Standing Firm in Shaky Times: An Introduction to 1 Peter
1 Peter 1:1-2
Preached at Main Street Church on January 6th, 2019
- Today marks the beginning of a 12-week sermon series we are doing on the book of 1 Peter: Standing Firm in Shaky Times — 1 Peter is incredibly applicable and important to the time in which we live; here’s why:
- The apostle Peter wrote this letter to Christians in the middle of the first century—perhaps just a decade or two after the time of Jesus—because as more and more people experienced the life transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they began to fit less and less in their societies
- Since they began committing their lives to Jesus as Lord, they stopped participating in the public festivals of their times that honored the gods of their culture, they stopped practicing Roman culture’s sexual ethic, they dissociated their business practices from Roman gods, they had a new definition for God’s ideal for marriage and family, and instead, they worshipped a crucified carpenter whom they claimed rose from the dead.
- Because they didn’t participate they were perceived as atheistic, and would have been charged with bringing the disfavor of the gods upon their communities.
- This put them on the fringes of their societies.
- They didn’t set our to distances themselves from their contemporaries, but they became the victims of social ostracism, and became the subjects of slander, animosity, and vilification.
- A crude graffiti cartoon probably dating from the early second century portrays a young man worshiping a donkey-headed human figure on a cross; the Greek caption mocks “Alexamenos worships (his) God.”
- A decade or two after Peter’s letter was written—the mid 60’s AD—The Roman Emperor Nero set a portion of Rome on fire (for political purposes), killing a multitude of people. He and his officials spread the notion that the Christians started the fire, which was used as a false accusation to turn people against them, and the official charge against Christians was “hatred of the human race”
- Because they did not share the same values, and engage in the same things as those in their society, they were mocked, mistreated, and misused. This is the reason Peter wrote this letter.
- At the very end of his letter—5:12—Peter says, “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”
- 1 Peter is an encouragement to Stand Firm in Shaky Times
- We need the same encouragement and instruction from Peter
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, 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.”
- Everyone knows Peter; he is the most memorable and most relatable person in the gospel accounts other than Jesus. Peter was the down-to-earth, hardworking fisherman who became the spokesman for the 12 disciples, and along with James and John was part of Jesus’ inner circle
- He was devoted and always ready for action
- When Jesus came to his disciples walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee, it was Peter who solicited the idea that he get out of the boat and also walk on water.
- When Jesus was up on a mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was gloriously transfigured, and his face began to shine like the sun and revealed his divine glory and Moses and Elijah appeared there with him, it was Peter who had the idea to build shelters for the three of them to stay up there on the mountain
- It was Peter who was in charge of the preparations for the final passover meal
- When Jesus washed his disciples feet it was Peter who refused to let Jesus do it, and when Jesus told him if he didn’t he had no share with him, it was Peter who told Jesus to wash his hands and head also
- When the Jewish officials and Roman guards came to arrest Jesus, it was Peter who pulled out his sword and swung it at one of the the captors heads, narrowly missing the neck and cutting off a man’s ear
- It was Peter whom Jesus gave the nickname: “Rock,” meaning—firm; unshakable.
- Peter was not passive. He was not soft. He was committed to Jesus, and it seems to me he wanted to prove it
- In Matt. 26:33 Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
- But you know how the story goes. Jesus was arrested, his disciples all scattered just as he predicted, and as Jesus was being beaten, mocked, and accused, Peter—the Rock, the firm and unshakable one—was questioned by a little girl who accused him of being “one of those people who was with Jesus the Galilean.”
- And in that moment, Peter—the Rock, crumbled. The one you could always count on to take a firm stance was shaken, and he denied his Lord.
- This makes us wonder: why was Peter shaken? How could the strong fisherman who swung a sword at trained Roman soldiers just hours earlier be so intimidated by a 10 or 11 year old girl?
- The answer to this question is the key to understanding Peter’s letter
- The reason Peter was shaken and fell and denied Jesus, was because despite all the time Peter spent with Jesus, Peter still thought that Jesus’ kingdom would consist of earthly power to triumph over those opposed to Jesus, and in that courtyard when he found himself in a position without any, he didn’t know what to do.
- It just didn’t make sense, how could the chosen one of God be arrested and betrayed?
- How could God’s Son with whom He was well pleased face this kind of suffering?
- In fact, Peter had always struggled with the idea that Jesus, God’s beloved Son, would suffer.
- In Matt. 16:21 it says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord!’ This shall never happen to you.’
- No way, Lord! Don’t forget who you are! You are God’s chosen one, God’s Son, You won’t be killed! If God really loves you then you won’t have to suffer!
- This sounds surprisingly like what the Devil told Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness. “If you are God’s Son, he will not let any harm come upon you.” And Satan even used Scripture to make his point.
- Matthew 16:23 says, “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”
- The reason Peter’s faith was shaken when he was confronted by a 5th grade girl, is because his mind was set on the things of man instead of on the things of God.
- Peter wrote this letter so that we would not make the same mistake as him.
- ““I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”
- The temptations that we are going to face as a church will be to falter and to be shaken when suffering, mocking, and false accusations come against us. But no matter how shaky things might appear on the surface, God has a plan, and like a rock, we must stand firm.
- As we look at Peter’s letter we must remember that his goal in writing was not to resolve these things, but to teach God’s people the significance of their suffering, and how to best engage the world when faced with these things.
Verse 1: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
- A disciple is one who follows, but an apostle is one who is sent. Peter was a follower of Jesus who was also sent by him with a message, and as an apostle Peter was an authorized agent of Jesus Christ with a message directly from him.
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
- 1 Peter was a circular letter that would have been carried to each of the regions named in what is now modern day Turkey
- Here already Peter is showing us what it means to be a follower of Jesus by his use of what seems to be an oxymoron: elect exiles.
- These Christians weren’t physically exiles in the literal sense of the word, but they were exiles in the sense that they were not at home in the societies in which they lived.
- Their commitment to Jesus as Lord had placed them on the margins of respectable society.
- One scholar said, “Their lack of acculturation to prevailing social values marked them as misfits worthy of contempt.”
- Peter says they are “elect exiles of the dispersion”—again, not that they had literally been dispersed through some political measure, but the word “diaspora” had become a metaphor for social ostracism and other forms of harassment associated with exile
- Peter is making a few things very clear here, in just these few words at the opening of his letter:
- First: God is at work in their circumstances
- Second: Peter does not say or even hint that their affliction is the consequence of their sin or God’s judgment; such categories have no place anywhere in his letter
- Third: He doesn’t say that God will soon avenge them
- Fourth: He doesn’t deny the validity of their experience
- By calling them “elect exiles,” Peter is making it clear that being chosen by God (elect) and facing social ostracism (exiles) are not two incompatible things
- We often, however, make the same mistake Peter did when he denied Jesus by thinking that these things are incompatible. We don’t understand how we can be both elect and exiles.
- The reason we think this is because we tend to measure things the way the culture does.
- If I’m popular, and people like me, and I’m successful, and have a lot of money, and things are going well, then God must be happy with me.
- If I’m a social pariah, and people don’t like me, and I’m not successful in my business endeavors, and I’m poor, and I can’t catch a break, we think God must be displeased with me.
- Because we think this way, here is the temptation:
- To embrace the dispositions and practices conventional in the wider world, and then claim that since people embrace us, it proves that we have God’s favor. (It is hard for us to believe that one can have honorable status before God if they are not honored by society)
- The primary pressure on Christians in our culture right now is to embrace a sexual ethic contrary to Scripture.
- The other temptation is to put up strict community boundaries and completely dissociate from society
- Peter is making it clear, though, that contempt from society is neither a surprise to God nor a contradiction of his plan, just like Jesus’ suffering was not a surprise to God nor a contradiction of his plan.
- To be elect, or chosen by God for his purpose in the world, also means to be an exile.
- The only way to stand firm in shaky times is to set our minds on things of God, and not on the things of man. To think the way God thinks rather than the way the world thinks.
In verse 2 Peter goes on to say:
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.
- There are three phrases here, each one referencing a different member of the Trinity, and each one significant to our understanding of how we as God’s people can stand firm in shaky times.
- Peter is communicating that as God’s people we should stand firm because God has a plan, God has given us power, and God has provided propitiation.
1. God Has A Plan
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
- Peter calls these first Christians elect exiles — according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
- In other words, who they are—elect; God’s people—and what they are experiencing—exile—are both part of God’s plan.
- People often misunderstand God’s foreknowledge by thinking that it is primarily God’s ability to know what will happen before it happens. God knows all things, so he certainly knows what will happen before it happens, as Isa. 46:10 says, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,”
- But that’s not what the word ‘foreknowledge’ is referring to.
- God’s foreknowledge is not about knowing something, but about knowing someone. It is not a knowledge of prediction, but knowledge of people. It is a relational knowledge.
- Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,”
- The verb ‘foreknew,’ modifies the object, ‘those.’ Those whom God foreknew. Those people whom God knew in advance. It’s not that God knew some stuff in advance, it’s that he knew people in advance. We see this idea of foreknowing most clearly in Jeremiah 1:5:
- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,”
- Peter is saying to us, “God knew you in advance, and he has a plan. God has a plan.”
- Peter’s goal in saying this is to comfort the Christians to whom he is writing, because he knows that when things start to go south, and you face suffering, we think that we have irreparably damaged our relationship with Jesus. When times get shaky, it’s hard to believe that God has a plan and that we are part of it. God God does have a plan, so we must stand firm.
- Peter knew this better than anyone.
- When Peter told Jesus that even if everyone fell away, he never would, Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, in Matt. 26:34 Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’” And all the disciples said the same.”
- And here is why God’s foreknowledge should be so comforting to Christians:
- God’s chose to foreknow Peter, despite knowing in advance that Peter would deny him.
- Jesus already knew Peter and knew that he was going to make him his disciple, despite knowing that he would get weak in the knees when confronted by a little girl.
- But God’s foreknowledge is about his ability to know what will happen, it’s about his ability to know people. Since God has a plan for his people, we must stand firm.
- If you are a Christian, there is nothing you can do that will make God regret saving you.
- If you are going through hard times, if you are suffering, if you find yourself on the margins of society because of your commitment to Jesus, guess what: God has a plan, so we must stand firm.
- It’s almost like Peter is saying to those early Christians, “hey, Jesus chose me and I’ve still suffered. Jesus chose me, and I’ve still failed. Stand firm, because God has a plan.”
2. God Has Given Us Power
So not only does Peter say that we are elect exiles “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” but he also says, “in the sanctification of the Spirit,”
- Not only does God have a plan, but God has given us power, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. We must stand firm because God has given us power.
- The word ‘sanctify’ means to ‘make holy.’ A simple way to understand the word sanctify in the Bible is that anytime the New Testament uses the word sanctify, what it really means is to be like Jesus. To be sanctified, means to be like Jesus. To go through sanctification means to become more like Jesus. The process of sanctification means to go through a process of becoming more like Jesus.
- It is the Holy Spirit who makes us like Jesus, and we must stand firm because God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Again, Peter’s life is an example of this
- I’m going to engage in a little bit of speculation here, but I think it is biblically warranted, and I think what we will see more clearly what Peter means when he encourages to stand firm because God has given us the power of the Spirit.
- The times where we see Peter’s most glaring flaws, and weaknesses, and failings was during the time when Jesus was with him during his earthly ministry, and we observe this in the gospel accounts.
- The other place we see Peter in the Bible is in the book of Acts, and if you’ve read the book of Acts, you know that there is something different about the Peter in Acts than the Peter in the gospels.
- I would argue (and I think it would be hard to argue against this) that the decisive difference between Peter in the gospels and Peter in the book of Acts is the presence of the indwelling, courage-giving, ministry-empowering Holy Spirit in Peter in the book of Acts.
- The delineation between the Peter of the Gospels an the Peter of the book of Acts was Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
- In the gospels, Peter failed to stand firm, and denied Christ, but at Pentecost, it was Peter who lifted up his voice and declared the mighty works of God. After Pentecost, Peter had the Power of the Holy Spirit, and it was Peter who stood before kings and crowds and boldly proclaimed Christ as Lord. It was Peter who was imprisoned for not denying Jesus.
- And Peter is saying here to Christians, when he says “in the sanctification of the Spirit,” God has given us power, so stand firm!
- One of the most outrageous things Jesus said is in John 16:7, he said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
- Jesus told his disciples that it would be to their advantage for him to leave, because then they would have the power of the Spirit, and since God gave them power, they would be able to stand firm.
- In Luke 12:11 Jesus said to his disciples, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” In other words, since God has given us power, we must stand firm.
- Peter is saying that the Spirit gives us the power of Jesus, and his power will help us to stand firm.
- When Peter was in the courtyard, he denied Jesus, but when he had the power of the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed Jesus as Lord boldly.
- 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ And no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”
- Since God has given us power, we must stand firm.
Peter tells us that we must stand firm because God has a plan, We must stand firm because God has given us power, and finally, he tells us we must stand firm because:
3. God Has Provided Propitiation
Hey says you are elect exiles 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;
- God has given us the power of the Spirit, according to his foreknowledge of us, so that we would be obedient to the King who provided our propitiation.
- A propitiation is a sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God and turn it to favor. When Jesus died on the cross, he was a propitiation for us.
- Romans 3:25 says God put Jesus “forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”
- 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”
- Or as Peter puts it “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood;”
- We must stand firm, because God has provided propitiation for us.
- The reason Peter references “sprinkling with blood” goes back to the OT when Moses sprinkled the blood of animal sacrifices on God’s people to signify his covenant with them. But that was the Old Covenant, and Peter is saying that we need the propitiation of the blood of Jesus to enter into a New Covenant with him.
- We must stand firm because God has provided propitiation for us.
- When Peter denied Jesus he was shaken. He went back to fishing. He thought he had committed the ultimate failure. And the truth is, if Jesus had stayed dead, then he did.
- But one day as Peter was finishing up his day of fishing, the resurrected Jesus came to him. Sought him out. Found him where he was, in his pit of despair. Jesus was there on the shore with a meal of fish and bread prepared for Peter. Jesus was waiting for him.
- Jesus asked Peter the question, “Simon, do you love me?” 3 Times
- Peter was always trying to prove his love for Jesus.
- Jesus made the point that Peter could stand firm because he had provided propitiation.
- Propitiation means it’s not about our ability to demonstrate how much we love God, propitiation is about God demonstrating how much he loves us.
- We must stand firm because God has provided propitiation.
Peter ends his greeting with these words:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
- Peter, the disciple who told Jesus that he couldn’t be crucified
- The disciple who tried to advance God’s kingdom with a sword
- The rock who crumbled under pressure and denied Jesus
- This Peter, after he understood that God’s ways are different than man’s ways, would never deny his Lord again, and he would never be shaken. He would stand firm in the face of death.
After reinstating him, Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”