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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Christ Encourages his Scattered Church
Text:1 Peter 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-04-05
Updated:2020-04-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1,3                                                                                           

Ps 119:6,7

Reading – 1 Peter 1:1-12

Ps 48:1,2,3,4

Sermon – 1 Peter 1:1-2

Ps 122:1,2,3

Hy 61:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, the church has been through an awful lot over the years. One thinks of the many wars that the church has endured, times like the World Wars when thousands of Christian men had to go overseas and fight against foreign powers—or times when those foreign powers triumphed and the church had to live in an occupied country. The church has lived through times of plague, like in Europe in the Middle Ages when there was no room in the graveyards for all the dead. The church has also faced periods of persecution; just one example is Japan in the seventeenth century, when Christianity was banned and many hundreds of believers were crucified. And there’s been times when the church suffered because of false teaching, or corrupt leadership, or sinful division.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33, and that’s  certainly held true. Every age of church history has had its challenges. Sometimes external challenges, sometimes internal, and often both.

Peter was present when Jesus promised trouble, and he soon found out just how right the Lord was. Years later, when Peter was busy doing the work of apostle, he had occasion to write a letter to a group of Christian churches in Asia Minor. And reading this letter, it’s very clear that these believers were facing hardships: “For a little while,” he says, “you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Pet 1:6).

And what was the trial? The church was getting persecuted. The believers were suffering for doing good (2:2), enduring a “fiery trial” (4:12), bearing “reproach for the name of Christ” (4:14). Against these Christians there’d been an outbreak of ridicule and violence, and it was causing great distress. So Peter encourages them, and gives wise counsel about how to respond. For even though Jesus promised trouble in this world, He also said, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” It’s all under his command.

In the present situation, we are challenged as a church. It’s not war. It’s not persecution, nor a plague or internal conflict. But it’s a real hindrance to the normal life of our congregation. We’re not able to meet in person for Sunday worship. Having fellowship is harder. Bible study and Catechism feel quite different. So we can become disconnected and discouraged. Meanwhile, we still need each other: to support each other, to help, to grow together. But the church will get endure this too, for we have Christ’s sure promise. Let’s hear this truth from God’s Word in 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Through Peter’s letter, Christ encourages His church in troubled times:

  1. as a scattered people
  2. as the project of the Triune God
  3. as recipients of grace and peace

 

1) as a widely scattered people: You’ll notice that we’re right at the start of 1 Peter. This letter begins in a fairly typical way—you might find some of the same things in all the emails that you’re sending or receiving these days. There is the name of the sender, the name of the recipient, and some best wishes. Looks ordinary enough, but let’s pause at each part.

First, the sender: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (v 1). Peter is familiar to us from the four gospels. Previously he was known as Simon, but Peter had received a new name from Jesus after he confessed that Jesus was the Christ. On that day Jesus had said that Peter was a “rock,” for his testimony would be an unshakable foundation for Christ’s church. And we see Peter in a leading role during Jesus’ ministry: the spokesman for the other disciples, part of Jesus’ inner circle, and later in Acts the first to preach to both Jews and to Gentiles.

Peter the writer is “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Like Paul so often does in his letters, Peter here gives his credentials. As an apostle, he was personally commissioned by the Lord to announce the good news of salvation through Christ.

He preached this glorious message, and then he also wrote letters. This was the much-needed “follow-up” after people had accepted the gospel in faith. For there’s no end of questions about how to put the gospel into practice. So through this letter, Peter does as his Lord told him: he takes care of Christ’s lambs, his flock in the Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.

We don’t know when exactly Peter sat down to write this letter, but it’s likely that it was about thirty years after the ascension of Christ. By this time, the church had grown so much that it was no longer able to be ignored. Its size meant the church also got negative attention. Peter himself would die in the late 60s in a persecution led by Emperor Nero.

Peter doesn’t say where he’s writing this letter from, but there’s a really interesting hint in 5:13. There he says, “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you.” For Peter to pass on greetings from the church in Babylon suggests, of course, that he was nearby that congregation. Yet it’s doubtful that Peter was actually in Babylon, way out in Mesopotamia, for this was far from the hub of church activity at this time. It’s likely that “Babylon” in 5:13 is a code-name for Rome, just like we find Rome named as Babylon in the book of Revelation. In other words, Peter writes this letter from the very centre of the Empire—this was the source of the believers’ persecution, and the heart of so much worldly evil.

Wherever they were in the empire, believers would feel totally out of place. Though the church was growing, it was still just a lonely island in a vast ocean of unbelievers. Notice how Peter calls them “pilgrims.” Other translations say “strangers” or “exiles.” The point is, these Christians didn’t really belong. They stuck out, firstly because many were from the lower classes of society: they were the poor, slaves, and outcasts.

But they also stuck out for what they didn’t do. Everyone had to bow to the emperor; you could still worship your own gods, but you also had to burn incense to the supreme ruler. Those loyal to Christ refused, of course. But this offense got noticed, together with the very different lifestyle of the believers—it was a holy lifestyle, one distinct from that of the pagans; it was self-controlled, and directed by Christ.

The “pilgrims” or “strangers” to whom Peter writes are scattered in the cities and towns and villages of the Roman Empire. He says they’re “of the Dispersion” (v 1). Now, if something is dispersed, it’s distributed or spread out over a wide area. For instance, when you’re fertilizing your lawn, you’ll disperse the pellets far and wide.

The word Peter uses here often describes the Jews who lived outside of Israel. At various times in their history, God’s people were deported, carried off into exile. Other times they chose to leave for work or marriage. These were called the Jews of the Dispersion, or the Diaspora—people a long way from their homeland.

But Peter’s not only talking to Jews now. He says that the real Dispersion is the church of Christ, scattered throughout the provinces of Rome and the nations of the world. In so many places where the seed of the gospel had landed, it was received in faith. The Christians whom Peter writes to live in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” These were small provinces of Asia Minor—northern and eastern Turkey today. We don’t know much about these believers; perhaps they were congregations Peter had established in recent years.

They lived across a wide and rugged terrain, so the description is most accurate: the Dispersion. They were scattered. These believers probably didn’t travel that often from one province to the next, so they didn’t see each other. In an age before free and easy communication like WhatsApp and Zoom and email and instant messaging, these believers might not even have been aware of each other. Their individual lives were completely separate from each other.

In a way, that’s our situation right now. We are dispersed. We’re not very far from each other geographically, but we’re certainly not together: not together this morning for worship, not tomorrow night for consistory, and not on Tuesday or Wednesday for Bible study, and not for any other fellowship either. In a manner of speaking, we’ve all been scattered, and we’ve become a little less aware of each other.

This presents a serious challenge. Right now, we can’t enjoy the warmth of Sunday fellowship that we love so much, having coffee together, chatting outside. We can’t unite our voices in this building and lift up a loud song of praise to the Lord. We can’t sit beside each other with open Bibles and dig into the Word. We can’t reach out with a firm handshake, a happy hug, a pat on the shoulder. And that’s unnatural. Being physically apart is unnatural for those who love one another—and it’s most unusual for the body of Christ. God made us for companionship, He made us for fellowship, and not solitude.

When we’re scattered like this, let’s be aware of the spiritual dangers too. A person who is isolated all week might despair that he has no one to talk to, or that he has to carry a particular burden all by himself. When we walk alone, we’re often a prime target for Satan’s attacks, for then we don’t have the security and accountability of being with other believers. If I sin, or I stray, I’m pretty sure that no one’s going to ask me about it. When we’re cut off from each other, we miss out on the encouragements and sometimes the rebukes that we need.

And being isolated means we don’t get that simple, visual, powerful reminder when we come to this place that we belong to something bigger than ourselves—that we’re part of a community, the body of Christ. No, being scattered is not how it’s meant to be for our church.

This is our trial. It’s different than other trials the church has faced, but it is a real test. Even so, there’s a hopeful message for the scattered church. Notice that Peter addresses the “pilgrims of the Dispersion” in these faraway provinces, each with their own struggles—yet he addresses them all together, through this one letter. They are scattered, but they are united. They might be separated from each other by hundreds of kilometers, yet something powerful bonds them together: they are the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Being united in Christ doesn’t change when our circumstances change. We are pilgrims, and have a home together in Christ. For we are God’s house, and God’s project.

 

2) as the project of the Triune God: In the days when we were allowed to travel, some people would spend year after year on the road. Working in Australia for a while, then backpacking in Europe, then hitchhiking across Canada. If you were a life-long “pilgrim” like this, a wanderer on the earth, after a while I’m sure you’d wonder where you belonged. Where’s home? What’s my loyalty? It’s a big question—it’s the question of identity.

Peter knows that scattered pilgrims can be unsure about who we are, so he tells us in verse 2. We are the elect of God the Father, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and sprinkled with the blood of Christ. This is a fixed and unchanging identity, one which doesn’t fade in a crisis or trouble. Our physical location doesn’t change who we are in the LORD God.

First, we are “elect” (v 2). It means that God has graciously chosen us. We enjoy a privileged and secure position as the objects of God’s eternal love. There’s no better privilege in all the world than this: to be claimed by God as his own.

What a great wonder is this choice! As Peter says, “[You are the] elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Foreknowledge means that we know something before it happens. The only way that we have foreknowledge is if we turn ahead in the book we’re reading, or if we look at next month’s roster. It’s entirely different for God, who knew our names long before we were born. Even before He created this world, He knew that we’d belong to him.

God’s choice means we have an eternal purpose. It means we enjoy an everlasting stability. We’re not just a human organization, a club or restaurant or airline that might have to shut down in these hard times. For our origin lies not in the choices that we’ve made, but in the eternal counsel of God. Thus the church will never fail or fade away—the gates of hell shall not overcome her! Even when we’ve died, and we’re forgotten by everyone, God will not forsake his chosen ones.

And because we belong to God, He’s also hard at work in us. That’s the second part of our identity, says Peter. We have been chosen, “in sanctification of the Spirit” (v 2). In the powerful word, “sanctification,” we learn that God is busy making us holy, cleansing us from the pollution and corruption of sin. The Spirit convicts us of sin, He causes us to long for God, He leads us to the cross, and there He brings us to faith.

There’s so much we could say about the sanctifying of the Spirit. But one of the Holy Spirit’s great and visible works is how He builds up the church of Christ here on earth. The Spirit gives gifts so we can bless one another: gifts of leading, serving, teaching, supporting. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

Consider the consequence of that for how we live in these days. Again, it’s a reality that hasn’t changed: we remain the one body of Christ in this place, those who are being sanctified by the Spirit. Therefore we must live in that unity, and show that unity! There is no question that it’s harder right now; as we said, we’re limited by distance and isolation. But Christian love is creative. Christian love finds a way to overcome the worst of challenges and to carry obstacles: “Love endures all things,” the Spirit tells us, and “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:7-8).

In a time like this, that is our challenge: to keep loving one another in the power of the Spirit. And in the power of the Spirit, it is surely possible. Probably we’ve all heard that the spread of the coronavirus is exponential, one carrier infecting several more, and each of those infecting several more, and so on. Well, if this disease grows exponentially, and fear grows exponentially, then so should our love for each other!

For instance, if you receive a nice phone call from a fellow member checking in you, let that call generate two or three more calls. Find two people in your ward whom you can ring, and someone from your Bible study. And if they each call two more, the love will surely spread in our congregation and it will bless many.

There’s surely other ways to help each other. Being scattered but united compels us to find new ways to support one another: get online to chat, or pick up the phone, or send a card, or drop off a meal (but wash your hands first!). Not just this week, but next week, and next month, and for however long this lasts. In coming months we may well have to support each other in even more sacrificial ways if some of us lose their jobs and run out of money. But love endures all things, and love never fails.

Now for the third part of our identity. We’ve been chosen “for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ” (v 2). The test of a Spirit-filled Christian, a Spirit-filled congregation, is always in real life. Will we obey? Will we do what God commands us, even when it’s hard? A sanctified pilgrim is known to be a pilgrim by what he does.

We don’t do it for recognition or praise, but we do it for Christ. After all, it’s through him that we’ve been set apart to God. Back in the Old Testament, the Israelites were often sprinkled with blood to show they were cleansed from sin and consecrated separate to God. Now in the age of Christ, Peter says, we are sprinkled with Jesus’ blood. We have received God’s mighty and effective treatment on the worst condition known to man, the guilt and pollution of sin. We’ve been sprinkled, and we’ve been healed!  

 

3) as the recipients of grace and peace: Peter ends the opening of his letter with a short prayer, a request for God’s blessing to rest upon his readers: “Grace to you and peace be multiplied” (v 2). Here too, it’s good to pause. Peter isn’t just being polite, like we might sign off an email by writing, “take care” or “kind regards.” It’s both a greeting and a blessing.

There’s two parts: first, grace. “Grace” describes a gift, but this is not the kind of gift that you can go to the shop and get for yourself if you didn’t get it for your birthday. This gift was impossible for us to get, it was inaccessible and out of reach. Grace is God’s unmerited favour to sinners. And it means God won’t stop loving us, even when we sometimes forget who we are, even when it feels like we have nothing left. God will show grace to his elect: unceasing, unfailing, amazing grace.

And the second part of his blessing: peace. “Peace” is the condition of being right with God through Christ. And peace is so needed, because in this world there’s much conflict. There is sharp conflict among people: in Peter’s time, Jews and Gentiles were divided by jagged barriers of hatred. Today too, there can be such hostility between people, resentment and anger and fighting. What’s true among people is true in human nature, because even within the redeemed there’s a tension, a battle between sin and holiness, light and darkness.

And worst of all, there is discord between God and mankind. By sin we have been separated from the God of our life. Still today, we rebel against him, and consequently we deserve his punishment. Like Isaiah says, there is no rest—no peace—for the wicked.

In a world and a life without Christ, there will only be disunity and conflict. But because God is God, it’s not his will to leave it this way. God graciously resolves this cosmic tension through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. God creates peace between us and him, bringing us near, making us his children.

And so Peter can greet the scattered church with two profound terms of gospel truth: “grace and peace.” And he asks that this double gift may be multiplied to us—that this gift may increasingly transform your life. May you depend more and more on God’s abounding grace in Christ Jesus, for it is a grace that is sufficient for each day. Know that if you are at peace with God, this peace will not fade, for it is steadfast and eternal.

It’s what we need in these days. You could say it’s the only thing we need, it’s the only thing that the church has ever needed: grace and peace. Depend on it! Troubles may multiply. Stress will multiply. Fatigue will grow. But God’s grace and peace are always multiplied more. God’s favour toward his people in Christ never runs out, it never diminishes, but always endures and it even increases.

For pilgrims in the dispersion, for the scattered saints, for a congregation living in isolation, this is what Christ wishes for us—this is what He promises us: Christ says, “Grace to you and peace be multiplied!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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