buy, Christian and his dear friend Faithful would only put their fingers in their ears and say, “Turn away mine eyes from vanity.” And because they were deemed societal freaks one of them was caged and the other one was killed. One was put in jail, the other was put to death.
This was a scene from the book Pilgrim’s Progress, the point in which Christian and Faithful entered the town of Vanity Fair. In this incident, John Bunyan accurately portrayed something of the life of the Christian. He illustrated the radical disparity that exists between those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not. He depicts how to everyone in the world we are foreigners. Everything about us is completely different.
This has most certainly been your experience. I know for certain you have said to yourself, “Why is it that I always feel like a stranger in my own neighborhood.” “Why is it that at family gatherings—when I am surrounded by my own flesh and blood—that I feel like I don’t belong?” Everyday when you go to work, though you’ve been there for years and you’ve rubbed shoulders with the same people for 10-15 years, you still feel like an alien.
It is because you are a Christian. You dress differently. You talk differently. You have different interests. You have little to no interest in the pursuits and pleasures that they hold near and dear. Even your humor is different. You find yourself making yourself chuckle when someone cracks a joke, because deep down inside you don’t find the humor of it. And sometimes you find their hilarity revolting.
You, my friends, are a strange breed. And for this reason you suffer the things you do. For most of you it may just be that feeling of alienation. Yet you realize it has the potential to lead to outright persecution.
That’s why we have so much in common with those to whom Peter wrote. You see there in our passage that Peter calls them “exiles.” That is they were strangers (outcasts, foriengers). They were people who were aliens in their own neighborhoods. These were people who were considered by most to be misfits –oddballs. That’s because they were men and women who had become Christians. And due to their radical adherence to Christ the people around them thought they were a little eccentric.
That’s why Peter takes pen in hand. He wishes to offer a word of encouragement. God doesn’t want you to become disheartened. He doesn’t want you to be disenchanted or disenfranchised with the faith. He knows that its difficult being bound for Zion, but yet having to live in this world. It’s not easy being a pilgrim among pagans. That’s why he writes this letter to you. In these words he encourages us to persevere in the faith with the same tenacity that had first brought you into these conditions. And he does this by lifting your eyes to God.
And how does he encourage us? Well its by reminding us that we are guided by God, governed by God, and graced by God.
To help us persevere in our journey the first thing Peter does is remind us that we are guided by God.
I. We are guided by God
Look at the very first words of this epistle. Peter starts off by introducing himself. And he introduces himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” It’s noteworthy that the first thing Peter does is flash his business card. He wants you to take particular note of his office. He specifically highlights the fact that he is no ordinary joe in the church. He is “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Now what is an apostle? Simply stated an apostle is a messenger. If you want to be more technical an apostle is an official ambassador. He’s one who is officially designated by a ruler to deliver a message. And Peter is saying that he has been commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ himself to deliver a specific message to these people.
Now wouldn’t that just lift their hearts to hear this? Imagine getting a word straight from heaven itself. Imagine getting a letter addressed right to you from your king. Wouldn’t that be phenomenal? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
Here you have God himself speaking, reminding you that you don’t have to traverse this world all by your lonesome. God has not left you without any guidance. He has sent forth his messengers, his apostles, to give you specific instructions that you might be properly guided in your journey through this world.
You know, every pilgrim needs a map, don’t they? One thing they need is something that will direct them on how to proceed in their travels.
I’m glad that they invented this little gadget we call the GPS. The GPS is God’s gift to mankind. Because with this little device makes it so that we men don’t ever have to ask directions ever again! I love that little thing. As you’re traveling along the highway the little lady in that box says so kindly, “In 1.2 miles take exit right.” She’s such a great help. I love having her along with me whenever I go places. Because she won’t let me get lost.
You probably know how the GPS works. There’s a satellite up in the sky. And that satellite sends a signal down to that little box. And then the computer takes that signal and relays it on to you. And the word she speaks keeps me on track. I don’t have to worry about getting sidetracked or lost because that message keeps traveling in the right direction.
And my friends, we have one in the heavens above that has sent us a message through the Apostle Peter. Here in this book we have divine directions so that we don’t get lost or discouraged on our way to Zion.
It’s easy to get lost, isn’t it? It’s easy to become disheartened. I mean it doesn’t take much. We’ve already talked about how different we are. That’s why I want to encourage you to always be immersed in the Scriptures. There is nothing more encouraging than reading the Bible and hearing what God has to say in it. As the old saying goes, “7 days without the Bible makes one weak.” If we don’t have that regular exposure to the Scripture, we’re not going to be able to stay on track.
And I want to remind you dads in particular of this. I want to remind you how crucial it is to be taking the Bible and reading it to your family each day. Family worship is the most important part of the day. It is one of your greatest responsibilities as a father and a husband.
Dads, you have to remember how much your children need to hear God’s word from day to day. I’ve witnessed this in my kid’s lives already. They are growing up, and as they do they are constantly being in contact with the world. They are constantly being reminded that they are different.
I sometimes joke with my daughter. I tell her, “As you get older, you’re going to find we are weird.” And she’s finding that to be true. We are weird. I think it began with bathing suits. Very early she noticed that the bathing suits that we picked out were a lot different from the other boys and girls. We just have a different view of modesty. And, as you may suspect, our family has a different taste when it comes to the music we listen to. There is a huge difference in how our family interacts. Mom and dad always seem to be around. We are setting our parameters a lot tighter than other kids in the neighborhood. You know, we’re just weird!
And as your kids grow up, they need to hear God speak. They need to hear the message that God has not left them to wander about on their own. They need to know that our God is a living God who takes personal interest in them. They need to know that God is guiding them.
So don’t be lax in your family devotions. Take 10 minutes or so. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just take the Bible and read a little section of it. It might be a single story. It might be a whole chapter. You can decide what is appropriate. Just make sure that they hear it. Just allow them the opportunity to be reminded that God has sent his word to them.
The very first thing pilgrims need to know is that they are guided by God. Persevering in the faith requires that we hear it. We must ever be taken back to the fact that God is guiding us.
But you know what else we need? We need to be reminded that we are guided by God. But we also need to remember that we are governed by God.
II. We are governed by God
Peter wants his audience to know that God is in absolute control. That’s why he addresses this letter the way he does. He says, “to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion.” Note that word, “dispersion.” This word deals with the fact that Christians were sprinkled throughout these different regions. Originally it was used to describe the Jews who had been taken into exile in the Old Testament. You remember that God had told them at the very beginning of their history that if they didn’t obey He would cast them out of the land and send them to live in foreign countries. And that’s exactly what happened. And it came to be known as “the Dispersion.”
I like that word because it reminds us of God’s hand in it all. The word dispersion literally means “to scatter.” It comes from the world of agriculture where one would sow seed. The farmer would take a handful of seed and he would disperse it about the field. He would scatter it wherever he would like.
So we see here that these Christians were where they were because God’s omnipotent hand had placed them there. It wasn’t any random happenchance that they came to dwell among these pagan people. God had sovereignty determined their exact location.
And you my friends are not where you are because of some inadvertent fate or fortune. You live in that neighborhood because God wanted you there. You are facing the circumstances that you do because God has ordained it by his eternal decree.
And isn’t that comforting? Isn’t it great to know that the almighty hand of God is being manifested in your life in such a way? Isn’t it wonderful to know that life’s events are not accidents or some haphazard game of hit and miss?
I tell you, I really don’t know how unbelieving people do it. My wife will say this from time to time too. Sometimes things get a little chaotic and life gets a little overwhelming. And she’ll say to me, “I don’t know how people who don’t believe in a God who controls history can do it.”
To tell you the truth, a lot of them can’t do it. Some people just opt out. They’ll commit suicide because they see that as the best way out of their circumstances. A lot of people today are nervous wrecks. They have no peace. They run to a bottle of pills or some other means of escapism just to get by for another day. They can’t handle it, because life seems to be a mess of miserable, arbitrary events.
Not us though. Not us. We know that history is His Story. And though we might not understand our current situation, we face today with gusto because God governs and upholds all things by his eternal providence.
I think we can think about it a lot like how kids play with matchbox cars. I know I love playing with Matchbox cars when I was growing up. And still today when my daughter gets out the cars and all the accessories I love to sit down and play cars. But you know, I noticed that we pay with the cars differently. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m a boy and she’s a girl. Katelyn likes to take the car she has and roll it carefully around and park it right in the exact spot. Then she’ll do the same thing with the next car. She carefully takes each car in hand moves them all the way to the appropriate spot. I, on the other hand, like to race them and make them go flying as fast as they can across the room. I’ll rear it back and let her go and it will go racing and crashing where ever it might.
You see, a lot of people today think we are like those Matchbox cars that I fling around. Nothing is in control; it’s all just a wild crazy ride that’s going nowhere but everywhere. And people with that kind of view typically crash—just like the toy cars. But all of you need to remember that life is more like my daughter’s cars. Each one is gently governed by a tender and omnipotent hand. And he is gently leading us and placing us right where we should be.
So when you go to work tomorrow, you can smile a bit. You can rest assured that it’s not by chance that you rub shoulders with those particular people. God put you there with those people for a purpose. He put you there because he knew it would be best for you. He put you there because he knew it would be the best for them. (Just think! They get to be around you!) Jesus said, “Let your light shine before me, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” Most of all remember that He put you there because it would be the best for God himself! All things work together for His glory. And He directed all things—He sovereignly ordered the course of events so that you would be born into the house you were, living in the neighborhood you do, and interacting with the people you do on a daily basis. And he did it so that he would receive glory.
We are pilgrims among pagans, and so we must lift our eyes unto heaven; remembering that we are guided by God and governed by God. But friends, above all things let us never forget that we are graced by God.
III. We are graced by God
In this passage Peter spares no amount of ink to emphasize this. You see that he addresses this letter “to the elect exiles of the dispersion.” He doesn’t say, “To the believing exiles.” Or “to the faithful exiles.” He could have simply said, “To the exiles” and left out a modifier altogether! But no. He denominates you as the elect. That is, one’s who have been chosen before the foundation of the world. Ones who were appointed long before time ever began to receive the benefits of Christ’s merit. Ones who, in his eternal counsel, God selected and ordained to everlasting life.
And this is reiterated in verse 2 where it says that this election occurred, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This of course, does not merely mean that God knew in advance who would belong to him. But rather it indicates that God has set his affection upon them in advance and actively foreordained their salvation.
The language hearkens back to the Old Testament and notes the special choice God had for the people of Israel. In particular we can think of Jeremiah. In the opening chapter God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; and before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The foreknowledge God had of Jeremiah was not simply his knowing beforehand that Jeremiah would be born and become a prophet. But it highlights the fact that God had decreed that Jeremiah be conceived and play that particular role in Israel’s life.
And this is the language God uses to describe you. Think about it: You were no afterthought to God. God had you on his mind before he initiated any construction on the universe. Before one brick was laid—before one spark of light was kindled—God was thinking about saving you and having a relationship with you.
If there is one thing that should stir you up on your journey, it is this—because if there is anything that can get a traveler down, it is his shame.
You might be able to stand the opposition of men. You might have the fortitude to overcome persecution. But though the external forces cannot do much to you, you can be worn down by the enemy within you. The feeling of guilt you have for your own sin can bog you down so that you don’t want to press on in the faith.
If you may permit me, let me draw again from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Those of you who read the book may remember the Slough of Despond. The slough of Despond was a murky bog into which the main character fell. You can imagine wallowing in the filth of swampy muck. The stench wafting up from the slime and mud and the toll it takes trying to wade through it. It was such a quagmire that he eventually found himself helpless and hopeless, not being able to press on in his journey. His thoughts tended towards turning back and forsaking his journey. As a matter of fact, the friend that accompanied him did turn back. It was simply too much for him.
That marsh represented an attitude of mind. It stands for the melancholy feeling you get from the conviction that God cannot be gracious to you. It is the overwhelming sense of shame because you have offended God.
Sometimes our greatest enemy is our own self. Our sin can be the biggest roadblock when it comes to pressing on in the faith. We can get stuck in the slough of despond and think, “Why would God want anything to do with me? Can I really come to the Lord’s Table and have communion with him? I don’t even know if I should even be sitting in these pews!”
If you have such feelings (and I’m sure some of you have), you need to remember that your salvation isn’t dependent upon what you did last night. It’s not dependent upon what you did last week. It depends upon the election of a merciful and gracious God. It is dependent upon what He has done long before history commenced.
‘Tis not that I did choose thee, for, Lord that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, hadst thou not chosen me.
Thou from the sin that stained me hadst cleansed and set me free;
Of old thou hadst ordained me, that I should live for thee.
You have been graced by God. And you must not forget it. For it is key to keeping you from halting on your pilgrimage to Zion.
In the book of Psalms there is one section entitled, “The Psalms of Ascents.” They were the pilgrim songs—songs that the Jews would sing as they made their way to Zion for one of their yearly festivals. And as these men set out on that long journey to Jerusalem, they would sing Psalm 121. As the heat bore down on them and their feet began to become weary of their travels, they would sing, “I lift my eyes up to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.”
As we set forth on our journey today, let us remember the same—just as Peter has taught us. Our help comes from the Lord; the one who guides us by his word, governs us by his power, and graces us with his election.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.