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A Tract for Our Times

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 19, 2024 12:01 am

A Tract for Our Times

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 19, 2024 12:01 am

Many Christians feel like outsiders in an increasingly hostile society. Remarkably, the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to believers in a similar situation. In today's message from his new teaching series, Sinclair Ferguson introduces the hope-filled message of 1 Peter.

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Is it not true that there are Christians who fear that the gospel will not work if a society becomes anti-Christian, and they live their lives complaining rather than serving? And Peter is speaking to these Christians and saying, the principal lesson we need to learn is that the gospel works everywhere because Christ is always with His people. Do you get a sense of discouragement from Christians today?

The negative is certainly amplified through social media, and things are changing rapidly all around us. But God's Word doesn't give us reason to be discouraged. I will build my church, Jesus says, and this week's study is in a New Testament letter that should bring each of us encouragement.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. The Apostle Peter's first letter is a tract for our times, according to Sinclair Ferguson, and this week you'll hear select messages from this brand new series that's never been made available on Renewing Your Mind before, you can own the complete series when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. First Peter has been described as a letter to establish its readers in their believing, to direct them in their doing, and to comfort them in their suffering.

Here's Dr. Ferguson to begin his new series Sojourners and Exiles. FERGUSON It would be interesting, I think, to take a little poll and ask, if you were allowed to have only one apostle to have dinner with you, which apostle would you choose? And I guess we might well choose different apostles. Some of us who have a special love for the apostle John would want to listen to him. Many Christians, especially Reformed Christians, I think, would want to have the apostle Paul with them. But I think too that many Christians would choose the apostle Peter for the rather obvious reason that in many ways it's more easy to identify with Peter than it is to identify with Paul, and perhaps largely because Peter is the apostle who messed up. Messed up not only during the ministry of Jesus, but even after he had been filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

You remember he messed up and was rebuked by the apostle Paul. And that's exactly the kind of man that most of us are willing to open our hearts to. And I think it's a wonderful thing that although it takes only twenty minutes or so to read through his first letter, there is actually more in Peter's first letter than I think we would ever get him to divulge if we had him for several hours at a dinner party.

And so, I want us to explore this wonderful letter. And there is another reason for doing so, not only because Peter is such an open heart to us, but because we live in days when the message of 1 Peter seems to have unusual relevance. I think we could think of this series of studies, although we will have to cover the book fairly superficially, I think we could think of this series as an exposition of a tract for the times. We live in days when Christendom is collapsing, if not completely collapsed. And he lived in a day before Christendom existed. But in many ways, one of the challenges for Christians today is to understand what it is to live the Christian gospel when Christians are not in the majority. And that's the whole reason why Peter wrote this first letter, a tract for his times to Christians long before they came to be the majority, and relevant as a tract for our times to Christians who are no longer in the majority. At the end of our studies, which as I say, will be relatively superficial, we will, I think, have twelve studies, I hope that you and I will feel, as we should always feel at the end of a study of a Bible book, I think I'm ready now to begin my study of 1 Peter. So, what we're going to do here is to have an exposition, and I hope in many ways it will be the groundwork for the homework of the rest of our Christian lives. And in this session, I want simply to introduce the letter by looking at the opening two verses, and in that context to pause and to think about three issues.

The first is why we should study it. The second is the capacity in which Peter wrote it, and the third is the description of the Christians who first read it. I've already hinted why we should study 1 Peter, but there is also a general reason why we study it.

It is part of sacred Scripture, and sacred Scripture teaches us that the Word of God is useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, or positive transformation, which is what the word correction means in that context, and for training us to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, for reforming our lives so that we begin to look spiritually like Him. And 1 Peter certainly fits into that capacity. Paul speaks about the way in which conviction deconstructs us and how desperately we need to be deconstructed in an ongoing way.

But also, how Scripture reconstructs us is profitable for reproof, for rebuke, to take us to pieces, and then it's profitable for correction, for healing, for transforming. That's language that's used outside the New Testament in a medical world of healing something that has been broken, of mending a broken limb, of reconstructive surgery, and certainly 1 Peter fits into that category. And it comes out of Peter's own experience. Everyone who first heard the words of this letter must have known of Simon Peter's failures. I remember a friend who has been a very distinguished Christian leader saying to me one day, most people do not know that as a young man I was a total basket case. And Peter was exactly that, a total basket case, assured of his own ability, as alas many Christians continue to be, but who by God's grace in Christ's hands was deconstructed, so that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the very first words He spoke to him, Oh, so you are Simon.

You will become the rock. And it's out of that experience that Peter writes to them. So, the identity of the author is important, but also the contents of the letter are of supreme importance. One of the old Scottish theologians, an Episcopalian as it happens, Archbishop Robert Leighton, once wrote of 1 Peter that it contains three heads of doctrine, faith, obedience, and patience. And then he went on to make this beautiful statement that Peter writes, first of all, to establish them in believing, secondly, to direct them in doing, and thirdly, to comfort them in suffering. And that's a beautiful summary of what we will discover in these pages, the way in which in Peter's teaching our understanding of the gospel is well established, the way in which in this letter he directs us to how we respond to that gospel in consistent Christian living in a difficult time, and how he comes to Christians who are already beginning to suffer grievously for the gospel and brings to them true gospel comfort.

Indeed, if you think about it for a few minutes, I think you will realize that Peter's letter of comfort to these Christian believers is rather different from the kind of letters of comfort that you and I tend to write to those who are suffering or those who are in need. And he does this, of course, in the context of opposition to Christ, to the gospel, and His people. You see that in these opening verses. He speaks of the trials that Christians are experiencing in verse 6. Again, in chapter 2, in verse 12, he speaks about the false accusations that are rendered towards them. In chapter 3, he speaks about the suffering that they undergo.

In chapter 4, about the pains that they have. And all this is probably before the demonic suffering that these Christians were to experience under the terrible reign of the Emperor Nero. This is, in a sense, just before totalitarianism begins to swamp and seeks to destroy the Christian church. This is before Rome burns, you remember, and the Emperor Nero seeking around for someone who can be blamed for it apart from himself puts the blame on the Christians and sets them ablaze in Rome and shows his hatred for God and for the gospel. They are probably not yet at that stage, but they are beginning to suffer, and there is more suffering to come. And Peter has the wisdom to understand that they will need to be well-grounded in the gospel, that they will need to understand how do Christians negotiate the life of the gospel in a world that is opposed to the gospel, and they will need to learn that the gospel works in any society.

And what an important lesson that is for us in our societies. Is it not true that there are Christians I've certainly met some who fear that the gospel will not work if a society becomes anti-Christian, and they live their lives complaining rather than serving? And Peter is speaking to these Christians and saying, the principal lesson we need to learn is that the gospel works everywhere, because Christ is always with His people. And it's all this, I think, that makes Peter's world here, as he writes, uncannily like the world into which we are presently entering and our children may have to enter much more fully.

And we can take two or three attitudes to that, can't we? We can put our heads in the sand and say, I hope I'm dead before it comes. We can complain about it, or we can sense the exhilaration of the New Testament's teaching, that it is profoundly relevant to a people who experience hardship and suffering and challenge and even totalitarianism in the world in which they live.

We are far from being the first Christians who have ever faced such a situation, and if the Lord tarries, we will certainly not be the last. And what a great thing it is that God has already given to us this particular letter, shaped for these particular circumstances. And that's one reason why I think it's so helpful for us to give attention to it.

That's why we should study it. The second thing I want us to notice is the capacity in which Peter wrote it. We are familiar with how these ancient letters characteristically began. They were more in the form of our modern emails than the letters that we used to write. You probably have had a letter, I remember one particular letter. I had no idea who was writing it, and I couldn't read the signature at the end. And it was before emails because it would have been so much easier if I'd got an email from him that had told me who he was, and the subject matter was there in the heading.

And it's interesting that in technology we've actually reverted to antiquity, isn't it? Because that's how ancient letters began, and so we find it here. Peter's writing the letter, and he's writing the letter to the elect exiles in these different places. But I want you especially to notice the ways in which he describes himself, because those ways are many-sided and they're illuminating. Of course, he begins by describing himself as Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and therein lies his appointment and his authority.

And he's very conscious of this. He is writing as an apostle of Jesus Christ, whom Jesus taught, you remember, especially in the upper room, he, Jesus, was preparing to add to the sacred Scriptures so that when the Spirit came to them, they would more fully enter into the truth of Christ. They would remember everything Christ had said.

They would be able to see into the future. And the Lord Jesus was preparing these eleven men to be involved together in the giving of the New Testament. And this is one reason why Peter describes himself with this role of authority in the church given to him by Christ as an apostolos, a sent one, someone who came and spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus. But I think it's important for us to recognize he describes himself in other ways as well, and especially, interestingly, when we get almost to the end.

If you turn over to chapter 5 and verse 1, you'll notice a whole series of descriptions now begin to emerge. He is not only an apostle, but he is an eyewitness of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. What a thing it is that we can listen to someone who was there for three years, even if perhaps he was not there at the end, although he might well have returned to watch at the end, as the apostle John did. He was an eyewitness of all of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus through the last three years of his life. What a thing that he is able to sit down and to talk to us about suffering.

And he himself had been a sufferer. And in addition to that, as an eyewitness, his witness is reliable. He can say, I was there.

And then he adds something else. He says, it's true I'm an apostle. It's true I am an eyewitness, and that makes me, with a relatively small number of people, still alive, rather unique. But he speaks to the church as a fellow elder with their elders. He doesn't separate himself from those who serve in their local churches. You know, sometimes as you watch people who are in positions of Christian responsibility and Christian influence, you notice that they increasingly separate themselves off from others who are engaged in ministry as though they were superior, as though they had an entitlement to be treated in a different way. And there's something very sweet about Peter writing to these elders in these different churches and saying, I'm a fellow elder with you. I know the challenges. I know that when you get down into the trenches and get your hands dirty in seeking to help people to know the gospel in such a way that their lives will be transformed. I'm not separating myself from you.

I'm not placing myself a mile above you. I am with you, and I'm speaking to you out of my own experience of what it means to be an elder. And then he adds this, which in some ways is the most surprising thing of all. I'm writing to you as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. I'm writing to you as a partaker of the glory which is to be revealed. And you know, that statement sets the tone of 1 Peter, and from it we ought to learn something about the tone in which Christians live in an increasingly non-Christian world. Would you agree with me when I say that I think many Christians become kind of gloom and doom merchants? And would you agree with me when I say many Christians spend a lot of rather wasted time lamenting the situation? I never forgotten as a youngster being in a Christian bookstore, and I was behind one of the bookcases, and I heard two, by their voices, elderly men talking about the situation today.

And one of them was moaning and groaning and saying, well, what can you expect? And as a young Christian, granted I was young and knew relatively little, I wanted to push the books over on top of them and say, I don't want to hear you speak gloom and doom. Now, Peter was beginning to experience a kind of gloom and doom that most of us never taste.

But you see what he was doing? His sight of glory shone light upon his present experience and his present life. One of the most important things to notice in 1 Peter is that in the midst of all that is coming upon Christians, there is not one single word of complaint. And I find that for 1 Peter is a letter that has the power to shut my mouth of complaint so long as I understand that I am, with God's people, a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed. And not only the glory that is to be revealed, but it's interesting that Peter speaks about rejoicing in an experience of glory now.

So, away with my moans, away with my complaints, because there are evidences, actually there are evidences, I may be complaining about the providence of God, but there are also evidences that the gospel has not really gripped my soul the way it had begun to grip Simon Peter's soul, because he was living his life backwards from the future, which is how the New Testament tells us to live our lives so that in the light of the transcendent glory that is to come, we find our present afflictions to be light and temporary. And that leads us briefly to the third thing here in these opening two verses, his description of those who first heard these words read. They are Christians who have been scattered abroad, perhaps they had some of them been with Peter on a previous occasion. They are all over the region that we would nowadays probably call Turkey. And he describes them in terms of their geographical location, doesn't he? These different places, which is probably the route around which this letter was sent from one church to another. But more importantly, he describes them in terms of their spiritual identity. And I want you, as we close, to notice two things.

First of all, what is said about them? They have been chosen, they have been set apart, and they have been converted to a life of new obedience. Such beautiful statements about what it means to be a Christian, chosen by God in eternity, set apart in time, and now living in happy obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But notice what goes along with that. Notice who is responsible for that, because do you see he actually mentions each of the three Persons of the Trinity? According to the foreknowledge of God, we have been chosen. We have been chosen for obedience to the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit. I wonder if this has ever really dawned on us, that it has taken the whole Trinity to bring any of us into the kingdom of God, and whether it has dawned on us, a big theme in 1 Peter, who we really are, that we are those who have been chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world, that the Spirit of God has set us apart by His sovereign work in our hearts, and that He has set us apart so that the whole of our lives might be lives of obedience to the Lord Jesus.

And what Peter is saying here is, if you keep your eyes on Christ, if you live in the Spirit, if you know what it is to have God as your heavenly Father, then you can be sure, as we shall see in our next study, that you will be kept by His power, no matter how difficult it is to be a Christian. What an encouragement for the times in which you and I find ourselves. That was Sinclair Ferguson from his newly released series. In fact, it was only just released this month, Sojourners and Exiles. This is Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship founded by R.C.

Sproul. If you'd like to venture through all of 1 Peter, you can request the 12-part series on DVD when you give a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, or by calling us at 800-435-4343. In addition to being one of the first to watch this new series with Sinclair Ferguson, you'll have easy streaming access to the messages and the digital study guide as well. So request your copy of Sojourners and Exiles at renewingyourmind.org. Here's a preview of what you'll hear tomorrow. We dare not as Christians interpret our own suffering or the suffering of others through our eyes or even through our emotions, real as they are. We need to learn to interpret them through what we hear in the Word of God. Be sure to join us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-19 02:30:16 / 2024-02-19 02:38:46 / 9

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