Speaker: Greg Ferreri
Dear faithful brothers and sisters in Christ,
It has been four long months since all of our lives and the life of our church has been disrupted and turned upside down. You may have noticed, as I have, that the promise of a return to “normal” sometimes seems further away rather than nearer. Just as some things appear to be calming down, something else develops that shakes up our fragile society. As our nation still reels from the effects of the coronavirus and all that has gone along with it, we are all now confronted head-on with unconscionable racism and the civil and political unrest which has flowed from it.
Among the many thoughts and feelings that my mind and heart have been processing over the past weeks, one that stands out is the concept of “rest”. Surely, there are many thoughts we may struggle with: sadness, anger, fear, and frustration, among others. Lamenting over the brokenness and sin of the world and ourselves is common. The news, politics, and social media exacerbate it all. These thoughts then may give way to, “How can I love others?” “How can I be an instrument of peace?” “How can I be a voice of calm and reason?” “How can I show compassion to others?” It often seems the needs and futility are endless and voices are drowned out in all the noise, causing one thought to keep bubbling to the surface for me amid all the turmoil and strife, and that is a need for rest. Physical rest, emotional rest, and spiritual rest. I assume I am not alone in this. It is often easy to be discouraged.
But I want to encourage all of us. As God’s people, we have not been left alone. God has provided answers for us. We have sure and precious promises, especially considering the affliction and suffering we may be experiencing now and in the future. There is a reason the Bible is so thick and filled with 66 separate books by many different human authors. It tells the divine story of the history of redemption from many perspectives along a timeline that runs for millennia. It tells the story of creation, and the beginning of sin and death, all the way to the defeat of sin and death by God’s own Savior, Jesus Christ, and to the new creation. Along the way, God reveals one amazing thing after another about Himself, the creation, the Savior, and humanity.
One passage - actually, one phrase - I want us to look at is found right at the beginning of the Apostle Peter’s first epistle in verses 1 and 2. He writes,
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 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: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering and persecuted for their faith in Christ. Most of the original audience were likely Gentile Christians who came from pagan backgrounds. As Christianity spread and they grew in their faith, they were likely verbally abused and ridiculed for their new-found beliefs in Christ and their worldview which was contrary to the surrounding culture in the first century. Peter’s letter was written as an encouragement to persevere during those tough times. While these two introductory verses are loaded with rich theological content including a beautiful description of the Trinity (foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ), the phrase I’d like to focus on is found in verse 1. Peter is writing to elect exiles in the Dispersion. This is a remarkable phrase and really sets the tone for the entire letter.
Those to whom Peter was writing were elect.
My aim for this is not controversy, but comfort and encouragement. This word means chosen by thoughtful and deliberate consideration. We know that Peter is writing to Christians. He is equating Christians, those who are united by Faith to Christ, as the chosen people of God. Becoming one of the people of God is no small matter and not a thing to be taken lightly. Later in the letter, Peter mashes together concepts found in two Old Testament passages (Deuteronomy 7:6 and Exodus 19:6), that were used of the chosen nation of Israel, in reference to those Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
1Peter 2:9, “ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
The Greek word eklektos is the same word in both verses. How did this choosing occur? It was “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” in verse 2. In verse 3, we are told that, because of God’s great mercy, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...” God elected to show kindness, favor, love to those He saved or called out of darkness into his marvelous light! What a great and wonderful God! This alone should give us comfort and encourage us to press on while we are here – in Christ, we are beloved by God!
Those to whom Peter was writing were elect exiles.
The use of the word elect modifies the word exiles. The whole phrase, which can easily be read over without giving it much thought, gives meaning to the entire letter of 1 Peter. It is translated as aliens in the NASB. It means sojourneror stranger. It carries with it the thought of a foreigner who has settled down in a land not his own. In fact, in chapter 2 verse 11, Peter utilizes the word used here with another word – translated together as sojourners and exiles. It emphasized that the recipients of his letter were to see themselves as temporary dwellers, not having a settled habitation in the place where they currently resided. There was both a physical and a spiritual component to this.
The writer to the Hebrews compares the patriarchs of old in the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter with the people of God today. He writes of them that,
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13
The fathers of the faith knew that their permanent home wasn’t here on earth. They longed for their permanent home. The writer to the Hebrews and Peter knew that too, which is why they each labored to have the hearts of their readers transformed by this great truth.
Those to whom Peter was writing were elect exiles of the dispersion.
There is some debate over how the Greek word diasporas was translated here. The ESV translates it “dispersion”. The NASB and NIV translate it as “scattered about.” All three translations go on to list where they were dispersed or scattered about. The word means exactly that. And in either case, it evokes images of the Old Testament Jews being dispersed after their captivity throughout Chaldea, Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor. Peter seems to be casting his readers, Christians, in a similar mode. All the Christians were scattered. They weren’t necessarily located in one place like the Church at Colossae or the Church at Ephesus or like the Old Covenant Jews in Israel. Thomas Schreiner comments, “Dispersion belongs with the word “strangers” in that it communicates again that believers are distinct from the world. Peter’s audience was an eclectic group of people who had Christ in common, but did not fit in the world. They belonged to another world and were just on a layover in this one.
How does this help us? What do we do with it?
As 1 Peter was written to elect exiles spread all over the globe and suffering through persecution and ridicule, there is much application for us today. Peter’s audience was living in a time that was certainly discouraging and full of despair for them. Yet they were called to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” in 1 Peter 3:15. We find ourselves in a similar situation today at just about every level: nationally, as the Church, and as individuals. This concept of being a stranger in a strange land should resonate with us. At the very least, we should be shaken out of complacency and see ourselves more as exiles. This world is not our ultimate home and our ultimate hope is not found in it. We are told to not become too friendly with the world. Political systems and governments are fallen, at best, as they are made up of fallen, sinful people. Ultimately, secular understandings of why things are, are all futile and devoid of God. But dear brothers and sisters, for those of us in Christ, we have a living hope that is connected to another world. This world is not our final home. Peter goes on in verse 4 of chapter 1 to tell us that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled. And unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Can we even take this in? This is far more glorious and impressive than anything here. Those patriarchs in Hebrews 11, according to the writer, staked their eternal destinies on it. They took it in and banked on it. Verses 14 through 16:
“For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.”
They didn’t get too comfortable here in this fallen world with all its trials and tribulations. They knew they had a better home, one that is perfect, one that has God at its center. Do we know this? Do we understand the magnitude of our salvation? Do we live with our hope firmly set upon this? By virtue of being chosen by God, we are sojourners. We don’t belong here. Our citizenship is in heaven. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t affected by what happens here on this earth while we are here. But what it does mean is that as we grow in the faith we learn to rejoice because, “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6-7). This eternal life that we have inherited (and dear believer it is sure and secure because of Him who called us), is far more glorious than we can think or imagine. We may be suffering and we may be lamenting the things going on around us, but we have a great hope that outstrips any trials, suffering, or persecution according to Peter and other biblical writers. Peter later writes in chapter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Dear family, we have had it extremely easy as Christians for a long time in this country. God has chosen us to be born here, to live here, to minister here. We should be profoundly grateful for the many blessings we have. But God, in His providence, has caused many of His people to be born in places far more hostile to Christians. And if He should cause us to experience more trials, tribulations, and persecution in this country, we can rest assured that it is for our good and for His glory. Jesus in John 16:33 tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus has overcome the world and we are members with Him of the next. Our eternal home will be free of these tribulations, but we should be ready for them in this place.
Peter writes to assure his readers that they will one day be face to face with the Lord, living in eternal bliss. We are pilgrims here, passing through for a short while. Furthermore, our afflictions are momentary and light in view of this eternal perspective. This does not mean that we live here having our heads in the clouds, not caring about what happens. Far from it! Because we have such a great hope, Peter writes that our lives should be different. We have no reason to fret or worry or fear. In Chapter 2, verses 11-12, we see, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (12) Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” We are called to be holy and honorable when faced with injustice or troubling circumstances so that God would be glorified and Christ would be seen as valuable to a lost world that desperately needs to see this. Is Christ valuable to you? Do you see Him and His kingdom as they are presented in Scripture? As Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus is worthy of all worship and honor. If the perfect Son of God faced mocking and scorning and even death without reviling, but even asked his Father to forgive those who did it to Him, should we not follow Him in loving reverence in living lives that bring Him glory and honor here and now? The perfect Son of God, creator of the universe, had no place to lay His head here in this creation. He was a sojourner here for a short time. He suffered and bled and died. Should we not also count it joy to be affiliated with Him?
Dear saints, let us put on Christ and cast off our old dead selves. As beloved elect exiles – strangers in a land not our own - let us cling to God and His promises to us. Paul Tripp writes, “This world is dark, but Jesus is the light of the world. Truth, justice, peace, hope and grace are found in him.” Let us live our lives with God and His promises in focus. We have much reason for hope! We have but a short time until we have ultimate rest in eternity. But even now, we are promised rest, as well as peace and joy through faith in Christ. Entrust yourselves to the One who can calm the storm and find rest. In closing, let us ponder these wonderful words afresh,
Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise over sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine.
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.1
Many blessings in Christ,