Grace and Peace be yours

1 Peter 1v1-2

At the start of any new year, we express words like ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Best wishes for the year ahead’, ‘Wishing you much love and happiness in the new year’.   Whatever the expression, the sentiment is the same – it is to express for each other a hope that we desire for ourselves.  That the coming year will be a good year, a year filled with positive things. Every year we say the same, and I love that – that sense of blessing that we express for each other – may you know  happiness, love, laughter, friendship, prosperity, health, good things. 

These are all words that we express to each other and that we receive from each other at this time of year.    And it’s lovely to hear all these expressions of love that we give to our family and friends and to those we share life with because there is something in each of us that wants life to be good, healthy and full, to be rewarding and enjoyable.   That is why we find it so difficult when things in life don’t meet our expectations.  We struggle with sadness, loneliness, grief, debt, fatigue, health issues, unemployment because that’s not what we go looking for in life, and it’s certainly not what we wish for each other at the start of a new year.

And while we do not wish these negative things on each other, we know that for many, they will be altogether very real, just like they were for many for whom the previous year was a very difficult year.  We can only express a wishful hope for a good year to each other, but we cannot guarantee it, because we do not know what the year ahead will hold.  For many it will be more of the same, the struggles of last year were the struggles of the year before, so why should this coming year be any different.

Nicky Gumble said that he never forgot a talk he heard over 30 years ago. The speaker started by saying that the Christian life is ‘battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle….. and blessing.’   Nicky said that the speaker made a memorable and profound point – when in the battle it’s hard to believe it will ever come to an end; and in times of blessing we wish it could go on forever, but life’s not like that – There are battles AND blessing – sometimes when we are being blessed in one area of our lives, there is a battle in another.  We just need to look back to know this to be true.

And in the first 2 verses of 1 Peter, we discover Peter is writing to people who are scattered – they are in a battle – the church is being persecuted and the believers are scattered, but they are also people who are blessed – they are chosen by God to live for Him.   They are people who know battle AND blessing. 

On a reading of 1 Peter, which I would encourage you to do, we discover the blessing they experience – the new life Jesus has given them, the inheritance awaiting them in heaven, who they are in Christ, the love they have for each other, the hospitality they share, but we also read of the battles they face – battles against their inward desires to lead them away from Christ, living for Jesus in a pagan society, their conduct with authorities, in families, in church, the suffering that they face for doing good. They are people who face battles AND blessings.

So what is it, that Peter holds out to them, and therefore to us, at the start of a year, or season, which we know will contain battles AND blessing.  He holds out this… the end of 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 2 – Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Grace and peace be yours.  In other words, Peter wants us as the reader to own that grace and that peace, not just a little, but that we will know it and receive it in abundance!

It was Paul who revealed that he had, what he called, this ‘thorn in the flesh’, and 3 times he asked if the Lord would remove it, but the Lord did not remove it but instead said to him, ‘my grace is sufficient for you’;  It was Jesus who said, in this world you will have trouble, but I have told you these things so that you might have peace’

And Peter wants us to have this grace and peace, this grace in things we struggle with, this peace in times of trouble, in abundance, because we are going to need them to take us through the battles that we face, and in those battles we will find this abundance of grace and this abundance of peace to be a great source of blessing.  And in the time ahead as we surge forward in prayer, and in small group bible study and in mission, in our desire to see people come to know Jesus, it’s not going to be easy – there are going to be battles and blessing. There will be battles and blessing and we need to know an abundance of grace and peace if we are going to stay of track to fulfil the vision God had given us.

And there are 3 questions I want to ask in relation to this abundant grace and peace that is offered to us.

The first question is who – who can have this.

The answer to the question is found in who Peter is writing to – he is writing to God’s elect, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

2016 was described as the year the election polls got it wrong.  They failed to predict an outcome to leave the EU, they failed to predict Donald Trump becoming US president.  But there is one election outcome that has been predicted since before time began, that is 100% correct, and that is the election of people to be followers of Jesus, because God is doing the choosing.

Romans 8 says that God foreknew who would become followers of Jesus, and those he pre-destined – in others words those He set a course for their lives, those are the people that He called, to be justified, to be glorified – to be conformed, to become like Jesus.   In other words, God has already chosen the followers of Jesus to be in heaven with Him for ever.  They have been selected, chosen by God.

Now that would suggest that if God knew who would become followers of Jesus, and who would not, then why does God also say that he desires that none should perish but all should become followers of Jesus.  It seems like a paradox.  God selects some, but offers it to all, knowing not all will be chosen.

One illustration I found helpful was that of a door.   On one side of the door was the offer for anyone to enter and if the person chose to go through the door, then when they walked though and looked back, the word above that same door was ‘chosen’

God gives us free choice to choose and accept His offer, but once we have made the choice for Him, we discover that we did not choose God but that He chose us.  This is the wonder of His amazing grace in Jesus.  This mystery of God’s choosing will always offend those who stand before God with pride, ready to accuse Him of favouritism, but those whom God’s love has drawn them to Christ will always confess the wonder of His initiative to us in grace.

So the answer to the first question – who can have this abundant grace and abundant peace – the answer is everyone but it is only offered to those who have been chosen by God, those to whom God foreknew would accept Jesus Christ to be Saviour and Lord of their lives.  Nothing we did to merit it, just chosen in his amazing grace

The second question is related to the first, how can I become one who is chosen

Thankfully, there is a way to become those who have been chosen. It’s not like donkey in the movie Shrek jumping up and down saying pick me pick me!  But it is something that is wonderful about the gospel message.  Because all are welcome, for God loves everyone, and God desires all to come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord for Jesus is the door through which we can know eternal life.

Peter writes that those who are chosen are those who are obedient to Jesus Christ through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and who have been sprinkled with His blood.  What does this mean. 

You see for one to be chosen, God will act to make those His own. To belong to God means they must be redeemed from their sin, for sin separates us from God, and washed from it’s stain.  They must be made holy as God is holy.  That means to be set apart.   And to describe how God does this, Peter, refers to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ.   It is by Christ’s blood that we can be cleansed and redeemed from sin and it is through the Holy Spirit that God is able to give us new life – to be called chosen.

But Peter also speaks of obedience to Jesus Christ, which means there is something on our part to be done. 

God the Father loves us so much that He wants to spend eternity with us and so He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross as the punishment for our sin – to take the punishment for what separates us from Him.  And God raised Jesus from the dead so that we can know new life – a life free from the chains of sin, a life with God himself, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.  That’s what God has provisioned for us – He took the initiative because He loved us that much.

But we need to understand the necessity of the death of Christ and the meaning of His resurrection for ourselves.  As Peter says later on in chapter 2v24, that Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.

We have to be obedient to Christ, to accept Christ’s work on the cross for us, that we cannot know eternal life unless we accept Christ into our lives.   He stands at our door wanting relationship with us, are we willing to be obedient to that knocking, open the door and allow Him to come into our lives.  

For when we do, the provision of God gets applied.  The blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, redeems us from the penalty of sin and the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new life and we become the chosen of God. Hallelujah!   We become those who God foreknew would believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation.

And the third question is where can I know this grace and peace.

And the answer is anywhere.  Wherever you find yourself.   Peter wrote to those scattered throughout the provinces.  That means as the chosen people of God, you and I can know that abundant grace and abundant peace where ever we find ourselves.

It also means that we can know this abundant grace and abundant peace no matter what we do – Peter was an apostle, that was his role, but he was one who was chosen just like those he was writing to.  God called him to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, but all of us who are chosen by God are also called by God to do something for Him, and we can all know abundant grace and peace in what we do for Him. 

What difference does it make to where we are and what we do to be someone chosen by God?

It make a massive difference because Peter also calls those to whom he is writing to, exiles, they are scattered.  Peter in Chapter 2v11 tells us again that we are foreigners and exiles. In other words we can know abundant grace and abundant peace because as chosen people we are transients, temporary residents, travellers in this world heading for our native land.  Those chosen are called to endure alienation as strangers, but who have a heavenly citizenship and destiny.

Now we could argue that we are all on a journey – Jean Brun says that the the god of the west may be seen as in a place of eternal thirst just under ripe fruit that is just beyond reach.  Frustrated by desire, people vainly seek to overcome the limits of space and time, devising technologies to extend reach or to improve grasp.  Always seeking more, always wanting more, never satisfied.   The god of the east is perceived differently.  It is like the figure of a Buddha, not reaching out but arms folded.  Finding escape by quenching desires – using hands in meditation – to change the perception of the world’s illusions, trying to find inner peace.

But Peter writes to the scattered chosen people of God in their various places, within western and eastern cultures, in their various roles, he writes to them as a community; they are the chosen people of God in the world.  They are not reaching for ever increasing desires of this world, they are not looking inward for inner peace, but they are reaching heavenward to something that you can know, reaching heavenward because they cannot achieve it for themselves.  

They are to be recognised in the world by a different lifestyle – not eastern lifestyle or western lifestyle, but a Godly lifestyle.  Indeed through the new life of the Spirit within them, their lives are to be radically different and in the remainder of his letter, Peter sets out the motivation and pattern of the new lifestyle of those chosen and scattered throughout the world. 

And it is because of this radically different lifestyle for which we are chosen that Peter says grace and peace be yours, be yours, in abundance, because you are going to know battles and blessing in that radical lifestyle.

Conclusion

Times ahead, like times past, will contain battles and blessings.  As we move forward in God as a church there may be more battles than normal, but there will also be more blessings. 

For those of us who know Jesus as Saviour and Lord, our challenge is to live a godly lifestyle that shows were are in the world, but not of it.  We are to do that because we have been chosen to do so by God himself. We have been specifically selected.

And to live that way, we need to take on board what Peter says – grace and peace can be ours in abundance.

We need to accept that abundance grace.  Things may not always work out – there will be difficulties – there will be people who are against us maybe just because we are Christians – but His grace is sufficient for us – it is the unmerited, abundant, favour of God as one who has been chosen by God to be a recipient of His grace.  You have been cleansed and redeemed from sin through Jesus Christ, and you have a new life and a new destiny, what you endure in this world is only temporary.

We need to accept that abundant peace.  For, as Jesus said, in this world we will have trouble – relationships, finance, health, sorrow, you name it, we could have it, but Jesus also said that he told us about it so that we can have peace.  We can know abundant peace because Jesus has made our lives right with God, and there is no greater peace than knowing our lives are right with God, irrespective of what happens in this world. 

For those of you who do not know Jesus as Saviour and Lord, you can know this abundant grace and peace.  Yes you can, for the invitation is open and as I have explained, when you choose to accept Jesus, you find that you have been chosen and it is marvellous in our eyes to see his amazing grace, for I once what lost, but now am found, I once was blind but now I see. I once was where you are, but I accepted the invitation of Jesus and now I can know his abundant grace and abundant peace because Christ shed His blood for me on the cross and his Holy Spirit lives in me.  I was once anyone, but now I am one chosen, chosen by God.

My prayer is that whatever the future holds for you – holds for us as church – in the battles and in the blessings – may we know, may we receive, may we utilise the abundant grace and the abundant peace that comes from knowing Jesus, knowing His love for us, knowing that He chose us, knowing your life, as different as it may be to the rest of the world, can make a difference in this world for it is a life that is destined to win. It is a life that is directed heavenward. So may grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Amen.