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Author:Rev. Arthur Van Delden
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mundijong
 Mundijong, Western Australia
 
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Rockingham
 Rockingham, Australia
  www.users.bigpond.net.au/avdelden/Sermons.htm
 
Title:God's elect foreigners and misfits are encouraged to retain their unique identity
Text:1 Peter 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis
 
Added:2004-03-08
Updated:2007-02-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture Reading: Exodus 24:1-8 / Hebrews 11:8-16

AM
Ps. 92:1,2,6
Ps. 15:1-3
Ps. 119:7,16,20
Ps. 4:1,2
Ps. 26:2,3,4

PM
Ps. 92:1-3
Ps. 92:4-6
Ps. 119:7,16,20
Ps. 4:1,2
Ps. 26:2,3,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Arthur Van Delden, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Imagine this situation: There is a small community of people who had emigrated from Iran to our country twenty-five years ago. They have all moved into one area, and keep pretty much to themselves. They can hardly speak the English language. Their men still wear their traditional robes and turbans. Their women still cover their face in public with a veil, sit in the back seat of the car and walk three paces behind their husbands on the street.

How would you react to this? Would you expect these immigrants to adopt our western culture, and to learn the English language? Or would you be quite happy to leave these people to be different?

I'm quite sure that a lot of Australians would expect these immigrants to conform to our western culture, and to adopt our English language. After all, they are in Australia, not Iran. And when in Rome, you do as the Romans or more appropriately, when in Australia, you do as the Australians.

I'm quite sure that this Iranian community might become the object of jokes. Perhaps it would go further than this. They might become the object of racist attacks. People might regard them as unwanted foreigners and misfits.

What I'm trying to illustrate, beloved, is that by nature we like conformity. While we appreciate a measure of individuality, we feel most comfortable when people look like us, think like us and act like us. People that are different often become the object of ridicule, or even dislike and persecution.

Well, we Christians are like this group of immigrants from Iran. We are foreigners and misfits in the world. We do not conform to the way the world thinks or the way the world acts. We are different than they. Sometimes that makes life unpleasant for us. Sometimes Christians have to bear the brunt of ridicule. Sometimes it's much worse than that. Sometimes Christians have to bear persecution.

How do we react? We don't like to be different. We don't like to stand out as being peculiar. We would like to feel that we belong to this world. So sometimes we conform ourselves to the pattern of the world, and we begin to think like them, and to dress like them, and to act like them. Or worse, sometimes Christians abandon their faith altogether and become completely one with the world.

This morning we will hear how Peter encourages the saints to retain their unique identity in the face of persecution. I preach to you the Word of God with this theme:

GOD'S ELECT FOREIGNERS AND MISFITS ARE
ENCOURAGED TO RETAIN THEIR UNIQUE IDENTITY
We will consider:
1) The suffering that their election brings
2) The encouragement that their election gives

THE SUFFERING THAT THEIR ELECTION BRINGS

Peter wrote this letter to the churches in what is now modern Turkey. It was a circular letter, one that would be passed from one congregation to the next, so that in the end it would be read by all the churches in this vast area of more than 500,000 square kilometres. We think that Peter wrote this letter somewhere around 64 ad. At that time, the vast Roman Empire was ruled by Nero, who ruled from 54-68 ad. Now anyone who knows anything about Roman history knows about the persecutions of Christians during Nero's reign. In the year 64 ad, two thirds of the city of Rome was burned by a horrific fire. According to secular sources, Christians were blamed for the fire. This became the official reason for government-sanctioned persecution of Christians. Tradition says that both Peter and Paul died as martyrs under the rule of Nero.

Peter's first letter gives much evidence of the suffering that the Christians had to endure at that time. In fact, suffering is the major theme of this letter. If you have your Bible open to 1 Peter, you can follow with me as I read from different portions of this letter that refer to the suffering that they had to endure.

In chapter 1:6 we read: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials ." In chapter 3:14 we read: "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed." And verse 16 " having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed." In chapter 4:12-16 we read, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. Lastly, we read in chapter 5:9 "Resist him [that is, the devil], steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world."

Why did they suffer? Because they were different! They no longer conformed to the pattern of this world. They no longer thought as the world thought. They no longer acted as the world acted. These Christians were being persecuted because they didn't fit in. Read with me from 1 Peter 4:3-4 "For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you."

Before these Christians were converted to God, they joined in doing all the abominable things the world did. But after they were converted to God, they stopped doing these things, for they realised that what they were doing was evil. But this is something the world will not accept. As a result, the ungodly regarded the Christians as strange, as misfits. They began to speak evil of them, and eventually began to put pressure on the Christians to conform, or else be mistreated.

Let's be very honest with each other, beloved. We don't really like to be regarded as strange. We d like to be regarded as normal people. We don't like to be the odd man out on our street. We don't want to stand out like a sore thumb from the rest of society. We don't want to bear the brunt of ridicule and scorn. We want to belong. We want to fit in.

But Christians don't belong to this world. Christians don't fit in with the unbelieving and ungodly. We are strangers and misfits in this world. It is with this stark reality that Peter confronts the Christians in the address of his letter. He writes: "To the pilgrims of the Dispersion "

We use the word "pilgrim" to refer to someone who travels to a holy place as a part of his religious devotion. Muslims, for example, are encouraged to travel to Mecca at least once in their lives. But the word "pilgrim" can also refer to foreigners or aliens who have no citizenship in the country where they are temporarily residing. And that is how it is used in Scripture. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country. In Hebrews 11:13 we read that "they all confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Peter addressed the Christians in Asia as pilgrims in order to emphasise the fact that they didn't really belong there, and they wouldn't remain there.

Peter describes the Christians as pilgrims "of the Dispersion." To disperse means to scatter, so the word dispersion means scattering. You ll notice that the word is capitalised, which means that it is a proper name. This was the name given to the Jews who had been scattered over various nations. It began with the exile into Assyria and Babylon. Some Jews remained in these countries after they were permitted by Cyrus to return to their homeland. Under Alexander the Great, migration of people for business purposes became more common. Jews scattered far and wide. But the Jews never gave up their identity as Israelites. They never identified themselves with the people of the land. They remained Jews, and they maintained their citizenship in Israel.

Peter used this word to point out that the Christians in Asia were like the Jews in exile. Asia was not their homeland. No, they had no homeland on earth. Their homeland was in heaven. They were not citizens of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia or Bithynia. Neither were they citizens of Rome. They had no earthly citizenship. They were citizens of the kingdom of God.

We could freely translate Peter's greeting like this: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the foreigners or aliens who dwell temporarily as exiles in this world in the provinces of Turkey, but who are truly citizens of the kingdom of God: grace to you and peace."

So right from the beginning of his letter, Peter acknowledges the hard reality that the Christians do not belong to this world. They are in this world, but not of this world.

Peter also acknowledges why they don't belong. They used to. They were once a part of this world, and they conducted themselves accordingly. That is clear from chapter 1:18 where we read that these Christians had inherited the futile ways of their fathers. This is also clear from chapter 4:3, where Peter acknowledges that they used to do what the Gentiles did. They "walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries." Yes, they were once a part of this world, but not any more. Now they were strangers and aliens in this world, temporary residents, non-citizens.

What happened, beloved? They were elected by the Father. Literally, the greeting of Peter reads: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect pilgrims of the Dispersion." Then in verse 4, he picks up this idea of election again. He says that they were elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

This "foreknowledge" of the Father isn't so much knowledge of what man would do. This foreknowledge is more knowledge of what God would do. Already from eternity God had decided what He was going to do, namely, to redeem some of the citizens of this world who were doomed to destruction, and make them citizens of His glorious and everlasting kingdom. What the Father had planned from eternity was now being realised in the lives of these Christians. They were separated from all others people. God redeemed them and made them His own special people.

Not only did the Father elect them; the Spirit also sanctified them. This "sanctification" has two aspects. In the first place, it means that they have been set apart as a holy people. Peter dwells more on this theme in chapter 2:9 where he writes, "But you are a chosen generation a holy nation, His own special people. " God set them apart from all other people. God made them special.

There is also a second aspect to this sanctification from the Spirit. Not only did God regard them as holy; God made them into a holy people. Through the working of the Spirit, they were inwardly renewed. Their hearts of stone were exchanged for hearts of flesh, their darkened minds were enlightened, their enslaved wills were set free. This renewing work of the Holy Spirit made these Christians different from all other people on earth. They no longer thought, spoke, or acted in same way as the world. The Holy Spirit actually made them different.

The purpose for which the Father elected them and for which the Spirit sanctified them was "for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." To appreciate what Peter means by this phrase, we have to go back to Exodus 24, to the time when God confirmed His covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai. There we read that the people of Israel sacrificed to the Lord. Moses then took the Book of the Covenant, which included the Ten Commandments, and read it to the people. Having heard God's Word, the people promised that they would be obedient. Then Moses took half of the blood of the sacrifices, and sprinkled it upon the people.

The blood of the covenant symbolised the payment for sin and purification from sin. This payment and purification allowed God to establish a covenant with His people. The sprinkling of the people signified to them that they were purified from the guilt and pollution of sin, and that God had established His covenant with them. They were God's unique people now. And as God's people, they were obliged to obedience. They were obliged to keep God's commandments.

Peter uses this OT event to show the Christians of Asia that they too have been sprinkled with the blood of the covenant. They received the sign and seal of this in their baptism. This symbolic sprinkling with the blood of Christ is proof that God has established His covenant with them. And just as the Israelites of old promised to keep God's covenant law that Moses read out to them, so the Christians to whom Peter writes are obliged to a new obedience.

The fact that the Father elected these Christians, that the Spirit sanctified them, that God established His covenant with them through the sprinkling with Christ's blood means that God has distinguished them from all the other inhabitants of Asia. God made them different. God changed them. And because of this work of the triune God, these Christians no longer fit in with this world. They were different. They no longer belonged to this world. They had become foreigners, misfits in this world. And because of this difference, they were persecuted.

Peter's purpose in mentioning all these facts is to encourage the Christians to be content as foreigners who are different, even though they might have to suffer because they were different. This brings us to our second point.

THE ENCOURAGEMENT THAT THEIR ELECTION GIVES

Peter knew that the Christians might become discouraged by their sufferings. He knew that they might begin to resent the fact that they were different, and might abandon their unique position as God's chosen people, as a people set apart from all others, as the people of the covenant. Peter knew that they might not want to be different. He knew that they might be tempted to do the things that the world does, to ease the pressure that the world puts on them to conform.

What did Peter do, then? He endeavoured to make the Christians view their uniqueness as something positive rather than negative.

Peter acknowledges right from the very beginning of his letter that they were strangers and foreigners in this world. But they ought not to mourn this fact. Although Peter didn't mention Abraham, these Christians would know about Him. He didn't belong in the land of Canaan. He never identified himself with the Canaanites, but kept apart. Throughout his life he was a pilgrim and sojourner on this earth. If he really wanted to become a citizen of this world, he could have returned to Ur of the Chaldees from where he came. But he didn't because he desired a better, that is, a heavenly country. For He considered citizenship in God's heavenly kingdom of far greater worth than citizenship in any earthly kingdom (cf. Heb 11:16). In like manner the Christians in Asia should look upon their status as foreigners or resident aliens in a positive light. Why were they foreigners on earth? Because they had citizenship in heaven (cf. Phil 3:20).

It is true they didn't belong to this world. They were in it but not of it. But that wasn't a disadvantage. For this world is passing away (1 John 2:17). The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Nevertheless Christians look for new heavens and a new earth. For they belong to this new earth. (2 Peter 3:10-11)

Peter knows that it is not a pleasant experience to be rejected by the world. But he reminds them of the election of God. The benefits of God's election far outweigh any of the pains of the world's rejection. The favour of God far outweighs the disfavour of the ungodly. The love of God is far greater in worth than the love of the ungodly.

It is not a pleasant thing to suffer injustice for doing good, as the Christians in Peter's day did. But in His greeting, Peter reminds them of the grace that God shows to them. The undeserved kindness that God shows to sinners is far greater than any undeserved cruelty that the godless show towards the saints.

Though they are suffering hostility at the hands of the ungodly who seek to harm them, they are reminded of the fact that through Christ they enjoy peace with God, who in everything seeks their well-being.

Though the injustice and hostility of the ungodly may seem to be increasing as time goes on, Peter reminds them that the grace and peace of God are multiplying towards them as well. And if they persevere, they will enjoy the grace and peace of God in fullness.

If the Christians in Asia were inclined to resent the fact that they were different from the world because of the injustice and hostility that they suffered, then Peter turns that right around. He shows them that they should be thankful that they are different, because they now enjoy the grace and the peace of God.

There is in this an implication you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't have it both ways. You can't belong to this world and hope to belong to the world to come. You can't be a citizen on earth, and be a citizen in heaven at the same time. You cannot curry the favour of the world by conforming to it, and at the same time hope for the favour of God. "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). You see, then, beloved, that a choice has to be made.

As children of God we are different so very different from the people of this world at least we are supposed to be. God has destined us to be different. He wants us to be different. And if His Spirit works in us, we will be different.

Are you glad God has made you different? Do you mind very much that you are a stranger in this world? Are you glad that He has elected you to be His special possession, unlike so many in the world whom He has not chosen? Are you glad that the Spirit sets you apart as being a holy person, and do you pray that the sanctifying Spirit may transform you more and more, so that you act less and less like the people of this world? Are you glad that you are child of the covenant, and are you happy to live in obedience to the commandments of God, even though obedience to God's law makes people look at you as if you are strange? Are you glad to be different?

I hope very much that you can answer positively. Because if you can, then you will dare to be different. Then you will not fall for the temptation of conforming yourself to this world, but you will be transformed. You are God's elect foreigners and misfits in this world. May the gospel you have heard this morning encourage you to retain your unique identity. AMEN


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Arthur Van Delden, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.users.bigpond.com/avdelden/WebSermons/1PT1v1t2.htm

(c) Copyright, Rev. Arthur Van Delden

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