This month - July

Sunday 14th July 2024 - Martin Mowat

1 Peter - 2.

Readings Psalm 33:1-5, 12-15, 20-22 and 1 Peter 1:3-12

Last week we began to look at the apostle Peter’s letter to the new churches that were springing up in what is modern day Turkey.  We only looked at the first two verses, so we certainly need to accelerate.

This is a letter that will teach us, not only a lot about what God is like, but what WE are like, and how we need to grow and change in positive waysIf you weren’t here last week, it might be helpful for you to read what I said.  You’ll find it posted on the church website.


Although we do need to accelerate, let’s just have another brief look at verse 2, because we rather glossed over it last week. Peter said that he was writing to people “who had been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”

Listen! According to Jesus good friend Peter, the man to whom he gave the job of leading his church, YOU have been chosen, deliberately chosen, not accidentally but according to the foreknowledge of God, since before the world began.  Not only that, but you are now being progressively sanctified, changed, set apart, declared holy, and consecrated by the Holy Spirit.


Why? Because Jesus Christ himself has commanded that it be so.


Let me say that again. YOU have been deliberately chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God, and now you are now being progressively sanctified, set apart, declared holy, and consecrated by the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because Jesus Christ himself has commanded that it be so. 

Notice something else about that verse!  What is happening to you involves three other people.  God the Father, no less, God the Son, no less, and God the Holy Spirit. The whole of the Trinity, in other words.


That’s 1 Peter 1:2, if you want to look at it again when you get home.


How does that make you feel? A bit special? It should do. Does it also put you on the spot? It should do that too. This letter of Peter’s is totally relevant to us, and we need to take it on board.


So let’s see what else it says.  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! This is verses 3 to 5. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade -- kept in heaven for you, who, through faith, are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."

Peter lists for us, highlihts even, a number of things which should give us joy as Christians; great mercy, new birth, a living hope, resurrection from the dead, an imperishable inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, protection by God's power and, last but by no means least, salvation that will be revealed when Christ returns. 

I don’t want to be trivial, but what else could you want for Christmas? Seriously, what else could you possibly want?


Some suffering perhaps? No, none of us want suffering, but all of us in here this morning have personally experienced suffering in one way or another, and surely we will again.  That’s life, and it’s not because God want’s it for us, it’s because we have chosen free will, we have chosen to control our own destinies, and it doesn’t work. But that’s another subject.


But the joy that I was talking about at the beginning can and will, through faith, enable us to endure the suffering that inevitably comes our way, and also to be strengthened by it.


Peter, this fisherman who had seen Jesus in the flesh, and the believers he preached to, who had not, found a joy beyond themselves, a joy that they experienced even when everything wasn't going well, even when they were being persecuted so badly that they chose to leave their country. "Though you have not seen him, Peter said to them, and says to us too, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1:8-9). 


According to the NIV Peter calls this joy "inexpressible", the King James says "unspeakable", and the New Revised Standard Version says "indescribable", in other words it’s a joy so profound, so great, so all-encompassing, as to be beyond the power of words to express. 


Peter also refers to this joy as "glorious" or "full of glory", using a word that is used throughout the Bible to describe the weightiness of God, the bright shining radiance of God's very presence.


That is the joy that Peter says we Christians can have. 


This isn't emotionalism, something artificially worked up by oneself or by a skillful preacher, but something prompted by a faith-vision of God himself, because, Peter says: "you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls"


As a very brief side-note, did you notice that Peter mentions salvation as something that has happened to us, that is currently happening to us, and that will happen to us in the future? Hmmmm! I leave that with you to think about later.

Therefore, he then goes on to say 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.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

And that, as you know as well as I do, is easier said than done.

Often that’s because we try to do it in our own strength, but Peter gives us some practical advice.

Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Do you remember that we touched on this idea of being exiles or strangers last week?  “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,  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

…. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For, he says, quoting from Isaiah 40, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord (his glory) endures for ever.’

And this, is the word that was preached to you. Therefore, he concludes as we move into chapter 2, “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

There’s a word that Peter’s using a lot, isn’t there? The word “salvation”.  Perhaps that’s not surprising, seeing that he was writing to new churches and encouraging them to spread the word.

But isn’t salvation the heart of the Christian message? Not only should we be excited about our own salvation, but that of others too, by which I mean others who are saved, and others who aren’t yet saved, but will be.

In Psalm 51, which Lectio 365 quoted this morning, David asks God ‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.’  If that sounds familiar we use the same phrase in our prayer of confession every week. That’s our prayer too.

I’ll close by saying that excitement is contageous, and therefore, so is the lack of it. If we’re not excited, we can’t expect others to be excited.

One of my pet phrases is that “the church exists not so much for those who are in it, but for those who are not in it – yet”.  We’re not here for us, we’re here for them. You may have heard me say that before, and you almost certainly will again.

So, if Peter was encouraging the new churches to spread the news about salvation, he’s encouraging US to do that too, and by pure coincidence, this week is an ideal week to share some of our excitement as we invite our friends and neighbours to Charriots of Fire on Saturday.  

Sunday 7th July 2024 - Martin Mowat

1 Peter - 1.

Readings Matthew 16:13-20 and 1 Peter 1:1-9


Although it’s not universally agreed, it’s fairly safe for us to assume that the epistle that Tess started reading to us just then were indeed penned by the Apostle Peter.


So, this morning we’re going to look at who he was, what sort of person he was, and who his audience was, and then we’ll look at how he addressed them in those first few verses. 


Peter’s real name was Simon. He and his brother Andrew were a fishermen by trade working on the sea of Galilee and I imagine that they earned quite a good living.


They were the first two to become disciples of Jesus. Attracted by his charisma, his love, and his message, they left their boats, their nets, and their business. And as we heard in our first lesson Peter was the first one to recognise and declare that Jesus was indeed the promised and eagerly awaited Messiah, God’s chosen King prophesised in their scriptures. 


This was obviously quite a significant event for the disciples because it’s recorded in all 3 of the synoptic gospels. For Peter himself, it certainly was a significant event because it was at that moment that Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, meaning rock, hence Peter in English, like ‘Pière’ in French. 


What kind of person was he? Occasionally he was perhaps somewhat competitive.  There was, for instance, the occasion at the last supper when the disciples were arguing about which of them would be most important when Jesus was no longer with them. 


Simon, Simon, Jesus said to them, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ Jesus was of course subtly foretelling Peter’s denial, more about that in a second, but he was also answering the argument.  “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It was to be Peter who would become the leader.  


In John 18:10 he is pictured as being fiery and impetuous because it was Peter who drew his sword when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

But generally we see him as gentle but firm and capable of great loyalty and love.

John described that conversation at the supper table this way, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’

Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’

The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17).

Three times Jesus asked him that question because only hours later Peter would deny, three times, that he was a disciple. If we’re honest we probably would have done that too. What a normal human being Peter was!


But amazingly, by saying what he said to Peter about feeding his sheep, Jesus was already forgiving him, even before the event. Peter was a man who experienced, first hand, the grace of God! 


After Pentecost, he did indeed become the leader of the apostles, and an excellent one he was too. Among other things he travelled through Palestine and Asia Minor where he worked multiple miracles and converted many followers.


Tradition has it that he ended his days crucified in the year 64 AD when Nero instigated a gruesome persecution of Christians, trying, unjustly, to blame them for the Great Fire that destroyed the Circus Maximus. Peter, famously, asked to be crucified upside down because he felt he was unworthy to be crucified in a manner similar to Jesus. This alone tells us a lot about the sort of person that he was. 


He also wrote at least two letters which we’re going to study together over the next few weeks, First Peter, focuses on the importance of believers bearing up under unjust suffering yet continuing to live in the way that Jesus laid out for all his followers.

It was written about the year 60 AD, so about 30 years after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected, when Peter was in Rome establishing the church there.  That in itself would have been no mean feat. 


So who was Peter writing to? 


To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, which were Roman provinces in what is now modern-day Turkey. This is an area that Paul had evangelized on several of his missionary journeys, so Peter was adressing churches founded by Paul, or that sprang up following those evangelistic visits.

But notice the three adjectives he uses to describe them, “elect”, “exiles”, and “scattered”. 

After the resurrection, Jewish believers were much persecuted, so many of them moved away from Palestine into the cities of the Roman Empire. This was called the Diaspora which simply means “Dispersion” (a term later used to refer to the Jewish Diaspora). But Peter doesn't seem to be referring here just to Jewish Christians, but to all Christians, the elect, - as he says in the next verse "who have been chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ", and who had been scattered throughout the Roman empire.  James used a similar greeting at the beginning of his epistle.

The adjective that is most interesting, though, is “exiles”, translated in some Bible versions as “strangers”.  The Greek adjective means, "people staying for a while in a strange or foreign place, sojourning, residing temporarily

They were exiles and strangers, as indeed we are, in the sense that we are motivated and governed by different rules and principles.  Jesus said “I am not of this world”, so in a sense neither are we, his chosen followers. We are residing temporarily. Paul described us as “called out ones”. He told the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven and that’s what Peter is saying here. 

He then goes on to say that they “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood”. The word that we might use today, to say the same thing, is “saved”, but when we compare that one small word with what Peter just said, we can see that “saved” is a huge understatement.  We’re going to be looking at that in more detail next week. 

But the point that we need to take on board today is that WE TOO are exiles or strangers.  Strangers in the way that we worship. Strangers in the way that we think. Strangers in the way that we behave. Strangers in the way that we relate to each other. Strangers in the way that we relate to others and share with them the good news. I could go on and on, but that’s why other people find us difficult to relate to.

And then, finally, Peter says “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” What a beautiful way to start a letter.

So those are just the first two verses of a letter which will teach us, not only a lot about what God is like, but how to grow and change in positive ways.  Here are some of the main themes:-

·      Appreciating our salvation - rather than taking it for granted 

·      Learning obedience and submission - even though it's tough 

·      Practicing holiness - without developing a sanctimonious smirk 

·      Living in the world - without being tainted by it 

·      Emulating Christ's sacrificial lifestyle - so that it becomes our own 

·      Growing through our sufferings - rather than being defeated by them 

·      Being faithful in our relationships 

·      Grasping our true identity as God's people 

·      Preparing for judgment - without being driven by fear 

·      Developing the character of leaders of which God can be proud