od's people have believed that the Bible is relevant for all times and seasons. That's why Jesus' parables are timeless and the lessons and teachings of the prophets are just as important today as centuries before Jesus came. I'm going to invite you to join me in studying "First Peter" because it seems to speak to situations we face in our day-and-age.
In the face of a multicultural climate, where everyone is told to "co-exist", we need to hear the unique claim of Christ. In our culture where believers are put down, vilified, joked about, and sometimes actively attacked it is necessary to hear Peter's word of hope securely guarded by God Himself.
Peter isn't writing to a particular church or city. His letter is to be circulated in the various regions listed. It was for believers who had been "dispersed", perhaps after one of the smaller persecutions like in Acts 6.
Peter understands God's mercy and this mercy is the source of our new birth. Of all the apostles I can imagine Peter remembered his denial of Christ in the most stinging manner and the grace Jesus offered him. Peter, likely present when Nicodemus came to Jesus, heard the Lord say, "You must be born again."
This birth leads us into a "living hope" and a "protected inheritance" [vv. 3-4]. It's a vital, invigorating and active hope. Bob Coleman sent me an email that reminded me that there is no test for death. A doctor looks for signs of life. When there are no signs of life the person is dead.
In the Bible "hope" never means crossing your fingers and wishing. It's not dreaming or fantasizing what life would be like "if only". It is a true and certain future. It is God's good and perfect plan coming to fullness in His, God's time, not ours. This living hope is one sign of life that we have indeed been born again.
The second phrase Peter uses to describe this birth is an inheritance that is guarded by God [v. 4]. God does three things when it comes to the inheritance that he's given us. It's kept indestructible, pure and undefiled. The second two words convey the idea of something kept clean, bright, perfectly preserved and ready for its original purpose.
In the 1500's Michelangelo and other painters created some of the most recognizable art in the western world when they painted the Sistine chapel. Yet problems were noticed early on with cracks and staining. 1625 cloth and bread were used to wipe away the grime. The 1700's saw sponges dipped in Greek wine. December 1999 saw yet another cleaning. And when the ceiling was unveiled after difference caused some to say "Every book on Michelangelo will have to be rewritten".
Sometimes Christians have fallen into a cultic practice of thinking that everything should be wonderful for Jesus people. Illness, broken autos and marriage problems just don't happen if you believe enough. If you're in that camp, I'm sorry but you're wrong. Peter tackles real life, and the trials and troubles that go with it straight on when he admits that his readers will suffer grief. He could very well have in mind persecutions in areas that threatened the lives of those who named Jesus as Lord.
But early persecution and troubles weren't always physical. Jews who followed Christ were often kicked out the synagogue and even their families. They would lose their sense of culture and identity. Gentile believers, who made their living off of various temples and idolatry, could well find themselves out of a job. Early on those who knew nothing about the church accused Christians of being atheists after all they had many gods, including Caesar. To not worship Caesar was sometimes considered treason. Some believed that communion was actually a cannibalistic ritual.
It's the same way today. Our world doesn't understand how we can love a sinner but not approve of the lifestyle or sins. We claim it because we know we're sinners saved by grace. Some assume Christian Fundamentalists are just like Islamic fundamentalists and that those who protest US military funeral services with pickets and shouting are the norm for us.
Other believers suffer much worse. Think of the honor killings which happen among those who dishonor their family by converting to Christianity. Or the lives of those children some of us visited with at Sunset Presbyterian yesterday in the World Vision Experience. I can't help but hear Pastor Stratton say, "Jesus didn't ask the blind man how he became blind. Maybe the doctor gave him bad blood. Maybe he made a sinful choice. Does it matter? Should it matter?"
I was introduced to Princess Zulu, that's her name not her title. She has become a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS awareness and education among many. Her parents died from AIDS when she was 14. Her life went from a well to do middle class existence to poverty. When she was 17 she realized to survive she'd have to get married. She marrying a man 25 years older who's previous two wives died of AIDS. Although she and her husband are both HIV positive she doesn't spend time blaming others.
She told us last Friday that the saddest thing was that when she went to her church seeking comfort and understanding she was told she couldn't be there. Think that's bad listen to this. In 2002, the Barna Research Group was commissioned by World Vision to do a study to determine the willingness of the Christian community in the U.S. to get involved in fighting the AIDS epidemic.
When evangelical Christians were asked whether they would be willing to donate money to help children orphaned by AIDS, only 3 percent answered that they definitely would. More than half said that they probably or definitely would not help. The survey found that by many measures, non-Christians were more inclined to help.
I'm going to move ahead to verse 13 because it is the practical outliving of this new birth. "Therefore prepare your minds for action" this is the response of those who have grieved, suffered, loved Christ even without seeing, and who are filled with a joy beyond understanding. Our salvation, given by God, no earned, is something so wonderful and mysterious Peter tells us "angels long to look into these things." If we have received this new birth then our minds are prepared for action. So are we prepared? Are our minds in the right place? Are we ready for action?
What does it mean to be prepared for action? Peter tells us that it is living life with a sense of self-control, our hope fixated on the grace to be given and our holiness. We are suddenly back in verse 3. God "has given us new birth" [past tense/completed action]. Here the grace is future, "to be given". How can that be? It's because we live in two realities. We are in the world but not part of it. We are citizens of heaven and yet subject to and praying for all kings, authorities and rulers. The kingdom of God is present among us and yet to come. Eternal life is spoken about in the present tense and yet it's fullness isn't realized till we are in Christ's presence.
Then we're told to be holy. There are two possibilities for us. We are conformed to the evil desires or to God. There is no middle way. We live either dedicated to God's service or to something less and therefore profane. If you've been reading the bible with us you'll remember all the items made for the tabernacle. How they were "holy unto the Lord". They were created for one thing and one thing only, to serve God. This is what holiness is all about at the most basic level.
It's not about not sinning. That comes about as we grow, mature and realize how much of our life is not controlled by the Holy Spirit. That aspect of holiness says a lot about any claim to holiness we might make. What God is telling us is that to be prepared for action is to be ready to be used by God, as He desires. The tabernacle had the covering of the ark and lamp stands. It had plates for the bread and a place to put the ashes after the sacrifice. It had the curtains and the polls with which to carry the parts. What part was most holy? It was all holy because it was all set apart for God and God alone.
What will it take for us to let our lives be used by God? Will we have to quit whining about bad things? Will we have to get a job we may not enjoy? Will we have to make hard choices about friends, habits and lifestyle? Will we have to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto others? Yes, I believe it means all of this and much, much more. The choice is ours to either sit back and do nothing or live out the hope God's given to us.
 http://www.robertfulford.com/restore.html accessed April 11, 2008
 Justin Martyr, Apology, 1.6. Stevenson, 60
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis, 3. Stevenson, p.67. See also Eusebius. The History of the Church London: Penguin, 1986, p.95. These were also reasons given by Nero for the persecution of Christians
 http://www.beliefnet.com/story/136/story_13645.html accessed April 11, 2008