Persevering in Persecution (1 Peter 1:1-2; 5:12)


Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg  | July 3, 2011


Text:

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy.

As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace. I have written and sent this short letter to you with the help of Silas, whom I commend to you as a faithful brother. My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace. (1 Peter 1:1-2; 5:12)

This is the first in a series on the entire book of 1 Peter. Click here for the entire series.

See below for Notes on the series and this sermon.

Notes:

This series on 1 Peter speaks helpfully to our situation in the church and the world right now, and very likely, in the days to come. It’s a message of encouragement to persevere in the face of persecution, in whatever form it takes, depending on God’s grace to sustain us now and to reward us in the future. The epistle falls into four sections outlined as follows.

Series Outline: Persevering in Persecution, Help and Hope for Strangers in a Strange Land

1. Going Back to Basics: Trusting in Christ’s Work, Word and Witness (1:3 – 2:10)

  • Rejoicing in Christ’s work of salvation in spite of trials (1:3-12)
  • Obeying Christ’s word even in persecution (1:13 – 25)
  • Joining Christ’s witnesses, a people who glorify God through our good deeds before a watching world (2:1-10)

2. Witnessing to the World: Submitting to Those Who Don’t Know Better (2:11 – 3:6)

  • Introduction: conducting ourselves toward unbelievers (2:11-12)
  • Submitting to unbelieving officials as to Christ (2:13-17)
  • Submitting to unbelieving employers as to Christ (2:18-25)
  • Submitting to unbelieving spouses as to Christ (3:1-7)

3. Fighting Fair with the Faithful: Blessing Those Who Should Know Better (3:8 – 4:11)

  • Agreeing and loving each other, being humble, blessing those who do evil instead of retaliating (3:8-12)
  • Following the example of Jesus, doing good to others, even if we suffer for it, as Christ did. (3:13-22)

4. Standing Up to Suffering: Practicing Commitment, Care and Caution Through the Pain (4:12 – 5:11)

  • Not being surprised or ashamed when it happens, but committing ourselves to God (4:12-19)
  • Elders should care for others in their congregations, not being greedy for money or bossing people around, but should be good examples to them (5:1-7)
  • Resisting the devil by being on the alert and trusting in Christ’s message, remembering that Christians everywhere are suffering as you are. (5:8-11)

Just to give you some background before we begin, the letter was written by Peter, one of the twelve disciples, one of the three closest to Jesus, the one who denied that he even knew Jesus during his trial, the first one to go in and find Jesus’ tomb empty after his resurrection, the one to whom Jesus later restored by telling him to “tend my sheep,” feed my sheep “take care of my lambs,” the one who preached the first sermon after the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. About thirty years later, he was in Rome and heard about the persecution and suffering of five groups of Christians in what we now call Turkey located on a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Asia. But he didn’t write it alone. Silvanus or Silas actually wrote most of the words of the letter. Paul told him what to write about, then Silas wrote in his own words what Peter wanted the letter to say. Then Peter approved it and wrote the final paragraph himself. Silvanus or Silas was a well-known and faithful worker in the early church. He appears in Acts, 2Cor, and 1 and 2 Thess as a prophet in the early NT church, was one of two chosen to deliver the decisions of the council at Jerusalem to the Church at Antioch, was Paul’s chosen companion in the second missionary journey, was with Paul in Phillipi and Corinth, and was a Roman citizen. Now here he is with Peter in Rome 30 years after the resurrection.

The letter was written to mostly Gentile Christians living in various parts of modern day Turkey, a peninsula in the Mediterranean located between Europe and Asia, believers who were undergoing a significant amount of persecution for their faith in Christ and it didn’t look like the persecution was going to let up anytime soon. Have you ever been going through a difficult time in your life when someone who knew you wrote a note of encouragement or called you on the phone to encourage you? That’s what Peter did! The purpose of the letter was to encourage them, and the message of the letter was to continue to do the right thing with the right attitude even when others were doing the wrong thing. Or to say it another way – to continue to do good with a good attitude even when others were doing bad things to them.

Let’s look now at today’s passage which forms a sort of summary of the entire letter in just a few verses. This passage will teach us that even though we are strangers in a strange Land, because God has made us family and faithful, we should persevere in persecution, trusting that God will renew us daily and reward us in heaven.

How many of you have ever travelled to another country or another part of this country where you couldn’t understand the language very well, or the foods were different from what you were used to, or the clothing styles were unusual, or the music was unfamiliar, or the people treated you as if you were strange, and you really looked forward to going home where things were familiar again? I remember a trip I took overseas for just three weeks when I was 20. The foods there were pretty tasteless and strange, and I couldn’t understand about half of what they said. I couldn’t wait to get home and eat a hamburger and talk to normal people again!!!

Many Christians feel that way sometimes, because first, this passage tells us that, we are like strangers in a strange land. Verse 1  says we are “chosen foreigners,” or, “elect exiles.”  We are strangers because we are not like everyone else, because we were “chosen” or “elected” by God before he made the world to receive the gift of salvation, to be adopted into his family, and to be a holy people set apart for his purposes. Consider also 1 Thessalonians 1:4, “God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people;” 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation,” and, 1 Peter 2:9, “…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession….”

Have you ever been chosen to be in a special group or to do a special project at school or work? The teacher or the boss could have chosen anyone in the whole class or office or plant, but you were picked for some reason. That’s what God has done for us in Christ. He chose us before the world even existed to be members of his family with all of it privileges and responsibilities.

 But that makes us seem strange to other people. They often don’t understand us, and may make fun of us or pick on us for what we believe and what we do. Even though we’re chosen by God, other people sometimes treat us badly. That’s because we are living in a strange land – verse 1 says we are “foreigners” or “exiles” – because heaven is our true eternal home. As Hebrews 11:13-16 says, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth…. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland….” And 1Peter 2:11 says, “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.”

 So there’s a downside and an upside to being a Christian in the world today. The first downside is that we feel like strangers in a strange land. The upside is that God has made us family and faithful. Here we see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at work in our salvation: God the Father has made us members of his Family by giving us spiritual rebirth and adopting us. Verse 2 says, “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago…” His foreknowledge and calling lead to rebirth, which leads to repentance and faith, which leads to our justification, which leads to adoption into his family.

How many of you were adopted into your human family or know someone who was? Similar to that, God selected us before birth, to bring us into his family, we have become a brother or sister to other Christians and are our oldest brother is Jesus Christ, God’s uncreated Son. As Rom. 8:29-30a says, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30a  And having chosen them, he called them to come to him.”

The Holy Spirit gives us the family characteristics, especially holiness or what is called sanctification. Verse 2 also says, “his Spirit has made you holy…” God is holy, or special, so because we are his family, we are holy, or special, as well. Holy Spirit is responsible for many things, but especially for making our character more and more like Jesus. It’s like a family resemblance. Some of you kids look more like your dad or your mom or both. Some of you have a personality like your dad or mom. The Holy Spirit makes us more and more like Jesus on the inside. We do the things he did and think the thoughts he thought.

Because we are members of the family and have inherited the family characteristics, Jesus Christ enables us to be faithful members of the family through his shed blood. Verse 2 also says, “As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ…” How do you know someone is a member of a particular family? Usually they have the same habits and attitudes the family has. Members of God’s family are faithful to obey Christ. A person who is not a true member of God’s family cannot willingly obey Christ from the heart. But one who is can do so. As Rom 8:8-10 says  “…those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.  But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.  And Christ lives within you…”

I can remember right before my conversion to Christianity at age 20, I understood that I knew the right thing to do, but didn’t have the will or strength to do it. That’s when I realized my sinful nature was in control, and it caused me to reach out for help from God.

Even though we strangers in a strange land, because God has made us family and faithful, we should persevere in persecution trusting God to renew and reward. When we’re going through persecution, we need both encouragement to keep going, and assurance that we’re going to survive the ordeal.

This verse tells us first that we should live rightly in spite of persecution. Chapter 5 verse 12 says, “I have written this letter…to encourage you…” Scripture is the voice of authority, and it tells us that God has ordained persecution as part of our salvation experience. Yet we are to respond as Jesus did. Listen to the words of Jesus that we read earlier from John 15. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first… ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you…””But I will send you the Advocate– the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.  And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” In other words, Jesus is saying, you will be persecuted, but I will send the Holy Spirit to continue to testify through your words and deeds about me in spite of any mistreatment you may receive.

Second, it tells us that persevering will result in renewal and reward. 5:12 also says, “I have written… to assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you…Stand firm in this grace.” “This grace” is a reference to Renewal and Reward from God as it refers to the Renewal we receive on a daily basis from the Lord. Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me. For I am meek and humble of heart. And you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And it refers and the Reward we receive when Jesus comes again from heaven. Jesus said as recorded in Mark 13:13, 26-27, “And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Then everyone will see the Son of Man1 coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world– from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” Peter later wrote, in 1 Peter 3:14, But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Finally, Jesus said in Luke 6:22-31, “What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way… to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!  And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!  And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

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