Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 15, 2017
“To Elect Exiles”
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2
Once again, in God’s good providence, we stand at the threshold of a new year. It is, for many of us, an exciting time of year. We have new opportunities before us, and we have any number of hopes either kindled or rekindled. Resolve for many of us is high—and purpose is both firm and evident. It is a good time of the year.
We also stand, from the vantage-point of many an American evangelical, orthodox Christian, in a new situation—a situation unlike the situations that formed us and our fathers. For many in our country, there is, alas, no longer a Christian memory. Many do not know God in Christ, do not know what happens when His people gather to worship on the Lord’s Day, and do not know the behaviors that please Him. From some quarters virulent anti-Christian sentiment explodes—with high potential to corrode anything it touches. Throughout much of American history we have known things both legal and not right before God, yet in our time sin has been enthroned in law at an alarming rate. In short, God hath not His former honor in our land, and God’s redeemed in Christ Jesus enjoy not their former esteem.
Because many of us nationally imbibed what our Puritan New England forefathers declared from 1620 onward, we supposed that things always would continue as they established—complete with Jesus Christ at the center of all of life: in home, in church, in school, and in political life. We see clearly that our national life does not square with Puritan hope of four centuries ago, and this causes us no little grief. Yet, I submit—and that on the authority of God’s Word—that our state should not surprise us. After all, we are not Home, and the evangelical church in America has erred by thinking that she is—or was.
We have a book before us of particular relevance in our situation—Peter’s first general letter. As we examine this letter, God willing, a few verses at a time over the next season, we shall hear God speaking to our souls in our time—and that from a situation in which Christians, and the Christian faith, certainly endured societal disfavor. To the first two verses, the letter’s introduction, we now turn.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Peter wrote this letter as an older man in the early-to-mid 60s A. D.—not long before his departure for Heaven. He calls himself rightly, by the Holy Spirit’s leading, an apostle—that is, one specially sent from God. An apostle, technically, is one of the Eleven walking with Jesus during His earthly ministry, plus a few others of that time (Paul, e.g.). These had a special commission from God and special empowerment to fulfill that commission. Peter is no exception.
Jesus called Peter to follow Him—with his brother Andrew and with another set of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee—while walking alongside the sea one day (Mark 1:16-20). From this call Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples—and he with James and John formed an inner circle of three. Peter was rash in his pronouncements, particularly concerning his fidelity to Christ, and the Lord broke him utterly in his thrice-repeated denial of Jesus. After Jesus thrice-restored Peter one morning (again by the sea), Peter became ever more useful and ever maturing in Christian service and love.
It was Peter who, less than two months after his betrayals, preached the Pentecost sermon that ushered three thousand souls into eternal life. It was Peter who preached the Gospel for decades—especially to the circumcision, the Jewish people. It was Peter whose deeds dominate the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts. It was Peter who continue to grow in grace—even amid a stumble concerning table fellowship with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-15). Now, as an elder statesman, Peter writes for the Church’s good.
He writes to those who are elect—that is, to those who are in Christ Jesus by the Father’s sovereign decree. Peter then qualifies these elect further. First, he calls them exiles. Exiles dwell in a country not their own, often under difficulties. We think, for example, of political exiles. In earlier times we think of Chiang Kai-Shek (from China, in Taiwan), and the Shah of Iran (in Paris), among others. We who are in Christ also qualify as exiles. Our citizenship, fundamentally, is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), and through many trials we enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Some sing, “This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through.” We are not merely passing through; we have much to do while here, but ‘tis true, this world is not our final home.
Peter write to those of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter, when he wrote, likely had a double audience in mind. First, he had these areas named, all within modern-day Turkey, particularly in mind. Second, he had Christians wherever they may be found in mind generally. Today this letter, by the Spirit’s leading, stands within the New Testament in that grouping known as general epistle—and these words from the Spirit through Peter’s pen are to Christians generally—even the likes of you and me.
We are, according to Scripture here, elect exiles according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This is no mere foreknowledge or foresight, but foreordination is implicit in our salvation. In other words, God did not merely foresee or foreknow our salvation in Jesus. He actively willed it and did everything necessary to accomplish it.
Moreover, we are elect in Jesus in the sanctification of the Spirit. By sanctification, we note our set-apart state as a holy people unto God in Christ. This we note along two lines. First, we are set apart practically for obedience to Jesus Christ. We are to behave a certain way, and we shall learn more of this in weeks to come. Second, we are set apart positionally for sprinkling with His blood. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7), and this cleansing sets us apart as His.
We see so far who, humanly speaking, wrote this letter—to wit, Peter (but, never forget, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Author of every word of Scripture). We also see the letter’s intended readers, both then and now. Now we see Peter’s wish for his readers—which is the Lord’s desire for all His own. Peter writes, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” By grace, we mean God’s unmerited favor extended to us in Christ Jesus. In particular, we think of grace in terms of forgiveness of sins, but we may also think of the gracious benefits that flow from His forgiveness of us. By peace, we mean a couple of things. First, we mean the absence of hostilities. Because we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Also, we enjoy, increasingly, peace with others by the Spirit’s strong work. Second, we mean inner tranquility, freedom from anxiety, and the like. This is precious generally, but when it occurs within a swirl of circumstances that tend to provoke anxiety, it simply compels notice. These, Peter prays and God dispenses, are to be multiplied to us. They abound in us with dramatic increase to the fullest measure. Our God is not stingy, but He is lavish—with these and with all His blessings.
Therefore, and indeed, in this new year may grace and peace be yours: both to degree immeasurable and to depth unfathomable. Moreover, may the abounding of this grace and peace, encourage your souls in these trying days, empower your glorifying God in every area of your life, and frame all that follows in this most helpful letter in God’s Word. AMEN.