“To the Sojourners”
1 Peter 1:1-2
August 5, 2012
The Triune God is at work in us during our sojourn.
I. We are chosen sojourners
II. The Triune God is at work in us
III. He Gives Grace and Peace
Well, it's good to be back this morning. It seems like a long time since I preached, though I did preach twice in Slovakia. But it's a while since I preached here, and I'm glad most of you can understand me without translation. I'm also excited to start 1st Peter. As you know, November is our church's twentieth anniversary. To celebrate that I've thought repeatedly of preaching again one of the books I preached in the early years of the church. The obvious one was 1st Peter. For one thing, it was the first full book I preached at Trinity. For another thing I like the truths it presents, and the impact they make.
It wasn't for no reason that I picked it the first time. It offers great and timeless truths, much comfort and a great challenge to God's people to live in ways that honor him in every life situation. It talks to individuals; it talks to churches; it talks to husbands and it talks to wives; it talks to slaves and it talks to masters; above all it offers comfort and instruction to those who are suffering. I have long felt that in terms of both theological beauty and practical value 1st Peter is one of the key books of the New Testament.
So it's worth repeating after 20 years. This morning we’ll look at background and themes for this book while studying verses 1 and 2, the introduction and greeting. Let's read those verses. 1st Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
I. We are chosen sojourners
The first word of the letter gives a lot of background. It's from Peter, and between the gospels, the book of Acts and post Biblical literature, we know a lot about Peter. He was among the first disciples called. His name, Peter, was given to him by Jesus, and means 'the rock.' He was headstrong and outspoken, and often put his foot in his mouth, but that meant he was also passionate and powerful. He denied Jesus at the crucifixion, and was restored to become the leader of the church at Jerusalem. Later tradition says that he traveled among the churches of Asia and was crucified at Rome.
Peter makes a few personal comments in this letter that confirm the opening word. In chapter 5 he exhorts the elders in the churches 'as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ." This word, 'witness' is one that Peter used many times in the book of Acts: "We are witnesses of these things."
At the end of the letter he says "She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son." We know from our recent studies of Revelation that Babylon is a code word for Rome - and very early church writings tell us that Peter was crucified at Rome. The same writings also tell us that Peter was very close to Mark. The Gospel of Mark is considered to have been essentially Peter's account of Jesus.
2nd Peter also affirms 1st Peter. 2nd Peter says "This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved." Notice something here: 2nd Peter is one of the books of the New Testament whose authorship is most widely disputed: 'this was written later by someone taking advantage of Peter's standing in the church.' But even if that was true, which it's not, 2nd Peter still witnesses to the authenticity and acceptance of 1st Peter.
Peter calls himself 'an apostle of Jesus Christ.' The word 'apostle' was used occasionally before the New Testament and meant 'messenger'. But according to the gospels Jesus gave the term a richer meaning by designating twelve of his disciples as 'apostles'. After his resurrection those who had been Jesus' students, began to function as his messengers.
The importance of the apostles is seen in the fact that the phrase 'of Jesus Christ’ is attached to no other New Testament office: we do not read of 'teachers of Jesus Christ' or 'prophets of Jesus Christ' or 'evangelists of Jesus Christ' only of 'apostles of Jesus Christ. This office had authority at least equal to the Old Testament prophets, for the apostles could speak and write God's very words. Thus the readers of the letter are reminded that Peter's words are also God's words, and we should receive them as God's word.
Keeping with the format of all ancient letters, the 'from' is followed by the 'to:' To those who are elect exiles or in some translations ‘chosen sojourners’ of the dispersion. The term 'exile', parepidemos, refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place. Abraham called himself 'an alien and sojourner' among the Hittites. Hebrews 11:13 says that all the heroes of faith from Abel to Abraham acknowledged that they were 'aliens and sojourners on the earth'.
Wayne Grudem and others argue against the word 'exiles' because the Greek word has no sense of a forced dwelling away from one's homeland. In the same way the word 'strangers' is not best because it wrongly suggests that they were not known well by their neighbors. Grudem suggests that the rather old fashioned word 'sojourners' is still the best translation - someone in temporary residence away from their homeland.
I felt that way a little bit in Slovakia these last few weeks. I was thrilled to be there and really enjoyed it, but a few things, like sauerkraut dessert bars and the labor of making coffee kept reminding me that I was in a foreign country.
In Kvacany I met one of the translators, named Graham, from Northern England. Seven years ago he felt called by God to China. But a medical problem intervened, and he ended up coming on a whim to Slovakia. He has stayed six years, teaching English and ministering through a local Baptist church in Rozemburok. So he's a sojourner. He's still British, but he is in residence in a foreign country. He says 'I've worked through the normal things that are considered culture shock, but I still don't think like a Slovak.'
In the same way you and I are sojourners here. We are in temporary residence away from our homeland. The older I get, the more I feel that this world is a foreign place I don't fully understand. It's not right - things are not the way they are supposed to be, and until we arrive at our final home, they won't be.
So we are sojourners. But we are also chosen. Nowhere else in ancient literature does a writer qualify 'sojourners' with the adjective 'elect' or 'chosen', as Peter does. In fact some translators, beginning with the King James, take this word as a verb and move it to verse 2. But it's just a plain adjective, like 'pretty flower' or 'high mountain:' elect exile or chosen sojourner.
The word is used 22 times in the New Testament and always refers to persons chosen by God for inclusion among his people, recipients of great privilege and blessing. For example, in Matthew 24:31, Jesus says that in the end God's angels will be sent to gather these chosen people. Peter thought of them as having privileged status before God at least equal to that enjoyed by those God protected, preserved and blessed in the Old Testament.
The phrase 'chosen sojourners' thus becomes a two-word sermon to Peter's readers: they are 'sojourners', not in an earthly sense, for many no doubt had lived in one city their whole lives, but spiritually: their true homeland is heaven. Any earthly residence is therefore temporary. Yet they are 'chosen' sojourners, ones whom the King of the universe has chosen to be his own people, to benefit from his protection, and to inhabit his heavenly kingdom.
The Dispersion was a term used by Greek-speaking Jews to refer to Jewish people 'scattered' throughout the nations. This letter, however, speaks primarily to Christian believers: Jewish Christians, but also Gentile Christians. Some of the things Peter says in this letter quite strongly imply that his readers are Gentiles. For one thing the wide distribution of the letter, which we'll look at in a second, includes churches that we know to have been primarily Gentile.
And Peter says things like "knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers," and "once you were not a people, but now you are God's people." So the term 'dispersion' has been expanded to refer to Christians throughout the world, living away from their heavenly homeland, yet hoping some day to reach it. The word thus reinforces the meaning of 'sojourners:' they are part of a world-wide scattering of Christians.
These readers lived in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, five names describing four Roman provinces south of the Black Sea, in what today is mostly modern Turkey. Three of the names refer to individual Roman provinces, including Asia, which in those days Asia often meant not the continent of Asia, but a province just east of the Aegean Sea. 'Pontus' and 'Bithynia,' however, were two regions that formed a single province. Their separation into first and last positions on Peter's list is best explained by the suggestion that the list describes the route to be followed by Peter's letter.
Commentators have suggested that the bearer of the letter would land in Pontus, travel to Galatia, then through Cappadocia, then westward on the great trade route which traversed Galatia, probably stopping at the Pauline churches of Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. Then he would go to Laodicea and perhaps to other churches of Asia such as Colossae and Ephesus. Finally he would go to the churches of Bithynia, especially Nicea. From Chalcedon or Byzantium he could board a ship returning directly to Rome. Thus, all the major centers of Christian influence in Asia Minor would be reached. Notice the major overlap with the work of Paul, and the overlap with the churches John wrote to in the book of Revelation. This area, now sadly devoid of believers, was a hotbed of Christian impact in the earliest years of the faith.
So what have we seen? The apostle Peter is writing to chosen sojourners in Asia Minor. They are chosen by God through faith in Jesus Christ to receive a salvation which Peter will wonderfully describe in the rest of this chapter. They are sojourners because 'this world is not their home, they're just a passing through.' Like them, we are on mission, bringing the love of God to a foreign land. Peter's two word sermon is for us: we are chosen sojourners.
II. The Triune God is at work in us
In verse 2 he grounds this status in the work of the Triune God. 'according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. The fore-knowledge of God is a relational as well as an intellectual concept. God not only knows in advance that Peter's readers will be scattered in the provinces of Asia Minor but he knows those readers in a personal and intimate way.
As I mentioned before, some translators make this foreknowledge the object of a verbal form of 'chosen', so that the readers are 'chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.' But remember that 'chosen' is an adjective - and it is nine words distant from verse 2.
It is more likely that ‘foreknowledge’ modifies the whole situation of the readers described in the first verse: they are 'chosen sojourners of the Dispersion' according to the foreknowledge of God the Father'. Their status as sojourners, their privileges as God's chosen people, even their hostile environment in Pontus, Galatia, etc., were all known by God before the world began, all came about in accordance with his foreknowledge, and all were part of his fatherly love for his people. Such foreknowledge is a comfort to Peter's readers - and to us.
Notice, before we go on, that God's foreknowledge refers to the past, 'sanctification by the Spirit' speaks of a present work and 'for the purpose of obedience’ looks forward to a continuing future activity. Notice too that the verse mentions the three persons of the Trinity: God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. Each person of the Triune God does a different work, yet they unite in a common goal, the eternal, full salvation of the 'chosen sojourners'.
The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is how he changes believers, freeing them more and more from remaining sin and making them increasingly like Christ in holiness, faith, and love. Peter is saying that his readers' whole existence is being lived 'in' the realm of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The unseen, unheard activity of God's Holy Spirit surrounds them almost like a spiritual atmosphere in which they live and breathe, turning every circumstance, every sorrow, every hardship into a tool for his sanctifying work, to make us like Jesus, give us his fruit and reveal God to a watching world.
The next phrase, 'for obedience to Jesus Christ indicates God's purpose for Peter's readers: their lives ought to be leading 'toward' increasing obedience to Christ. What the Father plans and the Spirit empowers, Christ receives, as exalted Savior and ruling Lord: our obedience.
Some argue that obedience here means initial saving obedience to the gospel, but Peter elsewhere uses the word to refer to ongoing obedience by believers. Verse 14: "As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance." Peter's readers of course realized that their obedience in this life was always incomplete, that even the most mature Christians were painfully aware of remaining sin, and that God's purpose, 'obedience to Jesus Christ', would never be completely fulfilled in this life.
So Peter adds that their lives are also leading toward sprinkling with his blood. Sprinkled blood in the Old Testament was a visual reminder to God and to his people that a life had been given, a sacrifice had been paid. But in most Old Testament sacrifices the blood was sprinkled on the altar or the mercy seat. In only three cases was blood sprinkled on people: (1) in the covenant initiation at Mt. Sinai when Moses sprinkled blood from the sacrificial oxen on all the people; (2) in the ceremony of ordination for Aaron and his sons as priests; and (3) in the purification ceremony for a leper healed from leprosy.
The first two of these roughly correspond to the work of the Father in saving and the work of the Spirit in sanctifying, while the third implies the work of the Son in daily cleansing for obedience. Leviticus 14, which describes this sprinkling is less obscure than we may thing, according to Grudem, because the ceremony was used for any kind of skin disease which would exclude the sick person from the community. Thus Leviticus 14:6-7 pictures cleansing from any defilement that would disrupt fellowship with God and his people.
Although God intended these 'chosen sojourners' to live 'for obedience to Jesus Christ', they were frequently stained by sin. Peter reminds them that their future includes continual sprinkling with the blood of Christ, that is, continual restoration of fellowship with God and his people through the sacrificial blood of Christ figuratively sprinkled over them, a continual reminder to God that their sins are forgiven and that they are welcome in God's presence and among his people. Our ongoing fellowship with God is not marred by un-forgiven sin but cleansed by the blood of Christ. This is an exhortation to obedience and a word of comfort, because we all walk with a limp; none of us is free from the temptations of our old sin nature.
So the triune God is at work in us. He knows us, having chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He sanctifies us: the Holy Spirit is at work to make us more like Christ; and he calls us to obedience; the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin and allows us to walk in righteousness. It is an awesome thing to consider that the God of the universe knows us personally, works in us personally, and forgives us personally. The triune God is with us on this journey - do you know that presence?
In Slovakia last week I was overwhelmed with the presence of God on several occasions. Not just looking at the beautiful land of Slovakia, but also at other times: doing a devotion on the fear of Christ in the Gospels, and seeing how awesome and personal his work was; thinking about his wisdom, and the subtle wonder of his plan; listening to worship music in two languages and thinking about how he hears every heart. The triune God is with us.
III. He Gives Grace and Peace
The end of the verse is Peter's simple blessing on his readers: "May grace and peace be multiplied to you." This is an expanded form of Paul's frequent 'Grace to you and peace' Like Paul, Peter couples the Old Testament blessing of God's peace with the New Testament blessing of grace, God's freely given, undeserved favor toward his people. Peter asks that it would be multiplied to them; that all their moments would be filled with God's undeserved spiritual blessings.
This is, of course, one of the best prayers we can pray: for people to receive God's undeserved blessing and to know his peace. Think of the people you know who are suffering: dealing with sickness, stress, relational difficulties, financial issues, fatigue, even sin and addiction. On a very real level the answer to these and all the difficulties of life is grace and peace.
Peter's letter, we'll find, is full of encouragement for the suffering of his readers; he will give them a vision of the sacrifice of Christ and the love of God for his people; he will address their circumstances; as slaves or employees, as husbands and wives, as members of a community, as witnesses to a lost world. But whatever Godly behavior he encourages, whatever spiritual fortitude he commends, all of it is useless without grace and peace. Those who are chosen sojourners need grace and peace. Those who are known by the Father, sanctified by the Spirit and obedient to the Son are receiving grace and peace. This is not a small, throw-away prayer: all the people sitting around you need grace and peace.
When we were leaving Kvacany at the end of our week of camp there, we had lunch at a hotel called 'the Janoshik' and I asked the little group at my table where they had seen evidence of God's grace and peace during our time. They didn't really have much in the way of concrete examples.
But as I thought about it later, I realized that in a very real way we had been living in an atmosphere of grace and peace; lifting our eyes to look up at the character of God; seeing his handiwork in the beauty all around us and in the people he brought to the camps; finding and sharing the Good News of Jesus through his word; adjusting to ever changing schedules and responding to new needs and new circumstances; doing so with joy and enthusiasm despite some sickness, some injury and a lot of fatigue.
All of this is evidence of God's grace and peace given to us. I can truly say of the English camps in Slovakia that the triune God was with us in our sojourn. And I can promise you that if you study this letter over the coming months, the Triune God will be with you in your sojourn as well.