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Sermon preached on 1 Peter 1:1-2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/06/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 1:1-2
“Grace to You and Peace be Multiplied!”
Today we begin a series through the letter of 1 Peter. We just covered this book in our Bible Survey class. Also, Darren Hsiung just preached on this same passage here a couple weeks ago when I was on vacation. So, hopefully by now you’ve been given a chance to start thinking about this wonderful book. I didn’t hear Darren’s sermon, but I did get a short summary of it. Hopefully I won’t repeat too much of what he said, but if I do, I’m sure they will be truths worth repeating. These two verses are a wonderful reminder to us of our Christian life in this world. We are chosen pilgrims, strangers and aliens in this world. God is growing us during this time, and we look forward to Christ’s return when we will taste of our heavenly inheritance reserved for us.
As we dig into this letter, let me start with some introductory remarks about it. This was a letter written of course by the Apostle Peter. As we see in these opening verses, it was a circular letter. It wasn’t written to just one church, but it’s addressed to believers spread out at the time throughout several areas in Asia Minor. As such, the issues that it addresses were not unique to just one church. Rather, the context reflects concerns that affected a whole region of Christians. As the letter reveals, Peter was addressing Christians struggling to live in a world that did not embrace them or their faith. Peter speaks of how Christians are to faithfully endure in their faith, even when it means they face opposition from the world around them. Given the historical context, this persecution probably doesn’t reflect some of the larger empire-wide governmental persecution that would later affect Christians. And yet these Christians were living in a pagan world that in many ways was hostile to them. They were likely facing at least things like social ostracism, slander, malicious talk; things that undermined their relationships with family and friends and business relationships. More and more they would have likely felt like outsiders, and treated as such.
Scholars like to debate if Peter’s letter was written to Jewish Christians, or to Gentile Christians, or to churches filled with both. If we knew with certainty, it would add some helpful perspective to our reading of the letter. I’m not going to go into all the detailed arguments right now. If anyone wants to hear more on that afterwards, I’ll be glad to share. Let me suffice it to say, that I think the evidence leans fairly well to see Peter writing to primarily an audience of Gentile Christians. And yet, since we don’t know with certainty, I think we have to be content to accept how the church has historically used this letter. Regardless of who the original audience was, the church has generally received the teachings of this letter as applicable to all Christians, both Jew and Gentiles. I think we ought to do the same; to receive these teachings as very applicable to us as well. And I think that brings out how profound this letter is, because Peter uses several statements in this letter that would have traditionally applied to the Jews, but now they get applied to Christians in general. We see that right here in the opening verses when the Christians are called the elect; the chosen ones of God. That was how Israel of Old would have been described. Here now it’s applied to Christians in general. Those who find their hope and life in Jesus Christ.
As we study this letter over the next few months, we’ll see several topics addressed. We’ll see this topic of Christian suffering dealt with. We’ll talk a lot about pilgrim theology; how God’s people are sojourners in this life, heading to their final home in heaven. We’ll see how these suffering pilgrims are being grown in both their faith and obedience through these tribulations. We’ll start to get a taste of these topics right here in these opening two verses today. Today we’ll consider first the pilgrim theology presented in this passage. Second, we’ll see how that’s explained further by the work of the Triune God in saving us. Third, we’ll summarize this all in the context of the opening blessing given at the end of verse 2.
Well, let’s dig in first to the pilgrim theology presented here. Verse 1. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” Let’s stop right there. Right in verse 1 you see the idea of pilgrims introduced. Christians are called pilgrims. Prilgrims of the dispersion. Let’s start by talking about that word pilgrim. The word pilgrim here could also be translated as “sojourner.” It’s someone who is traveling in a foreign country, temporarily residing there. They are temporarily living in a place that is not their home. They are temporary residents.
This idea is further brought out by the description of the Dispersion in verse 1. This would have been a label originally applied to ethnic Jews. The Jewish people were dispersed, scattered, when they were exiled from Jerusalem. At that point, the Jews were scattered, sojourners, living outside the Promised Land. The label of “Dispersion” was applied originally in history to these Jews living scattered all over outside of Israel. Their hope was for God to bring them back at some point to the inheritance of the Promised Land. But now this language is applied to Christians. Christians are called these pilgrims scattered throughout the world. Of course, we’re not looking for a home in the earthly Promised Land. As this chapter will go on to tell us, we are looking to go to a heavenly home. That’s the same idea presented in Hebrews 11:13, where even the saints of the Old Testament are called strangers and aliens in this world, looking for a home beyond the earthly Promised Land. Looking for a heavenly home. Christians today bear this same label. We are pilgrims, scattered throughout the world. Our real home is heaven. But for now we live here on this earth.
But let’s make sure that right now we don’t jump too quickly to think about our true home. Yes, that’s implied here in these two verses. It’s brought out very clearly in the rest of this chapter. We’ll see that next week. But the focus of verse 1 is not our final destination. The focus of these opening versus is on the sojourning. It’s on the fact that we are pilgrims and exiles right now. Right now, in God’s good plan for our lives, he has us here. In this place where we are not at home.
So just stop and think for a moment what that means. It means that right now we live in a world that doesn’t identify with us. We look around in this world and see ourselves as the strangers; the ones out of place. The foreigner. If you have ever been to another country, you probably felt a bit out of place. The native people probably looked and acted differently than you; they might have even spoken a different language. You probably stood out a bit. We can usually recognize foreigners who come here to the U.S. as well. That’s what our Christian life is like now. We have a different identity. Our faith, who we are, makes us different; not like everyone else. We are now different than the world around us. This world is no longer our home. We have different values. We have a different worldview. We have different convictions. Hopefully our language and actions are affected by who we are in Christ. Yes, we’ll share some things in common with the world. We are still human. But our story is different. Our lives have been changed. Our salvation changes our identity. We are now different than the world around us. We can express that difference in various ways. But let’s use verse 2 to help explain the difference for us. Verse 2 expresses the work of God in saving us. That’s our second point to consider today. Let’s consider it now, and see how it expresses in what way we are different than the world around us.
Verse 2 says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This describes the identity of Christians. The work of the Triune God in our lives is what identifies us as the foreigners in this world. Let me note that the word “elect” here is actually found in many translations in verse 1. That’s technically where the word actually appears in terms of the word order in the Greek. The NKJ is trying to help to carry on the flow for us by putting that word elect up front of verse 2. The NKJ is connecting our election with this work of the Triune God. But grammatically speaking, I think that misses something. The word elect in verse 1 is an adjective, and it modifies the word for pilgrims. We are elect pilgrims; elect pilgrims of the dispersion. That whole phrase, that whole idea, is what is then described by verse 2. In other words, it’s not just our election that is according to the foreknowledge of God in sanctification of the Spirt, etc. It’s the whole concept of us being elect pilgrims. We are elect pilgrims according to the foreknowledge of God, for sanctification by the Spirit, in Jesus Christ, etc.
So, verse 2 describes how we have come to be elect pilgrims. Note the Trinitarian aspect of this. It talks about the work of each person in the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Triune God has been at work in our life, so that we now have an identity that sets us apart from the world. Let’s think briefly of the work attributed here to each person of the Godhead. First, you have the work of God the Father listed here. We are elect pilgrims according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This really credits the plan and initiative to God the Father. To speak about foreknowledge is not just about information God had before hand. It’s not saying that God just knew about us ahead of time. No, the way that this word gets used in Scripture is a relational term. And it’s related to the doctrine of election. Before we were, God foreknew us. If you know someone, you say I know them. If you just know about them, you say you know of that person. God’s saying that he knows us. It’s an intimate, relational, term. And not just that, but before we were even born, he has known us. And Scripture uses this language of foreknowledge in connection with election. His election is intimately connected with that the fact that he has known us, not just know about us, from eternity. For example, Romans 8:29 makes this connection; it says that those God foreknew, he predestined. And so this is God’s way of saying that he always had a special plan for his elect. A plan that involved us being in deep relationship and fellowship with him. He’s always known us, his elect; his elect pilgrims. Our sojourning here and now is also part of his plan for our lives.
So we see then what this foreknowledge of God the Father resulted in. Verse 2 goes on, that we are elect pilgrims, “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” God’s plan reflected in his foreknowledge made use of the Holy Spirit and Jesus to sanctify us. In other words, God’s election of us to be his people and his pilgrims, was put into action through the Spirit, and as we’ll see in a moment, through Jesus. Consider next then Holy Spirit’s work here. The Spirit is sanctifying us. In what way does the Spirit sanctify us? Two things listed here. For obedience. And for the sprinkling of blood, specifically the blood of Jesus. These two things are interrelated. To be sanctified, is to be made holy; to be set apart. We are set apart to obey God. Of course, how this is realized in our lives is a gradual process. The Holy Spirit grows us in obedience. In that sense, our sanctification is a progressive process; the Spirit sets apart for obedience, and is continuing to grow us in obedience.
But there’s a sense in which our sanctification happens more definitely in our lives as well. At that initial point of faith, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is applied to us. His shed blood is applied to our account. At that point, we are made holy from a definitive standpoint. God then sees us as holy, even though our actual living is not holy. We are covered by the sacrifice of Jesus. But before we think further about the sacrifice of Jesus, note that this is put here in terms of the sanctification of the Spirit. See that too is a work of the Spirit. Scripture says that the Spirit not only plays an ongoing work inside us to grow us in obedience. But the Spirit also is at work in our initial point of faith. He works faith inside us. The Spirit of God makes us alive so that when we hear the gospel, it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Instead the Spirit is at work to persuade us and convince us of the truth of the gospel, so that we come to a saving faith in Jesus. So, the Spirit’s sanctification happens in one sense definitely at the start of our Christian life, right when we turn in faith. Then the Spirit’s sanctification happens in an ongoing sense, as he grows us in obedience. And as we’ll see in this letter, the Spirit is growing us during this pilgrimage; during this time of sojourning on earth.
And so the last person of the Trinity mentioned here is Jesus. His work is described in terms of the sprinkling of his blood. That of course reminds us of the cross. On the cross his blood was shed for us. But when it talks of the sprinkling of the blood, it helps explain to us what his death represents. His death was a sacrifice; it was for atonement, and for consecration. He shed his blood on the cross to atone us for our sins. That our sins would be forgiven through his sacrifice. Christ’s work was that of the Suffering Servant, sent to atone for the sins of God’s people. That’s something this letter will bring out as well.
In the Old Testament, there are a lot of sacrifices that involved sprinkling of blood. This sprinkled blood involved atonement and consecration. One specific example that was probably especially in mind here comes from Exodus 24. That’s when Moses initiated the people into the old covenant. He took the sacrifice and sprinkled its blood on all the people, calling them to obedience. Here Peter in verse 2 again connects the concept of obedience and sprinkled blood. But it’s not Moses doing the sprinkling, nor is it the blood of an animal. It’s the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ at work. The result is that we are set apart, consecrated, sanctified, into the new covenant. Set apart from the rest of the world as elect pilgrims of the dispersion. As those forgiven of their sins by God and who now live, growing in godliness as God’s people.
This growth is summarized by our third and final point for today. Turn with me now to look at the last part of verse 2. It’s Peter’s opening benediction. His opening blessing. “Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” Paul in his letters regularly blesses with grace and peace. Peter distinctively in both of his letters adds the language of multiplication. May God’s grace and peace be multiplied in you. In other words, his blessing brings out what’s meant in the blessings of grace and peace. It’s a blessing that we’d be ever growing in God’s grace and peace in our lives. As Christians we already have received God’s grace and peace. But here we’re reminded that God has more and more of that to give us!
Don’t let this line just slip past you. How easy it would be for that to happen. These words probably back then were already beginning to sound cliché. How much more that must be now. But Christians are those who have received grace and peace, and are growing in receiving more grace and peace. Peter had just explained what this grace and peace meant. The fact that we have been chosen to be pilgrims is an expression of God’s grace and peace in our lives. That might sound strange to say, as right now, this special status will likely cause us some troubles at this time. But this is grace and peace from God, that we’ve undergone this status change. God the Father chose to set us apart by his Spirit to grow us to be his people; people forgiven of their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus, and now growing in faith and obedience.
And so this initial grace and peace is that what is already described here. It’s God’s grace and peace in their lives that has given them and us this special status. It’s grace that we’d get the gift of the Spirit’s work in our lives. It’s peace with God that we now have, now that we’ve been forgiven of our sins. We’ve been reconciled in peace to God. We have a deep sense of peace within ourselves because of all this. We need not fear judgment anymore because of God’s grace. I like how Jesus talked about this peace. John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” This is not a peace found in this world. It’s an other-wordly peace. A peace that comes from above. A peace that transcends the understanding of this world. Peace with God and peace inside us.
And yet this status of elect pilgrims not only shows that we’ve received God’s grace and peace. It also shows our need for more grace and peace. The fact that we are elect pilgrims scattered throughout this world then becomes the context for why we need this benediction. The fact that we are elect pilgrims is the reason why we need his grace and peace multiplied in our life. Our reality here, “in, but not of this world,” means we need more and more of his grace and peace in this life.
This is what Peter will spend this letter talking about. He’ll talk about how to live in a world that is no longer our real home. How to live in a world that rejects us, persecutes us, treats us badly for Christ’s sake. In that world, we’ll need more and more of God’s grace and peace to stand firm in the faith. At the end of the letter, in 5:12, that’s his final command. Stand firm in this faith. That summarizes this letter. Stand firm. As strangers and aliens in this world, we’ll need God’s grace and peace to do that.
Christians bear a unique name. What’s said in verse 2, cannot be said of everyone in this world. When the world hears that you believe this gospel of Jesus, there are different responses they might have. They might hear this and want this to be their identity. If you are here today, and are not a believer, that’s the response I commend to you today. Respond by believing in Jesus. Turn to him in faith, and this can become your identity, even today. Others might hear this, and not be ready to make that commitment. But they may be open to further considering the claims of Christ. If that is you today, then I urge you to continue seeking out the truth of God’s word. This is a place where you can do that. Others, of course will hear what’s in verse 2, and deny it. They won’t believe it. They’ll think the Bible is a lie and Jesus a fraud. Then they’ll have to decide what they’ll do with that perspective. Many will be content to just leave us alone. Others will do nothing more than look down on us, as foolish or deceived. Others will be more hostile to Christians. Some will surely persecute us as Christians in different ways.
Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:33, that in this world, they would have trouble. This letter of 1 Peter records that this was already happening to Christians back then. It is still happening today. Brothers and sisters, in this world, you will have trouble. Look around today. We are different than this world around us. This area is in no way a Christian place. No matter what our country’s heritage may have been in the past, this is not a Christian county, or a Christian state, and it is by no means a Christian country. But we do have a country that we belong to. Peter will remind us this in 2:9. That we are a holy nation. All Christians together are a holy nation. That’s where our real citizenship lies, in heaven. That’s why we are chosen pilgrims today. We are pilgrims scattered throughout Novato, San Rafael, Vallejo, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, and more. We join with Christians scattered throughout the United State, and China, and France, and all over the world.
In this world we will have trouble as we stand firm in our faith. We’ll learn more about these sorts of troubles and persecutions as we study through this letter. But today my prayer for us is this. No, not just my prayer, my blessing to you today as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this. In the name of Jesus Christ, I am bestowing upon you today the same blessing that Peter gives here. “Grace to you and peace be multiplied!”
This is what we’ll need as we live as pilgrims in this world. We need God’s grace and peace more and more. This blessing and prayer is that you would grow in these things. Even as you go through trials in your life. That God’s grace and peace would mean that the Spirit would keep sanctifying you through these things. Peace when people wrong you, even if from those closest to you. Peace when life seems to be falling apart from a worldly perspective, knowing that you have a living hope beyond this world. Peace when our nation or world seems to be going fast in the wrong direction, spiritually speaking.
And grace amidst all of this. Grace to live for Christ when others aren’t. Grace to look to love those who wrong us. Grace to pray for them, and treat them how we want to be treated. To turn the other cheek. Grace to extend Christ’s grace to them, and to the world around us. Grace that shows the radical love and forgiveness of Christ to an undeserving world. Even as we’ve been undeserving of such grace and mercy ourselves. That we should show grace not just to the deserving in our lives. But even grace to the undeserving.
This is the grace and peace that I as Christ’s minister bestow upon you today in his name. I don’t give it. He gives it. God had his holy apostle Peter speak it forth way back then when this letter was first written. I speak it forth again today as his ambassador. We will need this as we live as elect pilgrims scattered throughout this world. Grace to you and peace be multiplied! Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.