This week we kick off a brand-new teaching series through the New Testament letter of 1 Peter called, Standing Firm. We live in a culture that is increasingly intolerant of orthodox expressions of Christian faithfulness. This intolerance is more and more frequently resulting in the world pushing back against such expressions in ways that do not comport with the freedom our Constitution guarantees. Yet seasons change and governing structures don’t last forever. Persecution has been the norm for the church more often than tolerance and acceptance. Still, this experience is new for many of us in this country and so we don’t know well how to stand firm after the pattern of Jesus. Peter offers great wisdom here and over the course of this we are going to explore together what he has to say by the Spirit. It all starts, though, with having the right foundation. That’s where we start in this part. Thanks for reading.
A Solid Foundation
We’ll start with a bit of name recognition this morning. How many of you have heard the name Jack Phillips? I suspect the number is a bit higher than it once was thanks to his high-profile win at the Supreme Court in 2018. But not everyone follows the news about Supreme Court decisions very closely, so his name may still be a new one to you.
Allow me to make an introduction. Jack Phillips is a baker. Well, that’s not fair. Jack is an artist who happens to use cake-making as his primary medium. He is also the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, CO. It’s actually located just across the street from where Lisa used to work when we lived out there. We weren’t ever in the market for fancy cakes when we were there and so we didn’t know about him. Also, he wasn’t on anybody’s radar then. Then came July of 2012. Two men walked into Jack’s shop and asked for a custom cake for their upcoming nuptials. Jack replied that while he would be glad to sell them anything else in the shop they liked, that was one order he couldn’t fill. Jack, you see, is a committed follower of Jesus and believes that his art is an expression of his worldview. Creating art to celebrate a worldview he fundamentally opposes would send a signal of support he could not in good conscience send.
A few hours later his phone started ringing. Every time it was someone calling to throw a whole dictionary’s worth of profanity at him. His email inbox began filling up with the same. He had more than one death threat against not only him, but all of his employees. There were multiple staged protests which were small in size, but manipulated by a sympathetic local and national media to look much larger than they were in actuality. Then came the lawsuit as well as incredible pressure from the Colorado Human Rights Commission whose members were aggressively and antagonistically opposed to what Jack believes to either change his policies or shut down his business altogether.
Six years later, Jack’s attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom made his case before the Supreme Court which narrowly ruled in his favor. But if you thought that was the end of Jack’s adventures, you would be mistaken. Another activist local Denver attorney has made it his personal mission to force Jack out of business and has brought now two lawsuits against him, one unsuccessful and the other still being litigated. Along the way the threats and vitriol have continued. All because Jack sought to live in a way that was lovingly consistent with his professed beliefs as a follower of Jesus.
Now, Jack’s situation has been extraordinary. There’s no doubt about that. That being said, the dominant institutions influencing our culture today are increasingly and aggressively turning away from orthodox, public expressions of fidelity to the Christian worldview. To put that a bit more directly: our culture doesn’t like Christians very much anymore.
Of course, a trend does not make a uniform reality. The turning against Christianity that our culture has been doing for the past twenty years or so has not been consistently applied. In some places it is much worse than others. There are communities in some of the cities across our nation where you can talk to a whole lot of people without encountering anyone who even knows the name of Jesus as anything beyond a curse word. And then there are places like…Oakboro…where we are pretty well insulated from even the most minor expressions of this antagonism. The simplest explanation for this uneven application of aggression is that people who think alike tend to live close to one another. Still, what happens in the cities eventually makes its way to the suburbs and then to the country. You may not have ever experienced any kind of persecution for your commitment to Christ, but as our world changes, that day is coming. It’s coming, and it’s a whole lot closer than it was not all that long ago.
The question is really not about whether persecution will come if you are a professed follower of Jesus, but how you will stand when it does. From 2016-2020 our nation was treated to one approach to standing against the rising tide of this anti-Christian animus. This approach was to grab hold of the levers of power and forcefully drive back the darkness. Under the previous presidential administration Christians—and in particular evangelical Christians—had an unprecedented amount of access to positions of political and policymaking power. And, there were some policy gains made in those years that someone coming at things from the standpoint of an evangelical follower of Jesus must count as positive. There’s no question about that. But from the standpoint of this growing hatred and persecution of followers of Jesus, can we really say we’re better off now than we were before? We can still celebrate the gains that were made, but when many of those gains were almost immediately wiped away by the new administration, which campaigned explicitly as being a counterpoint to everything about the previous one, what did we really accomplish by standing against the tide in that particular way?
When the world comes against us, if we are going to stand firm in our faith, the only way we will do so and accomplish any meaningful, long-term, positive gains will be when we stand firm like Jesus. The question, of course, then, is simple: How did Jesus stand? With this in mind, this morning we are kicking off a brand-new teaching series called, Standing Firm. For the next several weeks we are going to explore the apostle Peter’s first letter to believers living in a hostile cultural environment not so different from our own, so that we can take in the incredible wisdom he offers for how followers of Jesus can remain rooted in their faith in such an environment in such a way that causes the Gospel to advance and not retreat. To perhaps put that more succinctly, we are going to be talking about how we can be Christians in a culture that doesn’t want us in such a way that they can’t help but like us. The secret to this is to stand firm in our faith like Jesus did.
If we are going to stand firm in our faith, however, we are first going to have to have a foundation on which we can plant ourselves. That’s where Peter’s letter begins and where we are going to start our journey this morning. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to 1 Peter near the back of the New Testament. Find your way right to the beginning of the letter and let’s take a look at this together.
Peter begins with an introduction like all formal letters written in that day did. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
Believe it or not, there is quite a lot to talk about right here. We are going to focus our attention on just a couple of things before getting into the heart of Peter’s opening section. First, Peter writes this letter to “those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad.” Now, if you look at several different translations, you will quickly notice that there are a number of ways to translate the Greek of Peter’s first sentence into English. And while scholars will argue about why one or the other is the most correct, the basic idea is the same no matter how you put it: Peter is writing this letter to believers living in hostile territory. They are not on their home turf. So, does that mean all of these believers had somehow been displaced by Rome because of their faith? Not that we know of. In fact, most of them were probably living in the same cities and towns they had lived in all their lives. Then how were they not at home? Because as followers of Jesus, none of us are at home until the final kingdom comes, heaven and earth are restored, and we are reigning with Christ here over a glorified new creation. Our home is in Heaven. Thus, no matter where you happen to be, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are an exile. You are a foreigner. You are an alien. But—and this is the second thing—in Christ you are chosen to that position. Yours is a choosing in which the full, triune person of God was involved. God the Father declared it, the Holy Spirit did it, Jesus enabled it.
Knowing we are chosen, while important to be sure, doesn’t really give us the foundation we need to root ourselves on if we are going to stand firm in the face of the world pushing back against us. I mean, sure, knowing you have been chosen for a task can give you a bit of a boost when it comes to facing down challenges that come up when trying to accomplish it, but when things get really tough, I need to know more than that I’ve been chosen for it. Fortunately, a stronger foundation is exactly what Peter gives us starting in the next verse. Look with me at how he does this.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
Is your mind blown yet? No? Let’s dig into this just a little bit and it will be. We’ve talked before about sin and its consequences. We’ve talked about how sin rightly separates us from God. We’ve talked about how we are all deserving of judgment for our sins. In our flesh we are bound for nothing but destruction. Not exactly an encouraging topic. But if you are in Christ, God the Father in His great mercy has changed the narrative. No longer are you and I bound for destruction, but instead a new birth. We are made new because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And in this new life we are given a living hope.
Now, you know what hope is, right? Hope is living today in light of a positive tomorrow. More specifically, a Christian hope is living today in light of the character of God because of our faithful confidence that this same God will bring us a tomorrow that is better than today. It is saying, “I’m not going to do the things I think are convenient or easy because of the quick results I know those actions will bring. Instead, I am going to do the things God says are right even though I don’t always understand or like that path, because I trust that my efforts will bear fruit which I will get to enjoy in the future.” Peter wants you to know that this positive future, this brighter tomorrow, this inheritance is secure. It is imperishable. It won’t spoil. It is undefiled. It is perfect. It is unfading. It won’t go away after a time. And it is kept in heaven for you. Again: It is secure.
And as if that weren’t enough, he doubles down on this idea in v. 5. “You are being guarded by God’s power [not your own] through faith [that is, when you believe in this in such a way that it concretely affects your way of living] for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” In other words, this is an incredible, powerful, secure hope. It is a hope on which you can rest all of your weight, and all the weight you’ve been made to carry by life’s circumstances in one way or another, and it won’t even buckle. In fact, it won’t be moved. This is the kind of foundation that you can lean into so that you can stand firm when the world starts pushing back. And listen: The world is going to push back.
Verse 6 now: “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials…” Pause there for just a second. The people to whom Peter was writing were likely facing a near constant and sustained persecution. It came from the Jews and the Romans. One group hated them, the other didn’t understand them and tended to squash anything they didn’t understand. They were excluded from society and subjected to incredible pressures to conform to the world around them. These pressures often grew violent.
Now, put yourself in their shoes for a minute and listen to v. 6 again. “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials.” When you’re in that place of suffering it doesn’t feel short or necessary. I’m currently reading Jack Phillips’ book reflecting on his experiences over the last 10 years. He does indeed rejoice in his hope, but this decade hasn’t felt short, and it definitely hasn’t felt necessary. Peter’s words here would have felt wildly out of sync with their experiences. So, why use this kind of language? Because of how surpassingly greater is the hope we have in Christ. By comparison with the extravagance of life we have ahead of us, the suffering we face now is momentary. And what we do face, we face because God deems it necessary.
And why would such a thing be necessary? To make our faith stronger; to increase our hold on this incredible hope that we have. Look at this: “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
When you go through these trials, they’re not just trials. That’s what we talked about a few weeks ago. Perspective makes a difference. The trials you face are faith-growing opportunities from a God who is absolutely committed to seeing you become the fullest and best version of yourself—the you He made you to be. Anything worthwhile is proved through testing and that includes your faith. An untested faith is not one you can rely on. If your grip on this incredible hope is weak, then when the storm rages hard enough, it will slip and then where will you be? Adrift and alone. The daily challenges we face help us strengthen our grip so that we can hold tightly when the bigger challenges come. No matter how big the challenges may be, though, this hope, this foundation is strong enough to hold us up. Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on.
It is so big that the prophets who first foretold of it were desperate to get to see it. More than that, the angels themselves are astounded by it. Listen to this: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and carefully investigated. They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified in advance to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.”
Is your mind blown yet? Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on. No matter what the trials may be, you can lean on this hope, this promise, this guaranteed assurance that there is a tomorrow coming that will be better than today and start living now like it has already arrived. You can do this without fear of it somehow giving way and failing you. It won’t. It is secure. Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on. When the world begins pushing, you can stand firm because your hope is on solid ground. Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on.