Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Chosen—Peter, Them, and Us (1 Peter 1:1)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen” (1 Peter 1:1, NASB95)

The gospel of Mark records for us following Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, that He began the selection of His disciples. We read in Mark 1:16-20, “As He [Jesus] was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.” (Mark 1:16–20, NASB95) The first four were Simon (who would later be named “Peter” by Jesus), his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John. All four of them were fishermen who were chosen by God called away by Jesus to become “fishers of men.” And, as we progress through the gospels when we find the disciples mentioned as a group, it was Peter whose name was most prominent among them. Peter lived His life for Christ in a very visible way, and when he stumbled he stumbled visibly as well.

It was Peter that told Jesus He would stick with Him to the last person, to which Jesus told him that he would instead deny Him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning (Matthew 26:30-35). And of course, Peter did exactly as Jesus had said (Matthew 26:69-75). “Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:74–75, NASB95)

Then after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, when the disciples were awaiting Him in Galilee where they were told to go, it was Peter who led a group of others to go fishing. But that night not a single fish was caught, or at least not until Jesus (being unrecognized) spoke to them from the shore instructing them to cast their nets to the other side. Then the catch was so great that they could not haul it in. John immediately recognized who it was that had spoken to them, and hearing this Peter leaped from the boat to rush to Jesus on the shore leaving the rest to drag in the net. After they had had breakfast Jesus then spoke to Peter and asked him if he loved Him. Peter replied that of course he did, and Jesus charged Peter to feed His lambs. Three times Jesus would ask Peter, and three times Peter would affirm that he did indeed love Jesus. Each time Jesus charged Peter with the task of taking care of His sheep. “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:17, NASB95)

Reading through the book of Acts we see that Peter was indeed faithful to this charge. And, as we come closer to the end of his life we find that we have these two letters of 1 and 2 Peter recorded for us. 1 Peter was most likely written in the mid-60’s A.D. when persecution of Christians had dramatically increased, and believers had been dispersed throughout various regions, even as we see listed in this verse. The exact location of where Peter was at the writing of this letter is only speculated upon with some believing that he may have obscured the location of those he was with referring to it only as the church in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13).

Clearly times were tough for believers. Persecution was on the upswing, and Peter was writing to encourage them. And, just as Peter was chosen personally by Christ, his first words to these believers was to remind them that they were chosen as well. They were not unhappy accidents. They were not neglected people who had got caught up on the wrong side of a movement, and were now scattered in lieu of being swallowed up. They were chosen by God with the fullness of His infinite and eternal knowledge according to His perfect and unlimited wisdom. He chose them, and He chooses us with His eyes full open and He never makes a mistake. And just as He chooses us, He does so with the full awareness of absolutely everything we will encounter regardless of where we might be.

Thinking about this, last week I was a work and a customer came up and asked me if I had a Proverb for her. I did not recognize her and do not know what she knows about me or if she even knows me. But she asked, and I asked her in return “Why?” Was there something going on that she needed some encouragement? She told me that she was being attacked by someone else, and she wanted a word of encouragement for her defense. I briefly told her that I did not know if anything would change the person’s feelings or actions toward her, but that there is a God who would bring her through. I walked her through Psalm 139 and the truth that God encloses us before and behind, that He has His hand on our shoulder. He knows when we rise up and sit down. He has evaluated our thoughts and He knows every work on our tongue before we every speak it. God is with us when we are at the heights of joy and He is equally with us in the deepest depths of darkness. And He has promised to be our help. At this point I was amazed that no other customers had come along, and I proceeded to encourage her to look to Him and rely on His strong hand regardless of what anyone else might do. He will not let go.

We live in difficult times in this country. We have an election coming where there is no good choice for President, and regardless of the outcome things may get much more difficult for believers. Sure, there might be one who is more favorable toward Christians, but even then there is a legal and social environment that is not quite so kind. As I think about the times in Rome that prompted Peter to write this letter when the emperor Nero was either blaming or soon to blame Christians and turned the people against them, I am reminded that our God holds us wherever we might be. As I think about David who had countless enemies and who had spent so many years fleeing the then King, Saul, I am reminded that our God is our unfailing help. And, as I think about our Lord who was crucified on our behalf, I am reminded that Jesus understands exactly what is going on and the plight we are experiencing. What to us might seem like a world out of control and without hope, really is an opportunity for us to put our trust in our God who has absolute and total control and will work His plan perfectly until its completion.

In Christ, God chooses and we are secure. For those of us responded to Christ, who have believed that He was sent by the Father just as He had promised, and that He died, was buried, and rose again, we are indeed chosen and no one will snatch us out of His hand.

“… I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:12–14, NASB95) 

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