Introduction: Canonical Context of Birth.
Many of us grew up learning about the background of Jesus’ birth. But one of the things that gets lost in the story is the OT warning that Jesus would be born into a historical hostile world. A great place to get a description of this is in Isaiah 9.2-7. Verse 2 tells us, “The people who walked in DARKNESS have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of DEEP DARKNESS on them has light shone.” Verse 4 tells us Jesus will have a yoke of burden, and a rod of oppression. While Isaiah 9 is full of magnificent, hopeful joy, peace and prosperity, we quickly see all of this required Jesus to journey through a world of hostility—of deep darkness.
Not only was Jesus born into a hostile world, but it was personally hostile toward Him. Jesus, like anyone of us, was born into our world as an innocent child. A baby is not born ready to commit malicious attacks on someone with their words—I mean they cannot even speak yet. But in Matthew we learn that the political leader during Jesus’ birth attempted to murder Him even before he knew him. Herod ordered a regional genocide in attempt to murder Jesus. Here is what Matthew 2.13 tells us, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”—Matthew 2.13 Jesus was born into a hostile world, and we all have been born into this same world. But the next layer of this is if you have been born again, if you have become a Christian, the hostility of the world has not diminished, but increased. That is what we will discussing from I Peter today. The birth of Christ only escalated the world’s hostility toward God and His people.
Theme: Christians are reborn into an escalated hostile world as exiles.
1. Our Exiled Identity.
We do not have any biblical record of churches being planted in the region Peter is writing too, so we are uncertain where these Christians came from. The most prominent theory is they were relocated by the Roman Empire. Essentially their were some Christians in Rome that the government did not want them there anymore. Rome would at times get overpopulated, and they would relocate people. No one liked this, because they would leave everything they worked so hard for behind. So, the government thought since most people did not like Christians, “Hey, nobody will miss the Christians, let’s just relocate them.” This seems to make sense because historically Peter was the pastor in Rome, so he would have had a very personal relationship with these people.
As their former pastor, how does Peter attempt to encourage them as he opens his letter? He takes an OT identity and uses it as a point of reference for their new identity as God’s people—READ I Peter 1.1-3. These Christians are “elect exiles,” which is phrase taken from the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Esther, Jeremiah, and etc. He goes on to say God has caused them to be “born again to a living hope.” Their living hope is Jesus Christ “sprinkled blood,” which is a way of saying of reminding them Jesus bought their peace with God. Their most hostile relationship, and our most hostile relationship, is with God. But Jesus’ blood was spilled to bring about that peace. God was so pleased with His sacrificial obedience, so He rewarded Him with a “resurrection from the dead.” Jesus was born to accomplish all this. Jesus left the comfort and peace of heaven, the perfect presence of the Father and Spirit, for this. Peter wants His people to understand that to be born again into a living hope means we are reborn into the same escalated hostile world as Jesus. We are exiles living in a foreign land.
Let’s remember these Christians were not facing physical dangerous persecution, but social rejection and suspicion. In many ways this is our context today in the western world. We do not face physical dangerous persecution for our faith in the western world, but we are rejected outcast. If we mention we are Christians we will be watched with a suspicious eye. If we attempt to engage the conversations of our society on general human flourishing we will be cast aside very quickly. We might hear statements like, “what does religion have to do with this?” Our western culture has become suspicious of strict orthodox religious claims. The religion of our country is pluralism—meaning, “all thoughts are created equal.”
What this has done to the church is water down our evangelism. Secularism is not the problem of America, like it is in Europe. No, nominalism is our problem. This means we still live in a cultural Christian nation, which is slowly moving toward a post-Christian culture. The great European church planter, Steve Timmis, explains where he believes this stems from. He does this by looking at Church history. Timmis says the Reformation was vital in restoring robust Gospel-centered theology, but there was not a recovery of Gospel-centered mission. He believes this was because many of the Reformers believed if you were born into a Christian family or nation, then you were a Christian until you ought right rejected it. Ministry became more pastoral than evangelistic. We must not forget Europe at one time was HIGHLY culturally Christian, but today it is VERY far from that. So, one might ask, “Where do you think America is headed?”
America is where Europe used to be, which means we are a cultural Christian nation. Our presidential candidates will still say, “God bless America.” But because we a culturally Christian nation many people who are born into families that have been historically Christian believe they are Christians. You combine that with the watered down Gospel, watered down doctrine, and watered down evangelism that we all have been taught. The result of this is we have MANY people deceived to believe they are Christians when they are not. We wonder why we are not seeing more people come to Christ. We wonder why revival is not breaking out in our country like it is across the globe. It is because we are making more attempts to reach nominal cultural Christians than those who ought right reject the claims of Christ.
Why is that? Bottom line—it makes us comfortable. It is so much easier to spend time around people who look like us, act like us, and talk like us. We might even think, “Well, that is how I came to Christ, so why not someone else.” We build philosophies of ministry around this idea. The only way we can “evangelize” more people is to have bigger productions. We need to have a better band than the other church, we need to have a better small group ministry, we need to have a better youth group, kids program, and the list goes on and on. Most churches are just stuffing more and more people who are already Christian or nominally Christian into their doors, so they can combine their resources to accomplish bigger programs. But historically speaking we need to consider the ministries of the Great Awakening. The ministries of Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, and so many more. They went to places where they KNEW the lost were, preached the Gospel, and saw many come to Christ. They had many HOURS of prayer begging the LORD for revival in their midst. They would preach the Gospel in prisons, amphitheaters, because the church would not let them preach. They went to the exiles of society because they embraced they are exiles. They went to the people society rejected, because they knew that is there identity.
2. Our Secured Inheritance.
This identity as exiles is not the only truth in our text today. One of the things we learn about the Great Awakening is the people involved had a robust Gospel-centered theology, built on the foundation of the reformers, that led to a robust Gospel-centered missiology. One of those foundations is found right here in I Peter 1.4-9 [READ]. They believed their salvation was SECURE. In the words of Jonah 2.9, “salvation belongs to the LORD.” God “ELECTS”, I Peter 1.1. God has CAUSED us to be born again to a living hope, I Peter 1.3. God KEEPS our inheritance heaven for us, I Peter 1.4. In the midst of all of that we see we have a part to play. I Peter 1.6-9 uses VERY intentional language that humanity must persevere in their faith. We must go through the TEST. We must make it through the fires of affliction. We are to LOVE Him. We are to BELIEVE in Him. We are to EXPRESS joy in Him. Coupled with God’s sovereignty is always man’s responsibility. The Bible teaches us these work together. This is vitally important to embracing a missionary identity. We must acknowledge God, and God alone, saves people, but we must also acknowledge He does that through us. We must be joyfully obedient instruments like our Savior.
3. Our Service of Preaching.
This brings us to our last observation from this text today—READ I Peter 1.10-12. Once again Peter goes to some OT imagery here to convey to us NT truth. The prophets had the ministry of encouraging God’s people to look forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. Verse 12 tells us they were not serving themselves in this, but us. They would not get to see Jesus’ earthly ministry, but told people about it, so they knew what to look for. Peter says Christians have taken over this ministry. Peter goes on to say, “the things that have now been announced to you THROUGH those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit.” Once again we see the responsibility of man and sovereignty of God working together here. The message was PREACHED through people, and but the Holy Spirit is working through them. Now look, I don’t understand how all that works, but that is what the Bible says. God has given us an inheritance to steward. The inheritance God gave us is a message He wants us to proclaim. Jesus birth was the beginning of this message. Listen once again to what the book of Isaiah tells us:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.—Isaiah 61.1
While Jesus was born into a hostile world, His birth was the beginning of God bringing peace into the world. God anointed Jesus to proclaim good news to the poor. According to Isaiah Jesus was the suffering servant, and guess what is our identity? We have been born again to be suffering servants. The prophets who truly proclaimed the message of God were treated like exiles especially among those who were nominally God’s people. Friends, if we have been elected like them, caused to be born again like them, then we will suffer like them. We are an exiled family called to proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. As we explore more of I Peter this Christmas we will learn more details about what that means.