September 22, 2019
Let me begin by asking you some questions this morning. Have you ever felt invisible? Nobody sees you, nobody knows you, no one values you? You feel unimportant, insignificant. Maybe you haven’t felt that way – you haven’t felt insignificant and worthless – but others made you feel that way by their neglect – the way they look over you, through you, around you.
Maybe you’ve felt that way in the church – maybe this church. You come, and few if any speak to you. You’ve made no real deep or lasting connections. You know it’s supposed to be a community, but it doesn’t really feel like it. My daughter is finishing her nursing degree at East Carolina University in Greenville. She’s been attending the same church since January – and told me recently she goes every week, sits on a row by herself – walks in and walks out without anyone talking to her. Now, to be sure, I encouraged her to get involved – to find a way to meet people. And she did – she joined a small group women’s bible study – and that helped. But still, most weeks, she’s alone. She said to me recently, “Going to church alone is a whole new level of lonely.” Maybe you feel that way sometimes.
We don’t want you to. I love our college ministry at Alliance – one of their sayings to students is, Welcome Home. We want this place to be your home away from home. A place where you can be connected, love and be loved, find community. We want that for all of you. I’m reminded of the old sitcom Cheers, and their theme song – goes like this:
Making your way in the world today
takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you wanna go
where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see
our troubles are all the same.
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.
It was one of the most popular television shows ever – one of the longest running weekly series. Set in a Boston tavern where, surprisingly, there were no murders, kidnappings, high speed chases, criminal conspiracies, no action, no adventure. So why watch it? It was a show that portrayed the interactions of people who were drawn to the camaraderie of crying in one another’s beer – they went to a place where someone knew their name.
The characters of Cheers were greeted heartily when they entered the tavern. Their friends made a place for them at the bar and asked about their day. They shared their doubts and fears, their failures and victories. It was group therapy for the price of a six pack, confession without a priest, and acceptance without fear of rejection. You see, the writers of the show realized something: people need people. They want to be noticed – they want to love and be loved. They want to belong. They want someone to know their name. (Alone) How many of you walk in here on Sundays, and no one knows your name? Going to church alone is a whole new level of lonely. Do you feel overlooked, unimportant, insignificant?
We’ll come back to all that later – and I hope to encourage you – to encourage us to recognize that we are known. There are differences among us, of course – but we share more in common than we don’t. We are family, and we can act like it. Again, I’ll come back to that. You see, this morning, we begin a new book – I Peter. I hope to get through I and II Peter before you seniors graduate, but don’t count on it.
But I must do the necessary introductory work to a new book – author, recipients, purpose – things like that – to set the context. But in so doing, we’ll look at the first two verses where my hope is you’ll be encouraged. You are not invisible, you are significant – you are known and you are loved. Facing a difficult challenge – opposition, discouragement, loneliness? You’ve been known and loved since before time.
I Peter – let’s start with the author. The first verse of the book identifies the author clearly enough: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t have to defend his apostleship like Paul often did, he simply states it as a matter of well known, accepted fact. But don’t miss it – as an apostle, with the church built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, what he says carries authority.
Further, in 5:1, the author calls himself a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s suffering. That’s important – he claims to have been alive when Jesus was, and saw Jesus suffer. That narrows the pool. Now the word apostlemeans a messenger who has the authority to carry the words of another. It’s is used a couple different ways in the NT – but here, it’s in its official capacity – an apostle, one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus. This is not just Peter Smith – some unknown Peter – this is the Peter – the first among the disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John – that Peter. He was known as Simon, but Jesus gave Him the name Peter – in Aramaic, Cephas – the rock. And Peter largely became his name – used throughout the NT. And it was widely and universally accepted by the church for 2000 years Peter wrote this letter. Some examples:
In II Peter, also said to be written by Peter, the author says, this is now the second letter I’ve written to you. Not entirely convincing, but we have two letters said to be written by Peter, the second referencing the first.
Polycarp, a church father who lived in the early second century, quoted I Peter is his letter to Philippi, written about 112 AD. That’s important. This at least means the letter was well-known by this time, widely circulated and read. That doesn’t happen overnight.
By the end of the second century and first of the third, the author was clearly identified to be Peter by church fathers Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus. I could go on, but clearly the early church accepted the authorship of Peter. And that was maintained for centuries.
But, along came the 19thand 20thCenturies and the practice of questioning and denying anything to do with the authenticity and authority of Scripture and its authors. So liberal, critical scholarship began denying Peter as the author, largely for the following reasons:
- The Greek is too polished to be written by a Galilean fisherman whose first language would have been Aramaic. I mean, after all, in Acts 4, Peter and John, were called unschooled, ignorant men. Remember, Peter was from Bethsaida, a fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. He was a fisherman, not trained in the rabbinical or theological schools of higher learning. This was advanced, even lofty Greek – no way he wrote it.
- Second, the persecutions in the book clearly happened at a later time than the life of Peter. Likely near the end of the first century under the persecutions of Domitian or Trajan – long after Peter had been martyred during Nero’s persecutions in the 60s.
- Third, the author seemed to be too reliant on the theology of Paul.
- And fourth, while the author claimed to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and suffering, he doesn’t share enough details to be an actual eyewitness.
And so, the result is, Peter was not actually written by Peter, but by someone claiming to be Peter to add authority to the letter. It’s called pseudonymity, and to be clear, it was a common practice of the day. However, I would offer the following thoughts:
- First, each of the objections to Peter’s authorship are not very strong. Peter was raised in the Hellenistic north of Galilee where Greek was spoken, and was the trade language of the day. He would have to know Greek somewhat fluently to conduct his fisherman trade. Not only that, he had been an apostle for up to three decades by the time the letter was written, spending many years in Rome. It was plenty enough time for his use of Greek to grow. Further, when the Sanhedrin exclaimed, Peter and John are unschooled, ignorant men – they were saying that because of the way these men articulately and bravely handled themselves in front of the council. Their point was, they shouldn’t be talking like this – they’re unschooled – and yet here they are. And finally, Peter mentions Silas as a secretary, which means he could have helped with the writing of the letter.
- Second, the persecutions against Christians were already happening right after Jesus died – why is it hard to see persecutions happening against them by the time Peter wrote the letter. After all, both Peter and Paul were put to death under Nero’s persecutions. Most agree what is describes was more likely in the early 60s, which most conservative scholars assign as the time of the writing of this letter.
- Third, if the theology is consistent with Paul, doesn’t that rather mean that Paul and Peter agreed on biblical and gospel truth? Why would we expect them to disagree with each other if the Holy Spirit was the ultimate author. Shouldn’t the biblical authors agree with one another?
- And fourth, he claims to be an eyewitness, true – but remember, he wasn’t writing a gospel. That was the Gospel of Mark – which everyone agrees, Mark wrote at Peter’s direction – from Peter’s recollections. In other words, Peter already helped in the writing of a Gospel. He could have shared more details in this letter if that was his purpose – it wasn’t.
Yes, it’s true pseudonymity was a common practice, but in the early church, if a letter was found to be written by someone other than the author claimed, it was rejected. For example, supposed letters by Paul to Laodecia and a III Corinthians were found to be written by pseudonymous authors, so they were rejected. Later, an elder in Asia Minor authored a letter said to be from Paul, and he was disciplined by the church. So clearly, the early church accepted Peter wrote the letter – and if he didn’t, they would have rejected it. And finally, I would say this – if you can’t trust the first words – Petras apostolos Ihasou Christou– Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ – how can you trust any of it?
Why do I spend so much time on this issue of authorship? Besides the fact everyone else does – I recognize we have many students who may hear in a philosophy of religion class that Peter wasn’t written by Peter, that some of Paul’s letters weren’t written by Paul, and so on. And while that is categorically false, if they can get you to question the authorship, authenticity, inerrancy and authority of Scripture, they can get you to deny Christ, His gospel, and the Christian faith. I don’t want that to happen. So when you hear the Bible cannot be trusted, don’t believe it for a second.
Well, as Peter wrote it, what was his purpose in writing the letter. He tells us in chapter 5, the last part of the book, verse 12, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” You see, his readers were facing severe persecution because of their faith in Jesus. It is challenging to name the name of Christ. So he writes to encourage them in the midst of the persecution to stand firm in the grace of God.
Do good works, that will cost you. Stand firm. Share the good news of Jesus. That will cost you. Stand firm. Jesus set the example for us – they opposed Him, and He endured for us. Stand firm. Yes, you will suffer, but your final salvation will be revealed when Jesus returns. And your faith, though refined like gold, will prove genuine and result in praise and glory. Stand firm. This letter is the perfect letter for us today – how to live as followers of Jesus in an increasingly hostile culture. Stand firm in the grace of God. One of my commentaries says it this way:
“First Peter presents the Christian community as a colony in a strange land, an island of one culture in the midst of another The new birth that gives Christians a new identity and a new citizenship in the kingdom of God, makes us, in whatever culture we happen to live, visiting foreigners and resident aliens there.” (Karen Jobes, I Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Which brings us to the next point, to whom was Peter writing? He tells us in the second part of verse 1, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” Those five regions were Roman provinces in modern-day Turkey. It’s interesting, he lists them in a somewhat clockwise direction, how you would travel to these areas with a circular letter. There’s lots of discussion about why he calls them scattered aliens. Aliens refers to people sojourning, exiled, living temporarily in a place not their home. A place where they did not enjoy the benefits of citizenship, a place where they were often, mistrusted, social outcasts in society. The word is used in Hebrews 11:13, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Verse 14, “For those who say such things make clear they are seeking a country of their own.”
The word scatteredis actually diasporaand was a technical term used of Jews who were scattered from Israel during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. In fact, it’s estimated when Peter wrote his letter in the early 60s, while there were about million Jews in Palestine, there were 3-4 million living outside Palestine – large groups of them in Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey. So, some have suggested, as the Apostle to the Jews, Peter was writing to converted Jews. Possible – but was he only writing to them?
Further, when were these Jews scattered in this diaspora? Many point out they were Jews scattered from Rome when Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of their fighting over a man namedChrestus, perhaps a misspelling of Christus, or Christ? But again, back to the question, were the recipients only Jews? I don’t think so – he also speaks of them as having been redeemed from their empty, idolatrous way of life. So others rightly suggest his recipients were largely Gentile believers.
Regardless, most agree the application to readers today – to us – is this: we are strangers and aliens, scattered and living in this world. This place is not our home – we are citizens of another city, another country, waiting for our salvation yet to be revealed. In the meantime, we live as strangers and aliens, awaiting the return of Christ, doing good deeds, loving one another, serving one another, sharing the gospel so others may join us, and all along, suffering for it. Just like Jesus did. But that’s okay, because the best is yet to come. This is a great letter for us, written to people living in a culture hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
Now, where were these aliens, these sojourners, to whom he writes. This brings us full circle to our introduction. They were living in five Roman provinces north of the Tarsus mountains in Turkey. Three of the provinces are named in the list of people present on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In a couple, Paul did extensive missionary work, planting churches. (Peter)
But you should know, these five provinces were not friends. They didn’t get along, politically, racially, economically. They didn’t speak the same mother tongue – some barely knew Greek. And yet, here we have this letter written to them, together. How can this be? Because, there was more that united them than what divided them. They were followers of Christ – Christians, and that made them family – brothers and sisters in Christ. Their political ideologies, their ethnicities, their economic status, their homeland, their foreign languages – none of that mattered. They were bound together by their relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s my point. Do you feel alone here this morning? You are not alone. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is your family. We belong together. We are a community of believers.
Further, Peter goes on to describe them and their, dare I say, infinite worth because of the Triune God and His work in their salvation. I don’t want to make too much of us – but God did love us so much, that He sent His Son to die for us and our sin, that He might redeem us – a people for Himself. Did you hear that? You are not worthless, you are not insignificant – you are valuable, you are known, and you are loved. Peter is writing to a diverse people, scattered, persecuted for their faith, and he starts by reminding who they are – they’ve not been forgotten, they are His people – and that will be a theme throughout the book.
Look at it – though you are different, from different backgrounds, you together are chosen – literally, you are elect strangers, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by or through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and His gospel, through or in the sprinkling of His blood.
The first thing I want you to notice is the work of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – in your salvation. Unimportant, not valuable, insignificant? Hardly. Now, each of these phrases is referring to your initial salvation – your conversion. (Order of salvation) First, you were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Everyone agrees we were chosen – you can’t deny that it’s all over the Bible. The Israelites were chosen by God to be His people. Here, Peter will use OT concepts to say we are God’s NT chosen people. Now, there has been lots of discussion about this foreknowledge of God. That is, what caused Him to chose us? Was it an active foreknowledge in which God knew you in electing love, and chose you before the foundation of the world to be His child? Or, did God look down the corridors of history to see who would respond to the gospel and choose Christ, and therefore, God chose them?
I happen to think it is the former – that God actively chose you – and predestined you to salvation from eternity past to be saved – that this is what it means to be chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. This is meant to be an encouragement and comfort to these struggling believers. Sometimes, it does the opposite – causing much concern and consternation. But, the point of election is, salvation is God’s work – He brings it about, He insures it, and will therefore keep you safely and securely in His grace. This is meant to encourage us – in the midst of rising opposition, when we will pay for being followers of Jesus – God will keep us – after all, He chose us for salvation a long time ago.
And not only did He chose us – second, but He also saved us by or through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Now usually, when we think of sanctification, we think of the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives, post-
And third, we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit to obey or for obedience to Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. This takes us back to Exodus 24 where Moses instituted the Old Covenant. He had just read the Law to them, and the people responded, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do.” So, to ratify the covenant, Moses offered a sacrifice and sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrifice – behold the blood of the covenant. Here, by the obedience of faith – that, believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are sprinkled with His blood, the blood of the New Covenant. And we are saved. So, we are chosen by the Father. We are sanctified by the Spirit. We are sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. But, there is human responsibility – the responsibility of responding to the gospel through faith.
Meaning, if you don’t like what I said earlier – actually, what Peter said – God chose us – you’ll like this. He chose us to respond in faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And respond we did. Therefore, Peter can give us this blessing: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure. The typical greeting in letters of this day went like this: greetings and peace. But biblical authors took that word, and shortened it to grace. Remember, these people were struggling greatly – maybe you’re struggling greatly – Peter says to you, may God’s unmerited grace toward you and the peace of God which passes understanding be yours in fullest measure. In greatest abundance.
So did you get all that? First Peter was written by the Apostle Peter to Gentile and Jewish believers in five Roman provinces of Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, in the early 60s AD. Persecution was rising – from family, from culture, eventually even from governing structures. It will cost you to be a Christian – to do good and share the gospel. But it’s worth it, because there is a day coming when Jesus will return, and all our faithful endurance will prove the reality of our faith and result in praise and glory to God when Jesus returns. So stand firm in the grace of God. May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.
Not feeling particularly important, significant when you came in? I hope you are as you leave. God loves you because you are a part of a community of His chosen people.
Last thing I’ll say. We are a big church. When we open the new spaces – more room for Little Alliance and Youth – a new auditorium in which we will likely grow – we will be bigger. But I don’t want you to be lost in the crowds. You are important, to us, and more, to Christ. As Pastor Kevin DeYoung recently said, “People will always fall through the cracks of the local church, but let’s do what we can to make sure they are tiny cracks.” You are loved – you are valuable – let’s make room in our lives for one another.