1 Peter 1:1-2 - To Elect Exiles
August 25, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 1:1–1:2
[Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2] “To Elect Exiles”
Even though our experience may tell us otherwise, God gives His Word to tell us that it is precisely in the times when God feels most distant from us that He is near his people to save, giving grace and peace.
[Read 1 Peter 1:1-2 and Pray – Merciful Father, you have given us the gifts of touch and taste and smell and sight and hearing. But none of them would lead us to the truth of your Son, Jesus, without you giving us your Word. So, from your Word, Father, we pray that you would show us truth and, through the work of your Spirit, help us to embrace it and be changed by it to walk as your people here. We pray this not because we deserve anything from you but because Jesus shed his blood for your people. In His name we pray. Amen.]
Experience is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always tell us the truth. That’s a lesson that takes some time to learn – longer in some areas than others.
Although it took a little while to learn, some of you women realized that, contrary to what you first believed, the boy pulling your hair in elementary or middle school did not actually despise you. The teasing you thought was a sign of loathing was, in fact, a sign that quite the opposite was true. That boy liked you very much, only he was a normal, dense boy who has no idea how to show his affection properly. So, you suffer (suffered) because boys don’t know how to communicate. Still, in the end, what your experience told you simply wasn’t true!
1 Peter is a letter written to people who were experiencing life as exiles. Some were exiles, indeed, pushed outside of their native land. But all were Christians living under the power of Rome. And when they said Jesus, not Caesar, was “Lord” it meant one basic thing for them; they became outsiders. Their faith set them outside of power, outside of influence, outside of economic rights, outside of security, and (often) outside of justice. You see, to be an outsider, an exile, within the Roman Empire opened you up to experience suffering from all directions.
Even though Peter wrote to believers in the northern reaches of modern-day Turkey, the arm of Rome was long. And although it sounds like the full-blown, systematic persecution of Christians was not yet in effect, we do see in this letter what life as exiles looked like for our brothers and sisters.
In 1:6, they were “grieved by various trials.” In 2:11, they were involved in a war that was being waged against their souls. Later in chapter two, we hear of sorrows and unjust suffering. In chapter 3, their marriages remained difficult at times. They were supposed to anticipate being threatened for their faith in Christ and maligned for trying to live a life honoring to Christ. In chapter 4, we hear they would soon experience the “fiery trial” and the onslaught of an ancient enemy determined to devour.
They had set their hope in this Jesus; through rejecting their old ways of living and holding fast to their hope in Jesus’ death and resurrection, they’d renounced their Roman citizenship for what they believed was citizenship in a better, heavenly country. They’d believed in forgiveness and grace and peace through Jesus and now they were suffering. So, was experience right? So, was it all a mistake? Was their faith in Christ misplaced? Was their suffering a sign of God’s distance from them? Experience would have answered, “Yes.”
Some of you have experienced things in life that made you feel like God was a distant, detached deity. Maybe there was a time when you first believed in Christ that all the world seemed bright and new. But when the realities of life as an exile from the world set in you found yourself facing some doubt. Maybe it was a prayer you thought went unanswered. Maybe marriage has been much more difficult than you thought. Maybe grief or sickness or mockery or persistent temptation has been your experience. Or maybe you’ve experienced the painful reality of a relationship blowing up even though you tried to honor God and do the right thing.
Whatever the cause, in light of so much suffering, in light of everything we experience in this world, we sometimes ask the question; is God really with us? Are we alone in our exile?
So, Peter writes to exiles, yes. But Peter, one sent by God, writes to the people of God, reminding us that what we experience is not the sum total of reality because Peter writes to “elect exiles.” What? Elect exiles? Chosen exiles? Those two things don’t go together. But they do in the Gospel of Jesus. Through Peter God speaks to us so that we can endure exile with a living hope in him because there is more at work than our experience tells us; the Three-in-One God is with us. And though His work in our lives is experienced by us as suffering at times, He is accomplishing His purposes and they are good.
In these two, brief verses of Peter’s greeting to the churches in Asia Minor, the apostle once overcome by fear of suffering – afraid enough to deny his Lord – writes to strengthen the faith of his brothers and sisters. And that is a good gift from God because all I can see is my own experience. But God is not like that little boy pulling hair who doesn’t know how to communicate. God speaks into our experience to tell us how things really are, how to interpret our experience rightly; we’re supposed to interpret our experience as exiles through the words of the Triune God.
So, let’s listen again to Peter’s greeting to these Christians and learn with them our reason for hope in every circumstance.
[Read 1:1-2 again]
Peter begins in the manner of the day by identifying himself and giving the source of his authority to speak. He is “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
An apostle is simply “one sent.” So, as “one sent” we have to understand that Peter isn’t speaking his own words. He is a sent messenger speaking on behalf of the one who sent him, Jesus Christ. As one of the twelve who walked with the Lord, were taught by the Lord, who first preached Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s words here carry the full authority of Christ himself. For those who are listening to him, that means these words can be trusted.
So, Peter addresses trustworthy words to “those who are elect exiles of the dispersion” in various parts of what is today northern Turkey. The “dispersion” was the term used to describe what happened to the people of God at various points in their history. You can see the concept of the people of God being scattered in Deut. 28:25; 30:4; Neh. 1:9; Ps. 147:2; Isa. 49:6; Jer. 15:7; 41:17. In the past, Israel had been dispersed throughout the nations as an act of judgment. They had rejected the LORD and being exiled outside of the Promised Land was the consequence. The issue was not primarily that they had left the Land, but that they had been exiled from the presence of God Himself.
After the Day of Pentecost and the death of Stephen, the early church faced a difficult time of persecution. Because of their faith, they had been turned out from Jerusalem and forced to move abroad in order to escape death and prison. But even for those who were born in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, they were members of a scattered church with no visible center. And being scattered throughout the Roman world, they were experiencing still more suffering as exiles.
But when Peter calls them “elect exiles of the dispersion,” he tells them that as confusing as their experience is, the reality is that they remain God’s chosen people. In their case, their exile and dispersion was actually a part of God’s choosing of them.
We hear it, too, as Peter continues. He writes, “to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Biblically, the foreknowledge of God is always tied to His sovereign choices (ex. Romans 8:28-30). So, not only is God unsurprised by their status as “exiles of the dispersion,” but He is the one who chose beforehand that that is what they would be!
In these two ideas – “elect exiles” who are such “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” – we hear already one of the themes that will run throughout Peter’s letter. The suffering of those who direct their faith toward Jesus is neither outside the power of God nor outside of His will for His people. This means that whatever circumstances we face, we have to interpret our experience through an understanding that includes a sovereign God.
For some, that idea is unsettling. And we’ll talk in the weeks to come about the way God uses suffering in the lives of His people. But here in the beginning, lest we despair and doubt the goodness of a God who would will His people to suffer as exiles, Peter keeps going to prove the goodness of God. Because God the Father, indeed, chose them and God the Spirit sanctified them!
So, they are “elect exiles…in the sanctification of the Spirit.” When the Scriptures talk about sanctification, it is sometimes referring to the once-for-all cleansing from sin that happens when we stop running from God and run toward Him through faith in Jesus instead. That sanctification is a one-time act of God to set us apart from the world for service to Him. It goes hand in hand with our justification – the one-time act of God where He declares us to be righteous in His sight simply based on our faith in Jesus and what he has done.
There’s also a sanctification that is more of a process, where God works throughout our lives by His Spirit to help us die to sin and live in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways of life that look more and more like the image of God. It’s honestly hard to tell if Peter means the first or the second here. But it’s entirely possible that he’s talking about both at the same time.
But whatever understanding of sanctification Peter has in mind – one or the other or both together - this word is in contrast with their experience. Although they experience life as outsiders in relation to the culture around them and suffer for it, their faith in Christ makes them insiders when it comes to a relationship with God. They are “elect exiles…in the sanctification of the Spirit.” They are outside of power but in a relationship with the powerful Spirit of God; they are outside of influence but influenced by the work of the Spirit; they are outside of economic rights but inside the favor of God; outside of security but secure in the Spirit; outside of justice but declared just in the Spirit.
It was the God the Father who chose them for this and it was God the Spirit who set them apart as “elect exiles.” But as Peter goes on we see that it was all for a purpose – a dual-purpose, actually. The Father and the Spirit chose and worked in these elect exiles, these suffering Christians, “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
God acted with such purpose because, you see, we have always been exiles. Yes, in Christ we are exiles in the world, but before then we were still exiles. Only, our exile wasn’t so much geographic as it was relational – we were exiled from God. Because of our sin, we’ve always been exiles.
You see it when Adam disobeyed as was put out of the Garden, separated by his rebellion from his true home with God. You see at the Tower of Babel when man tried to find happiness and security outside of a relationship with his Creator and God scattered them across the world by confusing their language. You see it in Israel’s rebellion and in their being scattered as exiles outside of the Land. You see it in the distance between God and unbelievers now and you see it in the distance we often create between each other. We’ve always been exiles. We were exiled from God because we wanted to find life and happiness and a place to live without Him.
But instead of abandoning us in our exile, God came to rescue us, to restore us in a relationship with Him. And He did it through God the Son, Jesus the Christ. He chose us and set us apart by His Spirit in order to, the text says, make us “obedien(t) to Jesus Christ….” Instead of leaving us to obey our own desires, God intends to conform us to a life shaped like Jesus’. He begins it when we are first saved. When we direct our faith toward Jesus, God calls that obedience to Christ; it is the “obedience of faith” (see also Romans 1:5; 16:26). But God also continues making us obedient to Christ as His Spirit matures us and transforms us. He makes us more and more able to say no to sin and yes to the ways of life that God says are pleasing to Him (and good for us). Though we used to be disobedient exiles, through Jesus God is making us His obedient people; obedient through faith and (increasingly) obedient in action.
It says God the Father chose us and set us apart by His Spirit for a second purpose – “for sprinkling with [Jesus’] blood.” This is both a purpose AND the means God used to accomplish His larger purposes. God chose us. He set us apart. But our exile from Him could not be undone except by the blood of Christ. It was Jesus’ atoning work on the cross – his death in our place for our lives of willful exile from God – the blood of Jesus is our reason for hope during this present exile.
This imagery of the sprinkled blood is significant in light of Peter’s use of both Jesus’ name as well his title, “Christ.” “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah.” The Christ was the one promised to restore all things, to win forgiveness for the people of God and return them to a relationship with the living God. It was the work of the Christ to undo the exile – yes, undo the physical exile, but more than that – the Christ would undo their exile from God. And he would accomplish it all through his sacrificial death on their behalf. And as their priest he would cleanse the people of God with his own blood, sprinkling it over his blood-bought people to symbolize the dawn of a new life for them – a restored life with the Triune God.
Peter is saying to the church, “Yes, you are exiles, but no longer exiles from God. I understand that you are scattered and suffering but there is so much more to reality than what you see. Each person of the Godhead has acted in love and commitment to you. And I tell you with the authority given to me by Jesus that the Father chose you. The Spirit set you apart. The Son poured out his blood for you.”
Peter wants for his readers what I long for you and me today; to hear and believe that the God who began this incredible rescue from our great exile will take care of us during our earthly exile, too. That’s why Peter can finish his greeting with these words: “May grace and peace by multiplied to you,” elect exiles. He means that the God who already gave grace and made peace has much more of each to give to His people during their present exile – grace and peace even in the midst of the suffering exiles must endure.
Think about what that would have done to the heart of a Christian in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia or Bithynia. Into their exile experience this word had come, changing the way they had to interpret their experience. I have to believe that even if all their questions weren’t removed, even if they couldn’t answer the powerful question of why we suffer, the answers that they could throw out after hearing Peter’s greeting were the answers that said they were alone, that their faith in Christ was misplaced, that their suffering was a sign of God’s distance from them. Each of those answers were thrown out because God had come to them in the person of Jesus and he himself had suffered death, poured out his blood to cleanse them.
So, they didn’t get all the answers from Peter’s greeting, but they now knew the Triune God had a glorious purpose and He was near enough to them to give grace and peace to them. That’s not a bad start.
If you’ve been struggling through your experiences lately, if they’ve been leading to some of the same questions as these brothers and sisters from the first century, then 1 Peter is a great place to be. Whether it’s your marriage or your work, grief of hostility toward your faith; whether you are suffering for doing good or mocked because you’ve sought to avoid evil…this word is for you, elect exiles. God is telling you that He is behind and beneath all your experiences – even the painful ones – and He is in it all for your good. Our response, then, is to direct our faith toward our God in Three Persons – each with a part to play in our salvation. And though our faith may be small and weak, we can rest assured that our experience isn’t everything.
In Christ you are chosen. In Christ you are set apart and cleansed. In Christ the grace and peace of God are yours. May you experience that reality every day of your exile here – every day until you reach your true home with God.
[Pray – Father, we praise you for your goodness toward us, for not leaving us in our exile from you. Thank you for sending your Son to die so that we might be restored to you. And thank you, Father, for not leaving us without your word during our exile here. Thank you for telling us of your love and commitment and the grace and peace you intend to increase in us. May it be so, Father, as we listen to your word and the living hope we have in Christ that can help us endure even through our suffering here. And with our hope in Christ, may we live as faithful people here in Fuquay and Angier and Holly Springs and Willow Springs and Lillington, learning to obey Christ more and more as your Spirit continues His work in us. And use us in this time of exile to tell others through word and deed that this exile is not all there is – there is grace and forgiveness and the sprinkled blood of Christ that speaks of a true home with you. For that word we thank you. For your Son, Jesus, we thank you and pray in his name. Amen.]
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“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.”