1. Changed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 1 :  God who changes us

1 Pet  1:1,2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have 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:

So this is a letter from the great apostle Peter, the apostle who is a fisherman, the apostle who keeps on putting his foot in his mouth. No it’s not!  Well it is, but he’s clearly no longer a fisherman and he’s clearly someone who has something to say that isn’t a rash comment. This is a letter from a mature apostle. This man has changed since we first met him in the Gospels. Certainly he has help in writing this letter (See 5:12) but this is the letter of a man who has been transformed by the Gospel, transformed by meeting Jesus, transformed by the work of circumstances and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is also a man who is not afraid to speak to the Church at large, specifically here to the area that today we call Turkey.

To whom does he speak? Some say it is primarily the Jews but “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered….” could equally be a description of all Christians, Jew and Gentile. They are the ‘elect’ because they have been chosen by God, as we’ll see in a moment. They are ‘strangers in the world’ because they have been set apart, again as we’ll soon see. And they are scattered throughout the area we call modern Turkey, a minority of believers. Peter will speak about suffering and persecution and therefore the reason for the recipients of this letter being scattered is almost certainly persecution.

But look at the wonderful threefold descriptions of the believers to whom he is writing. First of all they are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This is similar to Paul’s language: he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Peter himself, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, spoke of Jesus: This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)  Those are the only two times that the word ‘foreknowledge’ is used in the Bible, both by Peter.

But again the sense is common in Paul’s writings, for instance, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28,29) and “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2) Later on, speaking about Jesus, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:20) reminding us that it was before God created anything that He looked into the future, of what would be, and saw that Jesus would have to come and saw who would respond to him. This same sense of destiny established, even before God made the world, comes through in John’s revelation: “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished.” (Rev 17:8). Yes, here in this first phrase we catch a sense of the Father’s sovereign will and His total knowledge.

Let’s consider the second expression: through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has sometimes been referred to as the executive arm of the Trinity, the One who administers the will of the godhead here on earth. So, yes, we are chosen before the world came into being in that the Father decreed the means by which people would be assessed (their response to Jesus), but now, today, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to draw us to God and then when we make that act of surrender, to come into us and set us apart as new creations, people who are actually different from anyone else, because He lives and work within us. Sanctifying here simply means to set us apart to God so that He can carry out that work of changing us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). We noted from the outset that Peter has been changed from that rough fisherman who was originally called by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has done much to change him – as he does us!

But then there is the third phrase: for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” There is a twofold aspect to this, first the overall intention and then the means by which it comes about. The overall intention of God’s plan of salvation is that we will each one submit to His Son Jesus Christ who now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling. It is only by us submitting to the Son that the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. If we don’t submit to Jesus then the Holy Spirit obviously can’t lead, guide, direct and teach us. The way that this comes about is by us receiving Jesus’ work on the Cross which cleanses us of all sin and makes the way open for us to receive God’s forgiveness.

There is a reflection in these verses of what happened at the inauguration of the first covenant: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex 24:7,8) Note the two things: Obedience to God’s will (the Law) and then sprinkling with blood (a life given) brought about the covenant relationship. That is what happened then and that is what happens now, except the Lamb used is Jesus. We will see more of this as we work through this letter.

6. Peter

People who met Jesus : 6 :  Peter

Lk 5:4,5    When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.

It’s difficult to know where to start and what to cover, when we come to Peter, because there is so much about him. Without doubt he is the leading apostle, at least in terms of things written about him. As we saw in the previous meditation, he had been with Andrew when they first encountered Jesus after being with John the Baptist. We normally have a picture of a big, brash fisherman when we think of Peter but he, likewise, had obviously left his fishing and gone down to be baptised by John.  When Andrew had brought him to Jesus we read, “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).” (Jn 1:42) Both Cephas and Peter means stone or rock. Right from the outset Jesus declares his future.

So it is later that, when Jesus comes to Galilee, the incident in Luke 5 isn’t without prior foundation. They had already encountered Jesus before and knew who he was. Matthew simply summarises what happened as follows: “Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Mt 4:18) Whether Jesus had watched them previously fishing or this refers to what Luke expands on, we don’t know. Luke gives us the details: Jesus, who has been teaching the crowds, asks Peter if he can borrow his boat to speak from and then afterwards tells him to cast his nets.

That’s where we come to our verses above. Peter knows they fished the previous night without success (and assumes there are no fish to be had) but because of his previous encounter with Jesus, is willing to give it a try once more – with some effect: When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” (Lk 5:6,7) The effect is startling! “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v.8) Suddenly his understanding of who Jesus is deepens.

So we’ve seen a seeker who meets Jesus and as a result has sufficient faith in him to launch out fishing again, but now that faith level has taken an enormous leap. Suddenly he realises he has someone in the boat with him who has the power to bring fish. The logical consequence of this is seriously challenging to him!

I like Peter for his simply honest humanity, and I wonder if this is why Jesus liked him. I’m sure Jesus must have liked him because he put up with him, again and again putting his big feet in it. Yet, for all that, he is a man of faith. It was only Peter who walked on water with Jesus: “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”  (Mt 14:28,29). It was also Peter who boldly stepped out and declared who Jesus was: “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16). But being willing to be honest and speak what you feel can also get you into trouble: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:21-23). Peter didn’t understand and, despite his honesty, earned a rebuke. He had been speaking on behalf of the enemy!  Yet Jesus still clearly continues to love him.

His biggest downfall surely comes when he denies Jesus three times (see Mt 26:73-75). What made it worse had been his prior brash confidence: Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt 26:33-35).

So why do I like Peter so much? I like him because he brings such reassurance. He speaks honestly, if not wrongly on occasion, and Jesus puts up with him and loves him. He gets it drastically wrong and fails Jesus at the most important time in the Gospels, yet, at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus completely reinstates him and sets him going again. He is the most human of followers and so, if he could make it, so can we.

He challenges us with his honesty and his willingness to speak out. I think Jesus liked him for his openness, more than people who bottle things up, say little and take the safe path. Peter lets it all out, says a lot and takes the risky path of faith. That seems to be have been the sort of person Jesus liked having with him.

He appears as one of the ‘inner three’ – Peter, James and John – so his loud mouth seems to receive approval rather than censure. Perhaps the Lord would like more of us to speak out boldly and honestly! But a loud mouth alone is not what gives him his role; it must have been his faith. Peter is a man of growing faith and when you follow him into Acts he is still going strong. Never put him down for his failures for they just reveal his humanity. He is a man of faith and an apostle accredited by his lord and empowered by the Spirit. Now that is something to aspire to!