Good morning everyone! Thank you for joining me for another Sunday morning of Church at Home! Today I want to begin a new series on the letter 1 Peter. We’ll only be covering the first two verses of this letter today, but they are a very important two verses, as I hope you’ll see.Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.
Today I want us to take a look at the overlooked. The things that don’t get much attention. When we think of New Testament letters and their impact we deservedly think of Paul’s letters. They are fascinating, brilliant. They explain so much of what Christ has accomplished for his people and what we are in this world. But as we focus on Paul and his letters, we can neglect the other letter writers of the New Testament. Peter often becomes overshadowed by Paul and we forget what a treasure Peter’s letters are too.
When we think of the New Testament letters, we can also overlook an important part of those letters. The beginning. The opening verses of the letters usually follow some standard format and so we can often skim over them, taking them as any old “dear sir or madam”. But great thought was put into these verses, and more importantly, they are the word of God. So, I want today to look at just the two verses at the beginning of 1 Peter.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
(1 Peter 1:1-2, NIV)
Here one of the first church leaders, Peter one of the original twelve apostles, who had learned at the Master’s feet, who had been among Jesus’ very closest companions and friends even among the apostles, writes this circular letter to be passed around to a selection of churches in what is modern-day Turkey. Peter writes to encourage these Christians in the face of persecution and suffering, reminding them what a blessing they have and what a wonderful thing God is doing. These are a people who are feeling the cost of discipleship. They are exiles in this world. They are scattered about in a hostile land. Peter writes to remind them who they and who they belong to.
This is a people out of step with the world they are living in. They are a not like the rest of the people where they live. The live in a world of false gods and idols. Although the early Christians were said to out-live, out-love and out-laugh their non-Christian neighbours there was friction. The Christians did not join in with the pagan festivals around them, they did not have idols, they did not make sacrifices, they did not visit the pagan shrines, they did not get drunk. So, the Christians were persecuted for their faith and the ways that that faith made a difference in their lives.
And here they are. Scattered and different. That makes them feel isolated. Isolation can be a terrible thing. It’s gets wearisome. We’ve experienced a different kind of isolation these past few months because of COVID-19. We’ve had to isolate from each other. We’ve had to keep our distance. Even now, look at us. Some of us sitting far apart in a church building. No handshakes. No hugs. No huddling up for a chat. I can’t come down and interact with the children. Some of us at home waiting to return. Isolation is hard. Theirs was a different kind of isolation, but the feelings of stress and loneliness and “Why am I doing this anyway? Can’t things just be normal!” must have crept into their thoughts too.
Aside from the pandemic, modern-day Christians still feel the same isolation that was around in the early church. Maybe not to such a great extent. We have the freedom to worship openly. We have a history in this place. But still, following Jesus will make you different and being different all the time, being the odd one out, can make things extremely hard and very lonely. There is a pressure to conform. To just get on with being normal and stop being awkward.
Peter writes this letter to tell them what exactly it is that makes them different and what that means for their lives. He writes to give them courage and hope during their isolation and the persecution they experience.
Peter calls them “God’s elect”. They were chosen by God. That’s what makes them different.
Peter goes into greater detail: they are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This isn’t an accident. The Father knows what he’s doing, and he chose them. They have not been overlooked or forgotten. They were chosen by the Father long ago and everything is going according to his plan.
They were chosen through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is who gives Christians life and makes us different. He transforms us. He makes us holy. He sets us apart. They are feeling the cost of being different, but Peter reminds them that this difference in them is the work of God.
They were sprinkled with the blood of Jesus. Cleansed and purified by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Their sins atoned for.
These people aren’t just a bunch of lonely sufferers, a collection of misfits and outsiders, picked on and bullied. These people are God’s elect, his chosen people, and if they are different now it is because God has chosen them and made them different.
Peter shows how the whole Trinity has been involved in making them into the new people they have become and are becoming. They were chosen according to foreknowledge of the Father, they are sanctified by the work of the Spirit and brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, cleansed and purified by the sprinkling of his blood, by his sacrifice.
Knowing who and what you are is important. We’ve all heard of the story of the ugly duckling, right? He doesn’t look like his friends. He’s different. They call him ugly. They bully him. And it makes this poor little guy very sad. You know the end of the story. He grows up and discovers that he was never a duckling at all. He’s a swan. Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if he knew that when he was little? When the ducklings picked on the way he looked he could have just gone “Well, yeah of course I look different from you, I’m a swan and you’re ducks. I’m not supposed to look like you.” I think that would have made him feel a lot better about being different.
Peter is telling these Christians why they are different. They’re not ugly ducklings. They’re not ducklings at all. Christians are chosen by God and made different by God. When the world makes you feel like the odd one out, and it will if you are committed to following Jesus, then know that you are supposed to be different. That’s the work of God in you.
Do you ever feel like a misfit because of your faith? Do you ever feel lonely or laughed at? Are you tempted sometimes to downplay your identity as a follower of Christ to fit in with those who don’t know him and don’t follow him? Well if you know Jesus and belong to him you have no need to be ashamed or worry, God has made you his with his whole heart! All three persons of the Trinity were involved in bringing you to faith in Christ. You’ve been chosen by the Father, through the Spirit, for the Son.
The church is not an ugly duckling. We are not just misfits. We are God’s chosen people.
O Lord, our heavenly Father we thank you for making us yours. We thank you that your church is free to meet again in congregations around the country today. We pray that your people would be careful to abide by the current restrictions out of love for one another. We pray that you would protect your people who gather together to worship you. We pray for the day when we will no longer need the restrictions that have been put in place.
We pray against COVID-19. We pray for powerful new treatments. We pray for vaccines. We pray for the death of this virus. We pray for those who are sick. Please heal them. We pray for those who mourn. Please comfort them. We pray for those who work to care for others. Give them strength, compassion and skill.
We pray for our new government, that they would be wise and just and govern the people of this country well. As the country still battles this pandemic and faces towards another recession, we pray for your help, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.