Blessed Trinity

1 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, 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.

Last week I began preaching through 1 Peter by describing the big picture of the letter. As you may remember, 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter to a group of Christians who had been exiled and dispersed because of their faith in Jesus. The primary goal the letter is to describe what God-honoring faithfulness in the midst of such persecution looks like, and to call the scattered believers to put it into practice.

Beginning this morning we’re going to zoom in and work our way, verse-by-verse, through this remarkable letter in order to grasp all that God has for us in it. We’ll begin at the beginning with Peter’s introduction in the first two verses.

What we have here in Peter’s introduction (1:1-2) is the introduction of someone who is absolutely earnest. It is exceptionally loving, but it is also exceptionally serious. There is a welcoming quality to it, but there is also deep doctrine in it as well. There is an approachable feel about it, but there is also a no-nonsense feel about it too.

Peter’s introduction is one from a man taking the commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) as it was meant to be taken, who feels deeply for the exiled, persecuted recipients, and who realizes that only the God of the bible is able to rescue mankind from his sin and is worthy of trusting through such peril.

This morning, from this introduction, we’re going to catch a significant, initial glimpse of Peter, the recipients of his letter, and the God who reigns sovereignly over all things.

Grace, it is my prayer that at the end of this sermon, Peter’s introduction would have awakened us all to the relative and irrational and inappropriate flippancy of our lives, to the need for genuinely sound doctrine, and to the glory of the blessed Trinity. That, of course, is no small goal. Indeed, it is impossible apart from the working of the Spirit. Let’s pray, then, that according to the foreknowledge of the Father, the Spirit would come in sanctifying power because of the obedience of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and accomplish all of this and more.

I’ve always found it interesting to observe how people introduce themselves. I’m particularly interested in how people define themselves in their introductions.

It’s fairly rare in my experience for people to be very existentially precise in their self-identification. You don’t hear many, “Hi, I’m Bill, the product of countless billions of years of random mutation,” or, “I’m Sky, a spirit being, delighting in my oneness with the universe,” or “My name is James, a child of God, created in the image of God, for the glory of God.” In other words, people don’t generally define themselves according to their actual understanding of their essence when they introduce themselves.

Instead, we get a lot of…

“Hi, my name is David VanAcker, I’m Gerri’s husband, ” or “Good afternoon, my name is Sue. I’m an attorney,” or “I’m Emily, a mechanical engineer sophomore at UM,” or “I’m Archie Manning. Two of my sons have won the Super bowl and claimed the MVP trophy.”

We tend to define ourselves in terms of our career or our relationships or our accomplishments. That is, we tend to define ourselves by that which we value most and then introduce ourselves accordingly.

Peter seems to transcend these categories and accomplish both in his simple introduction; referring to himself with one defining characteristic: an apostle of Jesus Christ. It’s simultaneously who he is in his innermost being and that which he values most.

(I noted in my introduction to Titus, regarding Paul’s claim to apostleship, that,)

“An apostle was one who had been given the personal commission of Jesus to proclaim the gospel of Jesus with the authority of Jesus. It was the apostles who led the early church and wrote the N.T. In other words, in seeing himself as an apostle, [Peter] understood himself as having the commission and authority to proclaim the gospel and order the Church.”

Above all Peter’s identification as an apostle of Jesus Christ meant that he belonged to Jesus and was an instrument of God’s grace, according to the commission of Jesus, for the good of God’s people and the glory of God’s name. And above all Peter valued and delighted in this role. It is who he was and it is what he loved. Even though this letter is inspired by God, the tone and content of this letter flow from these things.

Of the recipients of his letter, Peter notes that they are elected, exiled, and dispersed.

That they have been elected means that God chose them to be his people before the foundation of the earth. That is, Peter asserts that his readers, along with all who are truly trusting in Jesus, are trusting in Jesus because they have been chosen by God to trust in Jesus. Again, the doctrine of election teaches that we must choose to accept the gospel, but no one can choose to accept the gospel unless he is chosen (elected) by the Father to do so.

Peter undoubtedly learned this from Jesus himself who taught, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).

Peter speaks of God’s election (or choice) again in 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 marvelous light.” This glorious truth is inspired by Deuteronomy 7 where God describes his choosing of Israel.

The apostle Paul states it emphatically in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

I love how Jesus and the apostles merely assert things that we love to bicker over. How many heated arguments have been had over the relationship between human free will and God’s sovereign rule? We reason that either we have free will and God restricts his sovereignty or God is truly sovereign and our freedom is an illusion. And yet, in the bible, there is no such argument. The apostles simply state that both are true without any concern for any explanation for any apparent contradiction.

In our culture many struggle with the idea of election. It feels off to many. It feels like it robs us of something important (Choice? Freedom? Autonomy? Strength?). But this is not how the bible presents the doctrine of election at all. In fact, far from being presented as burdensome or limiting or negative in any way, the bible universally presents it as a good and glorious and wonderful thing.

One commentator captures this spirit well by naming five benefits of divine election (MNTC, 25-27): 1) it humbles us in the knowledge that we cannot do anything to save ourselves, 2) it gives all glory to God; when he does it all, he gets all the glory, 3) it produces ultimate joy in the knowledge that we are saved by God when we were helpless to do so on our own, 4) it assures us of our salvation, since it is God who saves, and 5) it motivates us for holiness in the knowledge of what God has done, is doing, and will certainly do still.

Having asserted the election of God, Peter then specifies to which elect believers he is writing: those who have been exiled. That they have been exiled likely has two senses. First, it means that they have been forced to live away from their homelands. It means that they have been displaced. Another translation reads, “To those who reside as aliens…”. Today we would call them “refugees”.

But second, it likely also refers to the fact that all Christians are exiles in this life. We are not home. We are made for a new world, our true home. In the first (and primary) sense, Peter is addressing a particular group of Christians. In the second, he is addressing all who call on the name of Jesus—including you and I.

Let’s never forget that, Grace. This is not our home. We are not meant to be overly comfortable here. We have different values and aims and standards and loves than the people around us. This ought to result in a constant tension in our interactions with those who are not a part of the kingdom of God, and it ought to make us long for God’s presence and help and return even as we plead with them to submit to King Jesus.

Concerning the exiled believers in the first century, Peter also notes that they have not only been exiled, but also “dispersed.” Not only have they been displaced, but they have also been scattered. The implication is that they had to flee and that they didn’t have much control over where they ended up. Wherever they were from originally, they ended up in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia—scattered throughout the Middle East.

Again, we have to imagine their concerns and difficulties and uncertainly. To give them comfort in this plight Peter reminds the dispersed exiles that their election, exile, and dispersion are according to God’s foreknowledge, for the purpose of their sanctification in the Spirit, and will certainly result in their salvation as secured by the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood.

According to the Father’s foreknowledge. That God foreknew their election, exile, and dispersion is meant to give encouragement to Peter’s readers (including us) in that it assured them that God wasn’t surprised or unprepared or experiencing a setback in their trials. The Father knew before the universe began that these things would take place as a part of his plan for their redemption.

It’s hard to be in hard situations. Knowing that those who can bring help know where you are and are already working good out of it doesn’t make the situation go away, but it does give strength and comfort to endure well. That’s the case for the early church and for us. God foreknew every hardship we’d ever go through and is working every one of them for good. Find rest in knowledge of God’s foreknowledge, Grace.

For their sanctification in the Spirit. In fact, Peter quickly follows his assertion of the Father’s foreknowledge of the suffering of the saints and purposefulness in it with one particular aspect of his purpose. This too is comforting to those who love God. In times of difficulty knowing generally that God is using it for good is helpful; but knowing specific ways in which he is working is often more comforting still.

In this case Peter gets a bit more specific by informing the scattered believers that the Holy Spirit is with them in their scattering in order to make them more like Jesus. Specifically, their scattering is sanctifying them in such a way as to make them more obedient to Jesus.

Grace, we must break away from the worldly notion that suffering is purposeless or has no redeeming value. For the Christian all thing—all things!—are instruments of God for the good of his people. When you are persecuted for your faith or encounter hardship of any kind, find comfort in the promises of God that he is using it for your good, making you more like Jesus and more obedient to Jesus in it. It may be unpleasant in the moment but we endure for the joy set before us.

Again, Peter sought to comfort his readers with the knowledge that their suffering was known by God and was being used by God to strengthen their faith and purify their souls. That’s power for faithfulness!

Secured by the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood. If someone were to promise you something—say, to buy you the car of your choice at the end of one week—what type of thing might they do to help you trust them? What would give you the greatest confidence that they would follow through with their promise? Would their word be enough? What if they were to sign a contract? What if they left you with $10,000 cash? What would it take for you to have full confidence in them?

Likewise, what guarantee did the believers have that Peter’s words were true—that their dispersion and exile were not going to end in ruin or meaninglessness, but perseverance and joy? The most certain promise that exists: the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus over them.

These people were exiled and dispersed according to the foreknowledge of the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus, and for sprinkling with his blood. This reflects back on Exodus 24 immediately after Moses had received the covenant from God on Mount Sinai.

“Moses came [back down from the mountain] and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw [sprinkled] against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 8 And Moses took the blood and threw [sprinkled] it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'”

In other words, half of the blood of the animals was sprinkled on the alter to indicate God’s promise to remain faithful to the terms of the covenant. And the other half was sprinkled on the Israelites in order to signify their promise to remain faithful.

Grace, the blood of Jesus accomplishes both. It is God’s promise to remain faithful and to keep his people faithful. The New Covenant is by far greater in that in it God has promised to meet the requirements for both parties. That the covenant will be kept does not get more certain than that! This is what Peter is referring to when he tells the exiles that their exile has been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus—guaranteeing that it would result in the good of their salvation.

Again, then, in spite of their extremely challenging circumstances, the believers were to take comfort in the fact that it was not apart from God’s knowledge, plan, sovereign rule, or promises. God knows of their suffering and he is reigning over it, using it to sanctify their souls, and those things are made certain by the blood of Jesus.

Remaining faithful through all of this, Peter knows, will require heavenly measures of grace and peace. That is why he cries out to God on their behalf, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1:2b).

Finally, Grace, let’s not miss the fact that all of this (Peter’s claims about himself and his recipients) ultimately points to the glorious nature of God.

That Peter is an apostle of Jesus means that God has the authority to assign purpose to his creation, to commission people to carry it out, to create a special office to lead the world in this commission, and to empower those in that office to perform signs and wonders and write down God’s very words and accomplish his very purposes. Again, that says more about the power and authority and glory of God than it does Peter.

Similarly, that the exiles were elect means that God is sovereign to elect. Who has held the nations in his hands? Who has numbered every grain of sand? Who has chosen for himself a people before time? God alone is glorious to create and reign and elect and save.

That they were foreknown means that God gloriously possesses boundless, complete knowledge of all things. Who existed before time? Who can see the beginning and the end of time at the same time? Who is able to work every nanosecond according to the counsel of his will? Grace, marvel at the unique ability and glory of God to elect a people for himself and to foreknow and purpose every thought and action of all creation.

That the exiles were exiled for the purpose of being sanctified—increasingly obedient to Jesus—means that God is glorious even to the point where he can change our very hearts and minds—who we are in our innermost being. It also means that God’s glory is really, really good news for those who love him because it is the good news that we will increasingly love the lovely and be satisfied by the truly satisfying and become what we were made to be before sin corrupted. That’s glory.

That Peter expected the exiles to want to remain faithful to God even though he’d allowed them to be exiled highlights the fact that God is glorious to the extent that his people, having tasted the mere firstfruits of the goodness and glory of God, are willing to endure unthinkable hardships in this life because of God’s promise concerning the next: to be with him forever. Only for a God as glorious as ours would this make sense.

That Peter looks to God to provide grace and peace to the dispersed believers shows God’s glory as the one who can provide such things…in multiplicity/abundance.

Above all, though, Peter’s introduction highlights the Triune nature of God. Don’t miss the implicit but clear affirmation of the fact that God exists as one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is explicitly mentioned in v.2 and to each is ascribed a glorious work of saving grace. Oh to grasp the glory of the blessed Trinity!

And so, once again, in this brief introduction we see Peter introducing himself as an apostle of God. We see him naming his audience (elect, exiled, and dispersed Christians). We see him offering words of comfort to the elect in order to help them remain faithful in throughout their persecution (namely, that their sufferings are foreknown by God, part of God’s redeeming purposes, and made certain by the blood of Jesus). And we see Peter describing the nature of the God who is reigning over all (triune and glorious beyond comprehension).

Grace, let all of this be a call to worship. This is our God. This is how he works. This is his salvation. This is his help in times of trouble. These are but a few of his marvelous promises. All of this is meant to inform our minds in order that we would see the infinite glory of God and love him with all of our being. Don’t let any of this fall on lazy minds or cold hearts. Fight in the power of the Spirit to receive this as God would have you: in awe and wonder and praise and love and gratitude and obedience and perseverance. Amen.