Strangers

I Peter 1:1. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

Living as Strangers (1 Pet. 2:11-20)

Today’s post is short. I considered coupling it with v. 2, but there are several words in v. 2 that need to be looked at closely, so I thought it better to just focus on “strangers” today.

Translated from Greek, the word strangers here refers to “one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives; hence, stranger; sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner.” Today, we would say “immigrants.”

They were also strangers in the sense that most of them were probably Gentiles, believers who were escaping Jerusalem because of persecution at the hands of Jewish religious leaders after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Pharisees and Sadducees had been furious with Jesus for a long time, and the spread of Christianity drove them to a frenzy in their efforts to stamp it out.

Peter knew that Christians were also being persecuted by Rome. The Emperors had been fairly tolerant of Christianity until the time of Nero, who is suspected of setting fire to Rome and blaming it on the Christians. It really would seem as if the Romans were just waiting for a good excuse to persecute Christians, and there was no hesitation in putting them to death wherever they could be found.

Peter’s message, then, was all about how to face persecution with a living hope and a sure salvation.


Christians all around the world today are living in the reality of persecution. America has long been seen as a refuge, a place of safety for believers. I am convinced that such freedom is coming to an end. What we have long taken for granted–freedom to meet, pray, sing, share our faith with others–is being taken away in little bites that we hardly notice. I believe the time is coming when we won’t be able to ignore those bites, though, as they grow stronger and more destructive of our cherished freedoms, bought with the blood of our ancestors.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at v. 2. I would appreciate your prayers as I study in preparation.

The Hope of Glory

Col. 1:27. To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

This verse refers back to the end of v. 26: “The mystery. . . .made manifest to His saints.”

The mystery is the church age; the age in which God chooses to use people who believe in Him to minister to those who have not yet received Jesus Christ as Savior. The church is made up of believers, across all nations, races, traditions and cultures. Everyone who has confessed and repented of sin and accepted Him as Savior is my brother or sister in Christ. There are no barriers that the gospel cannot cross.

God makes known the riches of His glory to those who had already believed; they, in turn, would go to the Gentiles to share the riches of His glory and the hope of glory.

We need to define some words to help us understand this completely.

Riches: Fullness, abundance, plenitude. We cannot begin to understand the whole meaning of this phrase, the riches of His glory, because our understanding is finite. I can tell you that the longer you live in Christ, the more you begin to understand His greatness, His love, and what He has in store for those who love Him.

The glory: The kingly majesty of the Messiah: the absolutely perfect inward or personal excellency of Christ; His majesty. Again, our finite minds cannot comprehend all that Jesus is. We struggle with the idea of holiness, which is the complete and absolute lack of any taint of sin. The best person you know cannot compare to the spotless, sinless, perfect Lamb of God.

This mystery: Hidden thing, secret, mystery, secret will of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly. The church is that great mystery that had been hidden from the beginning, until the time was right for Jesus to make the supreme sacrifice in our behalf. God has allowed the church age to continue for over 2000 years, in spite of all the efforts of man to destroy it, change it, dilute it, make it politically correct.

The hope of glory: Joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation. In this context, it is not a thing we hope for in the sense of hoping for a particular Christmas gift, which may or may not happen. Instead, it is the complete assurance of heaven, given to us by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is NO DOUBT that all believers will gain heaven. It is a sure hope based on the Word of God.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

John 10: 14-16.

I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.

As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.

And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.

John 10:11 - Verse Meaning - I Am the Good Shepherd

So often, in this Gospel, Jesus speaks of Himself in terms of His purpose and His ministry, and His relationship to the Father. In this chapter, He is the Good Shepherd. He knows each one of his sheep. To the untutored eye, most sheep look pretty much alike. But the Good Shepherd not only knows them; He knows them by name, and they know Him.

In verse 15, Jesus states the purpose for which He had come. It is to lay down His life for the sheep. God sent Him, and knows Him; He knows God, and obeys His will.

I have no idea at what point Jesus, the baby in Luke 2, actually became cognizant. I’m quite sure it was earlier than most human babies, but the Bible does not tell us much about His earliest years. We do know that at age 12 He was able to converse and debate the scriptures with the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. I believe we can be assured by that incident (Luke 2:39-52) that Jesus understood earlier than that age what His purpose was here on earth. He was completely focused on obeying the will of the Father, always.

In verse 16, Jesus speaks clearly of His entire flock, composed of those for whom He died, and who have believed on Him. The “other sheep” refers to the Gentiles who will become part of His flock, and will be sheltered with the Jewish believers. Not many Gentiles had yet come to Him, but there were some. The Wise Men, after all, were not Israelites, but came from a far land to seek the One for Whom the star shone, and of Whom they had learned and believed from Old Testament scripture.

I’m sure that the Jews to whom Jesus spoke were surprised and confused at His inclusion of anyone but Israel in the fold of the Good Shepherd, but such was foretold from ages past: Genesis 12:1-3 contains the promise that through Israel, all the families (nations) of the world would be blessed.

An Everlasting Name

Isaiah 56:3-5.

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from His people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.

For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant;

Even unto them will I give in Mine house and within My walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

Image result for Isaiah 56:5

Verse 3 refers to Gentile proselytes, people who had adopted the Jewish faith, who felt they were not included in the promised blessings. A eunuch was a man who was either born sterile or was made to be sterile when taken into captivity. These men, in the Old Testament Law, were excluded from certain Temple privileges.  This passage teaches that all people who follow Jesus Christ will enjoy the privileges of the Millennium.

In verses 4-5, we are told exactly what pleases God:  Keeping the sabbath (all sabbaths, not just the weekly one); Choosing the things pleasing to God; taking hold of His covenant; joining to the Lord; serving Him; loving the Name of the Lord; being His servant.

Verse 5 is specific that God will give all who love Him and serve Him the privileges promised to Israel:  A place, a name better than of sons and of daughters: an everlasting name.

I think it is important here to mention that the New Testament church has never been under obligation to keep any sabbath. Christian are free to keep any day (Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:9-10; Col. 2:14-17). Most Christians have adopted the habit of calling Sunday the sabbath because of the belief that the Lord Jesus rose from the grave early on a Sunday morning, the first day of the week.  And what better way to remember the resurrection than to devote that first day of the week to Him!

 

Blind Eyes and Deaf Ears

Isaiah 43: 8-9. “Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, it is truth.”

Image result for Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, or the deaf that have ears

Blind people that have eyes and deaf people with ears refer to Israel (v. 8 with 42:18-22).  All nations  refers to the Gentiles.  The purpose here  was to assemble all people to hear the challenge of God , to witness His choice of making Israel His special people to fulfill His will in propagating the truth among all nations, and to demonstrate their power or lack of it to prophesy so they might acknowledge that what God had predicted was the truth.

Who among the whole multitude of both Jews and Gentiles can declare and show things that are to happen? Let them demonstrate their prophetic powers so they can be justified in their claims that Jehovah is not the only one who has this power.

 

Walk Not as Other Gentiles

Ephesians 4:17-18. “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: ”

This verse introduces one of my favorite passages in the New Testament.  Paul’s urgency in  warning the Ephesian believers to put off the old ways and put on the new comes down through time, just as fresh and urgent to us today as it was back then.

We are not to be like unbelievers.  They are “alienated” (turned away from, made strangers or enemies to) the life of God.  They are so because of their ignorance of the things of God, and becuase their hearts and minds are blinded to the holiness and purity of God.

You know, I guess I’m old school.  I grew up  in churches that taught us  that we were to put away worldliness.  We were to live a life that refelcted well on God, and brought no shame to His Name.  We were to assume that unbelievers were watching us, and that our lives could make the difference between someone trusting God or turning away from Him.

This was not a self-righteous, holier-than-thou way to live.  This was before the era of ubiquituous Christian schools.  We attended public school, and we held our testimonies as high as our courage would allow us.  I wish I had been more concerned with the approval of my Savior, back then, than I actually was.  I wanted to have friends, and I did, and they all knew I was the preacher’s kid and that I “wasn’t allowed” to do some of the things they did.  I wish I had been bolder in taking a stand for godliness, not because it was “against my religion” to do certain things, but because I didn’t want to displease the Lord.

I wish  so many of our young people, young adults, today were more concerned with keeping a crystal clear testimony for righteousness instead of walking as close to the world as possible while still claiming to be a Christian.

All of that has to come from the heart, not from rules that mean very little without a heart of love to please Jesus Christ in all that we say and do.

A Minister

Ephesians 3:7. “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.”

Paul understood that he had been given an incredible privilege by the grace of God; that his mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles was unique, and that he would be empowered to do that ministry through the grace of God.

I want to pause here to say a couple of things in regard to Paul. There are some who feel he gives himself too much credit, talks about himself too much; these same people tend to feel that he’s given too much credit for his epistles in the New Testament.

To the first complaint, I point to the many times Paul introduced himself as a servant of God, a prisoner of grace; he called himself the chiefest of sinners, and took no credit for the mission God had given him.

To the second complaint, personally, as I write these posts, I am fully aware that Paul was only the instrument, and God was the Author.  I think Paul knew it as well, and had no false pride.  In fact, I believe it humbled him that God had entrusted him with such a gift.

I don’t know how anyone can read his letters to the churches and to the people he loved and not see his compassion, his humility, and his lack of self-importance.

And I’m looking forward to meeting him in heaven.

Fellow Heirs

Ephesians 3:5-6. “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel:”

It must have been a great mystery, indeed, to the Jews who had always considered themselves the sole heirs of God.  They were, after all, the people of the Promise;  Messiah would come through Israel, and would conquer all Israel’s enemies, bringing peace forever.

Paul’s job was not an easy one.  He had to preach to the Gentiles, and that was no  simple task. It was an era of history in which most nations or tribes had a pantheon of gods.  Rome, which ruled most of the known world at the time, was no exception. They considered their Caesar, whoever was presently sitting on the throne, to be a god as well. They didn’t take kindly to this Jew who went around preaching that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

And the Jews?  Those who had not been convinced that Jesus was indeed God Himself were not impressed with Paul at all.  They made his life pretty miserable, and did not welcome his appearance in their cities or the way so many people received his preaching and teaching, converting to the new Way, in which Gentiles had equal claim with the Jews to being  “fellow heirs and of the same body; and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.”

No, they weren’t pleased.  Not even a little bit.

Gentiles in the Flesh

Ephesians 2:11. “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands: ”

There are six things that denote the state of the Gentiles before Jesus Christ:

  1. Uncircumcised v. 11
  2. Without Christ v. 12
  3. Aliens to Israel’s blessings v. 12
  4. Strangers to the covenant v. 12
  5. Having no hope in God  v. 12
  6. Without God in the world v. 12

This verse is the first clear indication we have in Ephesians that Paul was addressing Gentile believers, not Jews.  He wanted to make clear to them the change that happened when Jesus died and rose again; the same benefits that Jews had known for centuries had now become available to Gentiles, as well.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Galatians 2: 14. “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”

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Paul did not call a secret meeting to gather together to decide what to do about Peter.  He did not make Peter wait out in the hall while he and the other leaders decided what to do.  He didn’t circulate a petition, or gather up enough votes against Peter to know he had the winning hand before he confronted Peter.

Not Paul. Direct, to the point, and public.  Why?  Well, because Peter’s fault was public, and his behavior had influenced others who followed his example.

When we commit public sin that affects the lives of others, it needs to be dealt with on the same basis. Not unkindly, not harshly, not with dire head-shakings and hand-wringings.  No threats of a lynch mob here, or an unfriendly takeover in which Peter would be unseated from his position as a true apostle who had been mightily used of God.

I think one of the most important lessons for u s to learn here is that no one, not even Peter, not even Paul, is above reproach.  No one is immune from correction. Pastors are answerable to their people.  The people are answerable to elders and deacons, and believers are answerable to one another; we are all answerable to God.   If we would spend more time being honest with one another when we feel there is fault, and less time talking about it to people who can’t fix it, our churches might not be so likely to fracture and split, reforming and splitting again and again.

Paul simply said to Peter, “You know, you’re a Jew who is learning to live under grace, as the new Gentile believers do. Then why, my friend, would you require the Gentiles to live under the Law, as the Judaizers do?”

It’s a good question. And he’s not done yet.