A True and Lasting Hope
An intro to 1 Peter and a change of the calendar year
Did any of you have a hard 2017, or maybe some significant rough patches? I have. I mean, overall it was a very good year, but I also had plenty of weeks that I’d rather not repeat.
This is not going to be a typical New Year message, but it will have some New Year themes. To be honest, many of the NY messages that are preached these days fall flat for me. Too many say, “this will be a year of prosperity” or “a year of God’s favor” or “a year of vision”. Go ahead and fill in the blank of what any particular preacher thinks the next year is going to be about, and I’ve probably heard that sermon. But have any of you ever experienced a year that went the same for everyone in your church? I don’t think that type of preaching is biblical, and it certainly hasn’t held up in my experience. In my experience, each year is different, and each is the same. I have victories and I have struggles. Finances go well, then our cars or doctors suck up whatever money we had stashed away. Or we think we’re doing well and then we see a close friend struggling with a job loss or disease or divorce. If someone tells you that a year can be summed up in a word or promise, I think they are probably wrong. Unless they choose a theme like Peter did: struggle.
Peter wasn’t the only one who said this, but he wrote the book we’re covering next, so I decided to give a quick overview of 1 Peter this morning. But before that, I’ll give an overview of Peter the man. And mixed in with all of it you might find a New Year’s message.
Let’s talk first about Peter, the man. Actually, we first meet him as Simon. He’s a Hebrew man, named after one of the tribes of Israel. His Hebrew name meant “obedient” or “listening”, which is a bit ironic given his temperament.
We’re introduced to him as a tough guy. He’s a fisherman. Not like I fish though. Think about the crab fisherman on Deadliest Catch. I think he’s more like those guys than he is like me. You don’t screw around with Simon.
He’s also the boss. He owned his own fishing business, had employees, and had business partners.
Simon was a dedicated man, but he could also be impulsive. He could be tender, but he was often a bull in a china shop. That’s Simon.
Peter Meets Jesus
Simon’s brother was named Andrew. He worked for Simon. Andrew was also a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew had become aware of Jesus and heard him teach, and he was struck immediately that this must be the promised Messiah. So, he went and told his brother Simon that he had to come and hear him. When he was introduced, Jesus renamed him Peter on the spot. Maybe I’m unusual, but I’ve never renamed a person when I met them. Maybe I’ll try that sometime. From now on, he would be Peter.
Not too long after, Jesus was teaching at Sea of Galilee and saw two boats that were unoccupied. The fishermen they belonged to were off cleaning their nets. Jesus presumptuously climbed into one of them – which happened to be Peter’s – and said row me out a bit. From this position in the boat, Jesus continued speaking to the crowds who had gathered along the shore. When he finished, he told Peter to put his nets in the water. Peter said, (my paraphrase here) “Seriously? We just fished all night long and got nothing. And I just finished cleaning my nets and got them all put away. But ok, whatever you say.” So Peter obeyed Jesus and tossed the nets in the water. Fish began to swarm into the nets as if it were a competition. The catch was so big it ripped his nets and started to sink his boat! Seeing this, Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Note the passion that made him flip so quickly from doubt to genuine reverence. He didn’t have to think about it. He didn’t have to deliberate. He saw what had just happened and knew somehow it came from God. Jesus said, “how about from now on you catch people instead of fish?”, and Peter was hooked. From that moment Peter was a committed follower. He was all in, but that doesn’t mean he was always rational. His following would be marked by the same sort of zeal and passion, and sometimes also by rashness and lack of thought. He wasn’t always the best example, but Jesus had called him and Jesus would keep him.
Despite his brashness, Peter was a natural leader, and he would become the chief spokesman for the disciples.
A Few Miracles that Peter Saw
Jesus did not just do big public miracles – he also did smaller, more personal miracles. But all of these were to prove his identity to those who were watching. Peter saw a lot of them. And Peter got the message, eventually.
We know that Peter was married, but we know nothing about his wife (or children, if any). Early in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was at Peter’s house where his mother in law was very sick. With a word, Jesus completely healed her and she resumed her activities.
One evening after Jesus had been teaching, the disciples climbed in boats to seek some solitude. While crossing the lake, a violent storm developed. Remember – a number of these men were fishermen. They made their living on the sea. This was their turf. This storm must have been particularly strong, because even these men were terrified. And yet, Jesus slept through it! This carpenter’s son turned teacher had more composure than all of them. Fearing for their lives, they woke him up. First, he rebuked them, then he rebuked the storm.
A year later, Peter saw Jesus raise a little girl from the dead.
Right after watching Jesus feed thousands of people from a kid’s lunchbox, Peter tried to follow Jesus onto the water, but failed. This attempting to follow in faith, but failing, would be a recurring theme in Peter’s life.
Peter Stays When Others Leave
Within days of this embarrassment, Peter’s commitment to Jesus remains. Jesus had given a difficult talk foreshadowing what we now call the Lord’s Supper, and it caused many to leave him. Not Peter though. When Jesus asked him, are you going to leave me too? Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”
Peter is Still Slow to Understand
Though Peter was likely present for the majority of Jesus’ ministry, the next mention of him by name is when he asks Jesus to explain a parable and Jesus seems surprised that Peter is still so slow to understand. Jesus had just explained the greater truths behind the law – especially regarding food laws – but Peter still clung to those old laws. He would revisit this issue a number of times.
More Highs and Lows
The following year – and this was the year that would end in Jesus’ death – Peter makes his confession that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God. Jesus explains that this confession is the foundation on which he will build the church, and that is why he nicknamed Peter “the rock” when he first met him.
Not long after that, Jesus told the disciples that he was to be killed and Peter rebuked him. He wasn’t about to let Jesus be killed. (Can you imagine rebuking God?) Jesus rebuked Peter right back saying he was in league with Satan because he desired man’s plans over God’s plans. Peter went from being praised by Jesus to being rebuked by Jesus, all on the same page!
Peter was often one of a very few who was closest to Jesus. He was one who personally saw Moses and Elijah. That would probably stand out in your memory.
Peter and John were selected to find the room and prepare the meal that we know now as the Last Supper.
After eating, Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. Initially Peter refused because he would not allow Jesus to serve him. When he found out that it was required to follow Jesus, he did a 180° and with the same fervor said, “in that case wash my whole body!”
Peter’s passion for the Messiah meant that he was not only brave, but he was even ready to die with Jesus. Jesus said, “oh you’ll die for me, but that will come later.”
Later that night, Peter vowed to Jesus that he would never stop following him, even if everyone else did. Jesus said, “actually, you will”. Tonight even. Three times! Peter said, not a chance, Jesus.
That night, Jesus went to pray for strength for the horrific events that were about to begin. He took just a few people with him, and Peter was one of them. He asked them to pray with him, but they fell asleep. Jesus came back to check on them several times. Each time, they had fallen asleep. Peter wants to follow Jesus, and he does much of the time, but he can’t always follow through. His spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak. Can you relate to Peter here?
Literally moments later, a crowd appeared to arrest Jesus. Peter attacked and injured one of them. Rather than praise him, Jesus reprimanded him. Again, Peter’s devotion to Jesus leads him to inadvertently fight God’s plan rather than cooperate with it.
You likely know what happened next. Peter and John followed Jesus to his initial interrogations. John knew the High Priest, so he went in with Jesus while Peter stayed in the courtyard. While Jesus was being questioned, Peter repeatedly denied even knowing the man he was willing to kill for just a few hours earlier! Jesus looked at Peter after the last denial just as the cock crowed, and Peter was destroyed.
We have no evidence that Peter was present for Jesus’ trials, beatings, or even his execution. I don’t want to make an argument from silence, but keep in mind that Jesus had quoted Zechariah’s prophecy that when Jesus was killed, even his flock would scatter. Where Peter was and how long he was there we don’t know. But the fact that he was ashamed of his betrayal and broken in so many ways is understandable.
After Jesus’ Execution
The next specific mention of Peter comes in the last chapter of Mark. Women had gone to Jesus’ tomb to apply spices to his body according to tradition. When they arrived, Jesus was gone. An angel said that he had risen and was already on his way to Galilee. He then told them to “go and tell Jesus’ disciples – even Peter.” What a cool comment! You can imagine what sort of despair Peter must have been in. An angel singled him out so there was no doubt that he was still considered one of Jesus’ disciples! On hearing this message from the women, the disciples thought they were talking nonsense and did not believe them. But Peter jumped up and ran.
Of course, Peter did not find Jesus at the tomb, but he did meet him. We don’t have record of that encounter, but scripture refers to Jesus meeting Peter before his appearance to the other disciples. We can only imagine what Jesus said to Peter at this time to reassure him, but it had to have been a very emotional and meaningful experience!
A Spectacular Bookend
In the following weeks, a few of the disciples joined Peter for a night of fishing but they caught nothing. Heading back toward shore very early in the morning, they saw a lone man on the beach. He was too far away to recognize, but he called out to them – “no luck tonight, eh? Have you tried throwing your nets on the other side of your boat?” Does this sound at all familiar? Practically speaking, this was a stupid suggestion. The fish below were not disoriented because the net changed position. Both sides of the boat were essentially the same for the fish beneath. There is no reason they would get in a left-handed net and not a right-handed net. And yet, they did. John was the first to figure it out. “It’s Jesus!” When Peter heard this, he jumped into the sea and started swimming for shore.
Does this sound familiar? What an awesome bookend to Peter’s life with Jesus! It started with a huge catch. A miraculous catch that could only have been orchestrated by God. The first time, this realization struck within Peter the fear of God and he wanted to get away from him. But Jesus would not let him leave, and he used that event to call him into ministry. Years later, after Peter’s humiliation and restoration, he again saw Jesus across the sea. This time, rather than trying to copy Jesus by walking on the water, he jumped in neck-deep in his excitement. Nothing would keep him from his Lord!
After breakfast that morning, Jesus had a discussion with Peter about following him and feeding his sheep. Peter was to be a pastor in the truest sense of the word – by caring for the flock that Jesus would leave behind. During this discussion, Jesus made another reference to the fact that Peter was to be killed and that it would bring glory to God. Shortly thereafter, Jesus left the earth and we have been awaiting his return ever since.
It’s hard to know what each of them thought as they watched Jesus ascend. He said he’ll come back, but when? Hopefully soon! People still feel the same way.
You’d hope that by now Peter would be a bit mellower, retaining his passion but with a bit more self-awareness, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. God would use Peter’s fire to advance the gospel, and he would also have a misstep now and again.
Peter delivered multiple sermons, and thousands repented and were converted.
Peter would be imprisoned and miraculously released at least twice.
Peter would be the one to receive the message that God could make clean even the things that Peter had long believed were unclean. Remember when Peter asked Jesus to explain a parable to him, and he was slow to understand because he was so committed to the law? Again, his adherence to the law caused him to ignore the one who gave the law. God had to repeat himself over and over until Peter relented. He would soon see that God does not show favoritism to nationalities, but accepts all who fear Him. This would be the beginning of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter would explain this account to the church and explain that all who came in the name of Jesus and who made the same confession as Peter could be saved – not just the Jews. And we are direct beneficiaries of that.
Even so, Peter would return to his old habits of making distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, and was even formally reprimanded for it. Peter had heard from Jesus, he had seen the vision of the clean and unclean, he had seen Gentiles saved, and yet he returned again to legalism. If nothing else, what we can learn from Peter is that we are often foolish and God is gracious.
Peter’s First Letter
We don’t hear anything about Peter until he writes his first epistle, probably around 10-15 years later.
He wrote this while Nero was emperor. After Jesus’ resurrection, most of the persecution came from the Jews. The religious authorities had been Jesus’ biggest enemies, and they would pursue his followers as well. But now, in the 60s, the tide would change. The leading enemy of the church was the state.
The primary reason for Peter’s letter was to warn people about the mistreatment they would receive and to tell them how to behave in the face of it. Peter was no stranger to suffering. He had been repeatedly arrested for his beliefs and would ultimately be executed by Nero. Peter knew suffering and he had some things to say about it.
At the beginning, I asked if you had had a rough go of it lately. Peter can relate. His life makes ours look like a walk in the park. He knew what it was to be mistreated by the world. He knew what it was to be humiliated at his failures. And he knew what it was to be repeatedly forgiven and accepted by Jesus.
The theme of Peter’s first letter is suffering, perseverance, and hope.
I said at the beginning that if Peter were to deliver a New Year’s message and promise a theme for the year that would apply to all of us, I think that word would be struggle. 2018 will be a year of struggle. I don’t say that as a downer. I say that as a simple observation.
Jesus said that we would have trouble in this life because of him.
In a Psalm many of us know by heart, David said something like this:
Jesus is like a shepherd to me.
He will supply my needs.
He will be my source of rest.
But it won’t all be rosy.
I will walk in the valley of the shadow of death.
But I won’t be afraid because he will be with me.
David doesn’t say that God will keep us from the dark places. It doesn’t say we will live trouble-free lives. It says we will go through the “valley of the shadow of death”. I don’t know exactly what David meant, but it sounds dark! We will struggle. We will suffer, but we will not be alone! The Holy Spirit is within us. Jesus intercedes for us. The Father watches over us. Yes, scripture speaks of us as victors and conquerors, but who ever heard of a victory without a battle, or a conqueror who never saw a fight?
In this life – in this year – you will have trouble. I promise you. But I’ll also promise you that from the perspective of eternity, the sorrow lasts for a night but the joy of the Lord is forever.
This is the message of 1st Peter. As Christians, we will suffer.
But Peter doesn’t just leave us there. He tells us how to respond. We will struggle, but we must stand. We will suffer, but we must persevere.
Peter doesn’t seem to do much doctrinal teaching like Paul typically does. He seems to assume that by this point they are already well established in the faith, not to mention that by now they have already read Paul’s letters. So rather than re-laying a foundation of doctrine, he says stand firm in the doctrine you have received.
Compare this to Paul’s explanation of our spiritual battle. All of the items he describes but one are defensive. The armor that protects us is righteousness, truth, faith, and salvation. And what does he say to do with all these? To stand. Peter agrees. As we’ll see in coming weeks, Peter’s solution to the suffering we will encounter for Christ’s sake is to stand. Persevere. Do not be moved.
Consider Peter’s life. He faltered when he took his eyes off of Jesus. When he turned back to the comfort of the law, when he relied on himself, when he thought his plans were better than Jesus’ plans – those were the times that he had his most spectacular failures.
And when were Peter’s bright spots? When he focused his passion, his energy, his fervor, and his devotion to standing firm and following Jesus’ instructions. We can learn from this.
Why does Peter do this? Because he knows when he denied Christ life was bleak and hardly worth living. The gaze of his savior was devastating when he failed, but invigorating when he followed. He lived for the approval of his Lord. He put everything he had into following him in life. And after Jesus died, he put the same effort and passion into completing the task before him until the day that either Jesus returned, or Peter was sent to him.
Hope that we have in this life is often misplaced. Most of the things we long for around Christmas and the New Year will ultimately leave us unsatisfied. I’m not saying they are all bad, necessarily. Many of our resolutions are good goals, but most of them are also fleeting. Peter points us to Jesus as the source of hope, the true hope, the living hope. The longing we feel is for this true hope, where we will find the true rest and restoration David talked about.
Quick Overview of 1st Peter
We are Holy Exiles
Peter calls us “elect exiles”. Strangers in a foreign land.
The 1st century Jews had been dispersed throughout the empire. They were no longer one people, in one place, serving one God. They were continually scattered by political forces.
He compares Gentile Christians to those Jews. We were not born as one people, but we have been made one people. We have our identity in Christ. He is what we hold in common. But we are not together in one land. We are scattered throughout the world like wandering pilgrims in hostile territory.
Just as Israel was chosen out of all the surrounding peoples, so have we been chosen. He talks about us Gentiles in Old Testament language, reminding us of his vision and testimony that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile. Together, we who are Christians are the “true Israel”. Once we were not a people, but now we are. Once we had not received mercy, but now we have.
And like the Jews in the dispersion, we are not to live like those around us. The Jews had special dietary rules, ceremonial practices, and laws regulating their behavior. Many of these served to show that they were distinct from the other peoples.
Peter wants us to follow a similar pattern. But he doesn’t ask us to follow Jewish law. Now he tells us that we are to follow Jesus’ example in this foreign land where it will seem confusing and laughable to those who are not believers. Nevertheless, stay the course and glorify God.
Just as the Israelites were chosen, we Gentiles were chosen.
Just as they wandered in the wilderness before finding their rest, so do we wander in this life before receiving our final rest in heaven.
Just as God gave them a covenant through Moses, so he gave us a new covenant through Jesus.
Peter then gives us some examples to show what Christian living looks like in a foreign land.
He says to submit to your authorities whatever they are – whether boss or Emperor, believer or non-believer.
He gives instructions how husbands and wives are to treat one another.
He says to do all these things to honor Christ, no matter the consequences
And if we end up suffering for Jesus’ sake, we should suffer well. And we should let our suffering serve as a witness to Jesus. We should be able to explain this bizarre hope that we have in the middle of a hopeless world. That means we know the doctrine we have been taught and we are able to explain it to others.
Peter continues for another chapter, describing how suffering serves to burn away distractions and false hopes that take our eyes off of Jesus. Then he finishes with a chapter instructing pastors how to care for their people during this time.
Closing to 1st Peter Summary
That’s a very quick overview of the book. Hopefully in coming weeks it will be helpful to understand the man who wrote and his purpose in writing. Life is hard, but our future hope is worth it.
What About Today?
This is great, but what do I do now? What does this new year hold? How do I resolve to live in 2018?
Well, as I said, there is nothing new under the sun. This year will have its highs and lows. For the believer, though, the answer is always the same.
Short Answer: Glorify God
The Westminster Confession is a series of questions and answers to help the believer to navigate the questions of life biblically. The first question asks, “what is the chief end of man?” Why were we made? What is our ultimate purpose? The answer is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”.
In 2018, let me recommend asking yourself the question: “Does ____ glorify God?”
God has laid out laws and he has also given us an immense degree of liberty. But that doesn’t mean our choices are without consequence. So let me ask you a few sample questions as example of what I mean:
If you are a person who drinks, does the way you are drinking bring glory to God or dishonor?
Do you click through the internet to the glory of God?
(You might even want to print that question and stick it to your computer screen or your television. Not that you can’t enjoy yourself. Honoring God does not mean forsaking all entertainment. But we all know full well when we are not bringing glory to God in our use of electronics.)
Am I glorifying God in my marriage?
Do I glorify God in the way that I work?
(This doesn’t mean loudly singing hymns while working! It means asking the question of whether you are bringing honor or dishonor to the reputation of Christ by your work.)
Do you glorify God when you interact with other drivers?
Consider our recent sermon series. Do you glorify God with your self-control? Your mercy? Your forgiveness? Your joy? Your peace?
I’m not here to put guilt on you. But being guilty has a way of making us feel guilty. Don’t make your resolution to be perfect, because I promise you will fail before you get to your car. In 2018, resolve to glorify God.
A personal hero of mine recently died and went to be with the Lord. His name was RC Sproul. He repopularized a long-forgotten phrase of the Puritans: “Coram Deo”. Coram Deo means “before God”. They used this to remind themselves of the fact that they lived each day in the presence of God.
With every action, remember that you are in the presence of God.
With every failure, repent because you are in the presence of God.
Peter’s (and Our) Future Hope
Peter had a close friend and coworker in the Apostle John. Near the end of his life, John would write the book of Revelation. In it, John shares his vision of heaven. Part of his description is that heaven has no sea. For you beach lovers, John didn’t mean that there would be no water or sand in heaven. For the Hebrew, the sea was a terrible place. It represented danger, loss, and death.
For Peter specifically, the sea was his living. Sometimes it brought him prosperity and sometimes his nets came in empty.
Sometimes he felt at peace on the tranquil sea, and other times it nearly took his life.
One time he took a few steps on it, but every other time he sunk like a stone.
The sea was a place of mystery and dread – unless Jesus was around. Jesus filled the nets when no one else could. Jesus stepped on the water and it held him up. When he spoke, the weather submitted to his command. Peter learned there was nothing to fear in the sea when Jesus was around. But then Jesus left.
From that point on, Peter would look forward to being reunited with Jesus. Though the seas of life would rage around him, he knew that there was a place where Jesus’ command of “Peace - Be still” would apply to all his troubles. As John said, the eternal home that Jesus would prepare had no such seas. There would be nothing with the ability to rob him of the peace, joy, security, and never-ending bliss that is heaven. No fear. No debt. No death. This was Peter’s hope.
The same eternal rest that John described, and that Peter looked forward to awaits us as well. We are in a world of trouble. Jesus has overcome this world, but we are yet to experience it. For those of us who have submitted our lives to Christ, heaven is our eternal hope. If that does not describe you, you can change that.
We live in a world of promises. Politicians, diets, technology, medications, advertisements, and even loved ones make promises that will ultimately leave us unsatisfied. Hope in this life is fleeting. If you long for a hope that can hold up what it promises, that hope does exist. Look to Jesus. He is our living and eternal hope.
I’m reminded of the words of a Christmas hymn: O come O come Emmanuel. And ransom this captive Israel. We mourn in lonely exile here, as we wait for the Son of God to appear. Today we rejoice, for Emmanuel has come! He came once. He lived the life we should have lived. He died the death we deserve. And he returned to heaven to prepare a home for us. But he will return!
Go to Church
In the meantime, we are not alone. The body of Christ remains. We have the church. So, do not neglect to gather together as is the habit of some. Jesus never intended this life to be a solo affair. He created woman so that man would not be alone and so together they could thrive. He created the church for a very similar reason. So, in this new year if I can recommend anything to bring comfort in this difficult life it would be this: go to church.
Look to Jesus
The church in not the only thing that Jesus left. He also sent us another comforter. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit was sent to the church to bring us strength and courage and hope. But it is not hope for hope’s sake. The Holy Spirit always points to Jesus. That is his job. Jesus is our hope.
There are No Other Options
Peter was not saved by anything he did, but rather he was saved by who he chose to follow. That following involved staying among other people who were committed to Jesus. It involved keeping his eyes on the eternal prize. So, if you’re looking for hope, look to Christ. No matter how bleak it gets, Peter summed it up best: The road may be tough, but where else can we turn? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that he is the Holy One of God.
 John 1:41-42
 Note: You might see him called Peter (Greek for rock) or Cephas (Aramaic for rock) or Simon.
 Luke 5:1-11; Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18
 Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41; Matthew 8:14-17
 Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:18, 23-27; Luke 8:22-25
 Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56
 Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15
 Matthew 14:22-36
 John 6:35-69
 Matthew 15:10-20
 Matthew 16:13-23; Mark 8:27-33; Luke 9:18-21
 Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36
 Luke 22:7-13; Mark 14:12-16; Matthew 26:17-19
 John 13:6-9
 John 13:33,36-38; Luke 22:31-34
 Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31
 Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1
 Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-11
Matthew 26:57-75; Mark 14:53-73; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:13-27
 Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27
 Zechariah 13:7
 Mark 16:7-8
 1 Corinthians 15:5 and Luke 24:34
 John 21:15-23
 Notably, Acts 2 and 3
 Acts 5:19; 12:7
 Acts 10:9-34
 Acts 10:35-11:18
 Galatians 2, and probably Acts 15
 Remember, Saul was originally among them and had permission to hunt them down.
 John 16:33
 Psalm 23
 Psalm 30
 2 Peter 3:14-17
 Ephesians 6:13-17
 Revelation 21:1
 Hebrews 10:25
 Paul did the same. See Philippians 3:13-14