3rd Sunday After Pentecost July 3, 2011
1 Peter 1:1-2
427, 515, 434, 776 [TLH alt, 37]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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 the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood our risen Lord Jesus Christ:
When we begin a letter to a friend, we write: “Dear Jane…” or “Dear John….” or “Dear ‘Someone’… We begin by greeting the person to whom we are writing because our letter is from us, not from someone else. Peter, on the other hand, begins differently because he is writing as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” [v.1] That means that since he has been sent out by Jesus Christ, the letter he writes is really a message from Jesus Christ, the ascended Lord and Savior of us all.
First Peter has been called a “letter of hope for those going home.” Peter knows a lot about this message to Christians troubled by their sufferings, persecutions, and weaknesses. Peter knew firsthand that the Christian’s strength rests not in his own arm—his own reason and will, but in the grace of his Savior.
We well remember that after he boasted, Peter actually denied his Savior. But before this happened, Jesus promised Peter: “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Peter had both failed and received forgiveness. He knew both the weakness of men and the strength of God’s grace in Christ. So Peter is perfectly able to warn and encourage his fellow Christians to hold on to their Christian hope. This he does in his letters using the words of Christ’s Spirit who was poured out upon Peter at Pentecost.
But you may say: “This letter is not addressed to me. Peter is writing to ‘the pilgrims of the dispersion, scattered throughout the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.’” This is true. But are you and I not “pilgrims”? Peter does not say, “outcasts.” Outcasts are people who have been cast out of their homes or who have left home. Neither does he call these Christians, “wanderers.” A wanderer has no permanent home. Peter calls these Christians, “pilgrims”—those who are going home. Are you and I not pilgrims—children of God who are going home to the heavenly mansions our Savior has prepared for us with our heavenly Father?
Peter wants his readers to be sure that they are Christian pilgrims—going home—that they may be strengthened in his hope and able to stand in faith until that blessed homecoming! WHO ARE PETER’S PILGRIMS? THEY ARE THE “ELECT.”
Peter’s pilgrims are the elect according to the foreknowledge of the Father. We must be sure we have a correct understanding of the two words, “elect” and “foreknowledge.” The word, “elect,” literally means “those called out.” A Christian pilgrim is a person who is chosen out of the world. Peter says this choosing was done according to or “by” the foreknowledge of God the Father. The word “foreknowledge” is an exact translation of the Greek word prognosis. We all know that doctors make a “prognosis” concerning a person’s disease. He makes an educated guess as to whether or when the person will recover. When a weatherman makes a “prognostication” he is making an educated guess as to what the weather will be like.
But the foreknowledge of God the Father is not just an educated guess about the future of His elect pilgrims! For as Paul wrote to the Romans: “Those whom He [God] foreknew, these He also predestined” (Romans 8:29). God the Father selected those whom He chose to know for the purpose of saving them and He did this before the world began.
The election of Peter’s pilgrims then is not based on any merit or worthiness in them but only on the knowledge and choosing of the gracious and almighty God in eternity. That’s why Jesus could say in John 10 that no one can pluck His chosen sheep out of His or His Father’s hand! (cf. John 10:28-29).
To this one might ask: “If God already chose those whom He would save before the world began, then why do I need to come to church, hear the Gospel of Christ, or receive the Lord’s Supper? If God has chosen me from eternity, then I shall be saved. If He has not chosen me, I shall be lost whether I hear the Gospel or not, whether I fight against sin or not!” But Peter goes on in verse two to say that his pilgrims going home are elect “in connection with sanctification of the Spirit.”
In other words, God’s choosing in eternity was not done without means. God did not take hold of His elect by the ears or by the neck and say, “No matter what takes place in your lifetime, you will be saved.” But just as God chose to save Noah in the ark, so He chose to save the elect in the sanctifying work of His Spirit.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians: “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). What God purposed in eternity concerning the salvation of those He foreknew, He carries out in time through the work of His Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit’s special work to sanctify sinners—to separate them from this perishing world and join them to the living God.
God performs His sanctifying work through the power of the Gospel of Christ and by no other means. That’s why we must be diligent to hear and learn and grow in the Word of Christ and to make frequent use of the Lord’s Supper. Peter says later on that his pilgrims going home “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). Through the Gospel, the Holy spirit brings men to believe the truth that they are saved from sin, not by any works or righteousness of their own, but by the righteousness and cleansing blood of Christ alone!
You see, Peter’s pilgrims going home were not elected in eternity in a vacuum, without means or direction, but “in connection with the Holy Spirit, and unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” The goal and purpose of God’s eternal election is to bring His chosen ones to the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of His blood by the working of faith (cf. Ephesians 1:3 ff.)
These words of Peter were recorded by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the comfort and hope of all New Testament Christians. We are to see ourselves described in these verses and know that we are among the elect pilgrims who are going home to their heavenly Father.
How can we know this? By moving backwards in our text. How is it that you have obeyed the “foolishness” of the Gospel, which the whole world denies? It is through the God-worked miracle of faith! How is that you believe that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin?” (1 John 1:7b). It’s not because of your own reason or strength. Rather, you have been brought unto this “obedience” of faith in connection with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, and by the eternal foreknowledge of God the Father. God’s “elect” from eternity are elected unto faith.
So, if you have this faith which is always seeking forgiveness for sin in the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone, then do not doubt for a moment that you are one of the elect—one of the pilgrims Peter addresses in his letter. You must be one of God’s elect, otherwise you could not believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has become your Savior.
When we had finished teaching regarding our election from eternity in connection with faith in Christ, one of our young people said, “Wow! That makes me feel good!”
Often we greet others with the question: “How are you?” But neither Peter, nor the Lord Jesus needs to ask us how we are. Jesus knows how we are in this world: troubled on all sides by sin, fear, persecutions, sufferings, and all kinds of temptations and weaknesses. Peter also knew. But Jesus has instructed His apostle to remind us of who we are: God’s elect people, not outcasts, not wanderers without a home, but holy pilgrims on their way home to our Father in Heaven!
In this blessed truth is our hope, our confidence, and joy at all times! It makes us “feel good” about the safety and blessedness of our bodies and souls day after day until we finish our pilgrimage. So Peter’s greeting to all of his New Testament fellow pilgrims is full of meaning and power to us who believe today. He says: “Grace to you and peace be multiplied!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.