We begin our first sermon series of the 2016 year this coming Sunday. It will be seven weeks in duration and cover the book of 1 Peter. The title is “Chosen Strangers.”
Our introduction says:
What does it mean to be a Christian in a changing world? Frustrated by the loss of “traditional” society, many of Christ’s followers find themselves wrestling with fear and anger.
We’re not alone in this. Early Christians would often refer to the Roman society as “Babylon”—a world whose stories, whose values ran counter to the character of Christ. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest followers, and in the early days of the Church he wrote a letter of encouragement. He describes Christians as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1)—strangers to the world, yet chosen by a loving God. Christians therefore greet suffering not with clenched fists, but with soft hearts, knowing that our hurt is only for “a little while,” while our hope stretches into eternity.
In 1 Peter, what’s old is new again: the timeless message of the gospel offers hope for a world that presses us toward anger and despair.
In the opening two verses of the letter, we see to whom Peter was writing:
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.
Let me tell you a little bit about Cappadocia, which is in modern Turkey – toward the central / eastern border. The other regions spoken of would be to the north and west of the regions within Asia Minor, which is in modern Turkey – an area beyond where Paul established the churches to whom many of the New Testament letters are written.
Cappadocia is a very unique place – a place where the church flourished amongst pagan beliefs, and a place where Christians were terribly persecuted. They literally hid in cities underground, worshipping in churches carved out of the rocks.
I was there in the late 90s with a group of pastors and missions leaders, as our denomination was looking to build a Christian history center in this region, with a view toward a church planting movement.
The best description I could give for what it looks like is to recall the cartoon “The Flintstones.” Cappadocia actually looks like Bedrock. People live in caves, and unique rock formations are everywhere. In underground cities, hundreds of people lived in multiple levels of a labyrinth of caves. While there, we sat in a historic cave church with art on the walls and ceilings, and we read aloud this letter.
1st Peter was written to both Jewish and Gentile converts, believers who have grown in their faith, and yet were challenged to press further in their understanding. They were challenged to truly separate from the sinful world and to pursue holiness, understanding also that suffering for their faith was a common outcome of possessing a faith originally forged in the suffering of Christ himself.
Peter encouraged the Cappadocians to live like Christ in humble service, enduring the temporary sufferings of the present world for an eternal reward and crown. And that is a timeless message that is tremendously practical for our day.
Our devotional series over the next seven weeks will cover the book of 1 Peter and related themes over 28 writings, both by Randy and Chris. Each week you will find them early in the morning Mondays through Thursdays.