We are beginning this evening, what I hope will be, a two pronged study. Since I have only a couple more decades of ministry ahead of me, and there is so much Biblical material, I’m going to try to combine two subjects in this study: the life of Peter and Peter’s first epistle. I’m going to try to use Peter’s life to illustrate what he says in this first epistle. To that effect, I have prepared a timeline of Peter’s life, and you all should have a copy. You’ll notice along the right-hand side there are boxes. In the course of looking at I Peter, I hope to check off as many events in his life as I can. You may do whatever you like with that study sheet, but maybe you’d like to join me in checking off boxes. And by the way, that timeline may not be complete, so I’m asking if you notice that I’ve missed something, please let me know.
I have already used the word “epistle” in regard to this study. Webster in his 1827 dictionary says of “epistle:” “it is rarely used in familiar conversation or writing, but chiefly in solemn or formal transactions. It is used particularly in speaking of the letters of the Apostles…” Twenty-three times the Greek word “epistole” (epistolay) is found in the Bible; sometimes it is translated “letter,” and sometimes it is just transliterated “epistle.” Peter uses the word in his second letter chapter 3: “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance.” And that, by the way, is our purpose in studying this letter: “to stir up YOUR pure minds by way of remembrance.”
Have you ever thought about what Christianity would be if Peter and Paul had cell phones and could text? We might not have a large portion of the New Testament. There once was a day, a very long day, when people who wanted to communicate with others at a distance, they had to sit down and write out their thoughts on pieces of paper or other materials. Then they had to find some way to transmit their letters to their intended readers. Even though I am told that nothing we text is ever truly lost, I have lost many texts. But I have in my files letters that I received forty years ago. They may someday be lost, but not yet. Here we have a letter which was written 2,000 years ago, and by the grace of God we still have today. I urge you to consider writing more letters, especially when communicating your love or other important things.
I have given this message the title “Greetings and Salutations.” “Greetings and salutations” is just a little redundant, at least as we might use those words today, since to some people the two words mean the same thing. But actually the word “greeting” comes from an old Saxon word and actually speaks about hailing or shouting. Originally “to greet” was to yell, communicating with someone at some distance. Perhaps it was a warning, like the barking of a dog. “Salutations” was something originally quite different. Admittedly we don’t often say “salutations” unless we’re trying to be funny or sound smart. It originally referred to a “salute,” which might, or might not, actually involve a physical sign, as in a military salute to a superior officer. It was an act of paying respect and often included a bow or curtsy. Eventually It came to include an enquiry about someone’s welfare and the expression of good wishes and prayers.
This evening let’s consider three things about these “Greetings and Salutations.” I’d like you to notice the Greeting, but then the Greeter and the Greetees.
We start with WHO IT IS sending these particular greetings.
The Apostle Peter, of course, is the writer of this epistle, and it is he who is sending the greeting. And by the way, conservative scholarship concurs: there is no reason not to think that Peter is the penman. The human writers of some books of the Bible are obscure, like Hebrews. And liberal, Bible-haters attack the authorship of some books, like Isaiah. But that problem doesn’t exist with the Epistles of Peter. Peter is sending his greetings to these people.
And who exactly is that man? If I asked each of you to give me one word to describe Peter, I wonder how many words we could collect? He calls himself: “Peter, an APOSTLE of Jesus Christ.” That word indicates that he had been commissioned and sent by Christ as one of the Lord’s ambassadors. In Peter’s case, this was a special office, held by very few – only about a dozen men. Matthew 10:2-7: “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
So Peter was an apostle, but he was also a disciple of Christ. The first verse in Matthew 10 adds, “And when (Christ) had called unto him his twelve DISCIPLES, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother.” While none of us will ever hold the office of Apostle in the same sense as Peter, we should all be disciples. That word speaks of someone who follows for the purpose of receiving instruction; a learner follower. Peter and the others were pupils of Christ, after spending time learning elemental truth from John the Baptist.
I think it is interesting that Peter continued to be described as a disciple long after Matthew 10. Dozens of times Matthew speaks of “the disciples” between chapters 10 and 28, teaching us that despite whatever new positions the Lord might give to us, we should never stop being a follower and a learner. One of the delights of teaching Malachi or Nehemiah or the Epistles of Peter is that I learn new things in almost every verse. Ideally, the day we stop learning about God and His Word should coincide with the day of our death, and even then I promise that we’ll continue to learn.
Perhaps I should have mentioned it earlier, but since Peter didn’t, I didn’t. And, of course, it is often assumed. But it shouldn’t be assumed that the disciples were all believers. Matthew 16:13: “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” We need to remember that just to be a disciple, or student, of Christ doesn’t save a person. Judas Iscariot was mentioned as a disciple and even as an apostle, but he was not a child of God. Church attendance and sitting in Sunday School for two decades does not automatically provide a person with a new heart. Ye must be born again by faith in Christ Jesus, and Peter was one of those regenerated people – a believer.
Three additional positions and titles Peter held, he himself describes for us in chapter 5:1. He says, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an ELDER, and a WITNESS of the sufferings of Christ, and also a PARTAKER of the glory that shall be revealed.” I am just going mention these now, tabling a detailed study of these terms until we reach chapter 5. I’ll just say that Peter was a lot older when he wrote this epistle than he was went he first met the Lord, so he called himself an “elder.” It is debatable whether or not he was not speaking of any sort of church office, but he might have been. The fact is, the older we become the more wise we should become; we should be better servants of God with the passage of time and the acceptance of experience. Peter was also a witness to many of the things which his Saviour suffered, equipping him with material to share with others. And he stood to inherit the glory which Christ promised to those who love and serve Him. But you know, it appears that Peter already perceived himself as blessed through Christ’s glory. Just to be in the service of the King is an unspeakably glorious position.
So thus far we see Peter as a believer, a disciple, an apostle, a witness and a recipient of great blessings. Just in passing, let me mention several other things. We may look at them more fully later, depending on whether Peter brings them up. Peter was a Galilean; a man from up north, not a native of Judah or Jerusalem. He had a northern accent which the Judeans could hear, and which many of them despised. There was a regional dislike and disregard of Galileans, which was both a hindrance and a blessing to his ministry. He was a brother of Andrew, and a friend, if not partner to James and John in a fishing business. And he was a husband, and son-in-law. Tradition says that he had children, but the Bible doesn’t say. But we can say that he had many of the same responsibilities of a family as Christian men have today.
And one more thing: Peter was a sinner saved by grace. His sins, which were many, were all under the blood of Christ, but he did not live as a sinless man. He had an unconquered sin nature which reared up its head from time to time. As sad as that is, there is a blessing for us in knowing that. There is hope for us. If Peter could be of service to the Saviour, then perhaps so can we.
We may come back to this, but in regards to Peter’s sinfulness, what words might you use? Was he a liar? No. Was he a thief? He was not. And I will assume you are neither of these things either. But ask yourself: what motivated Peter to argue with the others about positions in Heaven or in service? And why did he break his fellowship with the Gentile believers in Antioch when some of his Pharisaical friends came up from Jerusalem? What made him say that he’d never deny the Saviour? Why did he at first refuse to take the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius? I think we could go back through all of Peter’s transgressions and see that at their root was pride. He simply thought too highly of himself. And that is a problem we all have to differing degrees. God hates our pride, and we must hate it as well, or we’ll not be the best servants we might possibly be.
After Peter, the Greeter, who are the GREETEES? Who is greeted in this letter?
Peter describes them as “elect strangers.” I am going to table their election, because that is a term deserving its own message. But there is another reason for putting it off for a few days. Seven or eight times out of ten the subject of election should be tabled. Despite its importance and prominence in God’s word, there are other things about these people which have more practical importance. Are they believers? Are they servants of God? Do they love the Lord with all their hearts and souls and minds?
The Christian who goes up to a stranger and asks if he or she is one of God’s elect, is proud and foolish. He who tries to evangelize while worrying about whether or not someone is elect, is unbiblical and untaught. We have the right to believe and mention that every child of God was chosen – elected – to that position by God before the foundation of the earth. But discussion and consideration of that fact should come after that person as been presented with the gospel and encouraged to repent and trust Christ.
So tabling that subject for next week, let’s simply notice that Peter was writing to people living in what today we’d call Turkey. Pontus and Bithynia were districts in the north of Turkey, on or near the coast of the Black Sea. Asia was in the western region and included the cities of Ephesus, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Galatia and Cappadocia were in the interior of Turkey with the major city of Antioch in Pisidia.
What intrigues me about this is that we have no proof Peter ever visited these places. We know for a fact that it was Paul who first took the gospel into Galatia and Asia. Did Peter follow Paul and help to ground the new believers in their faith? We have no information. Tradition says that Peter was in Rome. If that is so, did he get there by ship or by land? If by the land route, then he would have passed through Turkey. But it is highly unlikely, because walking or riding all the way to Rome would have taken months.
But you know, it doesn’t matter whether or not Peter had ever been to Galatia or Cappadocia. Unless I am mistaken he was never in Post Falls, Idaho, either. Why do I bring up such a silly thought? To point out that the authority of this book is not related to physical presence or personal friendship. The lessons of I Peter apply to Idahoans and Washingtonians, as much as they did to the saints in Jerusalem or those of the province of Asia.
Even beyond his office as Apostle, Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to write to these people. The message contained here did not originate with Peter; it came from the heart of God. Peter is going to speak with respect when talking about the epistles of Paul, because he didn’t consider them just the words of another man. They were on a par with the prophesies of the Old Testament. As Peter tells us in his second epistle: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This letter was originally directed to strangers in Turkey, but it was redirected by the Spirit to you and me.
Curiously, Peter calls his recipients “scattered strangers.” The word “strangers” is somewhat rare in the Bible, the Holy Spirit using it only three times. Twice the true meaning of the word is emphasized when it is translated “pilgrims.” No matter where Christians live in this world: Idaho or Idumea, this world is not our home. We are strangers in a strange world because we are on our way to a better place – we are headed home. How important it is that we remember this fact, and live in the light of this fact. Some of the founding settlers of this country were called “pilgrims,” but as they tried to establish their own Christian dominion in this land, they should have cast aside the title. But while they were still in their little ships in the midst of the Atlantic, they were truly “pilgrims” with some place to go.
If we are going to claim I Peter as God’s message to us, we need to learn to think like “strangers and pilgrims.” This book is directed to that kind of people. Paul said in Hebrews 11: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And in the next chapter of the epistle we are studying Peter exhorts: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” We are exhorted to live like the strangers and pilgrims we are.
The other word Peter used in regard to these people is “scattered.” The Greek word is one that my pastor taught me years ago, and for some reason it stuck. These people were Christian “diaspora” or “dispersed” people. They, and we, are like seed, purposefully scattered by the Holy Spirit in order to sprout and produce fruit for the glory of God, whether in Pontus, Pamphilia, or Post Falls.
And because we are these strangers, we need the GREETING which Peter offers us.
“Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.” Because we live in our own Cappadocia or Bithynia, we NEED peace. Because we are trying to live a Christian life in the midst of a lost world, we need multiplied peace. Certainly, the persecution against us is not the same character, or to the same degree, as our Asian brethren from two millennia ago, yet there is still the need of God’s sweet peace.
But there are other reasons we might need this peace. We need peace because of who we are. As we remember our denial of Christ while standing at the fire of the enemy, we need peace. How often and how horribly have we sinned against our Saviour? Some people see, or sense, their sin and shame more than others, but we all should feel it, because we are all guilty. How comforting it should be to hear the words of our Lord Jesus. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). “These things have I spoken under you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Sadly, just because we have peace available, that doesn’t mean we actually use and enjoy it. Thus the apostle’s salutation and prayer: “Peace be multiplied.”
He also said, “Grace unto you.” Grace is God’s unmerited favor, and it shouldn’t be confined in our minds to the source of our salvation. Whether you are an apostle or an apothecary you need a constant flow of God’s grace, because no matter what your service to God might be, you are undeserving of His blessings. None of us are deserving. We need the grace of God as we get out of bed in the morning, and we need it after another almost wasted day as we pillow our heads at night. We need to learn to pray for grace, and we need to pray that those who read our texts may enjoy it as well.
And that raises the question: “How should we greet people?” What do you say to your friends when you first see them at church for the first time in several days? Isn’t it something like: “Good to see you. How are you doing”? That isn’t the Biblical way. Over and over again, Paul began epistles saying, “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” and then there were variations on that theme. Why pray or hope that your friends can enjoy pennies, when God has made gold and silver dollars available to us? Why pray for them to have good physical health when spiritual health is more important and eternal? It should be our desire that our friends enjoy the Lord’s peace and multiplied grace.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”