We Christians Are All Pilgrims--Dispersed, But Destined by the Grace and Peace of God!
O blessed Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: As I enter into Your presence for worship this day, I do so in awe of Your power and Your grace. You created me; You redeemed me; and even now You sanctify me. You gave me physical life; You gave me spiritual life; and You have secured for me the gift of eternal life. All this You did without any merit or worthiness on my part. Move me, therefore, to listen to You, to praise You, and to thank You this day as I gather with my fellow believers. Amen.
The LORD instructed Moses to tell Aaron and his sons to bless His people by placing His name upon them in Trinitarian form!
As Jesus gave His disciples their “Great Commission,” He urged them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” thereby identifying the three members of the Holy Trinity.
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2
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.
In Christ Jesus, our precious Savior and Lord, dear fellow redeemed:
Peter addressed his first epistle to the “pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”—all provinces of the Roman Empire included in the area we know today as Turkey. When we think of “pilgrims”we probably think most often of Plymouth Rock together with men in black buckled hats and women in long black dresses with white aprons. Some of us who are older and who enjoy watching westerns might think of John Wayne, who rather often addressed strangers in his movies as “pilgrim.” Given the fact that tomorrow in Memorial Day, some of us may think of our cemetery—Pilgrims Rest, where we will be holding a service in memory of those saints who have died.
What does Peter mean when he addresses his readers as pilgrims? In what sense can I address all of you who are attending our worship service here at Immanuel today as pilgrims? A pilgrim is someone who is a traveler—someone who has no real, permanent home in the place he resides. Peter addressed the readers of his day and I can address you who are listening to me today as pilgrims, because as Christians this world is not our true home. We are traveling through this life and this world en route to our eternal home in heaven. On this Trinity Sunday let us examine how Peter ties each of us pilgrims to the three members of the Holy Trinity as we live our lives here in this world and look forward to the life to come. Indeed, you might say that WE CHRISTIANS ARE ALL PILGRIMS—DISPERSED, BUT DESTINED BY THE GRACE AND PEACE OF GOD! Yes, like the 1st Century Christians to whom Peter addressed these words, we are dispersed and settled in our own respective places, but we are also destined by God's grace and His resulting peace to live forever together in the presence of God.
Peter addressed that issue by first describing us as elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father! The great doctrine of election has been often misunderstood and therefore debated down through the centuries. Its purpose is to bring comfort to the believing child of God in the midst of all of the troubles and trials of this present life. It is intended to demonstrate the extent of God's grace and mercy over against us and consequently both His ability and power to save us.
When Peter calls you and me “elect” he is referring to the truth that long ago before the world was even created God the Father chose us in connection with faith in Christ Jesus to be His adopted children and heirs of His heavenly kingdom. That is absolutely amazing for we cannot love someone before we know them, but God had foreknowledge of your existence and mine. He knew all about us long before He created us, and He chose us to be His own. This He did not, as Luther wrote in his Explanation to the 1st Article, “because of anything I have done to earn or deserve it,” but rather in view of His grace and mercy! Consider these words of the apostle Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3-7).
Having elected us in eternity, God worked out our salvation in time through the life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Having in this way redeemed us, God has arranged for our calling to faith in our present lives. For some of us that occurred when our parents brought us to be baptized and so to receive the gift of the Spirit at a very early age. For others that calling took place later in life when the Spirit led us to repentance over sin and to faith in the One who forgives us our sins. Paul describes this in broad terms in this way: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). WE CHRISTIANS ARE ALL PILGRIMS—DISPERSED, BUT DESTINED BY THE GRACE AND PEACE OF GOD, for we are God’s elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father!
Peter goes on to say that we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit!” God’s “Spirit”—the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Holy Trinity. His work is called “sanctification”—the work of making us sinners holy! He does that through the power of what we call the means of grace—the gospel in word and sacrament. The apostle Paul states this so clearly when he tells us: “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 2:13-14).
The Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, however, is only begun when He initiates faith within our hearts. Sanctification is an ongoing process of the Spirit working through the word to increase our faith and to move that faith to be fruitful in its life under grace. That is why it is so important for us to continue to read, to study, and to meditate upon God’s word. Continuing with Paul’s thoughts: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thes. 2:15-17).
My dear friends, the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying power are truly the key to the success of our lives in this world. In and of ourselves, we will not succeed in living good or godly lives, for by nature our goal is not to honor God but rather to satisfy ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit, however, who can and does enter our hearts, who takes up residence in our lives, and who can and will enable us to live in a good and godly way. Do you lack the joy you desire? Do you lack the kindness you crave? Do you lack the self-control you need? Do not despair! Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit include “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, (and) self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). We need these fruits of the Spirit to ensure that our inter-personal relationships function in a God-honoring and blessed fashion, and He is prepared to provide them for us!
Let us recognize that our enemy, Satan, will use every resource at his disposal to undermine our Christian lives and to prevent the Spirit’s sanctifying influence. He will attempt to raise doubts within our minds regarding the trustworthiness and faithfulness of our spouses, our other family members, or our friends. He will use lies to undermine our faith and when we speak the truth, he will lead us to do so without a trace of love so that truth becomes a weapon to prove our superiority rather than to enlighten a situation. He will place before us all sorts of temptations, so that we are led away from God in an attempt to gain for ourselves those things which only God can provide. He will attempt to fill our minds and hearts with fear, so that we feel as if our only recourse is to give up!
As we travel through this life, let us run to God—not away from Him! Let us pray that the Spirit will lead us back into the Word time and time again, so that WE CHRISTIANS who ARE ALL PILGRIMS—DISPERSED, BUT DESTINED BY THE GRACE AND PEACE OF GOD might be sanctified by the Holy Spirit!
Finally, Peter says: we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ!” What an interesting dual statement! The first part is easily understood, for the purpose of our election by God the Father and our sanctification by the Spirit is to lead us back into a close relationship with our God—a relationship not characterized by rebellion but rather by love and obedience. Paul states this so clearly in Ephesians when he writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). The activity of our lives is to reflect the activity of God, our Creator and our Heavenly Father. He is constantly at work upholding His creation and all of His creatures. We, who represent Him in this world, are to be doing the same—uplifting, enriching, and sustaining the life around us!
To what, however, is Peter referring when he adds the phrase “and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Peter is reminding his readers that the restoration of our relationship with God rests upon the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). Jesus shed His blood on Calvary’s cross so that the debt we owe because of our sins might be paid. Were it not for the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we would stand condemned by God’s law and doomed to everlasting judgment. But we are not! We have been freed from that judgment—Jesus having left our condemnation by the law nailed to the cross (cf. Col. 2:14).
Peter tied our obedience to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, no doubt, for two reasons. He was recalling an incident that goes way back in the history of God’s Old Testament people. When God gave the law to Old Testament Israel at Mount Sinai, there is an event recorded for us in Exodus 24. Moses read the newly received law to the children of Israel as they camped below Mount Sinai. Upon hearing the law read the children of Israel cried out, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). Then we are told: “And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words’” (Ex. 24:8). Why would Moses sprinkle blood all over the people? It was because in spite of their best intentions, they would not keep their promise. The law demanded perfection of the children of Israel, even as it does of us today (cf. Mt. 5:48), but try as we might we will not achieve it. That is why God had Moses and Peter remind us that the blood of Jesus Christ “cleanses us from all sin” (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7). In faith and out of love for God, we strive to follow our Lord and Savior—living our lives in accordance with His will and in view of His love. Until we arrive at heaven’s gate, we will not be perfect, but God has still declared us to be His saints in view of the blood of Jesus Christ, and that same Jesus sits at God’s right hand using His power together with His grace to guide and govern our lives. Let us listen to Him and acknowledge His lordship in our lives!
My dear friends, WE CHRISTIANS ARE ALL PILGRIMS—DISPERSED, BUT DESTINED to spend eternity in our heavenly home BY THE GRACE AND PEACE OF GOD! Let us rejoice! Amen.