Saturday, December 27, 2014
The concept of degrees of evil is one created by our common sense, and reinforced by our judicial system. We expect “the punishment to fit the crime”. Excessive jail sentences, or death penalties imposed for trivial misdemeanors make no sense to us; and cry out that the injustice must be reformed. Yet our God only lists one “punishment” for sin, more precisely only one “wage” earned by the sinner, and that is death. To our human sensibilities “punishing” someone for telling a little white lie, or engaging in idle gossip, hardly seems fair, if death is all they earn when so embracing these “minor” evils. How could the damage caused by sin be so great it must be met with death? For many, this seeming injustice is enough to cause non-believers to reject the idea of a loving God. The situation only worsens when people who call themselves “Christian” further the idea of a vengeful God who lives to “punish” evil doers in the name of justice, often coupled tightly with intolerance. Peter understands this cognitive dissonance, he understands on a personal level how much the weight words carry. He knows firsthand what seemingly little white lies can do to the soul of one who tells them. So in his first letter to the churches in Asia Minor, he continues his admonition.
In verse one, he writes … “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, [verse 2] As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: [verse 3] If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Laying aside all malice and all guile top the list of advice for Peter. So often, even within the church, our arrogance leads to division, division to resentment, and resentment to malice. We allow doctrinal disputes, and scriptural interpretation to become such a rigid topic for us, that we learn to despise other believers who refuse to share our particular views. The malice takes flight in our speech. Our motives are less hidden as we “talk down” those illiterates who refuse the knowledge we so graciously impart. If we are unable to win a debate based on logic and fact, we, like Satan before us, introduce guile into the equation. One third of a perfect heavenly angelic host did not abandon intelligence in their choice to follow Satan. They fell to self-deception as they preferred to believe a lie that might indulge self, at the cost of the truth that happiness could only be found in loving others. Lucifer introduced guile and lies into a society who had never known anything but truth.
His technique of mixing truth and distorting truth only slightly was so effective, he used it against Eve in the garden and she fell as well. For beings who have only known truth, deception is harder to beware against. So founded in the root of evil; self-love gives birth to deception and guile to advance its cause. Peter then extends the diagnosis for where the cancer of idle words will spread next. Hypocrisies, envies, and evil speaking leave the tongue and enter the world. To cover our own ill motives, based in the self-love or arrogance of our own opinions, we must cover our sin and speak righteously while doing evil. We state our righteousness, but love only self. We state our purity of motive, but do nothing for anyone other than self, and those who will return our good deeds. We become hypocrites to protect a false image of righteousness, because the cancer of self-love has already ruined our hearts. We envy those who seem to have more than we do. We begin to want for ourselves, what we perceive they have. We want more love for ourselves, more admiration of others, more respect, more things. And again we allow evil speaking of others who we envy and disdain to leave our tongues and enter the world.
The poison our mouths and minds are capable of creating and spewing into the world can have untold effects. One third of the angels bear personal witness of this. They were not compelled to join Satan, they were convinced to join him. He had no pure truth in his logic, but mixed with distortion, and appealing to desires for power, for love, for fulfillment, he handily mastered the art of the lie. Satan bids us to tell people what they want to hear, rather than what is plainly true. Satan bids us to think of our own tastes and opinions as matters of fact, rather than matters of perception. Satan bids us to speak unkindly about those who “deserve it” and those who plainly “have it coming”. Satan is particularly effective in recruiting Christians to condemn those caught in public sins, particularly those who hold office in the church, or respect in the congregation. After all, they should really “know better”. Thus if caught in sin, they certainly “deserve” to be spoken evil of, and have their public sins discussed in a public forum. Satan bids us to use our understanding of scriptures to condemn others who will not accept the “truths” we have to offer. In all of his efforts, one result emerges – the cessation of love for others, and the embrace of love for self.
We too easily forget our own need of forgiveness, and general unworthiness of the love Christ has shown to us. We too easily forget our own ignorance in the ways and truth of Christ when we began our spiritual journey and how far Christ has molded our own minds and ways of thinking from when we first began our walk with Him. We think ourselves “mature” in our spirituality, but Peter reminds us, our goal was never maturity and independence, but rather the childlike trust of a baby who knows nearly nothing, but the love of its parent. As newborn babies who crave milk, and cry when they are denied it. So too, should we crave the WORD of God. Peter was again not talking specifically about scripture. Keep in the mind the New Testament about Christ had not even been fully written or assembled yet. He was talking about craving Christ on a personal level. He was talking about discovering the Christ foretold in the ancient texts of the Old Testament. He was talking about realizing that in our infancy is our perfection. It is not our depth of Biblical study and analysis, but our depth of reflecting the love of Christ that leads us away from words that would do another harm – whether they “deserve” it or not.
Peter was forgiven for the words and lies he spoke in his own denial of association with Christ. Peter did not “deserve” his forgiveness. He arguably spoke those lies at a time when Christ needed his love the most. He abandoned his savior to save his own life. He left alone the savior of the world, to keep from mere association with Him. Peter knew the devastating power of a little white lie; for he had told three of them. Peter told those who asked, what he thought they wanted to hear. Peter’s lies would not “hurt” anyone, but would rather prevent a murder (likely his own). For those who ask if it is better to lie or by speaking the truth risk death – ask Peter was it worth it. Peter deserved the condemnation of Christ. Peter’s sins were recorded in the New Testament and ALL the disciples knew of his failures. They could have ridiculed him out of the ministry, except that Christ forgave Peter, and the others knew what tasting the graciousness of Christ’s forgiveness was all about.
Peter knew that the words that leave our tongues reflect the state of love that Christ puts within us. If our words do harm, if they are callous, if they reflect a disregard for the heart of another – they DO NOT COME from Christ. It is the territory of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin. He needs no help from those who are still steeped in it. It is NOT an act of love to call someone’s attention to the pain their own sin causes them and everyone else. That is the opposite of love. Pain is self-evident. When it is not, the Holy Spirit is there to open our eyes to it. Words of condemnation to those who are guilty put only nails in the coffin of sin; they do nothing to free the sinner from its power. But words of unconditional love that would look to a Savior to be made free from our chains of self-bondage – those words have the power to heal. The mission of Christ was to heal, and to redeem, not to punish. The heart of our God is not bent on inflicting punishment, but instead to free us from the punishment we already inflict on ourselves.
There are no little white lies. There are only lies and deception. The corruption of truth is never a good thing, it leads always and only to destruction. There is no evil speech, or speech laced with hate, malice, guile, hypocrisy, or envy that will ever do anyone good. That kind of speech only has the power to destroy. Those who engage in it become tools of the destroyer; and liars about the character of our God. Peter would rather that the reading audience of believers spread across Asia Minor take a different path. That instead of spending time speaking about the demise of others, and evil deeds they do, that we seek Christ, that we seek the WORD of God. He would rather we abandon the malice that springs from pride, even in spiritual things, and instead embrace the childlike trust and love of a little baby who whether they know it or not, are completely helpless and fully dependent.
Peter then gives an example of how Christ might be found in the words of the Old Testament, and how the believers might see that Jesus is the continuation of scripture, not its end as he writes in verse 4 … “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, [verse 5] Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” The temple of old, was built of stone by Solomon, and the sacrifices offered there were of pure white lambs. Peter now tells his audience, “they” are the stones of the new church. No longer must believers emigrate to Jerusalem to find the presence of God in a temple of stone. Jesus can be found right where they are. It is no longer the exclusive province of the tribe of Levy, but instead ANYONE who would choose to believe in Christ that becomes a part of a holy priesthood. It is no longer the blood of innocent lambs, but the love of the Lamb within them, that gives rise to spiritual sacrifices. We sacrifice the love of self, for the of love others. We sacrifice our own needs, for those in need. In so doing, we are members and witnesses of the holy priesthood of those who love like Christ loves.
Peter continues in verse 6 … “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. [verse 7] Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, [verse 8] And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” Christ is the cornerstone of our temple, of our church. The cornerstone was the basis for the entire remainder of the building to rely upon. So it is with our Christ. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. The scriptures without Christ become useless. The promise without the fulfillment loses all meaning. Those who submit themselves to Christ are transformed into the obedience of truly loving others like He loves. But those who refuse to submit to anything less than their own wisdom and knowledge, even when it was based in scriptures, refused to be made obedient. Instead the cornerstone of our faith and transformation became a stumbling block to them. It became even offensive to those who will not submit, that the very idea of submission should be the method by which perfection might come. The disobedient would prefer to rely upon self. Whether Pharisee, or Islamic Cleric, neither will accept that salvation is outside of the grasp of the will of man. Both would rather rely upon their words, and their wisdom to find a path to paradise.
Peter continues in verse 9 … “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: [verse 10] Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Peter, proud Jewish man that he was, now points out a fact that runs counter to 1600 years of Jewish bloodlines and traditions – the people of God are now found everywhere, from every blood line. Those readers and believers in Asia Minor are now the “people” of God. No longer is believing a matter of tracing our roots back to Abraham, it is simply found in a declaration for Christ, and a submission to His authority. Those “foreigners” who had no ties to Jewish bloodlines, were now in the very family of Christ right beside the Jews who had accepted Jesus. The believers of Christ were certainly peculiar. They included all races. They included women and men equally. They included young and old, and bloodlines mattered for nothing.
Peter reminds his readers that a holy nation, and a chosen generation of royal priests have a duty to speak truth. But the truth they are to speak about is the love of Jesus Christ that transforms the heart, and frees us from the chains of self-love, to the freedom of loving only others. Carrying the responsibility of “priests” in the new faith, the responsibility every single member, every single believer, will now carry – is designed to call to attention the IMPACT of the words they will speak. People tend to listen to priests. They seek the council of priests. They wish to know what God may think or teach on a particular topic. Peter reminds us that as priests we are to reflect the love that our cornerstone reflected. When a listening ear bends in our direction, it is not meant to hear little white lies, and speech that could cause another harm. Instead allow our transformation to so reform our hearts, that the words never even form in our minds, let alone in our mouth. When we seek only to love others, we care about how our words will be heard. We care about whether they carry the love in our hearts for those in so desperate a need.
There are none who “deserve” our hateful speech. There are only those whose need of love from us might be greater than those who have already embraced His love, and are already on His path. Those guilty souls who war against the love of God, should find no ally in us. They should never receive hate from us in word or deed, but rather we return love to them, no matter how we are treated. In offering only love to them, we deny them the fuel our hatred might have provided. Those who stumble in sin, and are publicly discovered, should find public forgiveness and acceptance. Our words should ever be to their healing, never to add to their pain, and the pain they might have caused. When we love others more than we love ourselves, we come to realize that our “truths” are not more important than insuring another knows we love them. We can afford to allow God to bring the less educated into His knowledge and truth and doctrinal understanding, on the timeline He decides. It does not have to be now, and on the timeline we would seek to impose. For those who submit to Christ, we must recognize it may well be us who needs the education, rather than those we deem less than ourselves.
The power of words cannot be understated. What evil we accept as innocuous is the evil that would destroy us utterly. What degree of sin we find “minor” has already led to the death of Christ Himself, and to a willingness to kill God by the perpetrators of evil. The cancer of evil and self-love is absolute, and leads only to death. But the redemption and power of the love of Christ is absolute as well. To embrace His love, and allow it to transform us, is to find a new way of thinking, that results in a new way of speaking.
But Peter was not through with his counsel to the churches …
Friday, December 19, 2014
In the preamble of his first letter, Peter has identified himself as an apostle of Christ. He outlined a mini-discourse of the process of salvation, and how the Jesus Christ of his own day, ties back to the hope of the prophets of God who went on before. Peter is keen to show his readers that the true religion of God is not inconsistent, nor did it only begin at the first advent of Christ, but that like all things, it originates in the love of the Father God Himself. In what now begins of his exhortation to his readers, Peter is concerned about several themes. He worries about the infiltration of the concept of “cheap grace” that is - the idea that forgiveness becomes license TO sin, rather than a means of escape FROM sin. He worries about Christians who believe that gossip, idle conversation, and speaking harmless fun at the expense of another has already done damage to the cause of Christ, and to the souls who engage in these practices. And he worries that already the church could lose the reputation of being those who value love above all else. So as he begins, he calls the minds of his readers, to the goal of our transformation, to the destination we all aspire to reach.
Peter continues in verse 13 of chapter one of his first letter exclaiming … “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” The first step on the road to our homeward bound destination of being with Jesus Christ begins with looking towards that event. We must set the priorities of our lives on being with Christ. It should be the first thought that occupies our minds, and guides our interactions. It should become an integral part of our motivation; that will in turn affect our actions. To be “alert” is to be aware, that our natural state is one of carnal desire, and love of self. We must not become numb to behavior we have so long indulged, but rather understand its impact on our lives. It is sobering to understand the pain our sin causes us, the ones we love, the ones who love us, and our God. It is not a casual or meaningless thing, the behavior behind self-love. But the intent is not to become lost in our past; rather it is to set our hope on grace. Our destination is achieved through the transformational power of His grace on our hearts of stone.
Peter continues in verse 14 … “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Children do NOT possess the entirety of knowledge this world and experience have to offer. Our transformation is not about how much we know. It is not about a mastery over our past and our motives. Rather it is a surrender to a Parent who is able to protect us, guide us, and teach us – with the full knowledge that our Parent loves us and love alone motivates His actions in our lives. We obey “without understanding” everything there is to know about why we do it, or why we should. Obedience becomes the natural result of a trusting child who is sure of their Parent’s love. We obey without “thinking” about it. Our lives are not meant to continue in the former path of self-destructive behavior that causes pain to everyone. They are meant to take the knowledge of the absolute love of Christ, and allow Him to transform who we are, receiving His transformation in the humility and willingness of a small child.
Peter continues in verse 15 … “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; [verse 16] for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” The quest for perfection, and thereby for a life without the pain sin causes, leads us to the ultimate goal of being like He who has called us. We are in the very process of learning to love like God loves. We are in the very process of learning to think like God thinks. Our motives are to become like His motives. Our actions are to become like His actions. We are to become Holy in ALL we do, because holiness or the perfect love of others, is becoming the whole of “who” we are. Our rebirth into Christianity, our exodus from self-love and chains of slavery to sin, are broken. We are on the path towards becoming like Jesus Christ in how we love, how we think, and in what we do. This is our destination. The end-game for believers is not a city of gold. Nor is it an eternal life where everything we need has been provided for us already by the heart of a loving God. No, our destination is bigger than that, it is more important than that. It begins here, in becoming Holy and perfect, as He our God, is Holy and perfect.
Peter writes in verse 17 … “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Realizing our perfection is the gift He brings to us, the transformation of literally “who” we are, we should remember this world is simply not our home. We are travelers here. We are foreigners in a world that prizes self-love. Their ways, our own former ways, are to become strange to us. We are citizens of a different kingdom, one born in the heart, where love for others is paramount. This love for others is born in the heart of our God. It defines His holiness. And through His gift of transformation to us, it infects who we are, to the point where we do not understand the ways of those still steeped in the choice to remain blind and chained to self. We have respect or “fear” that those who remain in darkness have such a desperate need of the light. But we ourselves, have no desire to remain in darkness. Instead we embrace the light of His love, and in turn want to reflect His love to those who still remain in the dark. We are foreigners in a world of sin, missionaries with a mission to reflect His light by how we love others, into a world that yet to understand unselfish love.
Peter continues in verse 18 … “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, [verse 19] but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Here Peter reminds the affluent of this world, that our transformation cannot be bought. We are NOT redeemed because we “buy” our way into his kingdom with great offerings of gold and silver. God has no use for our money. When we realize its complete lack of value, we begin to understand that. Money then becomes a tool in which we can aid the lives of others. Its only value becomes in how we can use it for anyone other than ourselves. At that point, a ten percent tithe, becomes ninety percent too little. At that point, we grasp the concept of the widow’s mite, who having next to nothing, gladly parted with everything she had, with no thought of how difficult her own life would be leaving that temple with literally nothing in her hands. The wealth offered us by the hard work of our parents is not the birthright we seek. The blood of Christ offers us a life unburdened by the desire to amass wealth we can spend on ourselves. We lose interest in the health of our investments, and unburden ourselves from the cares that accompany the rich of money, and instead take up the concerns of the rich in love for others.
Peter reminds his readers that our gift came from a perfect source as he continues in verse 20 saying … “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. [verse 21] Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” Jesus Christ volunteered to save us before we were even created. Imagine the so great love of God, that knowing in advance that we would choose badly the love of self instead of trust in Him, He would create us anyway. He loved us so much, He did not prevent our very existence. But instead loved us before we sinned, loved us after we sinned, and gave up His own life to redeem our lives, so He could love us forever. We understand the love of the Father, through the life and the love of Jesus Christ.
Peter writes in verse 22 … “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. [verse 23] For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” Here again is the destination we seek and we find. Here again is what the gospel is all about. We find obedience, we find the Truth of Jesus Christ, in a deep abiding love in our hearts for one another. Our rebirth into this way of life, our rebirth into loving like He loves; is not founded on a passing ideology, a specific set of doctrinal interpretations, or flirtation with self-denial based on a strength of will. It is founded on the enduring WORD of God. It is founded on Jesus Christ alone. It is not the texts of the prophets of old, and their interpretation or guidance that can save us. It is the living God those texts were meant to point us to. It is not our doctrinal uniqueness, or depth of understanding of the Bible today, that will transform us, it is the Christ, the entirety of scripture points us to that alone can change who we are.
Our purity and our obedience and our knowledge of Truth (that is of Jesus Christ who is the Truth), are evidenced and made manifest in our deep and abiding love of one another. The gospel is not based on the truthful condemnation of those who are obviously guilty of the sins we accuse them of. It is instead based on the redemptive love that would forgive those sins, heal that pain, and embrace that heart, even while it warred against the love that worked to reach it. The gospel story is not one of punishment for what we deserve. It is about rewards we do not deserve but receive anyway. This is the nature of love; willing to die itself, than to see the object of its affection suffer in any way. Our purity will not be found in the condemnation we heap upon others. It will be found in our patient love of others when they do NOT deserve that love. Our obedience will be evidenced as we find ourselves more than willing to forgive the actions of others that deeply hurt us. We do resent forgiving them; instead we praise the reconciliation that forgiveness is able to accomplish. Our goal is to see love reign supreme, and we like Christ, are willing to pay any cost to see that happen.
Peter then concludes this portion of his exhortation by reminding us that our current mortality is not what is important as he continues in verse 24 saying … “For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, [verse 25] but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.” Our bodies age and decay in this foreign land. But the love we reflect will reap a harvest in a life well beyond this mere existence. The WORD of God endures forever, and the preaching done for his readers, was ever to point them to this WORD. It is not scripture that Peters ascribes so much praise unto, it is Jesus Christ who embodies the word of God. The prophets of old have value in that they foretold the love of God that was made manifest in Jesus Christ. Without the coming of Jesus Christ, the words of the prophets lack the fulfillment and deep meaning found only in Him. The reality of Jesus Christ however, makes what was foretold in the past, evidence of a God who knows the future, our future. We can take hope that the destination of perfect obedience, found in perfect love for others, is based in real promises of Jesus Christ who is forever alive in our hearts as we permit Him access.
But the counsel of Peter was only just beginning …
Friday, December 12, 2014
After having reviewed the perspective of the relatives of Christ, and then His most beloved disciple John, our next perspective of Jesus would come from perhaps His most outspoken and boisterous advocate, a former fisherman named Peter. By all indications, Peter was a distinctly Jewish man, proud of the heritage and traditions of the Jewish faith. While Peter was never a part of the rabbinical schools, or leadership of the faith, he was ever cognizant of the hope of the Messiah. He longed for it. But like many of us, he reasoned that he must work to provide for himself and his family until that day arrived. Let Andrew, his brother, have the luxury of being a dreamer, and spending all of his days at the river listening to the words of John the Baptist. Andrew could afford to be the idealist, because the pragmatist Peter would catch the fish, and keep the family fed. Peter may have thought to himself that God knew where he was, maybe God should take the time to come find him if He ever arrived. Imagine what he thought when that very thing happened.
Later in life, Peter after having been so close to Jesus, did things a formerly illiterate man could never have accomplished. He preached the gospel with power and conviction, in allowing the Holy Spirit to work through him, great numbers of people were convinced of the truth. He stood alone before the Sanhedrin at least twice, to defend his beliefs. He spoke to civil leaders, kings, and Roman authorities. And likely with the assistance of John Mark, often called simply Mark, his observations became part of the book called the Gospel of Mark which we will examine in the course of this study. Peter retained his fishing skills throughout his life. Jesus invited him to become a fisher of men. In addition, with that loud and booming persona, Peter would have made a good choral director. The integration of music and lyrical themes to help the disciples understand the messages of Christ as they sang and moved along dusty roads would have been a great assistance in retaining these words long after the Messiah had returned to His Father. After having so many experiences, and working so hard to see the hope of the gospel reach the waiting world, Peter thought it was time to convey by pen, what he might not be able to say in person.
So he begins in his first letter and verse 1 writing … “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” The self-identification of Peter is defined in only one phrase, “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. He no longer associates himself as being a fisherman. He accepts the forgiveness of having denied his Lord three times at the most critical point in His ministry. He does not claim to be the bishop of any particular church, nor of the church at large. This letter is not meant to be coming from a person who has formal leadership responsibilities of any hierarchical structure, but only, from an apostle of Christ. He addresses it, to the “strangers” throughout Asia Minor. From Peter’s very traditional and Jewish centric point of view, the gentiles who he will now address are “strangers” to the Jewish faith and traditions. They do not have 1600 years of bloodlines that trace back to Abraham and affirm the great hope of the Messiah. This will be new to them. Jesus will be a new idea to them.
So he continues in verse 2 saying … “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” Peter identifies his audience as “elect”, despite their lack of history, tradition, and knowledge of the Messiah, they remain “faithful”, or “upright”, or “in good standing before God”. Peter then gives the reason for this condition; it is because of the “foreknowledge of God the Father”. In this way, Peter expresses to them that God the Father Himself, wished for these readers to be saved. He loved them. He was not unaware of their lives or their value, instead He treasured them so highly, He planned for their personal salvation, as He does for our own. Peter tells them the method of coming to this condition is … “through the sanctification of the Spirit”. Notice Peter has now joined Jude and John who we have previously examined and in perfect consistency shows salvation to occur as a GIFT brought about by the Holy Spirit. The transformation of our hearts and desires is NOT something we do for ourselves by our will and our choices. Our will, and our choices, and our actions are brought into obedience by the sanctification work of the Holy Spirit as we permit Him to do so.
Notice the very next words expressed by Peter, the results of the work of sanctification is … “unto obedience”. Sanctification is not some mental exercise where a proclamation of belief is the end of the story in our lives. It is the beginning of that story. When once embraced, it leads us to obedience, a desire to obey rather than to sin, a way of living that avoids the pain of sin and disobedience that was our former and natural state. Sanctification is real. It has an impact. It can be evidenced by the results it brings to our thinking, our motives, our choices, and our actions. The blood of Christ is not reserved only for the Jewish people; it will be sprinkled all over the world. It will be sufficient for those who have never before heard His name. It will be enough to save those who formerly called themselves His enemy. There is no limit to the blood of Christ, in either its power to save, reclaim, or transform, any who would submit their hearts unto Him and His Spirit.
Peter then offers his greeting, or perhaps his blessing, and intentions to his reading audience throughout that region of the world. He begins with “Grace”. It is the “Grace” of our Lord, that has the patience to transform us, in spite of our stubborn refusal to be transformed. It is His Grace that has patience to forgive us after again we find ourselves refusing His victories, and engaging in the sins we have repeated from our youth. His Grace is sufficient to save in spite of ourselves, and forgive the damage we do to His work in our lack of love reflected to others. He follows Grace, with “Peace”. “Peace” is pronounced to cover our dissention, our paranoia, our quest for power and control over each other, and over the church itself. To have unity within the church, we must have “Peace” with each other.
Peace with the world is not the goal, or the intent. Satan will not permit that kind of peace. But Peace with each other is something that SHOULD already be in place, and so often it is not. We foster our differences and allow our own perspectives to become so rigid, they cannot bend to accommodate the view of another, until we would prefer dissention within the church to the humility required for unity. Peter knows this. He has seen it happen within the ranks of the disciples themselves. So he reminds his readers that Grace, followed by Peace, are needed even now within the ranks of those that call themselves believers.
He continues in verse 3 … “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” Peter now offers his gratitude directly to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For those to whom Jewish traditions will be unfamiliar, those who do not know the story of Abraham being tested in offering up his son on the altar of faith. This is what God the Father has done with His only Son. Jesus Christ does indeed have a Father God. But unlike Zeus and Apollo, or the similar mythical stories upon which Greek and Roman religions are built, this Father God has “abundant mercy”. Every other deity requires worship and sacrifice or bad things will happen, caused by the anger of a god ignored or disobeyed. Our God, instead offers MERCY to those who call themselves His enemy, and wishes ONLY to have their pain removed forever. It is through His mercy (not His demands or threats of punishment), that He offers to us a rebirth, a “lively hope” – that is, a hope that our existence, our lives, are intended to be beyond just this world of pain. We can take that hope, because He has already raised and resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead.
The readers of the gospel of Peter may face threats of persecution and death from those around them who cling to Greek, Roman, or even traditional Jewish religious beliefs. These threats are real. And many will have seen them come to pass in the pain and death of those who they love. Yet despite this seeming reality, Peter says that our Father God, through His mercy, offers us Hope, in a life beyond the grave, as evidenced by what He has already done in resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead. Our God is a God of mercy. He delights in the removal of our pain, not in the infliction of pain. He delights in our redemption, not in our punishment. He delights in our acceptance of His mercy, love, and forgiveness. He does not resent us for obtaining a “get out of jail free” card. Instead He hopes that every single one of us, would take advantage of His forgiveness, and learn through submission what it is like to be saved from ourselves, the pain WE cause ourselves by what WE do, and how we love. Zeus could care less about that. Frankly, the Pharisees who have now rejected Christ, the cornerstone of their faith, could care less about that. Has it come to the point where modern Christianity could care less about that as well? It is a stark contrast, Peter calls our attention to.
He continues in verse 4 … “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” This is the existence you can take your hope in. It is an eternal life that does not decay, in a city built for you to live next to our God. He continues in verse 5 … “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter here identifies his audience as maintaining or keeping their salvation by “the power of God”. Again our salvation is not left in our own hands. It is begun in us by the power of God. Here Peter reminds us it is preserved in us by the power of God, not us. It is through “faith unto salvation”. It is our submission of our own will to the Holy Spirit, that results in our transformation from love of self, to love of others. It is this new condition that is to be revealed in the last time.
Peter continues in verse 6 … “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: [verse 7] That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:”. Peter reminds his readers and us, that our process unto salvation is something we can greatly rejoice in. If however, because of the hatred of others, we find our hearts heavy with the manifold temptations the world seeks to throw our way. The trial of our faith will be more important to us than all the wealth of this world which is subject to theft and decay. The perfecting of our faith within us is something that cannot be taken away. It is the evidence of the power and glory of God in our lives; what He does FOR us. And in this, it will be finally and fully revealed at the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Peter continues in verse 8 … “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: [verse 9] Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” This is the part that actually amazes Peter. Peter was a firsthand witness. He believes because he has seen it himself. He spoke with Christ. He watched him be tortured and die. And he talked with Him after His resurrection, and saw Jesus ascend into heaven. The people Peter is writing to have never seen these things. Yet they believe. He sees the joy alive in the lives of these people. He sees them being transformed by the power of a Christ, they have never met. He sees salvation alive and well in a group of “strangers” to the Jewish faith. He sees real results, and frankly Peter is astounded by it. It proves that God is real. It proves that Jesus Christ is real and died for everyone, not just those who saw it, or those of the bloodline of Abraham.
Peter continues in verse 10 of his preamble saying … “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: [verse 11] Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Peter now points out to his readers, that these things they are experiencing were foretold long ago by prophets who had the Spirit of the Living God reflected in their words and predictions recorded in scripture. Those prophets of past searched for the time when the Messiah might come, suffer, and die. They longed to know when these things would take place. They died without seeing them come to pass, but their faith remained by the power of God. Peter points out to his readers, that they are blessed to see these long held hopes come to reality. They are experiencing the very salvation that was foretold centuries before their own birth. The analogy is well placed, as these reader who have hope in the second coming, will die before that event takes place. The process of salvation however, was alive in the days of the prophets of the past, and is alive in the days of the readers, and is alive in our own day. For salvation is alive by the power of a God who does not fail, and He will deliver upon His promises as He has already done, and continues to do.
Peter continues in verse 12 … “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.” Peter concludes his preamble to this letter by calling the attention of his readers to the sacrifices made of the prophets of the past. The messages they received were intended for this audience, for his readers. They were to be blessings to the people of his day. Yet in their own, they were hopes that would accompany them into the graves. The second coming would be a hope these believers would also take with them into the grave. But the difference is that Jesus had already come once. The prophecies made long ago were indeed fulfilled. God had done what He said He would do, to those who prophesied before. Peter reminds us all that it is the same Holy Spirit who was alive in the Jewish faith before Christ, in the words of the prophets. He is alive now, and at work since the coming of the Messiah as well.
And salvation itself, is something even the angels long to see. It is an expression of the love of God, they will never fully understand what it feels like to receive. For angels have never required forgiveness, nor did they need to be remade from the evil choices we have made. Our transformation, and the forgiveness we have experienced, are a unique experience between us and God. The angels see it taking place, they know it is real, but they have not experienced it for themselves. Only we will ever truly know the depths of God’s love, as what He did to redeem us, is a definition of love the entire universe will forever marvel at. Perhaps even we will never fully understand it.
Peter concludes his opening remarks, and now begins his exhortation to his readers …