Dear Exiles

Peter’s language of “elect exiles” is a challenge to progressive Christians who have sold out to the left-wing agenda. But it’s also a challenge to conservative Christians who can’t tell the difference between the right-wing agenda and the gospel of Christ crucified.

myra.schmidt on September 10, 2023
Dear Exiles
September 10, 2023

Dear Exiles

Passage: 1 Peter 1:1-2
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Where is your home?

Home is a really interesting idea, isn’t it? When you think of home, what do you think of? A town? A particular house? A group of people?

Like some of you, over my life I’d had a fairly complicated relationship with “home.” I’ve moved around a lot in my life—20 times, if my count is correct. My fourth move, when I was five years old, was out to Saskatchewan from Ontario. I’ve spent most of my life in this great province and have told people many times that it feels like home.

But I had an interesting experience about three years ago when I travelled back to Ontario to visit my dad. It was October, and I spent a few hours driving a rental car from Toronto up to the Ottawa valley where he lived. And I forgot how much I loved Ontario. There was something about the orange and red of the maples turning colour everywhere, the winding roads with little towns and little bodies of water everywhere—it felt familiar, and in some sense I felt like I had gone home.

But that weekend I came back, and on Sunday morning, gathering together with you in the NBC gym, I found that being together again with my church gave me a greater sense of home than any Ontario maple trees had been able to conjure.

So where’s home? It’s not so straightforward, is it?

1 Peter is a letter written to a group of Christians who had a challenging experience with “home.” Peter wrote this letter from Rome, far from his own hometown of Capernaum. And he wrote to a group of people spread around some of the most remote provinces of the Roman Empire.

We know that during this time period, there were a number of migrations of people from Rome to these exact areas. We also know that Jews and quite possibly Christians were forced out of Rome during this time because of their religious beliefs. And so it’s quite possible that Peter writes to Christians he had gotten to know in Rome who had been displaced because of their faith. They very literally could have been strangers in a strange land.

But more fundamentally, he writes to people who felt like strangers because of how different their beliefs and practice were from the people around them. As we’re going to see in this letter, it was their faithfulness to Jesus that made them outsiders.

And so Peter writes to encourage them, to orient their hearts in the right direction, to ground them in the truth, to help them get a sense of their real identity and where they really belong. He writes to help them, as the title of our series says, thrive in exile.

I’m really thrilled to be starting this series together. I’ve spent some time teaching 1 Peter in the past, most recently with our own young adults a few years ago. We barely made it through the first couple of chapters because it’s such a rich letter and there’s so much here. So I can’t wait to explore it together with you in the months ahead.

And here we are, right at the beginning, so lets dive in.


1. THE AUTHOR

1 Peter is a letter, and it begins, like most letters in the Roman era, by introducing its author. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”

This letter was written by Simon Peter and most people throughout history accepted this at face value. In the early church, the people closest to when this was written, there was no question that Peter actually wrote this. In the last couple of hundred years, some scholars apparently got way smarter than anybody else who ever lived before them, and began to doubt that Simon Peter actually did write this letter.

Their main reason is that 1 Peter is so well written, the Greek is so elegant, that a simple fisherman from Galilee couldn’t have written this. But isn’t that kind of the point? “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The whole point is that Jesus transformed a simple Galilean fisherman into a powerful leader in the church. Not to mention that probably 30 years had gone by. And not to mention that Peter most likely used a secretary to write this letter, which further could have refined the way that the language was used (1 Peter 5:12).

So what we’re reading here is a letter written by the man who first confessed that Jesus was the Christ. The man who got out of the boat to walk on water after His Lord. The man who ran to the empty tomb, who stood up to preach on Pentecost, and who the Holy Spirit transformed from a quick-tempered loudmouth into mature and stable leader.

The man who Jesus commissioned to be one of His apostles—an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry who was sent as one of His official messengers or representatives. When Peter spoke about Jesus, he spoke on Jesus’ behalf, with Jesus’ authority, and the special help of the Holy Spirit.

And that’s what 1 Peter is. Peter writes this letter on behalf of the risen Jesus, and so we should listen up.


2. THE RECIPIENTS

Let’s turn now to consider the recipients of the letter.


a. Exiles

Peter begins by referring to his readers as “those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).

These areas he lists were all rather remote areas of the Roman Empire, towards the north of modern-day Turkey, south of the Black Sea. And like we’ve already discussed, for various reasons this was not the home and native land for Peter’s readers.

After all, he calls them exiles, a word that can also mean foreigners or sojourners. In the Greek Old Testament, Abraham referred to himself using this word when he was buying land for Sarah’s tomb (Gen 23:4). In the political world during Peter’s time, this word referred to someone who lived in a place where they weren’t a citizen. They were from somewhere else, and as a result, they was an outsider. Often these people followed different customs and beliefs than the people around them.

Peter goes on to call then “Exiles of the dispersion.” The word “dispersion” has the sense of “scattering” and was used in Jewish writing to refer to the Jews who were scattered by the Babylonian exile and lived outside of their homeland.

Now because of this word “dispersion,” in the past many people assumed that Peter wrote this letter mainly to Jews who had been scattered after the Babylonian exile, and later became Christians. But there are several verses in 1 Peter which strongly suggest that Peter’s readers were not Jews but were actually Gentiles. Down in verse 18 he says that they “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] forefathers,” which is not something he’d say to Jews, especially with how much he quotes the Old Testament.

Based on this verse and several like it, we can be fairly certain that Peter is almost certainly writing to Gentiles. And as he uses these words—“exiles of the Dispersion”—Peter is helping these Gentile believers understand their status in the places where they lived.

When the Babylonians invaded, many Jews were scattered and for centuries lived as strangers in lands not their own. Their beliefs and practices made them stick out, even after they had lived in a place for some length of time. And they never stopped longing for their homeland. “Next year in Jerusalem.”

And the Christians he’s writing to were having a similar experience. Whether they came from Rome or not, they belonged to God in a world that was hostile to God. And so as Peter uses these words, he’s writing them into the story of God’s people, helping them see themselves as part of a long line of exiles, a long line of foreigners, whose walk of faith in God made sure that they never fit in, and never stopped longing for the place where they truly belong.


b. Chosen

That theme of belonging is what Peter points to next with the word “elect,” there in verse 1. He calls them “elect exiles.” “Elect” means “chosen.”

In Canada, we have “elections” where we “elect” or choose our leaders. But in the kingdom of God, the citizens don’t elect their leader. Rather, the Leader elects the citizens. God’s people are God’s people because they have been chosen by God to be His people.

Isn’t that strange, when you think about everything we heard about the word “exile”? “Elect exile” almost sounds like a contradiction. Sam Storms puts it this way: “To be an exile is to be rejected. To be elect is to be selected. But there is no contradiction here. God’s people are rejected by this world precisely because they have been elected by God.” [Sam Storms, “1 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. XII, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 301.]

And that’s the whole point here, right? What makes us strangers here on earth is that God has chosen us to be His.

But what does it mean to be chosen by God? How does it happen? And what’s the purpose? Those are all questions answered in verse 2, which is made up of three separate phrases. In the grammar of the original language, each of these phrases modifies or explains the word “elect,” and so each of these phrases helps us understand what it means to be chosen by God.

Let’s look at each phrase in turn.


…according to the foreknowledge of the Father

First, Peter writes that his readers are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” What is the basis for their election? What’s the reason or foundation for why they were chosen by God? The answer is the foreknowledge of the Father.

The word “foreknowledge” has the basic meaning of knowing ahead of time. And some people assume that’s what this word means here in 1 Peter 1. It means that God knows ahead of time what kinds of things are going to happen or what kinds of choices people are going to make.

But if we look at how this word is actually used in the New Testament, it’s often far more personal than this. In the book of Romans, Paul uses this word to describe God not foreknowing things but actually foreknowing people themselves (Romans 8:29, 11:2). And that’s the sense that Peter uses this word down in verse 20 of our chapter, where he writes that Jesus Himself was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.”

The background for this use of “foreknow” is the Hebrew Bible, where the word “know” often carries a very personal and relational meaning. In Amos 3:2, God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families on the earth.” God obviously knew about the other families on the earth, but the word “know” carries the sense of a close relationship.

So here in 1 Peter 1, the sense is not that God knew ahead of time who was going to believe in Him, and then He chose them. The sense is that we are chosen because God decided to know us in a special way long before we ever existed.

God established a relationship between Himself and His people before the world had even been formed.[Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 139.]

What a comfort. Many of us as humans find in ourselves a deep longing both to be known and to be loved, and those two longings often compete with each other. We so often feel like if people really knew us, they wouldn’t love us, so we put on a front and pretend to be something we’re not in order to be loved.

But God knew His people before they had ever done anything good or bad. He knew everything they would ever do. But more importantly, He knew them, deeply and truly. And He chose them. He chose to set His love on them and enter into an eternal relationship with them before the first star shone in the sky.

And though Peter’s readers found themselves on the outsides of their society, strangers to people who didn’t know them and maybe didn’t even want to know them, they could know that they had a home in the heart of a Father who knew them fully and loved them completely.


…in the sanctifying work of the Spirit

The next phrase in verse 2 says that God’s people were chosen “in the sanctification of the Spirit.” “Sanctification” means to be made holy, or devoted to God, and here it’s not talking about growing in holiness practically in our lives.

Rather, it’s saying that as God’s people were chosen by Him, the Holy Spirit was the one who marked us out as being devoted to God, completely belonging to Him.

Now this could be pointing to a work of the Spirit in eternity past as Father, Son and Holy Spirit were involved in electing the redeemed. But it also points to the work of the Spirit in applying election to God’s people. Scripture tells us that it’s the Spirit who opens eyes, grants faith, and marks out the people of God as being devoted to him.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 says that “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,” which is very much the same idea being addressed here. The Father knows us, and the Spirit marks us out as dedicated and devoted and belonging to the one who chose us


…for covenant relationship with the Son

Finally, what’s the goal of all of this? Verse 2 tells us where all of this is headed when it says, in the third phrase, that these Christians were chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”

That word “for” is really important. This is not talking about the mere result of being chosen by God. Instead, this is the goal. This is what God was after the whole time.

And what he was after was “obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood.” Now that phrase is actually kind of hard to translate from the original language. The New King James actually captures the original a little better when it says “for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

And the strangeness of the language helps us understand what’s going on here as it points us back to another passage of Scripture where “obedience” and “sprinkling with blood” are connected together, which is Exodus 24.

This passage is right at the beginning of God’s covenant relationship with His people. Moses has just received the first part of God’s instruction for His people, including the Ten Commandments. And verse 3 of Exodus 24 says, “Moses came 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’” (Exodus 24:3).

See that theme of obedience? In the Greek Old Testament that’s the word that’s used—“all the words which the Lord spoke, we will do and we will obey.” 

Then in verse 5 we read, “And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 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.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it [or 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.’” (Exodus 24:5–8).

This is how the people of Israel first came into their covenant with God. They pledged obedience, and they were sprinkled with the blood of a sacrifice that purifies them and makes it possible for them to come into this covenant.

That close connection with “obey and sprinkle” is what Peter is pointing to here in 1 Peter 1:2. Just like Israel was brought into a covenant relationship with God, so we have been brought into a New Covenant relationship through Jesus Christ. Just like Israel pledged to obey all that God had commanded, so Christians pledge to obey their Lord Jesus—except that through the Holy Spirit, we actually want to, and we actually can. Not perfectly, but truly.

And just like Israel was sprinkled with the blood of a sacrifice, so we are cleansed by the perfect sacrifice—Jesus Christ—who sealed the new covenant in His blood when He died in our place on the cross, and whose death actually deals with our sins once and for all.

So we can sum this up by saying that God’s people have been chosen by Him for a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. A covenant where our sins are forgiven, and Jesus receives our spirit-empowered obedience.

In the past few decades, some Christians have talked a lot about having a personal relationship with Jesus, which can be a helpful phrase if it’s understood properly. Still, I wonder how many Christians see themselves as being in a covenant relationship with Jesus. That’s what Peter is pointing to here. We were chosen by God to be in a covenant relationship with His son.

And don’t miss that a major component of this convent is obedience to Jesus. This is an idea that makes some churchgoers really nervous. I’ve been in enough crowds where you talk about this kind of idea, and people right away start saying “well, we don’t want to get legalistic, you know.”

And we need to be reminded that obedience to Jesus is not legalistic. Obedience to Jesus is about love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Do you know how many times Paul uses the word “obedience” or “obedient” in his writings? Even in Romans, which is all about salvation by faith, he writes “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

That’s a Christian. Someone whom the Holy Spirit has caused to be obedient, from the heart, to the teaching of Jesus’ apostles.

Obeying Jesus is not legalistic, whatever that word means. Obeying Jesus is what the Holy Spirit causes Christians to do.

There’s a lot more we could say about this, and the rest of chapter 1 is going to help us understand obedience and where it comes from and how it is produced in the lives of God’s children.

For now, we can say, based on verse 2, that obedience isn’t something we do in order to be chosen by God or earn our salvation. He chose us, sent Christ to die for us, and justifies us by grace alone through faith alone. But at least a part of His purpose and goal for choosing us in the first place is that we would be obedient to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, step back for a moment. Take a look at verse 2. Do you see a pattern here in these three phrases? Who is the main actor in each? It’s the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. Do you see the Trinity? The triune God working in harmony to bring God’s chosen people to a full and glorious salvation.

And there’s so much more to see about this in the verses ahead! In many ways, these opening two verses are like an appetizer, just working up our appetite for the feast that is coming.


3. GRACE AND PEACE

But finally, Peter’s greeting ends with the words, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2c).

Grace and peace are two of the greatest blessings of the gospel. By God’s grace, we have peace with Him. And Peter doesn’t want his readers to have some grace and peace. He wants grace and peace to be multiplied to them—for there to be an increase and a growth in their experience of God’s grace and the peace that it brings.

So he writes this blessing, which is really a prayer, expressing His desire that God would grant an increase of grace and peace to His readers.

But it’s not just an empty blessing or an empty prayer. Peter actually becomes the answer to his own prayer as he writes the rest of this letter. His words are a means, a channel, of God’s grace and peace being multiplied to his readers.

And at this point, we need to stop. I want to keep going, but we’re going to pace ourselves, digesting the truth in small enough pieces that we can take it in and process it and take it to heart the way that we should.

Let’s review what have we seen so far today. We’ve seen Peter, a spokesman for the risen Christ, write to a group of Christians in a remote area who had been chosen by God, according to the Father’s foreknowledge, in the Spirit’s sanctifying work, for a covenant relationship of forgiveness and obedience with Jesus Christ the son.

And because they were faithful and obedient to the Lord, they found themselves on the outsides of society. Their faith had made them strangers, foreigners, and exiles. But as we’re going to see in the weeks ahead, they had a home. They had a country. They had a hope. Their status of “stranger” would not last forever. And in the grace and love of the Lord, they could thrive in exile while they waited for their real home.


4. LESSONS FOR EXILES IN NIPAWIN

Let’s end this morning by considering what Peter’s greeting here has to say about you and I. And it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Almost 2,000 years later, you and I are still in the same spot as these New Covenant believers whose faith in Jesus has put us on the outsides of society.


a. The encouragement to find our identity in God

It goes without saying that being a Christian is a strange thing these days. And by “be a Christian,” I mean a Christian who actually seeks to obey Jesus on everything He’s said in His word, including what He’s said about marriage and sexually and money and possessions and heaven and hell and faith and obedience and everything else that modern people find strange and offensive.

We’ve seen again and again that it doesn’t matter how far “in” you are somewhere—being a consistent Christian who wants to follow Jesus can make you an outsider, whether that’s in your town or neighbourhood or workplace or even your family, and sometimes, sadly, it can even make you an outsider in some churches.

And for all the times that we feel like outsiders, strangers, foreigners, exiles with our neighbours, our peers, our co-workers, our colleagues, our families, I pray that these words from 1 Peter are an encouragement to you. Yes, you might feel like a stranger in a strange land, but take heart because that is not your real identity.

Your identity is not what the people in the break room whisper about you after you leave. Your identity is not what the gossip grapevine whispers about you. Your identity is rooted in the work of the Trinity to save you.

And fundamentally, what Peter draws attention to here, is your fundamental identity as one who was chosen. You’re an elect exile, chosen by the Father, marked out by the Spirit, drawn into relationship with Jesus. That is who you are. That’s your core identity.

Sam Storms writes about this passage, “God wants us to know that none of the hardships or disappointments we face as exiles in the earth are a surprise to him. Dwell on this majestic truth. Let it sink deeply into your soul. God has chosen you. The Spirit has set you apart for his unique and beloved possession. And your life has been designed for obedience to Jesus.” [Sam Storms, “1 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. XII, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 303.]

Do you think this truth should encourage you when it feels like there’s no place safe for you? Remember who you are. Chosen and known and beloved. You have a Father. You have a homeland. Every day is one day nearer. Oh, the strength that comes to our souls when we remember these truths. And 1 Peter is going to help us soak in them again and again and again in the coming months. Remember, this is just an appetizer.

As we prepare for this journey, one of the great ways you can prepare for this journey is to read 1 Peter through in its entirety. It won’t take you much longer than 15 minutes. But you’ll get a sense of what’s in store, and I think you’ll be encouraged in the process.


b. The challenge to embrace our status as exiles

Now, we could end there. And a part of me wants to just end with the encouragement. But as I pondered this passage this week, and engaged in some conversations with others, I couldn’t help but see the challenge lying on the other side of this encouragement. The challenge is to truly embrace our status as exiles.

Every day it seems you hear the news about another Christian leader who has caved in to the pressure of our society and has stopped being faithful to Jesus on one level or another. Being an exile was too hard, too lonely. They forgot who they were, or at least who they said they were. They cared more about what the world thinks than what God thinks. And they started to be obedient to the demands of our culture instead of to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).

Sometimes when this happens someone stops calling themselves a Christian altogether. But to me, the saddest thing is when someone stops being an exile, and stops being faithful to Jesus, while still calling themself a Christian.

It scares me to think how many people around the world today, even around our country and province today, are in church, singing the songs, looking like Christians on the surface. But if you poke beneath that thin shell, you’ll find that they hold to all the same beliefs and core values that the world holds to. They are not exiles. They are very much at home in this world, with a little bit of Jesus smeared on top. Church is another cosy place for them to be with their friends.

And I’m not just talking about liberals in Ontario. I’m also talking about conservatives in Saskatchewan whose worldview has way more in common with their buddies on coffee row than with the new believer at church who came from another country—or even just another part of this country.

Yes, the language of “elect exiles” is a challenge to progressive Christians who are selling out to the left-wing agenda. But it’s also a challenge to conservative Christians who can’t tell the difference between the right-wing agenda and the gospel of Christ crucified.

The question for all of us is, do you really feel like a stranger in this world? And would you still feel like a stranger if the people you vote for won the next election and kept all of their campaign promises? I’m not saying that wouldn’t be a good thing, maybe even a wonderful thing. But if the Conservatives win the next election, would you still feel like you’re not home yet? Would you still be longing for a better country, a heavenly city, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10, 16)?

This is a challenge, and I hope it sharpens us and brings the issues into focus. But I want to return to the encouragement because I know that I’m speaking to a room full of people who do know that they are exiles and who are longing for a better country.

And my prayer in this series is that you’ll be encouraged to thrive in exile. Start this week by hearing verse 1 and 2 and remembering who you are. Remember who you are as God’s chosen one, drawn into an eternal covenant relationship by someone who loved you before the first star shone.


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