Introduction to the book. You already know that it is addressed to God’s people in exile, scattered throughout the empire, and that it speaks to them regarding the way they should live in the light of their standing as ambassadors.
Chapter 1 – 2:11 are the scene setting elements, the theology which lies behind the practical application.
Then Peter talks about our relationship to secular authority; to unbelieving partners; to opposition and persecution. He talks about relationships in the church and leadership in the church. And he finishes with a reminder of the reality of the spiritual forces arrayed against us.
But Chapter 1 is the foundation on which all that practical advice is based. And what Peter wants to do is explain to these small, frightened and hard-pressed Churches that they are important, that they matter. These are churches that were, many of them, formed around the people who had been in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost; who had been planted by Paul and nurtured by him during his missionary travels (Paul is almost certainly in prison in Rome when Peter is writing this letter) Here’s what he says to them:
1. You have been chosen by God – he has set his seal on you. (vv1-2) He describes these people as ‘God’s elect’ – God’s called ones. Chosen according to God’s foreknowledge: everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen to you is known to God. When everything conspires to make you feel rejected, this is what you need to be sure of. God in Christ has claimed you, stamped you, laid hold of you. You are his! Remember who it is that Peter addresses – what a distance he has travelled!
Just take a look at the way that Peter phrases 1:2, and then tell me that the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t found in scripture. God the Father set his love on you; God the Holy Spirit gave you new life, sanctifying you; God the Son named you as His and gave his life for you.
2. You have been given a share in his inheritance (vv3-5) – you have received a great gift, the gift of future salvation. When everything you have is being taken away from you, when the world counts you as worthless, this is your security. Remember that so many of the people that made up the early church were slaves. The cost of being a Xn. Losing everything for the sake of claiming Christ. It was theoretically possible in the Roman empire for a slave to be named in a will. But it didn’t happen – for the most part, as a slave you were not your own, you were the possession of another person. But, Peter says, you’re in witness protection now. You have a new passport, and this new you has a wealthy father who has already named you in his will. It’s in a trust fund, and you cannot lose it. In passing – Jesus, your elder brother, has paid all the taxes owed on your behalf.
3. You are presently blessed by him – joy, assurance and love are yours right now. Here’s what we need to know when we are reviled and hated. Many to whom Peter wrote were experiencing or were about to experience persecution. Across the world, Christians still are. We’re not – although it is becoming harder to be known as a Christian. Peter doesn’t focus on that; he concentrates on joy, rejoicing. Peter uses a very distinctive word for rejoicing; the word is Agalliao – it literally means ‘jumping for joy’, ‘dancing for joy’. Has that sense of being quite overcome with excitement. And Peter says it comes not when we escape from difficulty, but when we discover God is with us in the difficulty. I don’t want to go on about LCFC too much – but the rejoicing that Leicester fans know just now is made greater because it has been such an impossible journey. And bizzarely, it has made even the opposing fans rejoice.
Peter says to these suffering Christians – this was the persecution that Nero set in motion, rather than the much more extensive persecution under Domitian – you are in the process of inheriting, of receiving something that even the angels don’t get to receive.
That’s the ground on which the ‘therefore’ of v13 is built. Interesting – the first 12 verses don’t include a single instruction, a single command, a single exhortation. The rest of the book is filled with them, but not here. Before Peter starts explaining what it is going to mean, he wants them to know how things stand. They are chosen, sanctified, reborn. They are heirs to an inheritance. They are rejoicing, and suffering, and believing and being saved.
And so are we. So I will do as Peter did – I’ll leave out the exhortations for tonight. Hear God saying that no matter how tough life gets, you are called, loved, saved, included, valued, cleansed and protected. That’s where you are already. It’s yours in Jesus. And if that don’t make you jump for joy, then I don’t know what will!