Before Easter we finished our studies in the book of James. And so I thought we’d begin a new series of sermons today on 1 Peter. And you can see from the opening words, that Peter addresses himself as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’. And that tells us that Peter, in writing this letter, is very conscious of the fact that he was appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and King of the church, to this special role and responsibility. And because he’s been appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ to this special role and responsibility, he’s able to write with authority. He’s writing with all the authority that belongs to this special office in the church of Jesus Christ. And so, we would do well to pay attention to what he says, because he’s the Lord’s apostle, sent by the Lord Jesus Christ, to teach us about our salvation. And in this letter, he’s writing to encourage believers to stand firm and to remain faithful and to persevere while they endure suffering and distress in this present evil age and while they wait for the day of their salvation. That’s what this letter is about; and that’s what we’ll thinking about in the weeks to come. But today, we’re going to focus our attention on just the first verse. And in the first verse of this letter, Peter tells his readers how we’re to view ourselves; how we’re to see ourselves.
And so, look with me at verse 1. Peter writes: ‘Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.’ The places Peter mentions here were areas within Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. And so, this tells us that this was a circular letter. In other words, unlike, for instance, Paul’s letter to the Romans, which was sent to the church in Rome, this letter was sent to a number of churches. And it’s thought that someone must have taken this letter and delivered it by hand to all the different churches in these places. No doubt it took a long time. But the most interesting thing is the way Peter describes his readers. Peter says they are God’s elect and strangers, or exiles, in the world. Now, what’s interesting about this is that Peter is taking two terms which were once applied to the people of Israel and he’s now applying them to the members of the Christian church.
You see, in Old Testament times, the Israelites regarded themselves as God’s elect, his chosen people. In Deuteronomy 4, for instance, Moses was addressing the people of Israel who were about to enter the Promised Land. And he said to them that the Lord loved their forefathers and chose their descendants. In Deuteronomy 7, he said that the Lord their God had chosen them out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. In Deuteronomy 10, he said: ‘the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations.’ In Deuteronomy 14, he said: ‘you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.’ And I could go on: not just in the book of Deuteronomy, but in other books of the Old Testament, the people of Israel were regarded as God’s chosen people, the people he chose, the people he elected, to be his own special people. And now Peter takes that idea and he applies it to Christians, to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now this is a difficult subject. Many people object to the doctrine of election because it seems unfair to them. In fact, I was talking to someone recently who said exactly that: ‘It’s not fair. Why does God choose some and not others?’ And people also object to this idea because it doesn’t seem to match their own experience. Normally we do things because we decide ourselves to do them. When we do something, it’s because we have decided to do it. And so very often Christians will talk about the day when they decided to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. I decided. I took the decision to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Christians sing the chorus: ‘I have decided to follow Jesus.’ And so we naturally assume that we chose God. Someone told us the gospel and we decided that we would now accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. And so, our own experience seems to suggest that instead of God choosing us, we chose him. And so, people object to the idea that God chose us.
Well, faced with such objections, and there are many others, the first thing we need to say is that this is a biblical doctrine. It’s taught not just here, but elsewhere in the Bible. Take Ephesians 1:4 for starters:
For God chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Before the world was created, before time itself, God chose his people. He selected them. Take Acts 13:48:
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Why did they believe? Because they were appointed by God, chosen by God, for eternal life. What about Romans 8:29?
For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed into the likeness of his Son…. And those he predestined, he also called.
Who does God call through the gospel? Only those who have been predestined for life, chosen by God for eternal life. Here’s one more, 2 Thessalonians 2:13:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Note two things from this verse: first, Paul says clearly that God chose them. Secondly, why should Paul thank God for these believers? If the reason they’re Christians is because they decided to follow Jesus, then surely Paul would be praising them for making such a good decision? He ought to have written: ‘Well done, you Thessalonians, for believing. I knew you could do it.’ But Paul didn’t do that. He thanked God. And he thanked God because he knew that their faith was due to God choosing them. Our salvation is God’s work; and so God gets the praise and the glory when we believe.
The second thing we need to say is that, if we truly understood the depth and extent of our sin, we would realise that unless God chose us first, there would be no hope for any of us. Remember Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2? Paul wrote that we were dead, spiritually dead, in our trespasses and sins. And so, being spiritually dead, we were utterly incapable of believing the gospel message by ourselves; and we would never have turned to Christ for salvation unless God first chose us and called us and enabled us to respond to the call of the gospel. ‘No one can come to me’, said the Lord Jesus in John 6: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’ We say we have decided to follow the Lord Jesus. We say that we have chosen to accept Christ as our Saviour. That’s how it seems to us. But our Bibles teach us that, in fact, we wouldn’t have chosen Christ unless he first chose us and enabled us to come to him for salvation.
Peter is describing these early Christians; and in describing them, he’s describing every believer. And he says to us: You are God’s elect. Before the world was made, God looked on you; and he loved you; and he said to himself: ‘I want him, I want her, to be one of my people and to be with me for ever.’ And, of course, because he chose us, he needed to send his Son into the world to pay for our sins; and he needed to send his Spirit into our lives to renew us. He needed to do that so that we would be able to come into his presence one day.
This doctrine is a great help to us, and especially to believers who are suffering. Peter was writing to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. Look down to verse 6 of chapter 1 for a moment, where Peter writes how they were suffering grief in all kinds of trials. Look at verse 12 of chapter 2 where he writes that people were accusing them of doing wrong. Look at verse 20 of chapter 2 where he writes about Christian slaves who were being beaten for doing good. Look at verse 17 of chapter 3 where he refers again to suffering for doing good. In verse 4 of chapter 4 he refers to how their unbelieving neighbours think it’s strange because the believers were trying to live holy lives. And in verse 12 of chapter 4, he tells his readers not to be surprised at the painful trial they’re suffering. These believers were suffering for their faith and they were suffering grief in all kinds of trials. It must have seemed to them that everyone, everyone was against them.
But here’s the thing: though the world hated them, though their unbelieving neighbours despised them, and thought they were strange for believing, they knew that God had set his love on them and had chosen them. Though the world hated them, they knew in their hearts that they were loved and chosen by God. And that kind of knowledge makes all the difference. As you go into school or college, and everyone treats you like a dunce for believing; as you go into work, and everyone despises you for what you believe; as you switch on the TV or the radio and hear again all kinds of insults directed towards believers for what we believe, remember and believe that though the world might hate you, the Lord loves you and has chosen you as his treasured possession. You may be nothing in the eyes of the world; but in the sight of God, you’re his treasured possession. And since you’re his treasured possession, you can trust in him to protect you and to help you. That’s a message Peter’s readers needed to hear; it’s what we need to hear as well. Are you a believer? Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Then you’re chosen by God; and since you’re chosen by God, he will give you everything you need to cope with all the troubles and trials of this life. And so, this doctrine of God’s electing love brings comfort and re-assurance and encouragement to the believer who is suffering for their faith.
So, Peter takes the word ‘chosen’ which first applied to the people of Israel in Old Testament times and he applies it to Christians. And he then takes the word ‘strangers’ or ‘exiles’ which first applied to the people of Israel in Old Testament times and he applies it to Christians.
When applied to the people of Israel in Old Testament times it referred to the way they had been sent away from the Promised Land of Canaan into exile. Do you remember? In the days of Joshua, God brought the people into the land of Canaan and gave it to them. It was a land flowing with milk and honey; a land like the Garden of Eden where they had all they wanted. But years later, the people turned away from the Lord. They bowed down and worshipped false gods; and they broke the law of the Lord again and again. And though the Lord was very patient with them, and sent them prophets to call them to repent, they persisted in their sin and rebellion. And so, in the end, the Lord let their enemies overpower them. And they were taken away from the Promised Land by the Assyrians and by the Babylonians. And so, think of Daniel and his three friends, who lived, not in Israel, but in Babylon. They were living in exile, far from the Promised Land. They were living as strangers in a foreign land, far away from their true home. And living far away from their true home, they longed, they longed to return to it.
Well, Peter takes that term and he applies it to Christians. He says to his readers, and therefore he’s saying it to us: You are strangers, exiles, in the world. What did he mean? Well, he means that we’re living far away from our true home. You see, our true home is in heaven, with the Lord Jesus. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us that we’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms. That’s where we now belong by faith. In Philippians 3 he tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. In Colossians 3 he tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things, because our life is now hidden with Christ in God. And the writer to the Hebrews writes about how even the Old Testament believers were looking beyond this life and this world to the life to come in the new heavens and the new earth where we really belong. Christians are strangers, exiles in the world because for the time being, we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where we belong. And we’re longing for the day when Christ will return, when all of his believing people will be brought into our true home, to be with him for ever and ever. That’s what we’re longing for and waiting for. Right now, we live in this world, this present evil age. And it feels strange to us, doesn’t it? People around us don’t believe what we believe: they don’t believe in the Saviour or the world to come. People around us don’t talk the way we talk: all they talk about is this life and they don’t talk about the life to come. People around us don’t do what we do: instead of trying to please the Lord, they live to please themselves.
It feels the way people feel when they go on holiday. Think of what happens when you go on holiday: everyone is talking a language you don’t understand; their customs seem strange to you and unfamiliar; you feel out of place, because you’re not in your own country. Haven’t you had that feeling on holiday? But here’s the thing: Every day, as we go about our daily lives, we’re often struck — aren’t we? — that somehow we don’t fit in and things seem strange to us. And we don’t fit in and things seem strange to us because we’re strangers, exile, in the world. We don’t really belong here anymore, because our true home is with God in the new heavens and the new earth.
Now, the people of Israel in Old Testament times were in exile because of their sin and rebellion. For Christians, it’s the exact opposite situation: we feel as if we’re strangers in the world, not because of our sin and rebellion, but because we love the Lord and want to serve him. The people of Israel were in exile because they were under God’s curse. But Christians are in exile because we’re blessed by God; we’re blessed by God with salvation. And it’s because God has saved us from our sins and put his Spirit within us and is renewing us day by day into his likeness that we’re longing for the life to come.
This too was an important message for Peter’s first readers. The world despised them because of their faith. The Roman Empire had turned against them. But they were comforted and re-assured by the knowledge that this world was not their true home and that their God and Saviour had something far, far, far better in store for them in their true home in heaven. And whatever griefs and whatever trials they had to suffer in this life would be nothing compared to the glory that would be theirs in the life to come.
And though the world may hate us, and despise us for what we believe, we ought to remember and believe that this world is not our true home, and God has something better in store for us. We’re only strangers here; exiles in the world; and so, God will help us to put up with whatever griefs and trials we suffer in this life, and he will bring us at last to our true home when Jesus Christ comes again.
Peter describes his readers as God’s elect, because God has loved them and chosen them. He describes them as strangers in the world, because they’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms, which is where we really belong. He also says they’re scattered. Do you see that? They were scattered in the sense that they were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, living in the different places Peter mentions here in verse 1. But they were also scattered in the sense that they were living away from their true home. Well, just as the Israelites in exile in Old Testament times were hoping that God would gather them together and bring them back from the lands where they had been scattered to live once again in the Promised Land of Canaan, so believers are hoping for the day when Jesus Christ will return, because when he comes again, he will gather together his people, who are scattered throughout the world, and he’ll bring us to live with him in the Promised Land of Heaven.
Now, this doesn’t mean we’re to abandon the world and have nothing to do with it. We’re not to retreat from this world because we belong to the world to come. We’re not to do that. As we’ll see from what Peter says later, though we’re citizens of heaven, we’re to be the best citizens we can be in this world, living lives that are full of good deeds. But as we live our lives in this world, we’re always looking upwards to heaven, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour. And while we wait for him to come again, we’re to stand fast and we’re to stand firm and we’re to persevere with all the strength that he gives to us.