As Christians our life should have a Celestial City Focus
Intro: Well morning friends ands visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of 1 Peter – remembering that as Christians we are PRECIOUS to God, even when we go through difficulties. And as Christians our real story begins when Jesus returns (or we die and cross over the Jordan) into the life that never ends…
Prayer: Well last week – I explained that 1 & 2 Peter are a bit like the story of CHRISTIAN in the famous book – Pilgrims Progress. About 40 of us gathered and watched the movie on Friday night. As Christians (like Christian in the movie) we are PILGRIMS on a journey headed for a celestial city, which the Bible calls heaven. So look at what Peter says – at the end of his second book (Slide 2 – 2Pet.3:13). Notice the word home. Our true home is heaven or the new creation. Peter explains we are like exiles and strangers passing through this world – as we head for true home – the home of righteousness. But are we really? Are we really LOOKING FORWARD to our new home of righteousness.
Every couple of years the US seems to come out with another near death story of someone going to heaven. (Slide 3) In 2004, Baptist Pastor Don Piper released a book called “90 Minutes in Heaven” after he was pronounced dead in a terrible car crash. Now whether this story is true or not, my question is simply can you imagine 90 minutes in heaven? How will you feel? What or who might you see? Do you ralise that is your true home. Not here.
Then of course, there is the famous story of Colton Burpo; Heaven is for real (ENTER; released in 2010). Colton again – had some sort of near death experience – in an appendectomy surgery. He reported seeing Jesus and spoke about meeting a sibling who had died in childbirth. This surprised the parents because they had never told Colton about the death of his older sibling. But who will we meet and see when we finally get to our true home?
Unfortunately, some people like ALEX MALARKEY (ENTER) in “the Boy who came back from Heaven” later admitted the whole story was made up in order to sell books and make money. So naturally, I am a little bit cynical with some of these stories. The Bible is clear that NO EYE has seen, NO EAR heard and NO MIND conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. So I’d be a bit careful with these stories because these people are claiming they have seen and they do understand. But truth is – we don’t believe in heaven because of people’s NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES. We believe in heaven because Jesus and the Bible talk about heaven. This is our true home.
But unfortunately, our affluence and wealth leads many Christians in the west to try to create heaven on earth. Many of us have the resources to create pretty good HOMES for our self, here and now. So, we stop travelling and we start building short of the celestial city. Or things go bad and we lose our home, or we lose the sense of being home in this world (and then we despair or we get angry).
This is my best guess on the Christians in 1 Peter. They had nice, comfortable homes and lives in Rome which they lost and are now grieving as exiles in norther Turkey. But they’re thinking is all wrong. Neither Rome or northern Turkey (or Sydney for that matter) is a Christians true home. We are not settlers, we are pilgrims. In this world we are not meant to be home builders. We are meant to be missionary travellers.
Point 1: As Christians we must remain Singing and Joyful Pilgrims
Show: 1 Pet.1:1-6 (READ)
Explain: Well in verse 1 Peter writes to those “SCATTERED” in northern Turkey. The Greek word is DIASPORA. It is a technical word for Jews who live outside the promised land of Israel. The apostle James uses the same technical word DIASPORA in the opening verse of his book. He writes “to the 12 tribes “of the Diaspora…” But the ESV and Holman translations of the Bible (are the only translations) that get this right in both books. The Holman Bible even has a footnote in 1 Peter that says THE DIASPORA means Jewish people scattered in Gentile territories. So we know Peter is writing to Jewish Christians…
But we want to be careful that we don’t OVERPLAY the fact that they are Jewish. Peter is not writing to them because they are Jewish. He is writing to them because they are Christians who need to be encouraged. As you can see in verse 2 – Peter focus’ on their CHRISTIAN IDENTITY. These particular Jews – have been CHOSEN by God – to experience the SANCTIFYING WORK of the Holy Spirit – for OBEDIENCE to Jesus Christ and SPRINKLING with his blood. This is like a double choosing. Not only are they part of the chosen Jewish people, they have also been chosen by God for personal salvation.
While these Jews were still SELF-RIGHTEOUS, LEGALISTIC, SINNERS – the Holy Spirit came into their life and gradually drew them to accept Jesus as their King (who they now obey) and their Saviour (who sprinkles them with his blood. So these Christian Jews are like the TWICE CHOSEN. Jews are not automatically saved by their status of being Jews. Like all of us – Jews also need to recognize they are sinners in need of a Saviour. They need to understand Jesus died for their sins on the cross. And then they need to cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness and repent of their sins. This is how people are saved. This is how you can be saved as well. But to be saved – you need to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord – because this is how people are born again. Now have you done that?
Look again at verse 3 (Slide 7; 1 Pet.1:3-4) READ). AFTER THE INTRO – this is where the letter properly begins. Peter tells them to be singing, joyful pilgrims (whatever their circumstances) because they are born again. Yes. You may be exiles, scattered in northern Turkey and far from your proper home. But let’s begin by resetting your attitude of gratitude. Christian Pilgrims should have an attitude of gratitude, praise and joy…
For a group of people who have most probably been exiled from Rome and ended up strangers in northern Turkey – I suspect there was a lot of bitchin and moaning taking place. Exactly like – Israel in the wilderness – I can imagine they were complaining about manna again and quail again. And how much better everything used to be in Egypt, I mean back in Israel, I mean back in Rome. So Peter is like – suck it up princess! You’ve been born again into a living hope and a great inheritance…,
This is all a matter of perspective and focus. Our world is constantly teaching us to be discontent. It’s called marketing. It’s called the desires of the flesh. And so, companies encourage you to be permanently discontent in order to get you to spend money on things that don’t satisfy. Or Satan tries to make you discontent in order to get you doing dumb things, that also don’t satisfy. Same. Same. But have you ever stopped to consider as a Christian whether you are really discontent? OR is it just people telling you, you are discontent? And what is contentment? A very simple question is do you think you will be more content focussing on what you don’t have or more content focusing on what you do have? (PAUSE). Well, that’s your choice. Are you wise or are you dumb?
Peter begins by reminding these Christians what they do have AND why they should Praise God! They may no longer have Rome, but they have been born again into the living hope of resurrection and a great inheritance that can’t be lost. This resurrection hope really is an existentially important gift of God. Without the hope of resurrection – life itself is meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.
Death ultimately swallows up all our hopes, dreams and meaning in life. It leaves us in existential crisis. What is the purpose of life – if in the end I die? Why do I exist – for just a brief moment – in this vast universe? As the biblical book of Ecclesiastes explains life lived in the valley of the shadow of death (and without hope) is existentially meaningless. Get married – meaningless meaningless. Get your much longed for, perfect career. Meaningless. Meaningless. Buy a nice Porsche – still meaningless, meaningless. The grave simply swallows up all meaning – and leaves us wondering why do “I exist” for this short span of years under the sun. And no one has any answers.
But Peter reminds us that in Jesus – you have actually been liberated from this most banal and depressing way to do life. As Christians you are on a journey that now ends in life, not death. That changes everything. What’s more Paul goes on and reminds us we have been brought into an inheritance – that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you. In other words – the death and corruption of this world – cannot steal it from you. While the grave steals from most people everything they have ever acquired or done (and renders it meaningless) – our hope and inheritance in Christ is secure. So again – rejoice.
Illustrate: Two weeks ago I watched a movie on Netflix (that came out in 2022) – called “Everything, everywhere, all at once.” (Slide 8) The movie did average in gross sales. But I was watching it because it is the most critically acclaimed movie ever made (EVER MADE) – winning just about every accolade possible. Now in my opinion its not a great movie in the normal sense of movie-going. But the reason it has won so many awards is that it deals with the philosophical concepts of existentialism, absurdism and nihilism and basically reaches the same conclusion that King Solomon reached in Ecclesiastes – Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is Meaningless. That is the overall message of the movie and it obviously has resonated with a lot of people. People are feeling life is meaningless. And it is. Life without God and life swallowed up in death is ultimately meaningless
Apply: Paul concludes this opening note of praising God and being a singing pilgrim – in verse 6, saying (READ – 1Pet.1:6). As Christians we do have a joy (and meaning in life) that others lack. Paul says hold on to that note of joy. Keep praising God – even though life throws up a few tears and a few bumps along the way. Remember what God has given you – is already better than anything this world offers (including Rome; or career or marriage). So be a singing, joyful pilgrim! But are you? Are you a singing pilgrim or are you a winging, whining wilderness wanderer (like Israel in the Old Testament?) You know, that after everything God has already done for you, He deserves better from you? If you are always a winging, whining Christian – repent. Remember what you actually have in Christ and restore your attitude of gratitude.
Point 2: As Christians our Faith is being refined through Difficulty
Show: 1Pet.1:7-9 (READ)
Explain: Well Peter has reminded us why we should rejoice and praise God on the journey, irrespective of our circumstances. We have been set free from the existential crises of most and we have a future that is guaranteed. But this then brings us to perhaps the next biggest question in life (under the sun). Why suffering? If the world has come into existence and I only exist for 70-80 years – how do I process suffering and what is its purpose? Again, this is usually the atheists – favourite stone to throw at Christians. If God is good like you claim – why does he let people suffer?
Now that is a great question and the answer to that question is complex. But I’d throw back at the atheist that at least Christians have an answer. The atheist has no answer for suffering. There is no purpose in suffering and there is no way to process suffering without it dragging you into the pit of despair. Combine the existential crisis with real suffering and the atheist has no answer except what is called nihilism (which in suffering expresses itself in euthanasia and suicide). There is no point to suffering whatsoever the only option is to end it – here let me get you a gun, a rope or a lethal drug cocktail.
But Peter gives us better, more hopeful answers. Now ultimately Peter answers the why of suffering question – in the last chapter of 2 Peter. He explains God hates suffering and could end suffering for us immediately if he chose. But the only way to end suffering in this world is for Jesus to return and impose his authority and kingship on everyone. Now if Jesus returned immediately that would be good for all of us who are Christians. We would receive blessing from Jesus as our King. But if Jesus returned immediately that would be bad, real bad for everyone who is not a Christian. Jesus kingship and authority would express itself in punishment of all those who remain hostile and in opposition to God. So the answer to suffering is that it is caused by people being in rebellion against God. Of course, God could put down this rebellion in a heartbeat – but God in his mercy is putting off this day of judgment, so more and more people can willingly come under the Kingship of Jesus.
So as Christians we asked to put up with suffering in this world (for just a little bit longer, so a few more people can be saved). But here (in the opening chapter) Peter simply gives two reasons for not despairing (and opting for nihilism) in difficulty. First, suffering and troubles refine our faith, so our faith becomes stronger and more pure. As we faithfully endure hardship remaining faithful singing pilgrims (we gradually begin to see that in and through every hardship there is a silver lining). In and through every difficulty we face as Christians God is using that to either improve us as people or make us more able to love and help other people. For instance, some abuse I experienced as a child – means that I can now understand and help others in ways that those who haven’t been abused – can’t. So, as we live by faith in Jesus (even through difficulties) our faith grows and becomes more optimistic in all circumstances. It is refined and it matures. So we keep singing because we know God is bringing good out of bad.
But second, Peter says our genuine faith (expressed even in difficulty) will ultimately bring real praise, glory and honor to Jesus when he returns. Do you remember the book of Job (in the Old Testament).
Satan says to God – the only reason Job honors you – is that his life is free from suffering. Satan says, take away any bit of the blessing and Job will curse you to your face. God says, no he has real faith and real love for me (as me); not just the things I give him. So Satan starts taking things away from Job – and yet he keeps trusting God – proving his faith is real and proving God is worthy of praise, glory and honour – not simply for the things He gives, but for He is in Himself. So when we continue in faith, even in the midst of suffering, we are rubbing Satan’s nose it. We are proving that we really do love and trust God in all circumstances. So as Christians we endure suffering in the knowledge it is refining us and in the knowledge that we are bring glory to God, and shame to Satan. And in this knowledge that the victory over is evil is won and is being won by our faith we find more and more joy, rather than the more and more despair that comes with nihilism. So we press on as pilgrims;
Point 3: As Christians we know that Suffering, precedes Glory
Show: 1 Pet.1:10-12 (READ)
Explain: Well Peter now reminds them that in Scripture (whether Old Testament Jewish Scripture) or New Testament (apostolic Scripture) suffering always precedes glory in the messianic story. The Jewish people (as the embryonic Christ figure) start life as slaves, suffering in Egypt, before they entered the glory of being the supreme nation on earth – under King David and King Solomon. The prophetic story of the Jewish Messiah begins in the struggle and pains of Isaiah 53, before it enters the glory of Zion in Isaiah 54, Isaiah 60 or the new heavens and new earth of Isaiah 65. Even in the New Testament the Messianic story of the cross, precedes the story of resurrection and Jesus gaining the name that is above all names. Of Christianity, becoming the biggest religion in the world today. The Christian story, the messianic story – has humble beginnings in suffering.
But in each case – God is glorified and the sufferers are glorified in what God ultimately does with very broken, pathetic, despicable by the worlds standards – through his grace (and by our faith).
As Paul comes to grasp in Corinthians – God says to all of us (in the midst of suffering), 2Co 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Its not that God’s power is made perfect through weakness, because Gods power is already perfect. But Gods power is manifest most clearly and most perfectly when he takes something weak, pathetic, struggling, suffering (and then through grace and faith) turns it into something truly glorious – everyone is left speechless. If you take something that is already good and strong, and make it 5% more good and more strong. People say, ok. Not bad. But when you take something that is truly broken, truly depressing and in the midst of real suffering and turn it into something truly glorious – everyone goes wow. That is the story of the cross and it is your story too.
The cross was the most despicable image in the days of the Romans. It was a symbol of suffering, shame, nihilistic despair and total brokenness and even now God has turned that same object into the best known symbol in the world today, worn on buildings across the world and around the necks of people everywhere as an object of beauty, faith, hope and love. And the cross is our story as Christians. God is taking the shameful, pathetic, despised things of this world and making them truly glorious. So we don’t face difficulty and suffering with despair, but with hope. If God could take the worst symbol in the Roman Empire and make it the most glorious symbol in the modern world – imagine what God could do with you?
Apply: The story of the Messiah is not one of instant glory, but glory through hardship, discomfort and suffering. So as singing pilgrims – we don’t just endure suffering. We can actually whistle and sing along in suffering – because we follow a crucified King and his path, is our path. As Christians we should not buy into the lies of this world about glory, but neither should we fall for the nihilistic despair of this world that comes with suffering. We should in all circumstances (whether the joys of Rome or the sufferings of northern Turkey) have the resources to keep singing and praising God knowing we are headed for the celestial city.
Do you realize 5 times in these opening verses we’ve had words designed to lift our eyes to the celestial city. Heaven in verse 4. Heaven in verse 12. Then three times the word apocalypse or revelation. The same word as the book of Revelation. Verse 5 (it says) ready to be revealed in the last days. Apokalupsis. End of verse 7 – talks about when Jesus Christ is revealed in glory – apokalupsis. And finally v.12 we read of that which was revealed (apokalupsis) to the prophets. The Messiah would not end in suffering, but in glory. The revelation of revelation in the Bible is ultimately the revelation of Jesus (no longer as the suffering lamb) but as the Lion of Judah. And that is our trajectory too.
The Christian life in this world is not immediate and automatic glory, comfort and ease. We are told to expect the unexpected. We are told we may need to suffer for the sake of others salvation. We may need to suffer to refine our faith, to prove our faith genuine and prove Satan’s accusations false, and ultimately so that God’s power will be perfectly manifest in and through our brokenness. But we endure all this in hope and joy and praise – because what we already have is better than anything this world has to offer. In Jesus, we have already escaped the existential crisis and we have inheritance that is real and secure in Jesus – so let’s remain singing, praising joyful pilgrims – until we die or until Christ returns. Because this is real Christian faith – Come. Lord Jesus. Come.