Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 17, Don't Allow The Past To Ruin The Future

This morning we are concluding our look at Peter's first letter. He encourages his readers in the "God of all grace" and he sends greetings to them from two other men who are familiar to us.

"And the God of all grace, who called you into His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10) Peter has been talking about the temptations we face in this world and the persecution that comes against people of faith. If you think about it, even on our best days we are aware of the temporariness of this life and of all the potential temptations and trials that may arise somewhere down the road. We know life isn't easy. We know that sometimes we suffer for doing good, as Peter has pointed out, because the unbelieving world hates people who boldly stand for something righteous. We know that sometimes our sufferings are a refining process, in the same way that heating up precious metals causes the dross to rise to the top where it can be skimmed off. And we know that sometimes we suffer due to our own mistakes.

But our Redeemer is able to redeem anything we commit to Him! If suffering comes to us even while we are living according to God's laws, we can commit the situation to Him and trust that He intends to use it for our good. If suffering comes because of mistakes we've made, we can repent and submit the mess we've made to Him, and He can use even our mistakes to help us grow in the faith. Should we have any doubts about this, all we have to do is look at what the Lord did for the Apostle Peter. Peter is the only disciple who ever denied he knew the Lord. He could have allowed that mistake to ruin his whole life and make him unfit for the ministry. In my opinion, that mistake would have been far greater than the first. But after the resurrection the Lord met privately with Peter. (1 Corinthians 15:5a) We don't know what transpired between the two of them because the Lord intended it to be kept between the two of them, but I believe during that meeting Peter repented and committed his mistake to the Redeemer who lovingly restored him. Later on the Lord publicly restored Peter in the presence of the other disciples so there would be no doubt that he was commissioned to preach the gospel. (John 21:15-18) Peter chose to accept the grace offered to him, which is why we are still reading his letters in 2018. If he had not chosen to accept this grace, he would have disappeared into history and would not have fulfilled his calling and would not have been able to minister to us today.

I don't know what may lie in your past. There are some very ugly things in mine. If I were to list them here I'd be ashamed for you to see them. If I wanted to keep living in the past I'd quit right now and never visit this blog again. But my Redeemer has offered me grace in place of the things that caused me guilt and shame. He has told me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to refuse to look back and wallow in guilt over poor decisions He has already forgiven me for. He tells me the same thing He told Peter: "Follow Me!" (John 21:19b) We can't follow Christ if we are looking behind us.

Out of a grateful heart Peter exclaims, "To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 5:11) Yes! To Him be the power and the honor and the glory for saving a wretch like me!

Now Peter moves on to his closing remarks. "With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it." (1 Peter 5:12) You will recognize Silas as the close friend of the Apostle Paul. It is believed he either transcribed Peter's letter while he dictated it or that he was the deliverer of Peter's letter---or both. Silas was a great minister and servant of the Lord himself, but he was also privileged to work closely with two of the greatest ministers of the ancient world: the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. I would love to know the things he witnessed while he worked with these men.

"She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark." (1 Peter 5:13) We don't know who Peter means when he says "she who is in Babylon", but the most widely accepted theory is that "she" represents the church and that "Babylon" represents the wicked Roman Empire. This makes sense when we consider that Peter is believed to have written his two letters from Rome and when we consider that the Bible often uses the name of "Babylon" as a symbol for idolatrous and unrighteous nations. Peter was in a precarious position in Rome, and will later be executed there, so it's understandable he would not want to put anything in print that openly criticizes the Roman government. He doesn't know who might intercept and read his letters. But I think there is no doubt that his readers knew what he meant. So I think he is saying something like, "The glorious church of Christ, which is growing even in a land of spiritual darkness like Rome, sends you her greetings."

When Peter mentions Mark it is generally understood that he means John Mark who wrote one of the four gospels. Peter is much older than John Mark and so he refers to him as "my son" in the same way that the Apostle Paul refers to the much younger Timothy as "my son". It has long been believed that Mark accepted Christ under the preaching of Peter and that Peter was Mark's source of information for writing the gospel that he authored. After all, Mark was not a disciple and was not present when most or all of the things in the gospel account occurred. He had to get his information from someone who was there, and that someone was Peter. The first mention of John Mark is found in Acts 12 when Peter is miraculously released from prison and goes straight to the home of John Mark and John Mark's mother Mary where the believers are gathered together praying. So we see that Peter and Mark knew each other very early on and that Mark probably listened eagerly and on many occasions to the stories Peter shared about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord.

"Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ." (1 Peter 5:14) The apostle concludes, "Love each other and the Lord. Be at peace with each other and the Lord." He says this because he knows there is no true peace without the Lord. How was Peter able to move on after making the most horrible and blasphemous mistake of his life? By making peace with the Lord. He knows he has been forgiven. He knows the Lord doesn't want him dwelling on the past. It's not that the past has had no effect on Peter, but in giving his mistake to the Lord he was able to learn from it and actually become a more effective minister than he would have been otherwise. Peter had natural leadership abilities, but until he sinned so terribly he trusted in his own strength. His character had not been refined. His faith had not been tested. Now he knows how easy it is to fall into even the most shocking of sins and he knows he has to rely on Jesus every hour of every day. Now he is a man who can preach the gospel of grace from experience. Let's take his advice and not allow our past to ruin our future.

We don't know when a dark hour or trial or temptation may come unexpectedly upon us. Peter wasn't prepared for that dark hour, but it taught him to trust in Christ for his strength. If we are in the habit of trusting in Christ for help, we can stand firm. As a result of his denial of Christ, Peter learned to trust in Him and he stood firm for the rest of his life. I believe that the name of the One he once denied was on his lips as he drew his last breath. The Lord gave Peter the grace to die for His name. Why would we ever doubt that the Lord will give us the grace to live (and die if necessary) for His name?

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