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Author:Rev. George van Popta
 send email...
 www.vanpopta.ca
 
Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
 jubileechurch.ca
 
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
 www.ancasterchurch.on.ca
 
Title:Grace and Peace for Pilgrims
Text:1 Peter 1:1,2 (View)
Occasion:Lord's Supper
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2007-01-07
Added:2007-01-06
Updated:2007-01-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Preparation for the celebration of holy supper.
  • Psalm 147:1,2
  • Psalm 147:6
  • Hymn 53
  • Psalm 137:1,2
  • Psalm 126

  • Reading - 1 Peter 1
  • Text - 1 Pet. 1:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

If you were to move to, say, a village in China, you would feel like a stranger. It would be clear to you and everyone else that you were a foreigner, an outsider. You would do things differently. You would speak and act in a way different from the local people.

If, while you were there, you kept your Canadian citizenship, then, for sure, you would remain a stranger. If you had no plan to make that village in China your permanent home but fully intended to return to Canada, then Canada would be on your mind a lot. If Canada remained your home, you would think about it a lot. After all, home is where the heart is. East, west, home is best, right?

The scriptures teach us that Christians are strangers here on earth. Outsiders. Exiles. Foreigners. Sojourners. Pilgrims. You may be well known in the community. Perhaps you own and operate a well-known business in the community. Yet, we are strangers.

Strangers because this is not really our home. The kingdom of heaven is our real home. We are but sojourners here in the world.

What we have to think about is whether we are OK with that. Are you OK with being an outsider here in the world? Where is your heart? When you say: "East, west, home is best," what do you mean? The world? Or the kingdom of heaven?

WE ARE SCATTERED STRANGERS WHO KNOW THE GRACE AND PEACE OF GOD

As scattered strangers we are:

1. Chosen by God the Father
2. Sanctified by the Holy Spirit
3. Obedient to Jesus Christ

1. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to churches in Asia Minor (that part of the world today called Turkey). These churches, made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians, were spread very widely through five large areas covering most of Asia Minor.

The letters in the NT were meant to be read or heard in one sitting. To read through 1 Peter is not that big a task. It consists of less than 2500 words. Reading through it will not take you longer than 15 minutes. When you do that—I say "when" because I'm assuming you will this week—you should notice that one of the main themes is that of how being a Christian in the world implies suffering.

E.g., 1:6—In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

In 4:12 ff Peter wrote about suffering as a Christian. About sharing the sufferings of Christ. About being insulted for the name of Christ.

It ends with the words familiar from the form for public profession of faith: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Peter wrote this letter to encourage the suffering Christians of Asia Minor. He knew what he was writing about. He himself had suffered as a Christian. You can read about that in the Book of Acts. He was beaten and imprisoned because he was a Christian.

He wrote on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who, more than anyone, knew what it meant to suffer. Our Lord suffered not as a Christian, but as the Messiah himself, the suffering Servant of God. Peter was an apostle, that is, a sent messenger of Jesus Christ, who came with a message of comfort to the suffering Christians.

The Christians suffered because they were different. They stood out. As Peter wrote in 4:4, the Christians no longer joined their neighbours in godless living. The Christians said: "We used to live that way, but we don't anymore." And so they were subject to abuse. The contempt and insults of their fellow citizens.

The Christians were different and stood out because God the Father had chosen them. They belonged to his elect people.

Peter called the Christians "God's elect" and said that they had "been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Our status as God's people is rooted in God's sovereign choice. "Foreknowledge" speaks of a relationship that has its origin in God himself. He foreknew us. He knew us before we even existed. He loved us and chose us before (as Paul puts it in Eph 1) the creation of the world. He knew who were his, even before he had created the world.

In Adam the entire human race had fallen into perdition and ruin. But God had a plan to save those whom he, in his unchangeable counsel, had elected in Jesus Christ. This election was free. It was not conditioned by anything in the people whom he saved. It was God's free, sovereign, righteous and merciful choice. He chose to rescue some from ruin. He chose to pass others by. To leave then in their self-chosen destruction. His reasons for choosing some and passing others by lie in himself.

This is very humbling. Elect people will be very humble and thankful about their status as elect people. A person who is proud, boastful, arrogant, and thankless about his status as an elect child of God is likely showing that he is not what he thinks he is. For pridefulness, boastfulness, arrogance and thanklessness are definitely not fruits of election. Humility and thankfulness sure are.

Because of God's electing foreknowledge and choice of them, they were strangers in the world, scattered throughout the region in which they lived. They lived like foreigners in a foreign land. The word trans. "strangers" in v. 1 means to live as a foreigner, even as a refugee. It refers to someone who, for awhile, lives in a place which is not his normal residence. Peter's audience knew because they were God's chosen people, they belonged elsewhere. They had a different home. They felt like the Jews during the exile - the Jews in the Diaspora.

The word "scattered" recalls the scattering of the Jews. When Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC then King Nebuchadnezzar dispersed the Jews. He scattered them all over his empire.

While the Jews were here, there and everywhere, their hearts remained in Palestine. In Jerusalem, in Zion. That remained home. Home, where their hearts were.

They cried when they thought of Jerusalem. Psalms 137:1 - By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. For many of the Jews in the dispersion, the desire to return to the land was their heart's desire. Even a generation later. Remember, e.g., Nehemiah. (He lived about 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.) Nehemiah was the king's butler. One day the king noticed that Nehemiah was sad. The king said to him, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." Nehemiah told him: He wanted to go back to Jerusalem. To rebuild Jerusalem. He was homesick.

In the same way Christians, those who know they are elect children of God, don't feel completely at home here on the earth. They feel like the Jews in the dispersion. Scattered among unbelievers. Homesick for Father's house. Because that is where their hearts are.

Because the Jews were God's people, therefore they were strangers in the dispersion. Because we are God's elect children, therefore we too are strangers, exiles in our community.

What about you? Are you homesick for the Father's house? Or are you completely at home here in the world?

Next week, DV, we will celebrate the Lord's Supper. That's a foretaste of heaven. Reflect upon that this coming week before you come to the table. Where is your real home? Here on earth? Or in heaven?

2. In the middle of v. 2, Peter said how God works out his election and choice. He does it "through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit."

The word "sanctify" comes from a word which means something like: To cut off or to divide. To separate. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He divides us, he cuts us away, he sets us apart from the rest of the world. From fallen mankind. In this way God saves those whom he has elected. He saves us from the world which is headed for destruction.

Paul said a similar thing in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – "God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth."

In his sovereignty and to work out his plan of salvation, God sent out preachers of the gospel. The Book of Acts gives the story of how the gospel of salvation made inroads in the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. There were people from most of these areas in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. If you read the list of place name in Acts 2:9f, most of these places are mentioned. All of Paul's missionary journeys took him and other preachers through this region. Churches were established with elders, preachers, and deacons. Through the preaching of the gospel and the kindling of faith in the hearts of people, the Holy Spirit sanctified people. The Holy Spirit took those whom the Father chose and set them apart. In Acts 13:13f we read about one of Paul's mission trips through this region. He preaches in a town called Antioch. V. 48 says: "… and all who were appointed for eternal life believed."

According to his sovereign foreknowledge, God had elected some of those who would hear Paul's preaching. He gave them faith to believe the gospel.

And so today, still, God works out his eternal decree of election by sending out preachers of the gospel. The Holy Spirit uses that preaching to work faith in those whom God the Father had elected.

Not only does the Holy Spirit give them faith. But he also changes them. He works in them to turn them away from the sin of this world to live godly lives. In this way the Holy Spirit sets God's people apart from the world.

The two very visible signs that the Holy Spirit has set us apart and redeemed us from the fallen and rebellious world are the sacraments.

There is that first sign for believers and their children, baptism. Baptism sets us apart. BC 34 – "By baptism we are received into the Church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions, to be entirely committed to Him whose mark and emblem we bear."

Baptism is called, here, a mark and emblem. A soldier in the Canadian army will wear a certain mark and emblem. It distinguishes him—sets him apart—from all other soldiers and armies. Baptism is a sign that the Holy Spirit has set us apart, marked us off to belong to God.

Do you think about the implications of your baptism? By it the Holy Spirit has set you apart from the rest of the world. Your baptism calls you to live for God. Do you? Do you live for God? Examine yourself and answer the question: Do I live for God? Is my first loyalty towards God? Am I OK with being a stranger in the world for the sake of my loyalty to God?

We need to teach our children to be OK with that too. That's not going to come naturally for the children. By nature they want to be part of the world and partake of everything the world has to offer. We need to teach them to be content with being strangers in the world, and to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven even though they are living here in the world.

The other very visible sign that demonstrates that the Holy Spirit has set us apart and redeemed us from the fallen and rebellious world is the Lord's table. The Lord's table is a heavenly one. It belongs in heaven. Christ is the host. In his grace, Christ has moved his table down into the world. When we eat and drink from it, we eat and drink heavenly food from a heavenly table. In 1 Cor. 10 Paul said that you cannot eat from the table of the Lord and from the table of demons. You cannot have one foot in the kingdom of heaven and another in the world.

You who are communicant members, who anticipate the celebration of the Lord's Supper next Sunday—will you, please, reflect upon this in this week? Where are your feet? In which kingdom are you standing? The kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world? Are you living in the world as one set apart for service to God?

3. As scattered strangers we are also obedient to Jesus Christ.

We are chosen by the Father and set apart by the Holy Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. Obedience and devotion to Jesus Christ is the end purpose of having been chosen by the Father and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

In the OT those ordained to be priests were sprinkled with blood. Aaron and his sons, and those who were priests after them, were sprinkled with blood. This showed that they were devoted exclusively to the service to God. As well, the things in the tabernacle—the ark of the covenant, the curtain, the utensils, the altar—all were sprinkled with blood.

The exiles in Asia Minor were chosen and set apart to be obedient to Christ. To be entirely devoted to him. And so we, beloved, have been chosen by the Father and set apart by the Holy Spirit for Jesus Christ. So that we would be obedient to him, our Lord. And so that we would be entirely devoted to him, like ordained priests taken up into his service—devoted to him and his service, exclusively, with heart and soul.

To be consistent Christians in the world is not so easy. It's easy to be an inconsistent Christian. It's easy to be a Christian when it suits you. The world is full of inconsistent Christians. So is the church. But the Father did not choose us, and the Holy Spirit did not set us apart, so that we would be obedient to Christ when it was easy. When we had the approval of the community in which we live. The Father chose us and the Holy Spirit sanctified us so that we would be obedient to Christ and devoted to him all the time, also when the community disapproves of us and looks down on us. But that's OK. Because we are not here to make a name for ourselves in the world. God has not placed us here to earn the favour of the community in which we live. We are here to serve Christ in obedience.

And so we must make choices and decisions. What will it be for us: the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of heaven? Will we go the broad easy path of world conformity? Or will be follow the narrow path of obedience to Jesus Christ? Are we willing to bear reproach for the name of Christ knowing that we are strangers here, dispersed upon the earth, homesick for the kingdom of heaven? Are you going to grab on to the world and all it has to offer with both hands? Or are you going to hold the world, its comforts, its entertainment, its riches, at arms' length because of how deceitful it all is? Where do your loyalties lie? With Christ?

You cannot serve to masters. It's impossible to be a spiritual double-dipper. If you want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, you got to be in all the way. If you try to juggle obedience and devotion to Christ while you are dancing to the world's tune, you are going to fall flat on your face.

Don't blow this stuff off. Ignoring the questions will not help. Because then you have answered them as well. And you've chosen for compromise - limping along with the world.

God has called you from this world which is headed for eternal destruction. He's called you to his eternal heavenly kingdom. That's not a bad thing. It has blessed results.

The blessed results are a multiplication of the grace and peace of God. If you acknowledge that you are a chosen one of God, set apart by the Holy Spirit for loyal and consistent obedience to Christ - if you believe that and live it - then you will experience the abundant grace and peace of God in your life. You will continue to enjoy the assurance of the full and free forgiveness of all your sins. You will experience in your life peace with God.

Living as an elect child of God the Father, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, obedient to Christ, will not win you the admiration of the world. In fact, they may take it ill of you when you make concrete choices for Christ. But that's OK. Because you will know and experience the super-abounding grace and peace of God.

And so, let us not lose courage. Let us not be scared to make the right choices. Let us carry on as strangers in this world, as pilgrims walking to a better land. To the Promised Land. To the heavenly kingdom of God. To the Father's home. To the place our hearts are. Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. George van Popta

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