November 17, 2019
The Israelites had been in Egypt for over 400 years. It was not their country – they were resident aliens. The Egyptians had long forgotten an Israelite prime minister named Joseph who had saved their country from a terrible, worldwide famine. And after Joseph had passed off the scene, the Israelites were growing rapidly into a great nation, just as God had promised. So, fearful of and to control them, the Egyptians made slaves of the entire Israelite population. It was a miserable existence – God’s chosen people living in a country not their own, oppressed by those around them.
But, God had not forgotten His people for a moment. He knew where they were, and what He was doing. When the time came, He would send a deliverer to redeem them from Egypt – to bring them to a country of their own, as He had promised. That great deliverer was, of course, Moses. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush – told him, go to Egypt, to Pharaoh, and say, the Lord says, let My people go.
You know the story well – it is of Charlton Heston Ten Commandments and Disney Prince of Egypt fame. Pharaoh would not let them go, and so God unleashed ten miraculous plagues against them – starting with turning the water into blood, and ending with the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt. The Israelites were spared from the plagues – but the last one required they do something to demonstrate their trust in God – so that He would spare them. On the night the death angel was to pass through the land, killing all the firstborn, the Israelites were to select a lamb – unblemished and spotless – and sacrifice it. They were to take the blood of the lamb and put it on the doorposts and the lentil or header beam of their homes. And when the death angel passed through that night, he would see the blood, and pass over that house. You see, God’s people of faith were within – under the blood.
Well, the event became known as the Passover. Many suggest it was the highpoint of Israel’s history in the OT when God preserved and rescued them, redeemed them from the land of Egypt, and eventually led them to Canaan, a land of their own. So important was this event, God wanted them to remember – so at His instruction, it became an annual celebration – when they would kill and eat a lamb in commemoration of what He had done for them when He delivered them. Now, to be clear, the Passover lamb was not sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin, but to rescue or redeem them from slavery. But, later, the NT authors would tie this event with their own rescue from slavery – that is, their slavery to sin.
I won’t continue to rehearse all Israel’s history from that point – but a few more relevant thoughts. From Egypt, God led them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them the Law – and their expected obedience to these commands of the Old Covenant. Of course, the Law was never intended to make them righteous – it couldn’t, not because of some failing on the part of the Law, but because of the weakness of human flesh. So right after the Law, God gave them instructions for a tabernacle, where He would meet with His people. He also gave them the sacrificial system, by which they would offer blood sacrifices to be forgiven of their sin. And in the midst of all that in the book of Leviticus, God told them, the reason for all this is because, you shall be holy, for I am holy.
But we know, don’t we, those animal sacrifices would never take away sin forever. No – they simply pointed to the sacrifice to come – to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. It’s interesting to note, Jesus died during that annual Passover celebration – because, Paul says, He is our Passover lamb, who rescues us, redeems us from slavery to sin. He is the One in whom we find forgiveness and justification. Jesus came to bring us the New Covenant – by which His sacrifice would redeem us, and forever take away our sin. We saw that clearly in our recent study of the book of Hebrews. For example, in chapter 10:
1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?
3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
10 By this will [the will of the Father carried out by the Son] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,
13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Or made holy, is the idea. This is incredibly good news. What I want you to see is, it has always been God’s plan to call a people to Himself, and make them holy. Everything that happened in the OT was preparatory – pointing to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ. And even in the NT, God is calling a people for Himself – made possible by the work of Christ – that we would be holy – separated to Him. You understand, that same command in Leviticus is repeated to us – you shall be holy, for I am holy.
In our study of I Peter, Peter spent the first 12 verses of his letter celebrating the salvation we have because of the work of Christ. It’s been incredible. But as is often the pattern in the NT, these glorious, theological truths are followed by commands. Because of what God has done for us, therefore, you have some responsibilities. Last week, we looked at chapter 1:13-16 where we saw two commands: we are to pursue hope – that is, we are to fix our hope on the grace to come to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. And, we are also to pursue holiness – be holy, because God, our Father, is holy.
Well, those were two of the commands in these verses – there’s a third one today in verse 17. Read that with me – let’s start in verse 13 and read through verse 21. I Peter 1:13-21.
Now at first glance, this can appear rather unsettling, troubling. And I suppose it should. If we are seeking to obey the first two commands of pursuing hope and pursuing holiness; if we keep the second coming of Christ before our minds, and keep a passionate pursuit of holiness – then this passage actually serves as a warning, yes, but also an encouragement. The outline of the text looks like this:
- The Command – Live in Fear of God the Judge (17)
- The Cause – The Cost of our Redemption (18-21)
First, the third “therefore” command – therefore, because of this great salvation that is yours, fix your hope on the return of Christ, be holy as God is holy, and conduct yourselves in fear. Live in fear. That doesn’t sound too fun, so we must look at it closely.
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth. Notice, he does not say he’ll judge other people, but not you. We’d like it to say that – in fact, we skip right over, thinking certainly this is not for us, but it is. If you address as Father the judge of each one’s work, live in fear.
For Peter, and actually other authors of Scripture, there is no contradiction or problem to refer to God as both Father and Judge. After all, He is both. He is Father by nature of our adoption into the family of God, such that we can call God, Abba, Father. He is Father, we are children. When He taught us to pray, even Jesus gave us instruction to call God, Our Father. But notice what follows – who art in heaven, hallowed, holy, separate be thy name. We must not become so familiar that the idea of God fails to produce reverential fear. Peter is actually saying, live with the second coming of Christ in view, and thereby be fearfully holy.
After all, He is not only Father, He is also Judge. Again, this is not irreconcilable. Even our earthly fathers – who are terribly imperfect – serve as fathers, and judges – that is, one to whom we give an account. And again, you may be troubled by this idea – I understand that. You say, I thought there was no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? And you’d be right. I thought when Jesus died for my sins, my sins were removed, and I received the righteousness of Christ, and you’d be right. My sins will not be held against me – held to my account – they are removed as far as the east is from the west, buried to the depths of the deepest sea, to be remembered no more. And you’d be right.
But the challenge is, we must not consider such wonderful truth to permit us to live in continued sin – as if our sins are forgiven, and so we can just live in sin with impunity – that is, without consequence. We cannot. If we are God’s children, we are children of obedience, and we are to be like our Father. We remember the first two commands – live with the imminent coming of Christ in view, and therefore, be holy as God is holy. And if you don’t – if you don’t live that way – pursuing hope and holiness, then nothing awaits you but certain fearful judgment.
You see, if you don’t live with the coming of Christ in view, if you don’t pursue holiness, the alternative is to live in unholy, sinful ways. We cannot do that. Fear of God coming in judgment should motivate us to pursue holy lives. This is what Peter is holding out. There is no terror for those who pursue hope and holiness – but if you do not, live in fear – He is judge. Paul writes, work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is not to be held lightly.
Paul asked it this way in Romans 6 – should we continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be! How can those who are dead to sin continue to live in it? In other words – those who have been justified – declared righteous positionally, should pursue righteousness practically. We cannot treat this great salvation as simply a fire escape from hell to live like we want. We should not presume upon grace – we should not assume that forgiveness gives us license to sin. No. We should conduct ourselves in fear – knowing that God is both Father and Judge. So right now, what are some sins you know you need to deal with? You’ve put it off, perhaps even thinking, I’m alright with God because of Jesus, so a little sin won’t matter.
Yes, it is true – if we truly know Jesus as Savior and Lord, our sins have been forgiven. But we still live in a broken world, surrounded by sin and its constant enticements. We should pursue holiness – we should conduct ourselves in fear – knowing that to give into sin is not the way of life for true followers of Jesus. And to do so as a way of life is to face God as Judge.
Now, there are several ways you can view this text and its warning. There are verses all over that speak of Christians being judged, for example. In fact, in chapter 4 of this book, we will find judgment should begin with the church of God. That’s true. So some will want to say, we should hold each other accountable to holiness – practice church discipline per Matthew 18. And we should, after all, God disciplines in this life those He loves. That’s true, but is that the context here?
Other want to say, well, Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and will be rewarded for things done – good or bad, Paul says. We will be rewarded for things done well for the sake of Christ, you know, gold, silver and precious stones; and for works not done well, wood, hay and stubble, will burn up. That’s true – but is that the context here? Peter says, be holy, live in fear, because God will judge. I’m suggesting it is a warning. Live with Christ’s coming in view, which will produce holy living by the Holy Spirit – and remember, God is both Father and Judge. If you profess to know Christ, you should live like you do.
But also remember this – the reason we can live with confidence and hope in the return of Christ; the reason we can pursue holy lives; the reason we can conduct ourselves in holy, reverential fear is because of the glorious work of Christ for our sakes. The foundational cause for these commands takes us back to this glorious salvation, verses 18-21.
Conduct yourselves in fear during your stay on earth. Now don’t miss that. Your stay on earth translates a word which literally means sojourn – that is, to temporarily live in a place as a stranger, an alien, without the rights of citizenship. In other words, just like the OT people of God lived as resident aliens in Egypt, awaiting their redemption, we do the same – awaiting full redemption. Chapter 2 will say it this way, “Beloved, I urge you as strangers and aliens to abstain from fleshly lusts…” This place it not ours – we should live differently than those around us, and we will therefore be oppressed.
Conduct yourselves in holy fear, knowing that you were not redeemed – let’s stop right there for a moment. Redemption speaks of a price being paid to redeem or rescue or release people from their current standing or condition. For example, a government could pay for their soldiers captured in battle to be released. You could pay for a condemned criminal to be released. You could pay for a slave to be released from his slavery. Interestingly, if the slave paid for his own release, he would pay the local temple – the local god, who would then pay the slave owner, minus a hefty fee – for the freedom of the slave. But, the slave would actually then belong to the god. Think of those three…
When we were redeemed, notice Peter says we were redeemed our bought out of the empty way of life handed down to us by our forefathers. That’s a significant statement. You see, what was handed down to you from your father, economically, religiously, was considered very special and sacred. But Peter says, not necessarily so. What was handed down to you was an empty way of life that will not bring ultimate salvation – I don’t care how special it is. You need to be redeemed from that, if that handed down was not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In verse 18, Peter says, this is not what you were redeemed with. He’ll say what we were redeemed with in verse 19, but verse 18 says, you were not redeemed with silver or gold. Why does he say that? Because, in the OT, under the Old Covenant, the firstborn of every family belonged to God. Because remember, they had been rescued, redeemed from the death angel. And so, the firstborn belonged to God – and needed to be redeemed. Exodus 13:15, right after the first Passover, says, “It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.” And how were they redeemed? In Numbers 18, we read:
15 “Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem….
16 “As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary,
Even to this day, Jews pay the priest this price to redeem firstborn males. This was the practice. But now, referring to our redemption in Christ Jesus, Peter writes, we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold – do you see? Gold and silver perish – what does that say of the value of redemption? But now, verse 19, we were redeemed with precious blood, as of a lamb, unblemished and spotless – that’s Passover lamb language, which speaks of the sinless perfection of Christ. John the Baptist said of Jesus, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Revelation 5 says John saw standing in the middle of the throne a Lamb as if slain. Twenty-eight times, the book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as a lamb which was slain. We were redeemed with the perfect, precious blood of Christ. Don’t miss that – how great a price was paid for our redemption.
You see, when a price was paid for redemption, it was usually paid to someone. The early church fathers used to say the price was paid to Satan – that has been rightfully denied for centuries. So who got the payment? Some suggest is was paid to God – after all, Isaiah 53 and other passages make clear the sacrifice was to God. That may very well be – but the emphasis has never been the payee, but rather, the payment – the precious blood of Christ. In Revelation 5, when the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down a sing a new song, they say, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Paul said it this way in Acts 20, speaking to elders, “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Our redemption – our ransom from the slave market of sin, transferring from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light – came at great cost.
Verses 20 and 21 as we close tell us when and why. Verse 20 makes sure we understand this was no afterthought. It wasn’t as if God was sitting in His throne room one day, and an angel came busting in, out of breath, saying, You’re not going to believe what Adam and Eve just did! And it’s not as if God then called an emergency meeting of the Trinity to decide what to do now. Okay, let’s come up with a plan – now, who’s going to die? I have three straws – the short straw has to go.
No. Christ was foreknown – the same word as in verse 2 – this is not, God knew because He knows everything past, present and future. This is, God knows because this was His plan, foreordained from eternity past. Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world. Which means when God created, He knew that by creating, it was planned that the second person of the Trinity – the Son of God and God the Son, would one day become man in the incarnation, live a perfect life, and bear the sins of His people on a cross. God knew when He formed the land that would be Palestine, the plot that would be Jerusalem, the hill that would be Calvary, the trees that would become a cross – He knew and planned that His Son would die for His people.
And Jesus came in the fullness of time, Galatians 4 says. He appeared – which means He already existed, because the Trinity is eternal – He already existed, but appeared in these last times. The last times in Scripture refer to the time between the first and second coming of Christ – these are all the last days – and we live at the best of times post cross, awaiting the return of our Christ. He appeared in these last times, don’t miss it – for the sake of you.
Peter is writing to suffering, struggling believers. He reminded them of their great salvation – which brings them present, inexpressible joy and will them future grace to be revealed when Jesus returns. It’s a salvation prophesied in the OT for them; a salvation announced to them in the Gospel; a salvation that angels long to look into.
Now he reminds us – our redemption was purchased at greatest price – the precious blood of Jesus who appeared at just the right time for our sake. Are we suffering today? Maybe – but Jesus appeared for our sake and shed His precious blood for us.
Verse 21 – He appeared for our sake, who through Him – through Jesus – are believers in God. The Scripture is clear – we know God, we believe in God only one way – through Jesus Christ. We believe in this great salvation Jesus brought. We are believers in God, who raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 3 – God, according to His great mercy, caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead), and gave Him glory – the greatest glory – a name that is above every name – Jesus Christ our Lord. So that our faith – present faith – and hope – future hope – are in God. Grounded on the work He has done for us through His Son.
And so, therefore, fix your eyes on this hope, be holy, conduct yourselves in fear – all the while, remembering the glorious gospel.