Unchanging Truths in Uncertain Times
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 1:1-2
“Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement.” That was the headline for an article released on April 2 by Euronews.
The article went on to explain that “more than 3.9 billion people, or half of the world's population, have now been asked or ordered to stay at home by their governments.” So, you might say, chances are you’re at home right now listening to this. Now, at the risk of sounding maybe a bit too technical, I would say that many of you listening are not home.
If you have fully and completely trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation, and if you have surrendered your life to Him, God’s message to you is: “You’re not home.” You’re not home. Again, that might sound like some kind of technicality, but, really, it’s such a vital reminder right now. You are not home.
God has revealed His truth to us in the Bible. And that truth speaks to every season and moment of life, including what we’re all going through right now. The Bible never assumes that our life is going to be easy or carefree. God knows this life is going to be filled with challenges. That’s why we have so many psalms dealing with suffering.
In the New Testament, however, one of the books that deals specifically with suffering is the letter we call First Peter. That’s the book we’re going to be studying together during this time and in the months to come.
If you have your Bible with you, go ahead and turn there with me as I help fill in some of the background to this letter. First Peter is a book written to Christians who were suffering. In their case, most of that suffering was coming in the form of persecution for their faith.
We don’t know the exact date this letterwas written, but from what we can tell historically, Peter would have written this sometime in the mid 60s of the first century, when the Roman Emperor was a man named Nero.
In AD 64, there was a massive, destructive fire in Rome. It burned for 6 days, and two-thirds of the city was destroyed. Historians have told us that, in addition to the economic consequences, Nero blamed Christians for the fire and initiated an empire-wide persecution.
Now, that persecution would only really have taken off if there were some pre-existing animosity. So, this letter from Peter could have been written after the fire, when Christians were facing some official persecution, or he could have written the letter just before that when the persecution was happening in private or at the local level. Either way, the people to whom he was writing, were living in a difficult time.
Look with me, for a second, at First Peter, chapter 1 verse 6. Speaking about eternal salvation, Peter says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” They were going through trials.
If you jump over to chapter 2, verse 19, you see Peter mention it again. He writes, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” They were enduring sorrows. They were suffering.
In chapter 3, verse 16, we find that they were being slandered and reviled [calumniados, hablando mal]. They were being attacked for their faith. Chapter 4, verse 4 says the same thing. They were being slandered. They were being maligned.
And then you get verse 12 of chapter 4, which is one of the more well-known passages in this book. First Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Whatever these people were going through at this time, Peter calls it a fiery trial. But he also says they shouldn’t be surprised by it. He’s not saying it shouldn’t hurt or it shouldn’t be difficult. He’s saying that it shouldn’t be a surprise.
This world is filled with pain and sorrow, and with diseases and people who will attack us. But rather than shrink away into some kind of Christian cocoon, God wants us to confront what’s happening by reminding ourselves of the basic truths of our identity in Jesus Christ.
Go back with me to the opening verses of the letter. I’m not sure what my opening words would be to someone who was suffering in a serious way, but this is how God opens this letter, speaking through the Apostle Peter.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
The world was not what these people wanted it to be. The world looked different than what they were hoping for. And things were probably getting worse by the day. But no matter how much things were changing around them in this world, Peter wants to remind them that the great spiritual truths of their life had not changed.
And this is the message we all need to understand. This is God’s message to us. The world is changing right now. The world looks very different now, compared to how it used to. But from a spiritual perspective, things haven’t changed. The things that matter for eternity—they have not changed.
And in His wisdom, God chose Peter as the instrument to give us this message was—a man who previously had been given to change. He knew what it was like to suffer and to be afraid. And he knew what it was like to give in during those moments. He had denied Christ three times, remember? He gave in to his fears. But now, having been restored, he writes this letter to strengthen his Christian brothers around the world.
Again, no matter what’s happening, no matter how much is changing, he reminds them about the unchanging aspects of their Christian life.
Let me share with you six of those aspects. And we see them all in these opening verses. No matter what is happening right now in the world, and in your own life, these are six unchanging truths about our life in Christ.
Unchanging truth number 1 is this: We have been chosen by God. We have been chosen by God.
Peter refers to his readers as being “elect.” To be elect means to be chosen. This is a teaching in the Bible that we find on practically every page. Later, in 1 Peter 2:9, we’ll see that it says, “you are a chosen race.” Well, what does it mean to be God’s chosen ones? What does it mean to be God’s elect?
The Bible teaches that when any person comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, ultimately, it was because God had chosen him for that salvation. The final credit for our salvation doesn’t go to us; it goes to God. Like I said, this teaching is found all over the Bible, but one specific passage is Ephesians 1, verses 3-6. Here’s what it says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Everything God has done is “to the praise of His glorious grace.” We were supposed to be condemned for our sin. But God, for no reason outside of His own desire, chose to save us. And He made that choice before creation.
Ultimately, our salvation was not a result of our own choice; it was a result of God’s choice. That doesn’t rule out our own decision-making process, but it places out human choice under the umbrella of God’s choice. We chose to come to Christ, because, first, God chose to save us.
He chose to bring us the gospel, and He chose to open our blind hearts to the truth. And since salvation is ultimately because of God’s choice, He gets the praise, and it can’t change. It can’t be undone. God’s eternal decree, His eternal purposes cannot be thwarted.
Jesus says in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus recognized that He had come to fulfil God’s eternal plan, and nothing was going to stop that. Just like Jesus Himself had Peter as an Apostle, God has also chosen every single person who would come to salvation. So, no matter how much this world changes, if you have trusted in Christ, you can rest in the confidence of this unchanging truth: You have been chosen by God eternally.
Let’s look now at a second unchanging truth. We have been placed by God. We have been placed by God. Peter reminds the people that we’re not only elect, we are “exiles of the dispersion.” New American Standard says we “reside as aliens, scattered.”
Peter wrote this letter, knowing that there were Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire, and he particularly wrote to the Christians in modern Turkey. That’s where all those regions are that he mentions: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
It seems, though, that these people were not Israelite exiles. They were heavenly exiles. Their true home was not in this world. Later on, in 1 Peter 2, Peter is going to call them “aliens and strangers.” Other translations use the word “pilgrims.”
Well, that truth still applies to us today. We are pilgrims, passing through this world. Our true home is to be with Christ. We are not of this world. We will never be fully at peace here. We are exiles. We have been scattered. Well, how in the world is that supposed to be a comforting thought? That sounds more like something to grieve. Where’s the good news?
Here’s the good news: This dispersion is only temporary, and it does not negate God’s care for us. God is still watching over us. A dispersion is a scattering. It’s when a group of people are dispersed. From the human side, seeing a people displaced from their home can be a sad thing. But biblically, whenever God’s people are dispersed, it’s part of God’s plan. It’s never something that surprises Him.
Israel was dispersed in the Old Testament because of her sin. The Babylonians took them into exile, out of their land as part of God’s discipline for them. In the New Testament, Christian Jews were scattered in the land because of persecution. You can read about that in Acts 8, after Stephen is put to death. Both dispersions were connected to someone’s sin, but they were also both part of God’s plan.
In Acts 8, it says “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” God had a plan in all of this.
Our human tendency, especially in difficult times, is to think or act as if God isn’t in charge anymore, or He doesn’t know what He’s doing. That’s not the case. God has, in His perfect wisdom, placed you right where you are today. In Acts 17:26, Paul says God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”
God has placed every nation in the world. And He has placed you right where you are for His purposes—in that family, in that neighborhood, in that job, and wherever else. So, rather than complain or despair about our situation, we need to seek how to please God right where we are. God has not lost sight of us. He has placed His people all across this world so that we can live and preach for the glory of Christ. He has not forgotten us. He has placed right where we are.
Let’s move on to unchanging truth number 3. We have been chosen. We have been placed. Number 3, we have been loved. We have been loved. Christians are elect, Christians are scattered exiles, and now, Peter says, Christians have been chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
What does that mean? Well, I want you to pay attention, because this is an important topic that is commonly misunderstood. Foreknowledge is knowing something ahead of time. It’s knowing something beforehand.
Some people think of God’s foreknowledge as Him knowing who will come to salvation, and then, on that basis, He chooses to save them. There are a couple problems with that view though.
First of all, if God’s choice were dependent on our choice, hat would be the opposite of what it means to be sovereign. And secondly, that view ignores the teaching of passages like Romans 3 or Ephesians 2 which say that the human heart does not seek after God on its own. Unbelievers are dead to sin, blind to the truth.
The best understanding of foreknowledge is that it’s talking, not just about informational knowledge, but about relational knowledge. In the Bible, the word “know” is used at times to talk about an intimate relationship.
Sometimes that intimacy includes a physical component, like when Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived. Or when it says that Joseph “did not know” Mary until after she gave birth to Jesus.
Other times, that word “know” is simply highlighting a close relationship. Like when Jesus says to sinners in Matthew 7, “I never knew you.” Obviously, Jesus knows everything about everybody, but He’s saying there was no intimacy there.
In John 10, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.”
So, when the Bible talks about foreknowledge, it’s not just talking about knowing what we are going to do; it’s talking about a predetermined, preordained relationship of love.
I think we get a good understanding of foreknowledge if we skip down to verse 20. There, it’s talking about Jesus who gave His life, and it says, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”
God “foreknew” Jesus. Those two members of the Trinity existed in perfect love for all eternity, and yet the plan was that Christ would leave the glory of heaven and come to this world for sinners.
We also have Romans 8:29 which says that God foreknew us and predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. [a los que de antemano conoció, también los predestinó a ser hechos conforme a la imagen de Su Hijo]
God didn’t just foreknow what we would do, He had a foreknowledge of us as persons. God, in His sovereignty, chose to save sinners and to unite them to Himself in love. This is an eternal love, that existed before we even came into this world.
To give a human example, it’s like a father and a mother who love their child before he has even come into this world. They have already determined how they will respond to the baby.
In Jeremiah 1:5, speaking of God’s call in the prophet’s life, it says this: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
If you trust in Jesus Christ, know that God has a unique, unchanging love for you. Before the creation of this world, He decided and decreed that He would save you and love you forever. That’s what it means to be chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
For those of you who are parents, have you ever wanted to throw something away, but your kid begged you to let him or her keep it. Maybe it was some broken, old toy, or a coloring page. And because of the persistence of your child, you decide not to throw it away. You do it somewhat reluctantly.
That is NOT how God chose to save us. God never said, “Well, I hate these sinners, but for the sake of showing them my grace, I’ll spare them.” That’s not his attitude. He set His eternal love on us, and chose to save us. He predetermined to unite us to Christ. And then, being “in Him” He set His love on us. We are loved by our heavenly Father. We have been loved for all eternity.
Well, I told you earlier that there were six unchanging truths in these two verses, and there are. But in the interest of time, we’re going to have to wait on the second half. More than likely, we’ll have a midweek message come out in a few days, and we’ll finish off this list. And then, we will be looking more closely at verse 3 on Easter Sunday.
This is a good time, I think to plug our First Peter study guide. It’s a free resource on our website. It’s a booklet that gives you thirteen lessons through this epistle, including study questions with answers in the back, and discussion questions for your conversations with others.
First Peter is a book you want to be acquainted with right now. It’s going to strengthen you. It’s going to equip you. And it’s going to comfort you with the heavy and unchanging truths of Jesus Christ. These are truths like the ones we’ve been talking about today.
There is so much going on in the world, but God’s eternal truths haven’t changed for those that love Him. We have been chosen by God. We have been placed by God. And we have been loved by God… Let’s pray together.
Father, Your truth lifts our eyes out of this world and onto Your glory. There is nothing going on right now that You don’t already know about and are not using for Your glory. You have an eternal, sovereign, unchanging plan, and yet you also choose to use us as instruments within that plan.
What a mystery, Father, and what a blessing! No matter what has happened, we are eternally secure because of what You have done in Jesus Christ. We continue to pray that You would use this time to turn hearts toward You. May our lives look different than those of the world, and may you give us open doors to proclaim the truth.
We trust in You, Lord, and we ask for the grace to stay faithful to You in these times. Bring to our minds, regularly, the truth that we have been chosen and placed and loved by You, right where we are. May that minister to our souls and compel us to serve You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.