, looking through the corridors of time, chose the church in general to be His saved people, and that He foreknew that there would be the church and decided, “I’m going to save the church and make them my people, whoever is in the church, whoever is in Christ, that’s who I chose”? Don Wilson, last Sunday, did a good job of showing that’s true, that God chose Christ and all those who are in Christ, and that we choose to be in Christ. That’s true. But is the sense of this just limited to that corporate group kind of choosing? Or is the sense of it individual, that God did not just choose the church in general but even chose every individual person that He was going have on His team? Did God choose individuals like you and me to save? Well, here in I Peter you could make either interpretation work. You can make sense of the text either way.
But there are a number of other passages in the NT that speak of God’s election, (seems to me) even in an individual sense. I know that might sound strange to some of us at first. But just listen to these and hear me out.
- In Acts 13:48 after Paul and Barnabas did some preaching in Antioch it says (I’m not making this up) “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” That sounds to me like there were individual people in Antioch that God chose for eternal life. And these chosen ones believed the gospel Paul and Barnabas preached to them.
- In Acts 18:10 Paul was in Corinth and he was afraid of the persecution he might face there. He’d been through some terrible experiences and was perhaps thinking about not being quite so bold in his preaching. But Jesus came to Him in a vision at night and told him, “Do not be afraid. I’m with you. Nobody will harm you here. I want you to go on speaking because I have many people in this city.” That sounds like there were people in Corinth that the Lord had chosen and so He wanted Paul to stay there and keep preaching so that those people could hear the gospel, believe, and be on His team.
- Revelation 13:7-8 and 17:8 says the names in the book of life were written from the foundation of the world, which sounds very individual to me.
So when I read about this election and chosen-ness, I not only see that He chose the church in general, but I also see that He chose us, individually, you and me. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have free will, that doesn’t mean God forces us to believe, we can’t take it too far. And let’s let Peter explain that a little bit. He says something about the basis on which God chose us. He says we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
So when God made His decision who to choose, it wasn’t that God had all the names of everyone who would ever live in a big hat and he shook them up and just drew out some names and decided “I’ll save these people.” No. He made His choice according to His foreknowledge. He foreknew some stuff. And based on that stuff, He foreknew and He made His choice. Well, what stuff specifically did God foreknow that affected His choice? Peter doesn’t clarify that here. But I understand from Scripture that we all have free will. And whether God will take us as His people or not, is contingent on the condition of our hearts and our willingness to do His will, which we are responsible for. So though it kind of stretches your mind, I think, because He’s God, He foreknew us and the sort of people we’d be, the hearts we’d have and what we’d choose given the circumstances, etc. What God foreknew about us determined who He chose and who He didn’t. And His choice was righteous and impartial without favoritism. So the basis of His choice was His foreknowledge.
Then Peter says something about the manner in which He chose us:
When two captains picked teams for kick ball when you were a kid, the manner in which each captain chose teammates was by pointing at them and saying their name. The manner in which God chose us, if we’re Christians, was by sending His Spirit to work in our lives, to bring us through experiences to open our hearts, to bring us the gospel, and to help us see the truthfulness of the gospel. The Spirit of God worked to sanctify us. Sanctify means to make holy, to set apart, to make us different in a good way, to bring us to repentance and devotion to God. That doesn’t mean He forced us to believe and repent and love Him and love our neighbor. We had a choice in the matter. We had to choose to let God have His way with us. But it’s more God’s doing than our own. We are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), created in Christ Jesus for good works.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I have been witnessing some of the sanctifying work of His spirit in somebody’s life. I have a suspicion that in ages past, God put this giant rock under the ground, in the location that He foreknew would become my backyard. Let me explain. The spirit of God has worked in me to move me to this new house. Now some of you may say, “No that’s your own dumb fault.” But I think at least God foreknew that I would be there and that this house would have foundation issues. And so I’m having Tony put a big hole in my backyard so I can put a basement there, and lift the house back onto it. Tony’s digging away, things are going smoothly, and then the last 10 feet of digging, he finds a boulder that is bigger than his excavator, and he can’t even budge the thing. So, somehow, I’ve got to figure out how to break this rock up so we can move it. I do some research and I find this chemical, that when put in drilled holes in the boulder, will expand, and break it up. I purchase it and I start drilling into this boulder and the rented shafts and drill bits I was given, start falling apart. So I tell the store this and they tell me they don’t have the next best thing that I would need, but that there’s a store farther away that does. I go to this place and apparently there’s some miscommunication and they don’t have any of the stuff that I need. So they reimburse me for the drill bits and what-not, and tell me that what I should do, is rent a skid steer with a jack hammer on the end of it, and that should do the trick. So I rent the skid steer, but the hitch on my friend’s truck is too low to haul the skid steer, so that doesn’t work out. Now there’s a young man, he’s 18, his name is Trevor, and he works at this store and he says he lives close to me, and that he has a truck that’s able to haul the skid steer. So that’s great. After Trevor gets off of work, he brings the skid steer over and he didn’t have anything else going on that evening, so he stayed to watch… And this is just chapter one of the boulder story, there are chapters to come, and I’m not going to go there, but… The fact that Trevor is there watching, gave me a chance to talk to him and tell him what I do, and I get to say, “if you’re not doing anything on Sunday, I’d love it if you came and visited us.” And he says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about going to a church, I would love to do that.” And I told him about some other guys in the area and how we were thinking about getting together for a bible study. And he says he would really like to do that and would be really interested in it. Therefore, I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that God foreknew Trevor and that Trevor would have the kind of heart that would want to obey Him and love Him. So God stuck that big rock in the ground so that things would work in a way that I would be able to get in contact with Trevor and the spirit of God would be able to sanctify Trevor and bring him into the kingdom. I’ll keep working on him and see if my suspicion pans out. But I think God does that kind of thing.
So we’re chosen according to His foreknowledge, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
And then Peter mentions a purpose for which God chose and sanctified us. He chose us to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.
I think, as do many commentators that I read, that this is drawing on language and imagery from an OT story, the story of God making a covenant with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. God had, in a sense, sanctified them. With the mighty plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, God had freed them from the Egyptians and showed them His great power and care for them. He brought them to believe in Him and to follow Him and His servant Moses (Ex 14:31). He brought them to Mt. Sinai and there told them of His intentions. He said to them through Moses, “I want to make a covenant with you. I want to make a deal with you. I’m going to give you a Law and our covenant will be that if you obey this law then you will be my people that I protect and care for, and you will be a kingdom of priests, a light to the world and we will have this great relationship.” And the people agreed to enter that covenant with God. So on the day when they sealed the covenant, do you remember how it went? They built an altar at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They took these bulls and sacrificed them and drained their blood into basins. Moses took a hyssop branch and dipped it in the blood and began to sling blood on the altar. He slung half the blood on the altar. That was God’s half of the blood. When they made covenants in ancient times, from what I understand, there was always some sort of contact with blood as a way of saying “If I don’t uphold my end of the deal then may what happened to this slaughtered animal happen to me.” Then Moses read to the people God’s Law, and the people said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” So then Moses took the basins of blood and the hyssop branch and sprinkled the other half of the blood on the people. And as he sprinkled them with blood, he said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
I think he’s saying something like that has happened to us as Christians. God foreknew us and chose us to have a covenant relationship with Him, sealed not with the blood of bulls, but with the blood of Christ. A covenant in which we obey Jesus and as we obey, we are God’s people that He protects and blesses and leads to the land that He has prepared for us. That’s who we are, if we are Christians, strangers in this world, but chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the father, by the sanctifying work of the spirit, to obey Jesus Christ, and be sprinkled with His blood.
Why did Peter think it was important that Christians know this? One reason perhaps, so we don’t take credit for what God deserves the credit for. If we’re living holy, righteous lives, it’s not by our own doing. Yes, we had a choice in the matter. But we are primarily God’s workmanship. We owe God gratitude and praise for bringing us out of our lives of sin and futility.
Another reason I suspect, is so we see how great and precious our strangeness, our differentness, is from the world around us. Our differentness is nothing to be ashamed of. We are different because the God of heaven chose us and decided to work in our lives to make us different. God is preparing us for the home where we are headed and where we will dwell with Him. That’s a differentness we don’t want to lose and for which we should be so thankful for and let it shine. Our differentness should shine in work places, school, and everywhere we go as God would have us to for his glory.