Abortions with public approval and government protection – marriage redefined to only include personal happiness and nothing more – asking the question if transgender high school boys should be in girls locker rooms... and the recent Ashley Madison data leak giving us just a glimpse into the sexual immorality rampant in our culture today. How do we as a church deal with these types of challenges? How is the Church called to respond? Do we engage, disengage, run, hide, complain, shake our fist, stand up and fight?
This last Sunday we began a series in the book of 1 Peter. 1 Peter is about helping the people of God maintain their bearings while living in a fallen, corrupt, unjust, and ungodly world. Peter is seeking to help the church know how to respond to similar types of challenges in their culture and in so doing he is seeking to help us today. In beginning this series we want to look at two questions to start with; Who is it from? and Who is he writing to?
Well...we know it is addressed from Peter, and this is pretty well attested both from a scholarly and historical view point....but...who is Peter and what can we learn from him?
Peter being one of the original disciples/apostles was with Jesus from the beginning. He was an eyewitness of all that Jesus did. Another key thing about Peter was he was a guy we can all relate to. He made mistakes, said things wrong, was impulsive, and in general was an average guy. Maybe he had a bit of an outsized personality but a normal working class guy like us...ordinary. But we know God uses the ordinary person to do extraordinary things. So Peter is a guy we can learn from. But what is he trying to accomplish in this book?
As we go through this letter we’ll see Peter is writing to us to do a few things. First he’s seeking to strengthen our faith. Peter knew what it was like to need his faith strengthened. Jesus invited him to come out and walk on the water and as he did he saw the waves and felt the wind and began to sink. Jesus said “O you of little faith” and reached out and held him up. He knew what it meant to sink without faith, but also knew Jesus was there to grab us and instill faith. Later we see Peter full of faith grabbing another lame man’s hand and lifting him up to walk again. He had learned something about faith and he wants us to experience that faith ourselves. Peter wants us to understand suffering and how to respond to Christ in the midst of it. When Jesus told the disciples he must suffer and go to the cross Peter tried to rebuke Jesus and in return he got rebuked in the strongest possible terms; “Get behind me satan”! Peter was learning suffering was a part of the Christian experience. Later he would be arrested and mistreated and yet would say to the authorities “We must obey God rather than men”. Peter is able to teach us of obedience and suffering. Peter also wants to bring hope to us in this small letter. Imagine the hopelessness Peter must have felt when he denied the Lord after proclaiming he would never do such a thing. And yet after the resurrection Jesus lovingly calls him to “feed my sheep”....care for God’s people. Peter knew he could not do that in his own power. His only hope was in the person and work of Jesus himself. So...as the writer of this letter Peter is one like us who we can learn from and grow in faith, obedience and hope.
Now who was Peter writing to? He was writing to exiles. Exiles are those who have been taken out of their homeland. The people of God in this world are strangers, travelers, pilgrims, resident aliens. This world is not our final destination. For God and hence for us, the end result has less to do with location, and everything to do with our hearts. Which citizenship takes priority in our lives, this world we physically live in or our heavenly kingdom? We have a citizenship in heaven. Peter calls us God’s “elect”. He uses the words “foreknowledge of God”. This word foreknowledge could easily be interpreted “fore loved”. God’s election is based not in anything we have done, but in the love God extended to us before we were ever born. We are those whom God has fore loved and called to himself. Sam Storms said it this way; “Thus, to foreknow is to fore love. That God foreknew us is but another way of saying that he set his gracious and merciful regard upon us, that he knew us from eternity past with a sovereign and distinguishing delight.” Peter is writing to people who were elected....fore loved by God. Peter goes on to say that this should result in a people who are obedient. Yet we all know that we are all prone to anything but obedience. And so he follows up by referring to the sprinkling with Jesus blood. In other words our obedience does not flow out of some power resident in our own natures but by the power that comes through the sprinkling of Jesusblood. This is who Peter is writing to...people cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus...the finished work of Jesus through the cross and resurrection.
This triune God is at work in us. The Father loves us. The Spirit knows how to change us and the Son is forever interceding for us, exchanging our unrighteousness for his righteousness. In this brief introduction Peter has laid the foundation for a people not of this world but exiles. People who have their citizenship somewhere else. An faith filled, obedient, people filled with hope by the power of the gospel!