Sermon Text: 1 Peter 1:1–2
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
The Father’s Chosen Rejects
Today we’re getting back to the thing we like to do best with our time together, which is to open up a book of the Bible and to make eye contact with every word and phrase and sentence of it, to dig into a book, make it our aim to understand it to the bottom and believe everything we find there with everything we’ve got.
One thing that means is that from time to time we find ourselves doing something that most people won’t do very often, which is to spend 45 minutes talking about two sentences. If you’ve never done that before, welcome… We’re not that cool.
The sentences in question this morning are the first two in the book of 1 Peter. Let’s read them together, 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, 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.”
-1 Peter 1:1–2
In this letter, Peter’s aims are very focused, very sharp—nearly every word is intended to put gospel steel into the backbones of a church that is facing and will continue to face the steady assault of persecution, dislike, rejection, and hatred.
And so throughout the letter, Peter labors to do two things: First, to anchor the hopes of the saints in something stronger than these circumstances, and yet, secondly to teach them how to live as joyful, fruitful, saints—as God’s royal priesthood and chosen race and holy nation—in those circumstances.
And one of the overriding methods the Apostle employs to these connected ends is paradox. Over and over again, the Apostle presses us into places of disjunction, of irony, of what might even seem like inconsistency—but he does it to show us massive glories that live at the heart of what seem to be conflicts.
Two paradoxes pressed by the Apostle Peter in the course of the whole letter show up right here in these first sentences of the book.
1. The paradox of a Gentile Israel.
2. The paradox of elect exiles, of chosen rejects.
Let’s see each of these in turn and how Peter uses them to make his opening salvoes in the war for gospel-hope.
I. Gentile Israel?
First, the paradox of a Gentile Israel. To get this one, you have to understand this idea about the Bible that’s a really bad idea, but that’s really common and also really easy to fall into:
The idea is that the Bible has two peoples of God, Israel and the Church, and that God has given each of these peoples their own plans, their own promises, and their own sections of the Bible. So under this idea, Israel basically gets the Old Testament, and the Church basically gets the New. Israel gets a bunch of Old Testament promises, the Church a bunch of New Testament promises.
In flat contradiction of this idea, Peter shows us that God has and has always had one people, a people saved by grace and through faith by means of Christ and his cross. This people, the true Israel of God, true sons of Abraham by faith, the true Church of Jesus Christ—this one people all share through Christ the same God, same promises, same future, same hope, and same salvation. They are one.
Right here in the opening verse of his letter, Peter coopts the language of ethnic Jews and applies it to a group likely containing far more Gentiles than Jews: the saints in Asia Minor. He calls them the people of the Dispersion.
The Dispersion is a historical term used in that day to talk about ethnic Jews who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire from Jerusalem and Israel. And it’s no mistake that Peter uses it to refer to Gentiles as well as Jews.
He’s coopting the language of Israel in order to show that the people of God is a global people, the promises to Israel expanded globally, and the Gentiles grafted into the one, true Israel, the Church. He will do this over and over again in his letter.
It is astonishing that Peter is the one that this comes through. Peter never would have thought as a young man that the Gentiles would be grafted into true Israel and brought in as equal members of that people. Never. Even after Jesus died and rose, Peter didn’t get this.
That is, until God showed up to Peter, told him in a vision that all the foods that were unclean under Israel’s ceremonial law had been pronounced clean, and promptly sent Peter to the house of Gentile, where the whole household was saved, filled with the Spirit of God, and baptized—just as God had done for the Jewish Christians at Pentecost.
In Acts 15, Peter and the other Apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss this issue. What was going on? Peter stood up and pronounced to the council that God had “…made no distinction between us and [the Gentiles], having cleansed their hearts by faith.
James then stood up and quoted a prophecy from Amos 9:11, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord…”
Do you see how astonishing this is? What Peter and James are telling us is that the Gentiles being saved is a rebuilding of the tent of David! That is to say, the Gentiles are the rebuilding of Israel!
There is no two people of God, but one. Gentiles and Jews, true Israel, true sons of Abraham, God’s beloved and blood-bought people. Thus the first paradox that Peter presses is to include Galatian and Bithynian and Pontian and American Gentiles in the true Israel. How about that second paradox?
II. Elect Exiles, Chosen Rejects
The second paradox is the peculiar and seemingly contradictory title that he gives to this one people of God.
“…to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”
The paradox is jarring and intentionally jarring: This people, this church, they are elect exiles. This is like saying that they are chosen rejects. It’s like saying that they are beloved banished prodigals.
The letter is written in the 60s to a scattered group of Christians who are beginning to feel the rising tide of persecution. This was in a period just before the major, Coliseum and burning Christians, state-sponsored persecution of Nero and onward. They didn’t yet face massive, top-down persecution—but they did face persecution and hatred. It was a bottom-up kind of hatred, at this point the hatred of neighbors rather than emperors.
The paradox that Peter aims to press, right from the beginning, is to say, “Yes, I know that you are dispersed and scattered and persecuted and even hated, but you are elect. You are chosen of the Father.” They are, and we are, all of the saints are, the elect of the Father, yet the exiles of the world.
Peter is doing something he’ll do over and over in the letter, and that is to tightly hitch this New Testament epistle to the Old Testament Scriptures. Exile is what happened to Israel when they disobeyed God and were banished from the Promised Land.
And here, he flips the script, showing that they are a different kind of exile now. In a mirror image of Israel’s exile, they are banished—not from the Promised Land and God’s presence—but from the kingdoms of the world. Exile in this sense is salvation rather than judgement.
See, what the saints in Asia Minor were beginning to feel was the steady, sharp disapproval of their neighbors. They were beginning to feel this oppressive, deeply felt otherness. They had become a new humanity, with a new head, Jesus Christ. Their entire center of gravity had been dislocated and relocated by the gospel, and they found themselves the expeditionary force of an invading King and his invading heavenly Kingdom.
And maybe you think that you, modern American, aren’t quite in the same position. But if we are following Christ, you are, and you are by definition and inescapably. We, too, are not of this world. We, too, do not worship her gods. We, too, have peculiar hope, peculiar hates, peculiar loves. We, too, are a peculiar people.
There is an exilic kind of otherness that characterizes our place in the kingdoms and cultures of men, the otherness of yeast in a lump of dough it is leavening.
Strangers in an Alien Cultus
Do you feel that? It’s essential that you see this, not just in 1 Peter and the Christians of 1st-Century Asia Minor, but in your own life and place. I want to, for a minute, try to put our fingers on the anatomy of that otherness: So think, what makes a community?
At the center of every community of human beings, there is a pantheon of gods, demanding worship and shaping the worshipers of that culture. That might sound strange, but it even shows up in the words that give us the words we use to talk about culture and community. Our word culture comes from the Latin cultus, which is a very interesting word.
The Latin word cultus is the great-grandfather of our English words, cult, culture, and cultivation. In the history of those words, something really important is revealed: Every culture is cultivated by cultus. Another way we could say this is that the god or pantheon of gods at the center of a community inevitably shapes the hopes of that community, the loves of that community, the hates of that community. It shapes who is in and who is out in that community.
In our culture, for example, the god of the Self sits enthroned at the center of the pantheon of gods. The Self is to our modern and Western pantheon what Zeus was to the ancient and Roman one.
In a way unprecedented in history, we value the rights and privileges of the sovereign individual. Life’s highest aims are captured in actualizing yourself, loving yourself, serving yourself, finding yourself, being your truest self.
Think about how that cultus, that center of worship, would shape a culture devoted to the worship of it. If you worship the self, what do you love? Well, we might expect that culture to love and worship fame to a degree previously unknown. To have a class of celebrities who act like popes and prophets.
Such a culture might believe in radical self-definition, that individuals, since they are gods, are sovereign over their own identities. We might expect such a culture to believe that people are free to redefine every aspect of what it means to be human into whatever image they desire.
What might that culture hate? Well, anything that says, “You can’t do that!” They would hate laws that restrict the “right” to define yourself however you want. They would hate any kind of objective system of morality: “You can’t tell me what to do with my own body! That’s evil.”
Such a culture would despise anything that would seem to be a barrier to the service of me, the god on the throne. Job not paying enough? Demand that the Congress pass a law to make my employer pay me more… or else. Spouse not fulfilling me? Divorce them and don’t look back. Pregnancy in the way of that college degree? Terminate.
And not only would that cultus shape the community, we should also expect that community to set up priests and gatekeepers at the temple doors of that culture, dividing people into clean and unclean, blasphemers and true worshipers.
An example of this sort of thing that I heard from another pastor the other day, probably less familiar to our own culture, might be a community shaped by the cultus of Islam. What do you expect would happen if you went into the center of a public marketplace in Iran and shouted out, “Muhammad was a liar!”
You would be stoned for blasphemy, thrown off a building, beheaded. You’d be shouted down, “Unclean! Unclean! Blasphemy!” It would not be tolerated.
Now lucky for us, we live in a modern, secular, neutral culture that doesn’t have blasphemy laws like that, right? What would happen if you went to a Farmer’s Market in Seattle, LA, or NYC with a megaphone and shouted, “There are only two genders!” What if you did this in SLC? Or during Ogden’s Pride Parade?
It’s tempting to think that there are no gods in our pantheon just because nobody is getting arrested for blaspheming Allah—but all that means is that Allah isn’t in the top tier of our gods.
You can blaspheme another community’s gods all day—blaspheme Christ in the farmer’s market and nobody will even care, let alone arrest you. But you find out very quickly which gods are in our pantheons when you start to feel the heat, the censorship, the mob, the riot. Just ask Demetrius the silversmith.
Every culture is built around a pantheon of gods, a cultus, a center of worship to various deities. Every culture’s loves, hopes, hates, and laws are shaped by that worship—no exceptions.
Why say all of that? Because when Peter looks at the saints in Asia Minor and at us and says, Exiles!—that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about a radical otherness that is built into what it means to be a part of the people of God. Paul describes it like this in his letter to the Colossians,
“[The Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
If you are a Christian, you haven’t just added a modified religious philosophy to your otherwise unchanged, unaltered self. You aren’t merely a religiously different member of the same community.
No, something massively more radical than that has occurred: There has been a complete transfer of Kingdoms, a total renunciation of your original citizenship and the assumption of a new citizenship. There has been a holistic overhaul of your core identity—who you are, what you love, what you hate, what you hope in, what you’re for.
You can see a small picture of this in the life of Albert Einstein. Einstein was born a German citizen, but he was a Jew. And on January 30th, 1933, after Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany for the National Socialist party—the Germans immediately ransacked Einstein’s home. He had been a vocal critic of their policies and anti-Semitism.
So what did Einstein do? He publicly revoked his German citizenship. He left the country, turned in his German passport, and never took it up again.
You have been exiled from one kingdom, the old kingdom, the fading and falling and rusting kingdom of darkness and of fallen man, and have been delivered and welcomed as an honored son and citizen of a totally new Kingdom—an unshakeable one, an unfading one, a Kingdom whose increase will have no end.
Peter speaks knownness into our strangeness.
And what Peter does, rather than to downplay that exilic otherness, is to press into it and show that it is a part of our glory.
He knew that he couldn’t just sweep that feeling away cheaply: The saints in Asia Minor—they felt it. They felt it to their bones. They were not wanted. Their worship was not welcome. The doors to the temples of that culture were shut in their faces. The guilds and vocational groups, the schools and the marketplaces—they were not welcome.
What Peter does, and he does it in just a handful of words, is to speak a profound, a heady, a 100-proof comfort into their hearts. He knows exactly what the exiled saints need to hear, exactly what we, exiles of this fading, conquered-and-being-conquered-kingdom need to hear: We are chosen and known by God.
“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”
There are two profoundly good words to us in that fragment of a sentence:
1. Christian, you are an elect exile.
When the Scriptures say that Christians are the elect, they’re saying that Christians are chosen. Israel was called God’s chosen nation over and over, his chosen people. And then in the New Testament, Christians are called the same kinds of things. Peter will say to us in chapter 2 of this book,
“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
-1 Peter 2:9–10
Peter would have us know and believe and cling to this grace of graces, that God has chosen us. Not because of our greatness—no! Not because of anything in us, that is clear. God tells Israel that he didn’t choose them because they were great. God tells us that he didn’t choose us because we are great.
The message is clear: The world may not choose you, but God has. The world may despise and persecute you, but God has chosen you to be his own possession. So Christian, you are chosen by God. Let that humble you to the floor and raise you to the heavens, right?
2. Christian, you are foreknown by the Father and sprinkled clean under a fountain of covenant grace.
Look again at our text,
“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion… 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.”
Let’s follow Peter through this train of thought. So first, the saints are chosen—elect, chosen according to the Father’s foreknowing.
Saying that God foreknew someone isn’t just to say that he had knowledge about them, information about them, ahead of time. If that's the case, then God foreknows everyone and everything. No, the concept of God's foreknowing a people or person is an intensely relational kind of knowing. It is, as Edmund Clowney puts it, to say that a person is “...the object of God's loving concern from all eternity.”
This is how Paul uses the term, for example, in Romans 11:1b-2a, where he calls Israel “...his people, whom he foreknew.” Even Jesus himself is said by Peter to be “foreknown before the foundation of the world” in 1 Peter 1:20.
To know someone in this biblical sense is to intimately, deeply, understand them to the bottom—and to love them. This is the language of family and even of marriage. In Hebrew, it was even a allusion to the sexual union of a husband a wife, that a husband would know his wife—and the result would be pregnancy!
So into their exile, their otherness, their pilgrimage among a hostile people, what does Peter speak? He says, “The Father knows you. You are known. You are beloved, and beloved before the world began.”
And what are they chosen for? For sanctification by the Holy Spirit. That is, that they might be made holy and set apart by the indwelling and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. For, as he says, obedience to Jesus Christ. Much of the letter of Peter will be devoted to laying out what this obedience looks like, obedience to Jesus as Lord of Heaven and Earth, even under the immense pressure of persecution
But listen, and this is so crucial: That obedience is the obedience of a clean son, not of an outsider earning a place at God’s table. It is a blood-sprinkled obedience. Again, see the tight weave here of the New Testament and the Old.
There are only three places in the Old Testament where people are sprinkled with blood:
1. In Exodus 24, when God establishes the Covenant with Israel.
2. In Exodus 29, when Aaron and the sons of Aaron are ordained as Priests of God in the Temple of God.
3. In Leviticus 14, a leper who had been cleansed and healed of his leprosy was to be sprinkled with blood.
So what Peter has just done is to pack into a single phrase, “…for sprinkling with his blood,” with Jesus’ blood, an entire cosmos of grace.
By the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood, we enter into a new and better covenant, one of perfect forgiveness by the blood of the perfect Lamb, shed on the cross.
By the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood, the entire people of God become the anointed priests of God—each one filled with the Spirit and able to take hold of God through Christ.
By the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood, we are all cleansed of our spiritual deadness, our spiritual leprosy, our numbed and rotting hearts—free to feel again, free to live again.
III. This Is Who You Are
So I’ll leave you with two very simple applications of these things.
1. You are an exile.
You can stop trying to be in the world’s inner rings. You can stop trying to impress the world by half-measures. You can stop trying to catch up to her latest ideas and find some kind of imaginary common ground to be accepted on. Be released from that as you have been released from citizenship to every iteration of Babylon.
2. But you are an elect exile: You are chosen, foreknown, sprinkled clean, and beloved.
What would that free you from today if you believed it? Do you want to be known? To be loved? To be chosen? To be cherished? Do you want to be a part of a people? A part of something wildly and radically greater than yourself?
You are. This is who you already are, saints. That Father has known you and chosen you. Jesus has bought you, cleansed you, sprinkled you clean in his blood. The Spirit is in you, calling you and empowering you to Christlike holiness.
This is not something that I now tell you to be, in other words—it is what you already are. Go, therefore, in the name of the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, One who is utterly and to the bottom for you.