A ‘Good Letter’ Day

As we rise to our feet and Bless God we to are transported to our spiritual home. For now we may be elect exiles in a world in which we don’t belong, but when we lift our voices in praise we are transported into the very presence of the one with whom we will spend eternity.

Who collects the mail in your place? When you go to the mailbox what are you feeling?

Is it with a feeling of anxiety and reluctance, thinking what bills will be there for me today? Which real estate agent wants to sell my home for me?

Or maybe it is with a feeling of expectation and wonder, like what are we going to discover? Am I going to receive something special? Some good news! Maybe it is around birthday time, will anyone remember to send me a card?

The churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia received some mail one day, and it was a good mail day! As they recognized who it was from I can imagine how it lifted their spirits, just like we would be lifted upon receiving mail from a loved one we don’t get to see often. This was a letter signed by “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” In his letter he provides instruction on how to live as a believer. He includes such advice as; the need to submit to rulers and masters, as well as responsibilities that wives have to their husbands, and husbands to their wives. He speaks of suffering, and most wonderfully, he paints a strong picture of a faithful, believing life in the face of the reality that our time here is short and the end of all things is near.

Often in the days we are living people are tempted to look at some of the writings of the New Testament letters and take them to sound like a bunch of laws, much like the commandments from Sinai, but I don’t believe that this approach is helpful or correct. What Peter and his contemporaries are trying to do with these instructions is to help these believers in a potentially hostile world to live at peace with one another and with those around them, and this will more than likely be in stark contrast to what may otherwise be the norm. And in doing so they will provide a clear witness to the presence of Jesus Christ – alive in them!

Overwhelmingly First Peter is a letter of hope – especially in the few short verses that we are reading together today. He writes:letter

1PETER, AN apostle of Jesus Christ, writing to the elect exiles of the dispersion scattered abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

Right from the beginning he uses three strong nouns to describe those to whom he is writing. He calls them “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” We don’t really understand the importance of these words from the start, but as we read on we discover how significant they are and how they become the foundation from which Peter builds the entire letter. They are full of meaning and hope and they undergird and support everything that Peter wants to say to these precious friends and loved ones of his.

Elect

The word ‘elect’ simply means ‘chosen’ and throughout the Bible ‘chosen’ is an intimate term that is most often used to speak of those whom God loves.

In Ezekiel 16:4 – 14 God paints a picture that beautifully describes what he means when he speaks of his electing choice of Israel. It is a special picture that describes God’s electing love! They had been born helpless and vulnerable, but they were given life, even more than that, they were given status and significance because of the grace of God’s electing love. What great comfort and mercy and love is contained in this word elect! When Peter uses the word to describe us he wants us to know of God’s great love for us It is not to be waved in front of others to declare that we are better than others, it should be used to comfort and encourage those in the faith.

Exiles of the dispersion

The other two nouns that Peter uses make up the phrase “exiles of the dispersion” and yet somehow it would seem that this would be a contradiction when placed alongside the word “elect.” If we are chosen by God, set apart and adorned as special, recipients of his grace and mercy poured out upon us, then how can we be “exiles of the dispersion.” These words bring the thought of pain, loss, of being an outcast and separated from one another.

But for Peter there was no contradiction. As the letter unfolds we will discover that Peter wants to use this phrase “exiles of the dispersion” to describe the normal state of every follower of Jesus while they remain in this world. C.S.Lewis describes it this way:

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all of the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

According to Peter, this is all a part of the mysterious plan of God. There is no accident that these three nouns make up this phrase – “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” Peter goes on to say that we are:

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:”

In the strongest possible way, Peter is saying that God is behind all this. Christians are those who are chosen by God and called to live in this world.

Living as the elect exiles of the dispersion

Now all this could sound like a great big wet sponge to those of us “elect exiles of the dispersion”, especially those suffering for their faith. We are chosen by God, we are set apart for greatness according to his mercy and grace, but we are called to live and to submit in a world that is hostile to the life and message we proclaim. It doesn’t sound too crash hot to me!

But Peter says NO! It is crash hot! It is awesome, and right from the start Peter tells us how it can be so… he proclaims:

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

His introductory prayer of praise sounds strikingly close to the ancient Hebrew prayer called Shemoneh ‘Esreh (Hesreh) or The eighteen blessings. The eighteen blessings were recited three times each day in the synagogue, and each one ended with the refrain, “Blessed be Thou, O Lord.” That meant that the words “Blessed be Thou, O Lord” echoed from the house of God no fewer than 54 times each day

In his letter to us today, Peter calls upon us, wherever we are, to stand and praise God, to bless God, as it were, with eighteen blessings, because he knows that when the blessings are made by the faithful, their hearts and minds will be transported across the distance that separates them from their homeland. In the context of these churches – exiled from Jerusalem – it takes them back to the temple to the land and people they had to leave behind, a land that is intimately connected to their soul even their very sense of being.

For us, as we rise to our feet and Bless God we to are transported to our spiritual home. For now we may be elect exiles in a world in which we don’t belong, but when we lift our voices in praise we are transported into the very presence of the one with whom we will spend eternity.

Jesus’ Resurrection – A picture of our future

The resurrection of Jesus is not a fable of the past but a historical event.  But what about the nature of Jesus resurrection?  The overwhelming truth according to the Bible is that Jesus was raised with a physical body.

Today the Bible is often recognized along with other literature as an ancient book that describes some historical facts, some myths and fables, and some good moral teaching.  But when we study the Bible we discover this is far from the truth.  Many scholars who have truly sought to find answers in the Bible, and even to discredit it whole-heartedly, have studied it seriously and been confronted with its message and origin.

What they have discovered is that the claims that the Bible makes are not only staggering, they are also backed up and authenticated in ways that they hadn’t possibly imagined.  The facts of history in the minds of an overwhelming number of great scholars attest that the evidence of the Bible as well as other sources describe that Jesus literally rose from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a fable of the past but a historical event.  But what about the nature of Jesus resurrection?  The overwhelming truth according to the Bible is that Jesus was raised with a physical body.

The resurrection of Jesus is a physical – bodily resurrection

The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul and I’ve heard more than one Christian try to suggest that this is what the Bible teaches about Jesus resurrection and ours.  But Jesus resurrection was a Physical resurrection.  There was no body in the tomb left to decay, the body had been transformed.  When Jesus appeared to people after the resurrection he invited people to touch him.  He also ate and drank with them, and neither of these things work in the context of a spiritual resurrection.  This is all really important information because it has implications for our own resurrection.

Interestingly, while the Greeks believed in a resurrection of the Spirit this was not true of Hebrew teaching.  In what is probably the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job, we read:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,  (Job 19:25 – 26)

In God’s eyes Job stood out in his generation because God boasts about him, so must have known God well and in this passage, even in his
despair and affliction, Job clearly expected a bodily resurrection sometime after his death.  “In my flesh” he says, “I will see God.”  It was in a physical body that he would see God.

And this is why our understanding of the resurrection is so important to us.  In the case of Job it was his understanding of the reality of God and that one day he would see him face to face that kept him motivated not to ‘curse God and die’ like his wife suggested he do.  We understand later that Job didn’t have it all together in his thinking, he still had much to learn and God graciously teaches him this, but the foundation was there and that foundation was the resurrection and this motivated his thinking.  And if the resurrection isn’t the foundational truth in our lives then we should change our thinking as well.

The resurrection calls us to change our thinking:

When we truly understand the reality of Jesus resurrection – it will challenge us to think differently about life.  And of course death:

To change our thinking about death

When the women went to the tomb they expected to find the body of Jesus.  They went to the tomb to complete the task of anointing the body of Jesus to complete his burial they presumed that death was the end. In our culture death is widely seen as the end and because it is the end it is feared and means that our focus is getting as much out of this life as we can no matter what the cost to us or to others.  But understanding that Jesus rose from the dead and that all people will also should change our thinking on this.

To change our thinking about Jesus

And that is where we need to take our eyes off ourselves and the reality of our own future and focus fully on Jesus and what His resurrection teaches us.  The two people who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:19) spoke of Jesus as having been ‘a prophet, powerful in word and deed’ but later they would call him ‘Prince and Saviour’ (Acts 5:31), the word for prince here means the chief leader and the ultimate example.  What was the difference?  It was in meeting the resurrected Jesus that caused the disciples to change their thinking.

In our culture people want to acknowledge that Jesus is a prophet, they speak of him as a great religious leader and teacher.  But in understanding Jesus as being resurrected from the dead we can no longer just see Jesus this way.

To change our thinking about our future

And finally a resurrected Jesus causes us to revise our thinking about our future.  The resurrection points to a day when God will wind up all human history and call everyone to account.  Paul writes:

But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.  (1 Corinthians 15:23 – 26)

And when speaking in Athens Paul said:

“God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

The reality of the resurrection also points to a day of judgement.  A day when all things will be restored in their rightful place.

The most important question you will ever ask is what you believe about Jesus and His resurrection.  It will change your understanding of all aspects of life death and eternity and depending on your actions it will change your destiny and that is the most important thing.  If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead as the Bible teaches us, if you believe that he is seated at the right hand of God the Father and is returning.  Then the question is; ‘what have you done about it?’  Have you repented of your sins, have you put your faith and trust in Jesus, the only one who is able to atone for your sins so that you can be born again and receive eternal life in the presence of God?

Paid in Full

Is God trying to get our attention?  The word stamped on that legal document of a Roman prisoner who has served his sentence, is the same word Jesus cried out on the cross; “it is finished” it is also the same word that for 1500 years every year at 3 pm on the day of Passover (the same time Jesus cried out on the cross and gave up His Spirit) the High Priest would take the life of the Passover Lamb declaring the same word “it is finished.”

People were thrown in jail for all kinds of reasons in the 1st Century Roman Empire.  If a prisoner was imprisoned because they were unable to pay their debts, a record was kept near their cell of all the debts owed and as those debts were paid they would be marked off until the prisoner could go free.

If the prisoner was given a jail term, let’s say for five years, that would also be recorded, with the idea that the prisoner owed the state five years, and as the years were completed that would be recorded on the record and the debt owed would be reduced.

When finally a prisoner had served the full sentence his document with the record of his sentence was marked ‘Paid in Full’ and of course he kept that document safe so that if ever he was accused again of the crime he’d been punished for he could show the paper that proved that the debt he owed had been paid.

In the interesting way things dove tail together, something that I think demonstrates to us that God is really trying to show us that His hand is guiding everything with regards to our salvation. Because the word stamped on that legal document is the same word

It is finished 2cJesus cried out on the cross; “it is finished” it is also the same word that for 1500 years every year at 3 pm on the day of Passover (the same time Jesus cried out on the cross and gave up His Spirit) the High Priest would take the life of the Passover Lamb declaring the same word “it is finished.”

So I ask you, do you think this is a great co-incidence or is God trying to get our attention?

Each of us because of sin have broken fellowship with God. Our Relationship with Him has been severed because of our wilful or accidental moral disobedience.  In the Garden of Eden it was very clear of the results of sin.  Before Adam & Eve sinned God would walk and talk in relationship in the garden with Adam, how amazing would that have been. I don’t think we can even begin to understand the conversations they would have had and the relationship they would have shared.

But when Adam sinned he immediately felt the shame that demonstrated the damage done to that relationship.  And when God made a way to cover that shame temporarily in the Garden, by taking the skins of animals demonstrating that innocent blood had to be shed to cover the sin.

When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross he paid the debt for sin, yours and mine if we have faith in him.  It isn’t that we haven’t sinned, of course we have, the Bible makes it clear that everyone has  (Romans 3:23, 6:23)!  We have all sinned but the debt has been ‘paid in full.’  The free gift of eternal life is given through faith in the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Have you accepted Jesus as your saviour? Will you let Him pay the price for your sin?  If you haven’t then will you let today be the day of your salvation.  Believe in Jesus, ask Him to forgive your sins. Walk in relationship and obedience with Him. It isn’t that you will be perfect, salvation is also a process, and hopefully the longer we walk with Jesus the more like Him we become but while we walk with Him our debt is paid.

If you would like to find out more about Jesus then take a look at the Bible Studies on this site.  And please contact us if you have any questions.