It happened to me, IN A GOOD WAY, a few years ago in the member’s stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’m not a member, but THERE I WAS. Right next to the player’s dressing rooms. Perfect view of the cricket. Right in front of the player’s dressing rooms. In the shade, no hot baking afternoon sun.
Normally, for Test matches, only MEMBERS get to sit there. Everyone ELSE is kept away by fences and security guards. But this was a warm-up match between South Africa and NSW. And it was mid-week.
The tickets were $5 and there were no restrictions on where you could sit. So the boys and I got to sit in a prime spot, right in front of the dressing rooms. And we got to see all the top players up close – like Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee and Michael Clarke. And all for $5 a ticket.
We felt like we didn’t belong. We weren’t members, and yet THERE WE WERE. Enjoying all the privileges of membership.
It ALSO happened to me in a BAD WAY in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. One of the most popular sites there is the Church of the Resurrection (or Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Said to be built over Jesus’ tomb. But probably not.
And it was FULL of thousands of Catholic and Orthodox Christians paying their respects to icons and bits of stone and holes in the ground. They were hushed and reverential. Speaking a dozen different languages. People were touching and kissing a stone said to be where Jesus’ body was wrapped for burial. But probably not.
To me, it felt WRONG. I felt like the real living, powerful, alive Jesus was a long way from there. I felt like everyone had forgotten that Jesus had actually BEATEN death. That he wasn’t THERE anymore.
I felt awkward and uncomfortable, like I had nothing in common with people. I felt like A STRANGER. And that I didn’t belong.
Perhaps you’ve felt like that RIGHT HERE IN SYDNEY. In your WORKPLACE. Or among your friends. At a party, or in a park. Or maybe even in your family. Where they THINK differently. Where their PRIORITIES are different. Their whole ORIENTATION to LIFE. Where their language, or their materialism, or their immorality or their ridicule of Christianity make you feel like you don’t belong.
And you wonder whether it’s worth all the effort trying to be different. What the point of it all is. Whether trying to follow Jesus is just a giant waste of time and energy.
How DO you live as God’s person in a world that wants nothing to do with him? A world, at times, where it feels like you don’t belong.
(pause) That’s the question the letter of 1 Peter answers. Written to Gentiles scattered all over what’s now Turkey. Now they were Christians, they were called to live a very DIFFERENT sort of life. Just flip over to Ch 4 for a moment. Look there in v3.
3 For you have spent enough time IN THE PAST doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.
Their NEW way of life, just SO DIFFERENT to everyone around them. And they FEEL LIKE THEY DON’T BELONG. So different, it’s like they’re FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. Like they’re FOREIGNERS.
And Peter’s point in the letter is “That’s what YOU ARE!” You ARE different, so BE different. Look in Ch 2 v11. Perhaps the key verse in the whole letter.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to ABSTAIN from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such GOOD lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
You DON’T belong to the way the world lives. So don’t be surprised when you DON’T FIT IN. In fact, make the MOST of that difference. Claim it. Revel in it. EMBRACE it. Live such GOOD lives, such DISTINCTIVE lives, that people will NOTICE.
To THE WORLD, they’re STRANGERS. Temporary residents. Tourists. And that’s the way Peter addresses them at the start of his letter.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to… STRANGERS in the WORLD.”
On the ONE hand they DON’T belong.
But on the OTHER hand they DO belong. In a GOOD way. They belong to GOD’S people. This unrelated, spread out assortment of people belong to God’s people, just as much as his NATIONAL people, Israel. That’s the OTHER description Peter uses in v1. “To God’s ELECT.” Chosen. Special.
It’s an EXTRAORDINARY thing to say. Because God’s elect were THE JEWS. Not GENTILES. Everyone knew THAT. Right back from the time of Moses. Back in Deut 7, God said to ISRAEL
6 For you are a people HOLY to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has CHOSEN / YOU out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be HIS people, his TREASURED POSSESSION. 7 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
Israel’s CHOSEN. But now Peter says his readers, GENTILES, are part of God’s ELECT TOO.
A few years earlier that would have been UNTHINKABLE for Peter. Acts Ch 10, Peter’s taking the gospel of Jesus to JEWS. It’s lunchtime, and he’s hungry. And while he’s praying before lunch, he has a vision of a large sheet full of all sorts of unclean animals being lowered from heaven.
A voice says to get up and EAT. And Peter says, NO WAY! I’ve never eaten anything unclean. And the voice replies, “Don’t call anything IMPURE that God HAS MADE CLEAN.”
While he’s thinking about the vision, he gets an invitation from the Gentile, Cornelius, to visit his house.
By the time Peter arrives, he’s worked out the meaning of the vision. He says. Acts 10 v34
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but ACCEPTS MEN FROM EVERY NATION.
God’s choosing GENTILES!
And just to PROVE it, as Peter preaches to Cornelius and his Gentile friends – WHILE HE’S STILL SPEAKING (v44) – the Holy Spirit falls on them all. And the Jews with Peter are ASTONISHED that EVEN GENTILES have been blessed by God with his Holy Spirit.
And, a little while later, Peter concludes (11:17)
17 So if God gave THEM the same gift as he gave US, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
And the Jewish Christians listening,
When they heard this, had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted EVEN THE GENTILES REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE.”
And Peter learns a lesson. And now, years later, he’s able to address these Gentiles reading his letter as GOD’S ELECT.
They may not fit into the world around them, But they fit right in with God’s people.
But that’s not all. Peter continues describing their privileges in v1. They’re SCATTERED throughout Pontus and other places. Doesn’t SOUND like a privilege. But the word’s the technical term for how THE JEWS were scattered after the Assyrian invasion. They were called THE DISPERSION, or THE DIASPORA. Scattered all across the known world.
And, just like ISRAEL was dispersed, these GENTILES are God’s people, DISPERSED all over the place.
But that’s not all, Peter goes on, in v2, to describe who they are using a whole collection of phrases heavy with meaning for God’s Old Testament people.
First, “chosen according to the FOREKNOWLEDGE of God the Father.” Similar to being ELECT. To be KNOWN by God. It’s about choice and purpose and relationship and commitment.
All the way back when Israel was in slavery in Egypt. They cried out to God. And Exodus 2:24 says
24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and KNEW them (or was CONCERNED about them, the NIV translates.)
A commitment from God to be in a relationship with them. And that’s the concern and the commitment God had for the THESE GENTILES TOO. And FROM ALL ETERNITY- FORE-known by God the Father.
Secondly, they’d been SANCTIFIED by the Spirit. Made holy. Same word group. Set apart. Peter’s thinking about what happened when they FIRST became Christians. The Spirit separated them from their OLD lives. From sin and judgment and impurity.
Just like ISRAEL was called to be HOLY, as God’s people. Deuteronomy 7:6. God said they were to break down altars and idols – to be separate and different, because “you are a people HOLY to the LORD your God.
And that’s the GENTILES too.
We’ve seen the FATHER’S work, and the SPIRIT’S work. And we also see the SON’S work. These believers have been chosen and sanctified “for OBEDIENCE to Jesus Christ and SPRINKLING by his blood.”
Obedience and sprinkling with blood are straight from the Old covenant with Israel. In Exodus 24, God’s given the Ten Commandments, and the people offer burnt offerings. And Moses takes half the blood and sprinkles it on the altar. Then he takes the Book of the Covenant and reads it to the people. And they respond, “We’ll OBEY everything the LORD has said.”
8 Moses then took the blood, SPRINKLED IT ON THE PEOPLE and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
God FORGIVES their SIN, and makes a covenant with them, and gives them the PRIVILEGE of OBEYING him.
That’s Israel, and Peter’s saying THESE CHRISTIANS have got all of that. A covenant with God. Even better – a NEW covenant. Obedience to Jesus and sprinkling by his blood. They get to gratefully obey THE RISEN LORD JESUS, whose blood has brought them INTO the covenant.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all working to INCLUDE these Gentile Christians. To SAVE them.
And Peter’s point? They DO belong.
And if we jump down to v10 for a moment, Peter returns to the topic of their salvation. And adds ANOTHER point about how privileged they are. How much they belong.
They’re even better off than the Old Testament prophets!
It was THE SALVATION OF THE GENTILES the prophets had been looking FORWARD to. They LONGED for it to happen. In fact, v12, the Spirit revealed to them that THEY WERE SERVING THESE GENTILE CHRISTIANS off in the future! As they wrote down their prophecies about Christ, they were helping to strengthen the faith of these believers who’d come along generations later.
That’s how included they are.
Is that a description YOU recognise of YOURSELF? Have YOU been included into God’s people LIKE THAT? Do you feel AT HOME here?
If not, TURN to him. TRUST him. Let him SET YOU APART, and WASH YOUR CLEAN. AND MAKE YOU HIS. Perhaps God is speaking to you TODAY. Inviting YOU.
(pause) So, back up in v3, as Peter thinks about all that God’s done. How he’s foreknown and set apart and sprinkled clean. He can’t help but give him PRAISE. V3.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
How incredible is God! Not only has he given us new birth. In the PAST. But he’s prepared something FOR THE FUTURE. A LIVING hope. A solid, evidence-affirmed, death-defying hope. Powered by Jesus’ resurrection.
A hope in something beyond this world. Beyond this life. Beyond it in terms of TIME and REACH. (It comes AFTER this life. And it’s OUTSIDE it). But also BEYOND it in terms of offering something GREATER. Something richer and truer and more precious and more long-lasting. Look at v4. Our living hope is
an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
That inheritance is our eternity with Jesus. It’s the FUTURE part of our salvation.
But notice, too, that there’s a PRESENT aspect to that inheritance. (We’ve been given new birth in the PAST. We’ve got an inheritance to be revealed in the FUTURE.) And in the present, God SHIELDS us BY HIS POWER, through faith. As we TRUST HIS PROMISES. As we lean on the reliability of his character and his work in the world.
Both work together. We TRUST. God SHIELDS. And so God KEEPS us faithful to the end. As we rely on him.
In a moment, we’ll see what we need to be shielded FROM. But for now, notice the description of WHO WE ARE.
PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.
So what? Rejoice!
Once that’s in place. Peter, like all good pastors, answers the “SO WHAT?” question. What DIFFERENCE does all this make in how we LIVE? Look there at v6.
6 In this you GREATLY REJOICE,
Not surprising, really, if we’ve caught a little of the vision of what we’ve been given in Jesus. The JOY of knowing who we are, and where we fit. The joy of knowing God’s cleansing and sanctifying in the PAST, knowing his powerful protection in the PRESENT, and looking forward to our inheritance and salvation in the FUTURE.
But perhaps what IS surprising/ is that joy is to be great DESPITE THEIR PRESENT EXPERIENCES.
6 In this you greatly REJOICE, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer GRIEF in all kinds of TRIALS.
Rejoicing and grief don’t naturally go together. But, somehow, for the Christian, as they go through various trials, they can grieve AND rejoice.
And as we read on we find THREE REASONS why we can rejoice in the face of grief and trials.
Firstly, v7, because the trials test whether your faith is genuine.
7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The idea is of gold, that starts off containing impurities. But when you MELT it, the impurities burn off, or float to the top and are skimmed off. Until all your left with is the pure, valuable gold.
And it’s the same with our faith in God. It’s EVEN MORE valuable. Because it doesn’t perish.
And TRIALS have the effect of PURIFYING our faith.
We trust all sorts of things in different amounts at different times. But God uses TRIALS to burn off all the OTHER things we trust – like money and health and intellect and technology. To show them as worthless and unreliable. To prove the reliability of trusting HIM ALONE. And our faith finishes up more single-minded. Because everything else has been found wanting.
And when that happens. And we get to THE END, strong and unbroken. V7. Then it results in praise and glory and honour for Jesus. Because he’s proved utterly reliable.
And that’s the SECOND reason we can greatly rejoice though grieving. Because Jesus will be revealed at the END of it. He’ll be revealed as the One who has endured it all, who has defeated it all, and has USED it all, to bring glory and praise to himself.
It’s that LONG-SIGHTEDNESS that helps us endure the GRIEF of the PRESENT. That gives us the PERSPECTIVE to REJOICE in trials. You can see that connection again in v8. A future focus on Jesus’ magnificent revealing fills us with JOY.
8 Though you have not seen him, you LOVE him; and even though you do not see him now, you BELIEVE in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious JOY,
The One who infinitely DESERVES it all, will finally RECEIVE it all. His praise won’t be hidden and half-baked and partial. It will finally be APPROPRIATE for his wonder and splendour and power and beauty.
And then in v9, a THIRD, connected reason for joy. Because we’re receiving the GOAL of our faith. Our salvation. The PURPOSE of our faith. It’s TARGET.
Our BODIES can endure the trials of the PRESENT / because our SOULS will receive SALVATION in the FUTURE.
And so we can GREATLY REJOICE despite grieving.
Charles Simeon was the pastor of Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. He endured and outlasted terrible persecution and prejudice and isolation and loneliness for decades.
In 1831, aged 71, after 49 years, he was asked by a friend how he’d coped for so long. He answered,
“My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory”
Poke your head through the hedge. See what’s ahead clearly. Catch a glimpse of Jesus. Of what HE endured. Of his future glory. Of your future salvation. Of where your TRUE identity lies.
And keep trusting him in the middle of your present thorns. The struggles of your separation from loved ones, your chronic pain or illnesses, or your uncertainties. The thorns of your unemployment, your fears, your failures and weaknesses, your mistakes. Keep trusting him in the midst of the ridicule and persecution. The rejection and loneliness.
God is SHIELDING you by his power. He’s TESTING and PURIFYING you. It’s WHO YOU ARE. It’s what you’ve been FOREKNOWN and CHOSEN for.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. LOVE him, LONG for him, let him fill you with INEXPRESSIBLE AND GLORIOUS JOY.