Scattered and Suffering (1 Peter 1:1-5)

Peter has always fascinated me. Here was a man, seen as a leader in establishing the first century church, who was as dense as a rock for which he is named. I like how J.I. Packer described the apostles and their mission to bring the Gospel to the world: “Such was their appointed task. But what sort of witnesses were they likely to prove? They had never been good pupils; they had consistently failed to understand Christ and missed the point of his teaching throughout his earthly ministry; how could they be expected to do better now that he had gone? Was it not virtually certain that, with the best will in the world, they would soon get the truth of the gospel inextricably mixed up with a mass of well-meant misconceptions, and their witness would rapidly be reduced to a twisted, garbled, hopeless muddle?” (Knowing God)

But, the Holy Spirit worked in Peter, as he did in all the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, to make them witnesses to the ends of the earth, and thus bring us the message of God’s grace in which we live and move and breathe day by day. Peter made mistakes in Jesus’ presence and continued afterwards in everyone else’s presence but had the great defining characteristic of someone who learned and grew from their mistakes and the trials which intersected their lives. The power of God working in him was such that he wrote to the Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire to encourage them in their suffering and spur them on to holy living.

If we look at the end of the epistle we see Peter’s explicit reason for writing. In 5:12 we read, “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” Silas was a leader of the church (Acts 15:22) and became a partner with Paul after the latter’s disputes with Barnabas (Acts 15:39-40). I wonder if he also came along side Peter as a mentor in the ministry.

The gospel was spreading throughout the empire causing various factions, religions and political, to oppose a belief which undermined the deity of the emperor and upset the balance of Judaism in many regions and cities. Christians were rejoicing in God’s grace while unbelievers were aghast at their proclamation based on the short life of an itinerant preacher who was executed. Christians unfailing reaction to suffering was a disturbing sign as Paul noted in his letter to the Philippians, “This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.” NIV 1:28b)

Peter begins with defining his intended recipients. Verse 1: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen ones who are living as strangers in the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. (WEB)” Before we get sidetracked on the word chosen let’s look at the people addressed. Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia cover a lot of ground. On today’s map, it would include most of modern day Turkey or about 300,000 square miles. This is like the east coast from the tip of Florida north through Georgia, both Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, plus a little. Today we see the region Peter addresses as one nation but in Peter’s time is was multiple regions with distinct cultures bound together by the prevailing and oppressive Roman Empire. It was this same invading rule which stabilized travel and trade and much more. The empire opened avenues for apostolic unencumbered travel thus inadvertently aiding the spread of a faith which that same empire would also attempt to eradicate. It was also an area where persecuted believers fled in exile. From whence they came to this region we don’t know.

In their exile, Peter reminds them they are God’s chosen people. But chosen for what and by whom? Verse two fleshes out this opening statement and gives us the who, the how and the why of their choosing and exile.

2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled in his blood: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

The who of their choosing was God. He knew he was going to choose these scattered believers long before they were exiled. God through the Holy Spirit was sanctifying these scattered people to make them obedient to the Lord and Savior. They were cleansed by the sprinkled blood of Christ which was shed on the cross and foreshadowed in Jesus’ institution of communion. So we have a who; God, a how; through the Holy Spirit, and the why; to teach them obedience to Jesus and to sprinkle them with Jesus’ cleansing blood. Now that Peter has defined and described the recipients of this letter he encourages his readers calling down grace and peace on their lives

Grace and peace are integral to the Christian life and intertwined in their efficacious impact on the believer. It’s through God’s grace and our extending that same grace to others that lives are changed, ours and theirs. It’s in understanding and accepting God’s grace we have peace in a world opposed to our faith and in conflict with God. Peter reminds his readers of these important things as they press forward living out their faith in a foreign land.

With his opening finished Peter gives us some uplifting theology not only in the present but also into eternity. He starts praising God and then describes one of the greatest truths about out redemption. It’s not just a temporary change of status in God’s court it’s a permanent change for eternity.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy became our father again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by the power of God are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We are born again in the present into an eternal family that will endure and not fail and God is our father. All of this is only a result of God’s mercy. We didn’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. But, we have it. It’s not a future hope but a living hope which begins at our new birth. And to give us a clue we are assured our new-found hope is heralded by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. In this life, we’re only passing through. We’re headed into an inheritance which doesn’t mimic our earthly understanding but redefines our inheritance. Unlike what our ancestors might leave us our new inheritance will not perish, it won’t become rusted and broken, it won’t disappear.

Our inheritance is protected by the one who grants us mercy. Our future is guaranteed by the author of our salvation. It’s not here but in heaven. Still, while we’re living in this world we are shielded by God until things are just right. It’s all in God’s timing and perfect planning.

We might be scattered. We might be suffering. We might be in exile. But, through all this God has our back. He has made provision for us and we can be encouraged by God’s mercy. We can be assured of our salvation through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We can rejoice in the working out of our sanctification through the Holy Spirit. We can take solace in our situation that God is working in and through us for His purposes. As we move on through Peter’s epistle we’ll learn how to deal with the ups and downs of living as Christians in a world oppose to our faith.

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