Have you been radicalised? - 1 Peter 1:1 - 2:3
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
After the evil bombing attacks on the London Underground on the 7th July the British media and the British government have been obsessed with words like radicalised and extremist. You cannot read very far into a newspaper or listen for very long to a news bulletin without seeing or hearing the buzz words of the moment. From the official statements of government spokesmen to the reassurances from religious leaders you can bet your life that someone at some point is going to mention either the danger of extremism or suggest a reason why some individuals have become radicalised. These are the buzz words of the moment. And itís not that difficult to work out why. Who really wants to consider that the four men who blew themselves up in the city of London on the 7th of July were actually mainstream Muslims? That option is not even a possibility for the British government or for the British media. And so very quickly after the wicked events took place we began to hear words like radicalised and extremist. I lost count of the number of times that Ö from the Muslim Council of Britain told me that mainstream Islam was all about peace, tolerance and respect. He was popping up everywhere and always with the same message. Donít confuse the mainstream with the radicals.
Now itís not my aim tonight to focus on the teachings of Islam. We will not spend any time discovering what the historical religion of Mohammad actually says. But I do have a key question for you: who decides whether something is radical or mainstream? Who has the right to define whether a certain belief is a mainstream belief or simply a wacky idea held by fanatical extremists? Who has the right to make that call? The government? The media? The so-called experts? Perhaps you could bring out the official teachers from the organisation concerned. Maybe that would be a sensible move. But what if the official teachers were not recognised by everyone in the organisation? What do you do then?
Just imagine a group of Anglican Bishops on Question Time. Can you imagine that? Sitting in the studio discussing the uniqueness of Jesus Christ when faced with a whole variety of other religions. What a prospect! But in the worldís eyes these are the official teachers of the Church of England. And yet it should be very clear to us that a large number of Bishops do not share the same convictions as the vast majority of people in the organisation that we know as the COE. So who determines what is mainstream and what is radical?
Not surprisingly Islam is the religion of the moment. And so not surprisingly the attention of the British media and the British government is currently focused in the direction of the Muslim community. But it would be a huge mistake to think that it will always be like this. Because in our current climate all religious views that are capable of inspiring people to action are treated with great suspicion. So it cannot be too long until questions are asked of Christianity. Therefore, our task tonight is to remind ourselves of the difference between mainstream Christianity and a Christianity that has been radicalised.
Or to put it slightly differently. We are trying to work out if Melvin Tinker, the chief bible teacher at St Johns, is a dangerous extremist. He may have an extreme taste in fashion (and thatís from the man who wears tartan trousers!) but what about his doctrine? Has he been radicalised and so therefore is he radicalising us? Or is he simply a mainstream Christian believing and teaching what mainstream Christians have always believed?
Well, to find out letís examine 1 Peter 1:1-2. This is what we read. Read verses 1-2.
Mainstream Christians have always believed what Jesus Christ taught. To be a Christian is to trust Jesus as saviour and to follow him as King. Thatís what it means to be a Christian. And so therefore access to the words of Jesus has always been a priority for mainstream Christians.
We are people in a relationship to the risen Jesus Christ and so like any relationship communication is vital. Communication from us to Jesus and from Jesus to us. But how does Jesus communicate to us? One of the striking facts of history is that Jesus never penned a word that has remained to this day. He never wrote any books. He never wrote up a discipleship manual and he never got published a non-threatening, easy to use Christianity Explored Course. So how can we today get access to what he thinks? Mainstream Christianity is always defined by the teachings of Jesus. Not by what Bishops say, or what Creeds affirm or even by what enthusiastic preachers say from the pulpit. No, mainstream Christianity is exclusively founded on the teachings of Jesus. So bearing in mind that Jesus never wrote anything down, how do we get access to what he thinks? Have a look at verse 1.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt that Peter was a close companion of Jesus. He was with him from the earliest days of his ministry. He was part of the inner circle known as the 12 and he was even one of three special disciples who had the privilege of accompanying Jesus on some of his more exclusive journeys. So if we are looking for someone who really knew what Jesus was thinking and who could therefore pass on mainstream Christianity to the world then Peter is our man. Because Peter was one of Jesusí best mates. And yet, according to verse 1, Peter was not just a close companion of Jesus, he also calls himself an apostle of Jesus. Now this word apostle means someone who is sent on behalf of another. It means a messenger sent from someone with a message. So do you see what Peter is saying? By stating that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and not just a friend, he is claiming a unique authority to pass on the teachings of Jesus to the world at large. He is not just a spotty adolescent messenger boy whose views can be dismissed without consequence. He is a delegate of King Jesus and so must be listened to.
What Peter says is mainstream Christianity. So hereís my point this evening Ė any other supposed Christian teaching that disagrees with what Peter says in these verses is a dangerous form of extremism. Have you been radicalised? Have I been radicalised? Is Melvin an oddball Ė sorry I meant a fanatic? It all depends on whether we believe what Peter has written. So from 1 Peter 1:1-2 letís check out what mainstream Christians believe.
- They believe that Christians are strangers (verse 1)
- They believe that Christians are scattered (verse 1)
- They believe that Christians are special (verse 2)
But, first of all, letís focus on the conviction that Christians are strangers. Peter writes in verse 1 "To Godís elect, strangers in the world." This is who you are Peter says. You are strangers in this world. You donít belong here. You donít fit in here. You feel strange as you go about your daily business and to be honest you would rather be in a different place, Because this world is not your home. The apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven and that we eagerly await a saviour from there. And Peter would agree with him.
And so would I. If you are a Christian here tonight, do you not feel like an alien in this world? Thankfully not many of you look like aliens but do you not feel like one? Like a traveller who is passing through this brief life but who is ultimately heading for a different destination.
Many of you know that I am a foreigner. I come from that country North of England that has so far exposed the world to the soothing notes of the bagpipes and has provided our taste buds with a beautiful delicacy known as the fried Mars Bar. We are a truly wicked people! But from time to time I do visit my hometown of Wishaw. Now Wishaw isnít very famous outside or even inside Scotland. In fact I think its only claim to fame is for an ecoli outbreak at the local butcher shop.
But Wishaw was where I grew up and so from time to time I do go back to visit friends and family. And yet every time I do I feel like a stranger. I feel that I donít fit in. I feel that I donít belong. That something major has changed since I left Scotland that now means that I no longer regard it as home. And yes I know that since leaving the beautiful land my accent has been mongrelised by the English almost beyond recognition and people in Wishaw often accuse of me of becoming a soft southern. But I know thatís not what it is. Thatís not why I feel like a stranger. Because nowadays itís not just in Scotland that I feel like a stranger but wherever I am on the planet. Because now, unlike when I was growing up in Scotland, I am so convinced that my home is not here. But my citizenship is in heaven and I am eagerly awaiting a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. So I am not a Christian Scot, a Scotsman first and foremost who just happens to be a Christian. No I am Scottish Christian, a Christian first and foremost who just happened to be born in Scotland.
And so therefore I relate to what Peter says in verse 1. When he calls the Christians who are scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (which in case you are interested are all places in modern Turkey), when he calls these people strangers I think to myself "thank you Peter for explaining why I feel like an alien in this world." So when the values, the language, the customs and the expectations of the world, of the people next to us at work, of the people next to us in the pub, feel so foreign to us the Bible tells us why. It says: this is reality. This is how we are supposed to feel. Because we are strangers in the world and yet we live alongside people who are not.
So have a look at verses 17-19. Read.
Why are we strangers here in the world? Because we have been redeemed from the empty way of life that is all around us. We have been rescued from a situation of hopelessness and meaninglessness that we could do nothing about. And yet we still live alongside people who have not been rescued and who therefore are still trapped in the empty way of life that has been handed down to them from the creators of the materialistic dream. And so no wonder we feel like strangers. And no wonder that the way we live often looks radical to them and is often described as extremist. But please do not think that you have been radicalised if you believe this, because this is mainstream Christianity, from the lips of an apostle of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, if you do not believe this and yet still call yourself a Christian then you have become a dangerous fanatic. You have been radicalised. For example, if you donít think that Christians should behave in a way that is different from the world at large then you are no longer in the mainstream. No matter what you might protest you have been radicalised. And so therefore you need to submit once again to the loving teachings of Jesus Christ as they are recorded in the Bible. Now of course this will make us look odd. We will behave differently, think differently and even plan differently. But thatís ok because according to Peter mainstream Christians are to think of themselves as strangers in the world.
Secondly, mainstream Christians are to think of themselves as scattered. And we see that again in verse 1. So have a look with me at verse 1. Peter writes "To Godís elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia." Now do you know what is so special about this word scattered? The word Peter actually uses is the word diaspora and if you run a search through the OT you will discover that this is the language of exile.
So, for example, in Deu 30:4 this is what we read "Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back."
And in Nehemiah 1:9 this is the promise of God that we hear: "If you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name."
And so do you see what Peter is doing in 1 Peter 1? It is incredible and in the worldís eyes it is radical. He is transferring the language of the Israelite exile to the people of God in the NT. He is saying to Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire that they are now the people of God. That they are now to regard themselves as Israelites even though they might not have a Jewish parent between them. Wow, is that not radical?
The Diaspora was the common term for the Jews scattered throughout the world after they were deported from their land by the Babylonians in 587BC. They were a scattered people. Far away from home and far away from each other. And yet despite their misery they were also a hopeful people. Because these exiles were looking forward to the day when God would gather his people again. They expected that one day the Diaspora would be finished. The only question was when.
And so when we read in Matthew 1:17 that there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile in Babylon, and 14 from the exile to the Messiah we are not supposed to nod off and have a nap but are supposed to sit up straight and pay attention. Because here is the answer to the when question. Jesus is the end of the exile or at least he is the beginning of the end.
You see, Jesus was God living as a man who had come to the earth to gather his people. So it was not a coincidence that Jesus chose 12 apostles. He was not choosing his first 11 plus a substitute for the Judean First Division. No he was gathering Israel to himself. And so just as the original nation of Israel started with 12 brothers so the Israel that was to gather around Jesus started with 12 men who would subsequently be known as brothers.
Let us not be mistaken! Jesus stands at the centre of history and the people of God are those who gather around him by faith. So is the exile over? Yes. It is possible to be gathered again to the God who made us and as we see tonight it is possible to be gathered together with other people who have been rescued from the empty way of life passed down to us. So is the exile over? Yes and no. Because the people of God, according to Peter, are still to regard themselves as scattered. So although we can experience now that inexpressible joy of knowing the risen Jesus personally and the joy of knowing some of his gathered people personally, we ainít seen nothing yet! Because we have not yet experienced the wonder of the final gathering of Godís people. So although Peter can say in 1:8 "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" he also writes verse 13 "set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." That day when we will see him face to face.
So take heart my friends. If you are a Christian, then unlike Darth Vader you have chosen the right side and are on your way to a wonderful future.
So what do mainstream Christians believe? First of all, they believe they are strangers. Secondly, they believe they are scattered and, lastly, they believe they are special.
There is a story told of a man and his wife who both stopped off at a service station in Oxfordshire a number of years ago. Both needed the loo. So both went in. He came out first and forgot all about his wife and went to the car and drove off. She came out and thought he had been kidnapped. When the police found him pulled over on the motorway and asked him when did you realise that your wife wasnít with you. It was when I asked her for a boiled sweet and there was not reply.
But in contrast to that sort of relationship Peter says that Christians are to view themselves as special in Godís sight.
So he writes to Godís elect, who according to verse 2, have been chosen, by the Father through the Spirit for the Son. From beginning to end the bible is a story of election. You cannot understand the bible if you are determined to ignore the truth of election. Because it is there on page after page. We see it, for example, in Gen 6 (Noah). We see it again in Gen 12 (Abe). And throughout the rest of the OT we find it whenever we come across the nation of Israel who are basically a group of people chosen instead of another group of people.
And what Peter is saying to us this evening and so therefore what mainstream Christianity is saying to us this evening is that we as Christians are special. And we are special because we have been selected instead of other people. Now letís get this clear. We are not chosen because we are special. We are not chosen because we have some amazing quality. We do not! Christians are special because they are chosen. They are not chosen because they are special. So letís not be an extremist, letís believe that Christians are special.
But even if we believe this, and I hope you do, we are still left with three fundamental questions about our election.
- Who chose us?
- Why have we been chosen?
- How were we chosen?
First of all, who chose us? Peter says that we have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and in Ephesians 1:3 Paul says "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world." So, according to the Bible, it is God the Father who is responsible for choosing us. That is his role in the plan of salvation. Which of course begs the question: when did he choose us? Well, according to Peter we have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. So its not as if God the Father sets up a trial period to watch us in this life and then after a few years he says to himself, well they have passed the test of election. No, we were chosen before the creation of the world, which implies before we were even born. And this could happen because God the Father saw the consequences of the world he would create before he had even created it. Such is his vast knowledge about the world. And what did he see? Well not a section of people who were pretty nice and who were searching after their loving creator but the whole of humanity in rebellion against him, And yet in his great mercy he chose some people out of that mass of humanity. Now this is not just. Justice would be to choose no one. This is mercy. You see the great question should not be: why isnít everyone going to be in heaven? But rather why is anyone going to be in heaven? And we are told in verse 3. Read verse 3. So, first of all, who chose us? God the Father.
Secondly, why have we been chosen? Very simply: for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. That is why we have been set apart. Not to live a life as we see fit. But to obey the Son and to benefit from his great rescue.
Thirdly, how are we chosen? How do we get into this state? Because none of us are born like this. We are not born as people who automatically obey the Son and benefit from his great rescue. Therefore, something needs to happen in the present to enact what the Father has decided beforehand. And we discover what that is in verse 2. What needs to happen? The sanctifying work of the Spirit. Now usually we talk about sanctification in terms of a process Ė you know the phrase: I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved. Or sometimes it goes like this. I have been justified, I am being sanctified. And I will be glorified. But we must be careful because the word sanctification does not always mean a process when it is used in the Bible and it certainly doesnít mean that here. You see sanctification is basically not a process word but a setting apart word.
So I can sanctify this pen. Set it apart for a particular aim.
Now, according to 1 Peter this is what the Spirit does to us during our lives. At some point he sets us apart to obey the Son, which is what the Father decreed before hand would happen. And he does this, normally, through the speaking of the gospel. So if you are still with me have a look at our final reference for this evening. Itís 1 Peter 1:23. Where Peter says
Now what is the surprise in that verse? What would you have expected him to write? By the Spirit? But he says by the word. And so notice what he is doing. He is explaining the normal means by which new life is given by the Holy Spirit. It is not apart from the gospel but it is as the gospel is explained that the Spirit brings new life to those who listen.
Which is why speaking the gospel is so important. People tonight Ė you view of Jesus is changing, rescued from an empty way of life Ė could be the Spirit working in you. Come and see one of us. CE course.
But for those of us who are Christians let me ask: have you been radicalised? Have we been radicalised? Is Melvin some sort of radical cleric? Not if he believes that Christians are strangers, scattered and special. And the same goes for us. The world may view us as extremists but to teach that Christians are strangers, scattered and special is simply to communicate what mainstream Christianity has always believed.
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