Elect Exiles: Peace to All of You

Sermon by David Strain on April 5

1 Peter 5:12-14

Now if you would take your Bibles in hand once again and turn this time to 1 Peter, chapter 5; 1 Peter chapter 5. We are finishing up our ongoing series in Peter’s first letter. We’ve come to the final little section, verses 12 through 14 of 1 Peter chapter 5. We focused over the course of our study in 1 Peter on his message to elect exiles. We are sojourners, pilgrims in this world. And we’ve noticed in particular Peter’s call to us to live a life on mission together. That is to say, Peter does not want us to accommodate to the values of the culture; neither does he want us to isolate from the culture. Instead, he wants us to penetrate the culture with the radical message of hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by transformed lives that demonstrate the power of the good news. That has been Peter’s agenda. 

Last time, you may remember, when we looked at verses 5 through 11, Peter offered us some concluding exhortations that were, I think, quite timely for us amidst our current COVID-19 crisis. He spoke to us about dealing with pride in verses 5 and 6, dealing with anxiety in verse 7, dealing with the devil in verses 8 and 9, and dealing with suffering in verses 9 through 11. And now today we’re thinking, as I say, about Peter’s concluding greeting. And at first glance, it may appear rather prosaic and administrative in character. Do you see it there in verses 12 through 14? He commends some people, he sends a few closing greetings, and then he’s signing off. That’s it. So we all sit back a little skeptical, maybe, you mutter to your spouse as you sit there on the sofa, “How is Strain going to pull a rabbit out of that hat?” But actually, a closer look will demonstrate no magic tricks or sleight of hand is necessary. There are some really very precious truths hidden in these apparently mundane parting words. Three themes in particular deserve our attention and I hope you’ll find them to be especially relevant during these strange days of social distancing and shelter in place orders. 

Would you look at the passage with me again for a moment? First of all, Peter reminds us there is grace in the Word of God, verse 12. There’s grace for you in the Word. Secondly, he says there is love in the Church of Jesus Christ. That really comes out in all three verses, though it’s explicit in verse 14. There’s grace for you in the Word. There’s love for you in the Church. And finally in verse 14, there is peace in Jesus Christ. There is peace for you in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t we need reminding of those truths in these days? I certainly do. There’s grace for me and for you in the Word of God. There is love for us in the Church of God. And there is peace for us in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

Now before we dive into all of that, we need to pause first and pray and then we’ll read the passage and consider its message. So would you pray with me once again?

Many are the words of men that we have heard in the week now behind us, O Lord. Before us is the Word of the living God. So please give us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to us, for Jesus’ sake, amen.

This is God’s Word:

“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Amen.

Now it goes without saying, doesn’t it – these are really strange days. I felt like a man on an epic hunt this past week. It was a primal thing, you understand, braving the wilds of downtown Madison, Mississippi to provide for my family. I searched high and low for my prey when rumor reached me of a sighting. And so I persevered at last, almost despairing of finding my quarry, I crested Mount Walgreens and there, high on a barren shelf, sat four packs of toilet paper, grazing contentedly in the afternoon sun. Now hunting on Mount Walgreens is strictly limited, lest toilet paper become extinct, and so without hesitation I bagged my limit and triumphant returned to the bosom of my family to bask in the glory of my catch. These are strange days. We’re all out panic-buying, apparently; worrying about resources stretched thin. Will the grocery stores cope? We’re watching our retirement portfolios take a beating on the market. Six point six million Americans filed for unemployment last week. Our doctors and nurses can’t get masks. And now, of course, the CDC says actually everybody wearing a mask is probably a good idea. Apart from food and finances and material resources, we’re worried. Aren’t we? We’re weary. We’re tired of this. And we’re all cooped up at home and tempers, perhaps, are fraying. How are we going to make it if this thing drags on for many more weeks? That’s a question we’re all trying to avoid asking.

There is Grace for Us in the Word of God

And that’s why the first theme that I want you to see in these verses is so very important. Peter reminds us there is grace for us in the Word of God. There’s grace. The resources of God are available to us in His holy Word. Look at verse 12 with me please. “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” Now the name, Silvanus, is a longer version of Silas. And most scholars think this Silvanus is the same Silas who was Paul’s traveling companion and missionary colleague in the book of Acts. You can read about him in Acts chapters 15 through 18. He’s also mentioned as part of Paul’s missionary team along with Timothy in 2 Corinthians 1:19 and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 1. So Silvanus is a known leader in the church. 

But although he was part of Paul’s team, it’s important to notice in Acts he and Paul did not make it into Asia. Acts 16:6 says they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia.” So while Silvanus was generally known, at least amongst the Pauline churches, he was not known in Asia amongst the churches to which Peter is writing in our letter. So when Peter says, “By Silvanus I wrote to you,” that could mean that Silvanus was Peter’s amanuensis. And amanuensis is a sort of secretary, editor, even co-author along with Peter, all rolled into one. Most scholars do not think that’s what Peter means when he says, “By Silvanus I have written briefly to you.” He means, rather, “By means of Silvanus I’m writing my letter. I’m conveying my letter through him to you.” Silvanus carried and delivered the letter to the churches. We sometimes speak similarly, don’t we? We’ll tell someone, “I’ll write to you through email.” We don’t mean that the email is somehow contributing to the writing, but rather we mean this is the mechanism, the delivery system. That is what Peter is saying. Silvanus carries his letter.

But if Silvanus is unknown to the churches of Asia Minor, then he needs some sort of commendation and that’s what Peter provides. He commends Silvanus to them, doesn’t he? “He is a faithful brother as I regard him.” He’s putting his own stamp of apostolic approval upon Silvanus. The expectation, you see, was likely that Silvanus would not only physically deliver the letter but he would read it to the church and perhaps even comment and explain Peter’s meaning as the text is read. And so they needed some sort of recommendation, personal recommendation from the apostle Peter, to reassure them that this stranger, Silvanus, could be trusted. 

And of course all of that really serves to underscore how weighty a thing receiving Peter’s letter actually is. This is not a casually written missive, you know; a postcard from Rome. “Man, the Coliseum is great! Wishing you were here! Love, Peter.” That’s not what this is. It’s not a direct message from Peter’s Facebook page; some throwaway, easily discarded thing. This is a carefully crafted letter from an apostle. It is itself the Word of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to His Church. That means it comes with gravity and weight and authority. And notice what Peter says the burden of his letter to us is. “By Silvanus I have written declaring, this is the true grace of God.” That’s the burden of his letter, really the burden of the whole Bible. Isn’t it? The true grace of God, both the exhortations to obedience and the promises of divine assistance, all of it together communicates the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ to us. That’s the freight carried by the Scriptures. This is saying to us, in days when we feel our own resources running thin, this is where the resources of God are to be found – right here. There’s grace for you in the crisis, grace for you in your isolation, grace for you while the markets decline and shelves run bare. There’s grace for you when you’re trying to figure out homeschooling for the first time and what working from home looks like. There’s grace for you, abundant grace. Grace suited to your needs, sufficient grace to keep you and to comfort you and sustain you, here in the holy Scriptures, as they bring you to Jesus Christ. 

You know, one of the things for which I am praying during this crisis is an awakening of our appetites for the Word of God and for the grace of God that is communicated to us in it. Perhaps you have neglected God’s Word. For too long now, you’ve neglected God’s Word. And like many of us, you’re overwhelmed by the sense you have – you’re just not up to the task of life under this strange new normal. You feel your smallness, your inadequacy; how ill-prepared you are for the crisis through which we are passing. Have you considered that perhaps part of the reason you are struggling so much is that you’ve been trying to live relying on your own strength? You’ve been trying to navigate these troubled and treacherous waters by your own light. Meanwhile, through it all, the Word of God has remained tragically shut and the grace of God available to you in it, amidst all our needs, has gone unclaimed. What a tragedy that would be.

Well then, how do we ensure that we access the resources of grace available in the Word? Look at verse 12 again. There’s a reminder here of how the Word comes to us and of how we should respond to it, isn’t there? Do you see that in verse 12? First, how the Word comes to us. Peter tells us when he wrote the letter it was to communicate the grace of God by way of exhortation and declaration. “I have written briefly to you exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God.” The word, “exhortation,” refers to the pastoral application of the truth to the heart and to the conscience. It has the sense of ethical challenge and tender encouragement, while the word translated “declaration,” declaring, involves the open statement of the truth; the great facts, the profound facts of the Gospel, sometimes translated “bearing witness.” Peter, you remember, was an eyewitness of the Lord Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry and His ascension into glory and he is speaking from firsthand experience of fellowship face to face with the Lord Jesus Himself. 

You see, the point is, the Word of God does not come to us dispassionately. The Bible is not just a book of facts; a mere record of ancient events and ideas. It is, you might say, it is an aggressive book. It argues with us. It exposes our hearts. It rebukes us and comforts us and encourages us. It proclaims truth that we badly need to believe and it applies that truth, sometimes in unsettling ways, sometimes in comforting ways, always for our everlasting good. 
There’s a lovely scene in Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring. You know, I try to resist Tolkien illustrations just because it seems like they are ten a penny these days and everybody does Tolkien illustrations and they become sort of cliched, but I couldn’t resist this one. There’s a lovely scene where Frodo is reminiscing about something his uncle Bilbo told him about traveling. Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you do not keep your feet there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.” Opening your Bible is a dangerous business much like that. Thrilling! There’s adventure here! You will be swept along by it because this is a book like no other. God Himself is speaking and working by it in your heart. It’s a dangerous business opening the Word of God. It will sweep you along and you will never be the same again. What a treasure we have in the Word of God!

And we’re told how we should respond to it, aren’t we? Look at verse 12 again. “I have written to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” The flood rolls in. The tornado winds are blowing right now, aren’t they? The pandemic has plunged us into crisis. How shall we weather the storm? Take your stand on the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in the pages of Holy Scripture. Take your stand in the Word, on the promise of God. You can stand firm here, on the truth of God. There’s shifting sand all around us. The pundits and the TV personalities often offer contradictory advice. Our own hearts are deceptive. In days like these, we need solid, sure, dependable answers. Where can you find them? You find them in the Word. May one of the things God does among us through this pandemic is to drive us back into the Scriptures like never before and help us stand firm in it. You can stand firm by taking your stand here. Be a wise person. Don’t build on sand. Build on solid rock, that when the rain begins to fall and the flood comes up, your house may withstand the storm. There's grace for you in the Word.

This is Love for Us in the Church 

Secondly, Peter’s closing words here remind us there’s love for us in the Church. There’s love in the Church. One of the things I find especially hard about this time – maybe you can relate to this – is not seeing your faces. I’ve called and spoken to many of you, we’ve texted, we’ve used social media; we’ve been in touch, but not shaking your hand, not hugging your necks, not sitting together in the pews, not singing together, not being able to see you responding to the Word of God preached, not being shoulder to shoulder around the table of the Lord. That’s a real grief to my heart; it’s a cause for lamentation, isn’t it? We feel like King David in Psalm 42. He remembers with longing how he used to go with the multitude keeping festival, with glad shouts of praise, up to the house of God. But now he can’t; he’s in exile, and it breaks his heart. 

Social distancing and shelter in place means we can’t gather as once we did. As a work of necessity and mercy, out of love for our neighbors, we are unable to gather. We are in exile, in a sense right now, aren’t we? And we find ourselves longing for more. Oh, to be sure, we have this amazing technology that allows us to deliver some form of ministry to you at home – praise God for it – but it’s no substitute for the real thing. This, what we’re doing right now, this is not corporate, public worship. The Bible expects the church to gather physically together for that. This is a stopgap measure to provide some semblance of Sabbath Day normalcy, to augment your private and family worship, to remind you that we are one church, one flock, under one Lord. So whatever fleeting sense of connection streaming online and Zoom calls and social media technology can afford us, we are still struggling, aren’t we, with the increasingly difficult reality of being alone, at a distance, of isolation. Now look, I’m a dreadful Scottish introvert – you know that – and being alone for extended periods of time is my idea of heaven! But I have to tell you, even I am hurting without you. It’s just hard. The fact is, we need each other. That’s the point. We need one another. Perhaps another thing God is doing in the church through all of this is reminding us of just how much that is true. That we need one another. 

In our passage, I think Peter bears eloquent testimony to the bonds of Christian love that ought to bind us. Look at the text. His mention of Silvanus in verse 12 and of Mark in verse 13 demonstrates a sort of collegiality, a unity that should really encourage us, I think. The book of Acts tells us both Silas, Silvanus, and Mark were part of the apostle Paul’s ministry team. And here they are now, Silvanus and Mark, working with Peter. These are not rival centers of apostolic influence, you see, jockeying for position. There’s Paul’s churches and Peter’s churches; Paul’s team and Peter’s team. No, the church has this collegiality, this unity, this sense of pulling together for the kingdom, from the very beginning in fact. Mark, you may know this, some scholars believe, many scholars believe that Mark becomes so close – and we can see how close; Peter calls him “my son” in our text. He loves him. Mark becomes so close with Peter that he stays with him all the way to the end. They’re living in Rome together. Before Peter dies, Mark records his eyewitness account of the life and teachings of Christ. That becomes Mark’s gospel. They’re together in Rome ministering, and that’s where this letter is written from. 

That’s where the reference by the way to “she who is at Babylon greets you” in verse 13. Babylon is a codeword for the city of Rome. Like Babylon in ancient times, Rome was the seat of both global power and spiritual depravity in the world. And “She who is at Babylon” is a reference to the church in that great city. And Peter says, notice, “She is likewise chosen.” He’s saying the church at Rome is elect, is precious to God, just like you believers in Asia Minor. And so united as we are in the electing love of God in Jesus Christ, the church here sends their greetings to the church there. Here’s the point; it’s not difficult to see. Not only does Peter model for us unity and love between individual Christians, Christian leaders, he shows it to us between churches, between whole congregations. The church, you see, is to be distinguished by love for one another, by unity and mutual care. Love is to be our prevailing characteristic, hence the concluding exhortation in verse 14 – “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” In some cultures even today, men and women alike kiss one another on the cheek when they greet each other. That’s not really our custom here, but the point Peter is making still stands regardless of the cultural form we use to express it. Christians are not only called to love one another; we are called to show that we love one another, to make our love felt and seen and known. Greet one another in such a way that communicates genuine love. That’s his point. Make it concrete. Make it solid and felt and tangible. 

Let me brag on the elders and deacons and the leaders of the Women in the Church and many of you who are faithfully serving at home, and in particular let me brag on our ministry staff here for a moment because I’ve been amazed at the ways our folks here have been doing exactly this through this crisis. They’ve really stepped up with all sorts of creative ministry to express the reality of Christian love during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though we can’t be together, we still need one another profoundly, don’t we? Even though we’re separated physically, the church is still a community of love and it’s been wonderful to see that given concrete expression in so many creative ways. We are loved in Christ, and by the grace of Christ we love each other. We love one another.

Now maybe you’re watching at home and you’re not part of a church. Perhaps, truth be told, you’ve drifted away over the years. Maybe you’ve been hurt by the church and you’ve walked away at some point, or it could be that you’ve just never really had a church home. We’re not going to pretend that we will never let you down here at First Church. We are a group of sinners – saved by grace but sinners still, and we have a long way to go. But we would be so glad to extend our welcome to you. God has designed the church to be a place of hope and consolation, of encouragement and love for all people. There’s something missing in our hearts that we can only find in the fellowship of believers united together in Jesus Christ. And so let me invite you first to put your faith, your trust in Jesus alone for salvation. And then, trusting Him, come take your place among us in the community of love that is the local church.

There is Peace for Us in the Lord Jesus Christ 

There’s grace for you in the Word. There’s love for you in the church. Finally, there’s peace for you in the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s peace for you in the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at verse 14 again. Peter’s final word is “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Today, we might sign off our letters, “Yours sincerely, David Strain,” and it’s just a formality when we do it. But even though Peter is using a traditional greeting at the end of his letter, “Peace,” he says, this is no mere formality. It’s a benediction. He expresses here the principle blessing of the Gospel itself. Peace from God and the peace of God. Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter already told us that when the grace of God in the Word of God has its way in our lives, he’s already told us what the fruit will be. First he says it will be love – love from God in Jesus and love between those who love Christ and trust in Christ. Love in the church. 

But here, he says climatically, supremely, above all else, before all else, the great fruit of the Word of God, the grace of God through the Scriptures at work in your heart is peace with God through the Lord Jesus. If you are in Christ, peace is your birthright. If you are in Christ you can say, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul!” Don’t we need peace like that in these strange, sore days? Where can troubled souls like me and you find peace like that? There is only one place, only one place where lasting peace can be found – peace that passes understanding. You must go to Jesus Christ. You must be found in Christ. Nothing else can give it to you. You can drown out your conscience, you can anesthetize your worry, but real peace that the world cannot touch, that circumstance cannot change, is found in Christ alone. 

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Are you in Christ? As you sit there on the sofa today, interrogate your heart. “Am I a man, a woman, in Christ? Do I love Him and trust Him? Am I resting on Him only for my rescue, my salvation before God? There’s peace for you with God. You see, God has turned against us in righteous wrath because we are sinners, but Jesus died for sinners that He might reconcile us to God, that He might establish peace between us. Trust in Christ and God will be reconciled to you and be your God and Christ will be your Savior and friend. And there’s more than that. There’s peace from God. Peace He will give you. Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I give you. My peace I leave with you. Do not let your hearts be troubled.” There’s peace from the hands of Jesus Christ – the peace of God that surpasses understanding to guard your hearts and minds in Christ; peace from the Holy Spirit. That’s a peace we need right now. Don’t you need that peace? Are you trusting in Christ? He is the only safe haven in the storm, the only solid rock amidst sinking sand, the only shelter for you. Get yourself to Christ, and then you will be able to say, dear brother or sister, “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

So there is grace for you in the Word. There is love for you in the church. And there is peace for you in the Lord Jesus Christ. Please, do not neglect the resources of God available for free in these troubled days. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, we love You, but we know that we love You poorly, weakly. We love too much the world and the things of the world. Forgive our sin. Unite our hearts in the fear of You. Our hearts are prone to wander, Lord. We feel it keenly, prone to leave the God we love. So have mercy on us and bring us, please, through this crisis if need be, to the end of ourselves and back to the resources of grace available to us in Your holy Word, available in the Gospel of grace. Help us to know and taste the wonder of Christian love in the church, in the fellowship that You have provided. Teach us to care and to love one another well, that we may be Your instruments to help in our perseverance, no matter what comes. And more than anything, we pray that You would grant to everyone watching today Your peace in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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