A Lesson from History
Text: I Peter 1:1-9
I. The year — A.D. 64
A. A major fire breaks out in the city of Rome. Coincidently, the fire centered in the poorer sections of the city.
B. Many suspected Nero of ordering the burning to clear space for improvements and to remove untoward elements. However, Nero shifted the blame to Christians.
C. Christians were not popular. They did not support the traditional religions. They argued against the popular practices of heavy drinking and promiscuous sex. Their loyalty was suspected as they did not join in the worship of the emperor. In short, they made ideal scapegoats.
D. It is believed that Peter’s first letter was written at the start of this persecution
1. He encouraged his brethren, in this time of hatred, violence, and suffering, to offer evidence of the truthfulness of Christianity.
II. Our relationship with the world
A. The letter starts out addressed to “aliens” or “pilgrims;” people who are temporary residents in a foreign country - I Peter 1:1
B. I Peter 2:11 - we are aliens and strangers to the world we live in. The world should be foreign and its ways awkward and uncomfortable to us.
1. I John 2:15 - The lusts of this world should be unattractive.
2. It is not that we are forcing ourselves to deny ourselves pleasure. It is that we are developing a character that doesn’t want what the world has to offer.
3. II Timothy 2:22 - Flee youthful lusts. This world flocks to them. We run the other way.
4. Romans 13:13-14 - Don’t leave any openings.
5. The lusts of the flesh conduct a full-fledge war against our soul. It is not an isolated skirmish, but a full campaign to destroy our souls.
C. We also must be careful about our conduct - I Peter 2:12
1. When in a foreign country, you are careful not to cause offense by violating some custom, such as never giving four of something in Japan, or not crossing your leg in Arabia.
2. All sorts of lies were spread about Christians
a. Christians shunned the world, so they were seen as unfriendly
b. Each Sunday they “ate the body and drank the blood” of Christ — barbaric!
c. The Roman historian Tacitus said that Christians were “a class hated for their abominations.”
3. Ephesus 5:15-16 - Be careful how you walk. Make the most of your time here.
4. How cautious are you about the way you talk and act in the presence of non-Christians?
a. Are you aware that you are representing your country (the Church)?
b. Are you aware that the world will judge your fellow countrymen by the way you behave?
D. We refute the slanderous charges by our excellent behavior.
1. Keeping an excellent behavior means praiseworthy action on our part.
2. It is not just abstaining from lusts, but doing what is right.
3. We were created to do good works - Ephesians 2:10
4. Examples shown in Matthew 25:35-36, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners.
5. The purpose is not to clear the false charges, but to glorify our God.
6. I Peter 2:12 - That the Gentiles may glorify God in the day of visitation.
a. A visitation is when God draws near through a mighty act of intervention, either judgment or salvation.
b. Could either be the praise God will get at Judgment Day, or . . .
c. God granting salvation. In the day of their conversion to Christian, they can praise God for your good example.
d. Example is a powerful form of persuasion - Matthew 5:16
III. Suffering for Righteousness - I Peter 3:14
A. Suffer without fear? Many worry and fret at the least discomfort.
B. Remember that the Christians Peter is writing to are the targets of persecution. People are searching them out. This is not a random drive by shooting. They were tormented for starting a fire they had nothing to do with, just because they were Christians.
C. Tacitus wrote “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace . . . Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. Theses served to illuminate the night when daylight failed.”
D. It is believed that Peter, himself, lost his life in these persecutions.
E. How can a Christian respond to suffering in a way that testifies to Christianity? By not fearing!
1. God told physical Israel not to fear, but to hold God in reverence. - Isaiah 8:12-13
2. Our bodies may be beaten, burned, or crucified, but our souls will live forever.
3. Isaiah 41:10-11 - Do not be dismayed.
F. Does the world see someone is paralyzed by fearful anxiety, or do they see someone with a deep and abiding faith in God?
IV. Ready to give defense - I Peter 3:15
A. Sanctify; give reverence to Christ; give Him special status within our hearts.
B. To handle hard times, we must focus on Christ. That is the hope within us that we must be ready to defend.
1. The hope is not in this world. We do not hold out false hope that everything will get better here. That someone we will achieve world peace. That persecution and suffering will cease. Our hope is in a better life and a better world, which is still to come.
2. I Peter 1:3-4 - An inheritance waiting for us.
C. Being ready to answer - Colossians 4:5-6
1. Not as prosecuting attorneys, but as witnesses.
2. A gentle persuasion to righteousness.
V. Keep a good conscience - I Peter 3:16
A. How could a Christian use foul language or boast of carnal activities in the presence of non-Christians?
B. How could a Christian believe that if they just show up on Sunday, it does not matter what they do the rest of the week?
C. One early Christian wrote between A.D. 100 and 130: “The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus: Chapter V.—The Manners of the Christians.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.” [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iii.ii.v.html]
D. The most powerful argument we can make for the reality of our faith is not a cosmological argument, or the fulfillment of prophecy, or even the resurrection — It is our lives.