Acts 8 – Stoning of Stephen: “On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered.” This meant thousands of people left Jerusalem and moved back to their homes after Passover or they fled individually or in groups to places all over Asia Minor. Much like the Mormon migration escaping the persecution in Missouri and other states. No one would have expected a small cult to survive. But they did.

2.  1 Peter 1:1-2 God’s elect. A couple of things are important to understand.

John Calvin – To the elect, or the elected. “It may be asked, how could this be found out, for the election of God is hid, and cannot be known without the special revelation of the Spirit; and as every one is made sure of his own election by the testimony of the Spirit, so he can know nothing certain of others. To this I answer, that we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them from the world, which is a sign of election. It is no objection to say that many fall away, having nothing but the semblance; for it is the judgment of charity and not of faith, when we deem all those elect in whom appears the mark of God’s adoption. And that he does not fetch their election from the hidden counsel of God, but gathers it from the effect, is evident from the context; for afterwards he connects it with the sanctification of the Spirit As far then as they proved that they were regenerated by the Spirit of God, so far did he deem them to be the elect of God, for God does not sanctify any but those whom he has previously elected.”

The first sign of the elect is their admission into the church. The second sign is their progress in sanctification. A believer cannot fake growth because almost invariably that turns into legalism instead of maturity – a dependence on rules for yourself and others. It becomes a tyranny of impossible expectations and guilt.

Second, the purpose of the elect is obedience – not elitism. There is no status attached to being the elect. The whole purpose is the production of saints. Oswald Chambers.

The preaching of the gospel awakens an intense resentment because it is designed to reveal my unholiness, but it also awakens an intense yearning and desire within me. God has only one intended destiny for mankind— holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and He did not come to save us out of pity— He came to save us because He created us to be holy.

Third, the idea of election goes back to the Old Testament act of “selection” of the sacrificial lamb. You were to “choose” a sacrifice and then it was purified by the sprinkling of the blood. The election was to sacrifice – not to any special living status. God’s choice is for service – a kingdom of priests – not a kingdom of rulers. Election points toward sacrifice and, ultimately, the crucifixion of Christ.

Andrew Maclaren: “It is no gospel to tell a man that Jesus Christ died, unless you go on to say He ‘died for our sins according to the Scriptures.’ And it is no gospel to talk about the beauty of His life, and the perfectness of His example, and the sweetness of His nature, and the depth, the wisdom, and the tenderness of His words, unless you can say this is ‘the Lamb of God,’ ‘the Word made flesh,’ ‘who bare our sins, and carried our sicknesses and our sorrows.’

3.  1 Peter 1:3-9

Suffering is not the same as hardship. It sounds harsh but suffering is not all the normal results of living in a fallen world. Suffering is what happens to us because of our witness for Christ. Hardship can make us stronger but suffering refines us and purifies us. We can say people are going through hard times but not they are suffering unless what they are experiencing is a result of their witness for Christ. Suffering is when we identify with the sufferings of Christ – and for His name.

“A living hope…kept in heaven.” We would prefer a hope we can see or a hope that is immediate. That is not what Scripture means by hope. We have “heaven on earth” in many ways and have lost the ability or interest of hoping in the unseen.

The great temptation of Israel was to make God visible… so they created idols. An idol is what happens when we make visible what is meant to be unseen. We are the same. We do not like the unseen or the far away or the unfulfilled. We want to know what we hope for will happen in our lifetime. We lose the whole meaning of hope when we reduce everything to what is seen and visible to us. The good life ironically becomes the hopeless life because it has nothing invisible or nothing beyond our lifetime. It has no investment in the distant future.

We “want” but we do not “long”. We almost live in dread of losing what we have instead of taking hold of that which we cannot see. We are not as much greedy as we are impatient. We are focused on what God is doing now and in our lives – not in the ultimate purposes of God.

That is what Paul meant in Philippians 3:13:
10 I want to know(S)
Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,(T)
becoming like him in his death,(U)
11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection(V)
from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,(W)
but I press on to take hold(X)
of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.(Y)
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind(Z)
and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on(AA)
toward the goal to win the prize(AB)
for which God has called(AC)
me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This is difficult because we want to see the blessings of God. We want to see His making our life fulfilled or fixing our problem. We want to see the current value of believing. He has a longer horizon. His hope is invisible to us but that is the only living hope that is real.

4.  1 Peter 1:10-12

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”

The prophets did not simply receive a word from the Lord. They were not passive scribblers. They searched intently and with greatest care.

In the coming months the church is implementing a program based on a study done by Willow Creek community church. They did a survey of their own congregation and discovered all the programs they had been providing over the last ten years were not helping people become spiritually mature – just the opposite. People were busy but they were not growing. In fact, many were dissatisfied with the church because no matter how many new programs they created to serve their needs it only increased the problem. People were not becoming more mature – just more involved in and more dependent on church.

As a result of the study they discovered that the number one indicator of someone moving toward spiritual maturity (love of God and love of neighbor) was regular Bible reading and prayer – not church activities. That is what Peter is saying here about the lives of the prophets. They were careful and intent in their searching. We’ll talk more about this in coming weeks.

5.  “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you…”

Spiritual maturity is what allows us to understand the fact we are not serving ourselves but a future generation.

Hebrews 11:13-16:
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;(AA)
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,(AB)
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.(AC)
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left,
they would have had opportunity to return.(AD)
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.(AE)
Therefore God is not ashamed(AF)
to be called their God,(AG)
for he has prepared a city(AH)
for them.

11:39: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

At what point do we turn loose of finding fulfillment and begin to look toward a distant future that does not benefit us? This is the test and the benefit of aging, I think. Can you live now in obedience but for the benefit of a distant future and not your own? Can you live without receiving the things promised? Can you live with longing for something beyond your lifetime?

We want a legacy or the sense that our lives made a difference…and we want to know that in our lifetime. Remember the picture from last week of Naomi holding Obed?

“Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.” No thought of anything beyond caring for the child. The future she had left up to God. And what was her future that she could not see? David…and eventually Christ. That is a living hope. That is living with not receiving the things promised but trusting God. That is understanding what the author of Hebrews described as God planning something better – something that makes it possible for us to serve the unseen future.

I’ve thought about it as four choices:
One – immediate gratification – and that is the power of politics. Promise me something that is immediate. You will never win an election with distant promises.
Two – delayed gratification – and that is the power of capitalism and the Protestant ethic. The promised benefit will come in time.
Three – self-denial – and that is the power of religion. Take away the expectation and replace it with reduced expectations.
Four – A living hope – We are serving a future generation from a distance.

The book of 1 Peter was written to encourage believers during a time of suffering. It was not meant to focus them on “pie in the sky by and by” but to give meaning to their suffering. What they were experiencing was serving a future generation. It is the same for us today. I listened to some of the speeches at the convention and there was one that made me think about this. The speaker was outlining all the failures of the current administration and at every point there was cheering and chanting. And then he said, “Our seniors are not selfish. They are not wanting to keep benefits that will bankrupt a future generation.” There was almost silence – only a handful of applause. They did not want to jeopardize their benefits for the next generation.

Let’s be careful we do not lose sight of our living hope and whether or not we see the promise now we are faithful and obedient to the call of God to serve those who follow.