A Letter for the Afflicted (1 Peter 1:1-2)

FPCNorway1 Peter: Hope in Suffering, Sermons

Beloved, a potent salve in Christian suffering, is knowing that you are following in the footsteps of your Savior. In a few short years, Peter will follow these footsteps to the cross as a martyr under Nero. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. But what should give every Christian comfort is that the way of the cross is also the pathway to glory. From suffering to glory is a major theme in this letter, and if we miss it, we miss the essential anchor for hope in suffering. Indeed, we read 1 Peter, in anticipation of those precious words in chapter 5, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 5:10-11). The way of the cross in Christian suffering is also the pathway to glory. Cling to that promise, and you will have all hope in suffering.

A Letter for the Afflicted

1 Peter: Hope in Suffering — 1 Peter 1:1-2
Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
April 26, 2020

Finding Hope in Suffering

To be a Christian is to suffer. Jesus describes the Christian life as the way of the cross. He says that if they persecute me, they will also persecute you, and he was right! Christians have suffered for the faith in every century, and many live under the threat of persecution today. Citing 250 million threats, attacks, and murders, the U.S. State Department reports that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today.[1] While the Western world affords certain protections for all people, Christians are often blackballed in the workplace and labeled as bigoted, hateful, and ignorant by the media.

But, if you think being a Christian is hard today, try living under Nero in the days of the Roman Empire. Life under Nero was anything but easy. He was, in fact, a moral monster. He ordered the assassination of his mother and brutally killed his pregnant wife. Nero is responsible for the slaughter of countless Christians. He burned them on lampposts to illuminate his garden and fed them to the lions and gladiators in the arena. He blamed Christians for Rome’s Great Fire, and he executed Peter and Paul. The hatred for the young church grew by leaps and bounds under Nero’s tyrannical reign.

Suffering for the Christian faith takes many forms, but little has changed since the days of the Roman Empire. Maybe we feel more sheltered in the West, but God’s people are being slaughtered in many parts of the world still today. Surrounded by so much hatred, we have the problem of hope. How does the church endure daily assault? What can we cling to when we feel like giving up? We need a hope that transcends the overwhelming darkness, and 1 Peter gives it to us in spades.

Today, we begin a new series in 1 Peter entitled, “Hope in Suffering.” 1 Peter is a letter for the afflicted. In these torturous days of the Empire, Peter writes to the persecuted church scattered abroad. These Christian pilgrims are living in exile, not from their ancestral home, but their real home in glory. To soothe their weary souls, Peter gives them no trite reply. He provides deep theology, anchored in the sufferings and glories of Christ. Peter will say shocking things, even by most Christian standards. Where far too many pastors or theology professors will give God the out in the problem of pain, Peter will tell us that even our suffering is according to God’s will. God has a purpose in it all, and if we listen well, we will find that God’s purpose is also our living hope.

Hope is a significant theme in this letter, and we find the solid theological foundation for it in these first two verses. Amidst a dark sea of suffering, Peter anchors our hope in the redemptive activity of the Trinity. Each person of the Godhead is operative in our Salvation. Our hope will grow by leaps and bounds when we know that God is working out our redemption through the pain. Embracing God’s redemptive work for you in the darkness will multiply the grace and peace that we so desperately need in a dark sea of suffering. So, to find hope in suffering we need to see and embrace the redemptive work of each member of the Trinity in our suffering.

1. The Father’s Love for Us

Peter anchors our hope in the Father’s love for us. This love is according to the Father’s redemptive plan. In verse 1, Peter addresses the church as the “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” We need to understand two points regarding the Father’s love for us. 

First, we are elect. To boil it down, Peter begins with the most basic fact about God’s people. We are elect. We are chosen. Election means that the church is not a random collection of social outcasts. We are a chosen people. Relatedly, Peter says that we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Pet. 1:2). Peter tells us that this election is not something that God did on a whim after he surveyed your good deeds. Nor did he come up with at the last minute. God is not a last-minute planner. Foreknowledge means predetermination.[2] Peter says that the church is elect according to the predetermined plan of the Father. Paul says something very similar in Romans 8:29-30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined… And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Beloved, our hope is anchored in the Father’s redemptive love, who chose us according to his definite plan and purpose. Therefore, we cannot interpret suffering as a sign of lost love between you and God. God never loses interest in his people. We are elect according to his foreknowledge, and those who he foreknew, he will also raise in glory.

Second, we are exiles. In the Bible, the Jews are often regarded as outcasts (e.g., Deut. 30:4; Neh. 1:9). Abraham journeyed through the promised land as an alien and a stranger (Heb. 11:9). The Jews who returned to the land after the exile were regarded as no better than slaves (Ezra 9:9). And the Jews were very literally dispersed throughout the Roman Empire for various reasons. In Rome, from where Peter is most likely writing, the Jews were famously expelled from the city not much more than a decade earlier by the edict of Claudius. For the vast majority of history, the Jews have lived as sojourners and strangers, exiles in a land that is not their home. But in the context of this letter, Peter is writing to Jews and Gentiles. In this context, Peter is explicitly identifying the church as the true Israel, and we will see more of that in chapter 2 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). In this context, Peter is also using the concept of exile to remind us that our true home is coming in the new creation. In the meantime, we wander through this earth as aliens and strangers (cf. 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11). As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). 

Beloved, we are elect exiles, and we are made for another country. It should be no surprise then that we often feel out of place in the present world. Your relationships with the people and the values of the current culture will always feel strange. That is unless you have become like the world. Worldly behavior in the church is a problem that Peter will address in this letter. But if we are living for Christ, we will always feel out of place in this present darkness. God chose us for something greater. If our hope is rooted in fitting into the present world, we will only find despair. But place your hope in the Father’s redemptive love for us, and you will find grace and peace multiplied to you.

2. The Spirit’s Power in Us

We now turn to the application of redemption. Peter directs our focus on the Spirit’s power in us. He says that we are elect exiles, “in the sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:2). The application of redemption is a powerful reality in the life of a Christian. This application is known as sanctification, and its force is immeasurable. I use this term, as Peter does here, in the broad sense of the Spirit’s work in our lives that includes everything from regeneration to glorification. We need to understand two points here.

First, sanctification is the power that delivers us from spiritual death. We were dead in our transgressions and sins, but God, being rich in mercy, raised us to new life (cf. Eph. 2:1-5). Here, the sanctifying work of the Spirit raises us to a new life in power. We were helpless. Dead limbs cannot move. A dead man cannot raise himself. But God had a plan for us. He sent his Spirit, and on went the lights! Sanctification is the power that shines light into our dark hearts to see and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord. When the Spirit breathes new life in us, he also enables us to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and believe the gospel. The devil wins this battle until the Spirit comes and blows him away. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Beloved, the same force that breathed creation into existence, made us a new creation when the Spirit breathed life into us.

Second, sanctification is the power that conforms us to Christ’s image. The Spirit’s work in our lives does not end with making us born again. His work continues to powerfully work in us to conform us to the image of the Son. One of the great temptations Christians have faced in every age is to give in to worldliness. In other words, the temptation is to substitute conformity to Christ with compliance to the world. This is a powerful temptation, and the early church was not immune to it. Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-4). This temptation is plaguing the Christians that Peter addresses also. We will see hints of that struggle later on in the letter (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11-12). This struggle is real, but the Spirit will bring this conformity to completion at the day of Christ.

The Spirit’s sanctifying power to convert and conform will all be on display in this letter. But in this short introduction, Peter gives us a secure anchor for hope in suffering by coming to see the Spirit’s mighty work in us.

3. The Son’s Atonement for Us

Thus far, we have found a sturdy anchor for hope in the Father’s redemptive love and the Spirit’s redemptive power. But none of this would be sufficient without the accomplishment of our redemption through the Son’s atonement. Here in verse 2, Peter says that we are elect exiles, “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Peter draws our attention towards two essential aspects of Christ’s atonement.

First, Peter draws our attention to the purpose of our redemption. Jesus died for us that we might live for him. Examples of this theme fill the Gospels. As the chief disciple, Peter is well aware of these. For example, Jesus tells Peter and his fellow disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). Jesus teaches that discipleship is the way of the cross. When Jesus went to the cross, not only did he accomplished redemption as our mediator, but he also showed us the pathway of discipleship as our model. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. Perhaps there are no words about this more poignant than those that Jesus spoke concerning Peter’s death. Here we see the way of the cross for Peter most clearly. In John 21:18-19, we read,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”          

—John 21:18-19

Beloved, a potent salve in Christian suffering, is knowing that you are following in the footsteps of your Savior. In a few short years, Peter will follow these footsteps to the cross as a martyr under Nero. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. But what should give every Christian comfort is that the way of the cross is also the pathway to glory. From suffering to glory is a major theme in this letter, and if we miss it, we miss the essential anchor for hope in suffering. Indeed, we read 1 Peter, in anticipation of those precious words in chapter 5, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 5:10-11). The way of the cross in Christian suffering is also the pathway to glory. Cling to that promise, and you will have all hope in suffering.

Second, Peter draws our attention to the means of our redemption. In this summary of the profound theology expounded in this letter, Peter brings us back to the center of God’s redemptive plan. The cross of Christ as the means of our redemption. Christ cannot merely be a model to follow. The Bible teaches no such moralism. Though we must follow Christ’s example, we cannot save ourselves by doing so. Christ is, first and foremost, our mediator. Here, Peter closes this list of Trinitarian redemptive hope with the reminder that we are elect exiles, “for sprinkling with his blood.” God chose us from before the foundation of the world to be made holy in Christ (Eph. 1:4). Sprinkling refers to Christ’s atoning blood. In the Old Testament, the vessels of the tabernacle were made holy by the sprinkling of the blood sacrifice (Heb. 9:21). Atonement was made for the sins of the people by sprinkling blood before the altar (Lev. 4:6, 17). Aaron and his sons were made holy by the sprinkling of blood on their garments (Exod. 29:21). Now, Peter draws on this rich imagery to signify that as elect exiles, we were for ordained for holy redemption through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood. This atonement inaugurates the new and living way to God. It constitutes our ingrafting into the Lord’s chosen race, where we, as a royal priesthood, have the joyful duty to proclaim the glories of Christ in our suffering (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).

Beloved, the world is not our home. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we draw its hatred. We dare not place our hope in it. There may be no more ready-made means of despair than anchoring your hope in what worldly men think of you, or what you hope to attain in this present life. As a pastor, I have seen more despair, anxiety, and downright depression caused by holding on to the world than by anything else—even external persecution. The fastest way to drown in the dark sea of despair is to place your hope in the trifles of the world. Beloved, we are born again to a living hope, and we will see more of that next week. In the meantime, do not shy away from the world’s ire. Anchor your hope in God’s redemptive plan for you. We belong to another country, a heavenly one. God is using everything in this present life, including suffering and the stripping away of our little earthly all, to prepare us for that. There is a purpose in our pain, and it is preparing us for glory. The reason for hope in suffering is that God is behind it, and it is part of your redemption.

Press on. Follow Christ in the way of the cross and cling to your God-anchored hope in suffering. I close with the words of Polycarp, the 2nd-century martyr, who was burned at the stake for the faith at the age of 86. Polycarp was a presbyter and bishop whose pastoral heart for the suffering church can be seen in his letter to the Philippians. He encourages them to bold faith in the way of Christ, and his charge will do us good when face adversaries in our way.

‘Wherefore, girding up your loins, serve God in fear’ and in truth; abandon empty vanity and the waywardness of the crowd, ‘believing in Him who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave Him glory,’ and a throne at His right hand. ‘To Him are subject all things in Heaven and on earth’…Remember what the Lord said when he taught: ‘Judge not, that you may not be judged. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy. With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you in return.’ And again: ‘Blessed are the poor, and they who are persecuted for justice’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.’        

—Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians[3]

Through many trials and tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of heaven. But we have a sure and steady anchor in God. The hope that we have in a sea of overwhelming darkness is the Father’s love for us, the Spirit’s power in us, and the Son’s atonement for us. The suffering we face as Christians is according to God’s plan, and he is using it for our redemption. Anchor your hope in these promises, and you will find grace and peace multiplied to you beyond all imagination until we arrive safely in the harbor of our heavenly country to dwell forever as citizens of God’s kingdom come. Until that day, anchor your hope in God’s redemptive love, and may all grace and peace be multiplied to you. Amen.


[1] Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2001), 848.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 867.

[3] Francis X. Glimm, “The Letter of St. Polycarp To The Philippians,” in The Apostolic Fathers (trans. Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M.-F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh; vol. 1; The Fathers of the Church; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1947), 1136.