Elect Exiles: Things into Which Angels Long to Look

Sermon by David Strain on August 25, 2019

1 Peter 1:10-12

Well let me invite you to continue with your Bibles in hand and turn this time to 1 Peter; 1 Peter chapter 1. On Sunday mornings for the last few weeks we’ve begun to make our way through the first letter of Peter to the churches in Asia Minor and we’ve seen, last Sunday morning we saw that verses 3 through 12 really form one long run-on sentence in Greek. It has three parts. We looked at the first two parts together last time; verses 3 through 5 rehearse for us the extraordinary privileges, the great blessings that are ours in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We said it’s almost as though Peter were describing them like a landscape, a magnificent landscape to be looked at, that takes our breath away, that moves us profoundly, so that we join him in blessing, praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then verses 6 through 9, the second section of this sentence, are more like a lens to be looked through. Peter wants to say to us, “Well now you see your privileges. I want you to look at your circumstances, particularly your sufferings, through the lens of your privileges that you may interpret them correctly and understand what God is really doing even in your trials, even in your sufferings.”

And now this week, we’ve come to verses 10 through 12, the third section of this long compound sentence. Remember, it’s the burden of Peter’s letter to equip the Christians of Asia Minor to live a life on mission together – a life that neither compromises with the culture nor retreats from the culture, knowing full well of course that such a life will involve social exile, marginalization. He calls us “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” Cultural outsiders for Jesus’ sake; sojourners in a world that is not our home. And given that reality, if we’re going to live like that – neither compromising with the world nor retreating from the world but being witnesses to the world with all the implied costs and sufferings that involves – we’re going to need help. I’m going to need help. We’re going to need tools, equipment. If you’re going to send soldiers into a combat zone you want to make sure they are properly equipped to accomplish the mission. In many ways, verses 10 through 12 are about reminding us of the primary equipment God has given to us to fulfill the mission entrusted to us. Verses 10 through 12 teach us to love the Holy Scriptures. They teach us to love the Bible.

We’re going to consider verses 10 through 12 by noticing there are three groups of people engaging with God’s Word, responding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in verses 10 through 12. And we’re simply going to think about how each responds. First, you’ll notice there are the prophets. The prophets’ search. Then there are the preachers. We’ll think about the preachers’ message. Then thirdly, the passage mentions the angels. So we’ll think about the angels’ longing. The prophets’ search. The preachers’ message. And the angels’ longing. Before we look at it together, let’s pause and pray once again.

O Lord, open our eyes to behold marvelous things out of Your Law. Give us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to the Church. Give us hearts like soil that has been well plowed to receive the implanted seed of Your Word that it may bear much fruit for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

1 Peter chapter 1 at verse 10. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”


The Prophets’ Search. 

So Peter is teaching us here about the Holy Scriptures. He does it by reflecting on the reactions of these three groups of people. There are the prophets and their search, there are the preachers and their message, and there are the angels and their great longing. Let’s think about the prophets and their search first of all. Verses 10 and 11, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” Peter is picturing the writers, the authors of the Old Testament scriptures, and they are marveling, they are amazed, they are gripped by the message the Spirit of Christ in them was giving them for their generation, pointing them to Jesus, the coming Christ. And they’re captivated by this salvation. Back in verse 9, Peter says, “we” – New Testament believers – “are now obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.” This salvation the prophets know will come in a new fullness in the wake of the coming of the Christ that the Lord had sent them to prophesy. And so they long to know more. They want to understand the times and the manner and how this is all going to unfold. And so they give themselves to the diligent search, to inquiry. They study the Scriptures. They compare Scripture with Scripture. They discuss it; they debate about it. They want to understand and penetrate the mystery. The Spirit of Christ in them was predicting the coming Messiah and they want to hear all they can about the fullness of salvation that would one day dawn in the wake of His appearing. 

And as I thought about that, I could not help – I wonder if you feel this way – I could not help but feel something of the sting of a rebuke in that picture that Peter is painting of the diligent search of the Old Testament prophets working through the Scriptures, trying to understand as much as they can about all that will come with the appearance of the Christ. They did not yet enjoy the fullness of grace. They did not yet penetrate into the fullness of the mystery of the person and work of Jesus. They did not fully understand, and yet here they are searching diligently the Scriptures. And now think about our position. Here we are, this side of Calvary, this side of the empty tomb, and we know the name of Jesus of Nazareth. We know His words and His works. We who are believers in Christ, we enjoy the benefits of His death, His resurrection. We’ve been united to Him by faith. The Spirit of Christ dwells within us. We are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ. Here we are with privileges that are far greater than those enjoyed by the greatest saint of the Old Testament Scriptures, and yet for many of us, the only place where we are given direction and help in navigating and living out those rich Gospel privileges, our Bibles, largely remain shut and unexplored. Isn’t that true?

It’s a rebuke to me. Is it a rebuke to you? Our appetite for the message of the Scriptures, often negligible, dulled perhaps by the junkfood of constant entertainment and empty pleasures – what comfort and direction we are missing. What light and guidance we forfeit because this book is closed and gathers dust on our shelf, on our nightstand. We harm our own hearts by the neglect of the Word. And the diligent search of the prophets of old, longing to know the Christ the Spirit in them was predicting, is a rebuke to us since we have so much more than they, we ought to be so much more diligent and eager to enjoy all the blessings that our Savior has purchased for us that are offered to us in His holy Word.

Now I suppose one important reason for our often neglect of the Holy Scriptures is that we feel we do not understand them as we’d like. Particularly that’s often the case with the Old Testament Scriptures. Do notice how Peter speaks about the Old Testament because I think if we can grasp this, if we can get what Peter is saying about the Old Testament, it will give to us what may prove to be the antidote to the discomfort we often feel about the first half of our Bibles. If you were to ask Peter, “Who wrote the Old Testament?” – look at his answer in verse 11, “the prophets.” But it was the Spirit of Christ, by the prophets. That’s who wrote the Old Testament. The Spirit of Christ wrote the Old Testament. “And Peter, what is the message of the Old Testament?” Verse 11 again, “The Old Testament,” Peter would say to us, “is about the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” 

You know that blank page in the middle of your Bible after Malachi, just before Matthew? I suspect that many of us feel like the publisher may as well have placed a sticker there that says something like, “Warning! Behind this page is a bunch of weird stuff! You’re never going to make any sense of it. Best turn back now!” Isn’t that how we often feel about the first half of our Bibles? And maybe it’s because we think that the Old Testament is mainly about obscure ceremonial law or about the geopolitical misdeeds of ancient Israelite kings or about mysterious oracles of judgment against pagan nations whose names we can barely pronounce. And so we find ourselves wondering, “What does any of this have to do with me?” But that is, I think Peter would say, that is a tragically superficial reading of the Old Testament. 

What is it really about? It is about the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. The whole book speaks of Him, do you see? The whole book, it pictures Him, it obviates our need of Him, it explains Christ’s work, it exults in Christ’s redemption, it displays Christ’s glory, it warns of Christ’s coming judgment in the Law. Christ governs us and we see a transcript of His holy character in the histories. We see Christ’s kingdom foreshadowed to us in every psalm. As we saw earlier in the psalm we read in our service, Christ Himself sings to us His lamentation and His praise. In the prophets, Christ is offered to us. Proclaimed to us in every genre, on every page from Genesis to Malachi, the Spirit of Christ was speaking of the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.

Peter, remember, wants his hearers to go on mission, to be witnesses – not to retreat, not to compromise, but to be witnesses to Jesus Christ in a dark age. And he needs them, he wants us to be properly equipped for that task. He wants us to love the Bible, the whole Bible, and he wants us when we open it to meet Christ who comes to us on its every page. And so that’s the first thing to see here – the prophets’ search. 

The Preachers’ Message. 

Secondly, Peter mentions, notice, the preachers’ message. The preachers’ message. We’re going to think about the matter of the preachers’ preaching, the text of Scripture; we’re going to think about the message itself. We’re even going to discuss a little bit of the ways that that message applies to Peter’s hearers and to us. The matter is the same as the Old Testament prophets. It is in fact the message of the Old Testament prophets. The Bible of the New Testament preachers was the Old Testament scriptures. The Christ that the prophets predicted is the Christ that the preachers proclaimed from the prophetic Scriptures. They preached the Word from the text of Holy Scripture and the content of their message is Christ Himself. This is what Peter says was announced to you, “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories,” now announced to you by those who preach the good news to you. 

That may seem obvious that the New Testament preachers preached Christ. It seems self-evident, but I think we need to notice it carefully because at least for many contemporary pulpits that not at all obvious. Let me give you one, frankly ridiculous example. In the news this past week I’m sure you saw news about Norwich Cathedral; a magnificent cathedral in England. There’s been a worshipping community, a church building at least, on that side for about a thousand years; magnificent Norman cathedral now stands there. And inside the nave of Norwich Cathedral they’ve built what’s called helter-skelter, which is like an enormous carnival slide with bells and lights, right in the middle of the nave of the cathedral. And they have the bishop slide down it in a Sunday service and paused halfway down to proclaim to the congregation that God is a tourist attraction before he slid to the bottom amidst the applause and laughter of the congregation.

I bring that ridiculous example up to show you what happens when the confidence of the church in the exposition of the Word and the proclamation of Jesus Christ is lost. All sorts of nonsense fills the void. Peter says faithful preaching opens the Scriptures, interpreting the Old in light of the New, and in every part proclaiming and applying to us Jesus Christ – His sufferings and subsequent glories. That’s the character of faithful preaching. It exalts Jesus Christ. Its matter is the text of Holy Scripture. Its message is Jesus. And you, the members of First Church, need to hold the feet of every man that stands in this pulpit to that fire and insist and to demand that whatever they say, from whatever text they may be in, they show you Jesus. “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

And as an aside, I was reflecting on the language of the text here and it reminded me here that Peter earlier showed us that suffering, then glory, is the normal pattern for every Christian believer, which made me wonder if at least for Peter, if not for the preachers that Peter is speaking about here, one application of the Gospel – the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories – is for the comfort of the suffering church. After all, the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories describes the arc and trajectory of the normal Christian life that Peter has been discussing earlier in the chapter. So he spoke, for example, about “the tested genuineness of their faith, which is refined by fire like gold that it may be found through all their various trials and grievous sufferings to praise and glory and honor.” So there are grievous trials that result, he says, in glory. Or in verse 8, he says, “though you don’t see Jesus now, you love Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” You’re filled with joy that is glorious in its character. Glory is the goal, the outcome of Christian suffering. And Peter says that’s the same pattern that obtained in the life of Jesus that now obtains in your Christian life as well.

Which is helpful to us when we think, “If I must walk the path of suffering, we can also remember that our Savior has walked it first.” And when we wonder, “Will these trials never end?” we can look at our Savior’s life and remember suffering, then glory. Yes, “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” There’s glory coming. I’ve been grieved by various trials now, if necessary, for a little while, but dawn is on the way. So hold on, suffering Christian. Look to your Savior. See the arc of His life and experience, suffering and subsequent glories. That will be the arc of your own experience as well. Hold on, suffering Christian. 

So we’ve thought about the matter of the preachers’ sermons. They preach the text of God’s Word. And the message itself – they preached Christ. We’ve even thought a little about the application of that message – the comfort of the suffering Church – as we see the sufferings of our Savior and are reminded of glory that will yet come. Before we move to the last thing that I want you to see, which is about the angels’ longing, we also should notice the preachers’ power. The preachers’ power. Look at verse 12. Peter says they preach the good news to you, “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” These unknown, no-name preachers who led the believers to faith in Christ to whom Peter was writing, did it, as the apostle Paul puts it, “in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power.” That’s what was characteristic of their preaching. Not in persuasive words of human wisdom; it was Spirit-illuminated, Spirit-enabled. It’s convicting and converting power was from the Spirit alone. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer 155, which I know you’ve all memorized but you’ll bear with me if I repeat it for you, Larger Catechism 155 gets, I think, at this point really well. It asks the question, “How is the Word made effectual unto salvation?” Where does the power come from to change lives in the ministry of the Word? It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? A talking head explaining an ancient book – and lives are changed? How does that happen? The answer was the experience of Peter’s hearers, readers. It was the experience of the preachers he’s speaking about who preached the Gospel to them. Listen to the answer. Larger Catechism 155: “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to His image and subduing them to His will, of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions, of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” 

All this, the Word accomplishes. How? By the Spirit sent from heaven. Not cleverness. Not artistry. Not comedy. How we need to pray for the power of the Spirit attending the preaching of the Word. If we’re going to be effective as a church on mission together, we must be freshly resolved to give ourselves to plead with the Father to pour out the Spirit of His Son upon the ministry of His Word to make the Word effectual unto salvation for all who hear. The prophets’ search and the preachers’ message. 

The Angels’ Longing. 

Then finally there’s the angels’ longing. You see that in verse 12? The angels long to look into these things. The prophets, when they thought of the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories, they searched the Scriptures diligently to know more. The sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories was the burden of the message of the preachers. And now, we’re told the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories become the great preoccupation and cause of wonder for the angelic hosts of heaven. The word for “longing” – “things into which the angels long to look” – the word for “longing” there is important. It means “to peer in from the outside.” It’s the word John uses in John 20 at verse 5. You remember the story. On the first day of the week after the crucifixion, the women come to the tomb and they find that the body is gone. And they come back to the disciples and they report what they have found, or not found. And Peter and John run to the tomb and John outpaces Peter and we’re told in verse 5, “Stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there and he did not go in.” That’s actually a great description. It’s the same language that Peter is using here in our text. It’s a great description of the posture of the angels – stooping to look in from the outside.

You remember that the angels had been there at every point in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. They’d been there thrilling to see the unfolding of the Father’s plan and the fulfilling of the ancient prophetic Word. Were they astonished to observe the eternal Son, their Lord and Maker, humble Himself and take flesh and be joined to human nature in the womb of the virgin. They announced with wonder and delight the pregnancy of Mary and then they split the skies in song at the birth of our Savior. They were there ministering to Christ in His temptations in the wilderness and marveled as the Law-giver Himself learned obedience by the things that He suffered. And then at the climax of His sufferings, at the height of His agonies on the cross and darkness covered the earth, the angels are silent as the One who knew no sin was made sin for us. They held their breaths, as it were, as they heard Him cry, “It is finished,” and breathe His last. And when the stone rolled away that first Easter Sunday, they were there to witness the eternal Son made flesh now risen from the grave walk alive from the tomb bringing life and immortality to light. And then when He ascended into glory and the disciples stood their dumbfounded at the spectacle, the angels were there, rebuking them, reminding them that in the same manner in which Christ had left them He would one day return. 

At every point, remember, the angels bore witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. But at no point were they the objects of His mission. It was not for them that He came. It was not for them that He obeyed and bled and died and rose and ascended to reign; not for them that Jesus is one day soon returning, though they will all come with Him on that great day. It’s all been, it’s all been for you! He came for you. He bled for you. He rose and reigns for you. He’s coming back for you. They peer in from the outside, you see, longing to penetrate into the wonder of it all. “What must it be like,” they ask themselves, “to be the recipients of such love?” No doubt the angels are first class theologians. It’s not that they don’t understand the meaning, but their knowledge is only that of a spectator, never that of a participant. They don’t know what it is to have sin forgiven. They don’t know what it is to be adopted as a child of God. They don’t know what it is to have the Spirit of Christ dwell in their hearts, to be sanctified by grace, to stumble and fall and only meet with the patience of a holy God who, by His grace, picks us up from the dust and dusts us off and empowers us to press on and persevere till we cross the finish line. They don’t know what that’s like. They never will know what it’s like to be swept up at last into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

And so, they look down on the least of us, the very least of us, they see us struggling to understand our Bibles, they see us often stumbling, prone to wander, Lord we feel it; prone to leave the God we love. And they’re amazed because even the least of us knows firsthand what they never could. We taste pardoning mercy. We taste and enjoy adopting love. We are the beneficiaries of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We have fellowship with the living God and call Him Father! Peter has been pressing us to see the enormity of our privileges so that we never take them for granted. Among the most precious privileges entrusted to us – do you see this now in verses 10 through 12 – among the most precious is the Word of God itself. The prophets searched it out. The preachers proclaimed its message. The angels longed to know, “What is it like to enjoy such blessedness?” And you and I, we are the objects of the grace conveyed by this book. Isn’t that extraordinary? By this book, under the blessing of heaven, we are swept up into communion with Jesus Christ Himself. How can we neglect it? How can we neglect it? Among the greatest of our privileges is the custody and stewardship entrusted to us of the Word of God. May God awaken in us a renewed passion for the Holy Scriptures. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, have mercy for our neglect of the Bible. Netflix and sports and grandbabies and, and, fills our days and we have no time to hear Your Word. What lies we tell ourselves. What excuses we make. And what damage we do to our own souls by the neglect of Your Word. Forgive us. By Your Spirit, reawaken in me and in all of us a longing, a passion, a hunger, an appetite for the voice of God speaking in Holy Scripture, for we ask it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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