I Peter: The Test of Faith
Peters letters to the believers in the five provinces in the Roman Empire are a timely message for us today in the 21st century. The letter is to Christians in that area to encourage and equip the readers for difficult times ahead. Surely this is a relevant message for such a time as this in our country, with our growing godless culture and the current drifting from the faith. The letter was probably written in and around 60-64 A.D. This latter date would coincide with Pauls execution and the beginning of persecution of Christians by Roman leadership.
Peter identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Andrew, Peters younger brother, brought his brother to meet Jesus soon after he and John had been introduced to the Lord Jesus when John the Baptist pointed Him out to them as the Lamb of God. When Jesus met him for the first time, he gave him a new name: ..Jesus beheld him, he said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone, a rock. (John 1)
In Matthew 16 we find an important reference to this title- rock. Jesus had just asked the disciples whom do men say I am? And they answered some say you are John the Baptist, some, Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked them- whom do you say I am? And Simon Peter answered: Thou are the Christ the Son of the Living God. And Jesus answered them: blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto the, thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Does this mean the church would be built upon Peter or upon Peters confession? I believe it is built on this confession of truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We do know the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone. And the apostles were simply carrying out the Great Commission teaching the truths that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Peter refers to the recipients of his letter as strangers scattered throughout the regions. The NIV refers to them as the chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; the KJV refers to them as elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
Here we are once again with those thorny issues and words- elect and chosen. But lets set those aside and focus on the word- foreknowledge. God is all knowing. He does not have to learn anything, He knows everything. History- past, present and future cannot happen without God already knowing beforehand it would happen. Predestination is always used in reference with the saved, never the lost.
So lets take this sequence as the KJV lays it out: Peter identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ in verse 1. Then he addresses to whom this letter is intended: To the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythinia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. ( I Peter 1: 2) First notice the Trinity I clearly present in this sequence. God the Father is credited with the task of election, He sets the agenda. To the Son, the Lord Jesus is ascribed the work of reconciliation by the shedding of His blood and the Holy Spirit has the ongoing, inside job of sanctification.
If the word chosen (NIV) can be used as a synonym for elect, these verses tell us these people to whom Peter is writing were chosen for a purpose according to God the Fathers foreknowledge. A person is elected, chosen to: an office, or to a special privilege.( We elect a president to serve in the office of president. Judges choose a beauty contestant to serve in the office of Miss Tennessee for a period of one year. I was chosen by the TSA to receive the privilege of going through a special area in pre-flight check in.) God, however, not only has foreknowledge, He can also foreordain. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus is such a case. It was Peter who described this in Acts 2 when he spoke of the death of the Lord Jesus: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.
So having said all of this, what ties the two verses together? Peter is telling them God not only foreknew them, but has allowed, ordained this scattering. It is exactly where He wanted these people to be at this time. Strangers or aliens reminds all the believers throughout the ages this earth is not our home, heaven is. And we are where we are in the time and place we are, as Paul told the crowd at Athens in Acts 17: From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth, and He determined the times set for them and the exact places they should live. We exist because God willed that we exist at this time in this place.
Look again at the process for we know as believers- we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. ( Ephesians 2:10) Peter describes the process that enables us and fits us to the do the work God has for us. He equips us to do the work. Nehemiah knew he could not do the work unless the King equipped him with all he needed. My God shall supply all your needs He did it in the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve; and again for Abraham and Isaac. God will provide a sacrifice, Abraham told Isaac and He did that day and ultimately at Calvary.
So Peter tells us we were set aside, separated by the sanctifying work of the Spirit for what reason? We were saved to serve through obedience. Obedience to Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ are mentioned in the same thought. The blood cleanses us of all our sins thus making us fit for the work that He has called us to do- which involves obedience to His commands. Obedience and cleansing go together.
Now Peter continues with his greeting by this wonderful statement, which we could take as Peters prayer for them: Grace unto you and peace be multiplied . (KJV) Grace and peace be yours in abundance, the NIV states. We talk about and sing about Amazing Grace, but grace is unmerited favor. Grace is motivated by Gods love and His Grace and love are the basis for His plans for you and me. And peace is something we all long for isnt it? Peace is not just the absence of troubling circumstances, it is the positive ever present consciousness that God is with me and will never leave me or desert me. It is there when there are storms and it is there when all is well for it guards our heart with all diligence. Peter wanted this to overflow in these peoples lives because he knew they would face trouble, just as sure as we are to face trouble.
So get ready to get encouraged! Get ready to make a list, write it down and carry it with you for Peter is about to give us the reason for our hope. In fact, Peter will even give us the reason for our suffering which he says is for a little while. This is a letter of hope- a letter of encouragement.
I Peter 1:3-9 outline the reasons for our hope. The KJV says Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ- the NIV states: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our duty and privilege to praise God which means to bless God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and then Peter tells us why we should because of His Great Mercy. Mercy. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. ( Psalm 103) God sent an undeserved invitation to an underserving person like me and provided me with the righteousness the invitation demanded. Faithful is He who calls you , who will also do it. ( I Thess. 5:24)
In His great mercy He(God) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead All the evil in the world is from mans sin, but all the good in this world is from Gods mercy. The crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is central to Christianity. It is the source of our hope, for without the resurrection our faith would be in vain. It was at Calvary where my burdened soul found liberty.
Let us praise God for His great mercy and the old hymn, At Calvary, tells my story as well as anything ever could. Listen to these words: Years I spent in vanity and pride, Caring not my Lord was crucified, knowing not it was for me, He died On Calvary. Mercy there was great and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened heart found liberty, at Calvary.
This mercy gave me and you a new birth. We became new creatures. We began to put off old things and put on new. This new living hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.
Next Peter describes that we live this life in anticipation of what awaits us- an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven for you. In heaven right now- there is an inheritance that has my name written on it- Reserved for Tim Fortner. We are joint heirs with Jesus. We are new born to a new inheritance that surpasses anything we can inherit on this earth.
Now for those of us who always play the what if game, Peter is one step ahead of you. For those pessimists who just cannot believe this good fortune; who are the type who believe God can do what He says He can do- but probably is not going to do it for me, for I am undeserving. Then Peter has a word of encouragement for you- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by Gods power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. This is the blessing of preservation- you and I are shielded by Gods power.
Peter says this is reason for great rejoicing, though for a little while, you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. There it is- the truth we must accept- in this life we will have troubles, trials, heartaches and grief.
Now lets look for the good parts of this truth. For we now know by experience, there are trials and sorrows in this life. I know sometimes we look at other peoples lives and they seem to never have any problems. I assure you they do or will- it is the way of life in this fallen world. Notice trials is plural. They do not stop coming and they are not singular.
First of all, I like the fact that Peter said though now for a little while ( NIV) though now for a season we are in heaviness through various trials(KJV). Hebrews 10 tells us not to throw away our confidence for the One who is coming, is coming in a little while. So my first encouragement is this is only for a season, for a little while. Now we would be less than honest if we did not admit there are some long days and nights when we are undergoing a season of heaviness. But again the prescription is to put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Praise God whether you feel like it or not- for our High Priest knows what we are going through, for He has experienced it Himself. He remembers our frames are dust, we are fragile. I also have a great promise God will never allow me to be tested or tempted above that which I am able to bear but will provide a way out so that I can stand up under it. ( I Cor. 10) For every season of suffering, there is I believe as season of refreshing.
Whatever difficulty you find yourself in- we can always find something to rejoice in that arises from things spiritual and heavenly. This will not last forever. This too will pass. Your season of heaviness will not last any longer than it needs to last. God knows what He is doing.
Now verse 7 tells us another reason why we can endure these trials with hope. These trials are not without purpose. These trials have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
These trials are not for our destruction but for faith to be purified and thus grow stronger. These trials are ultimately for our good for it tests what is good in us- our faith. A tried faith is more valuable than gold.
Peter knew something about faith that is tried, didnt he? He knew and remembered when his faith failed the test and he denied the Lord three times. He also remembered what the Lord told him: Simon, Simon ( notice he called Peter by his old name), Satan has asked to sift 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. ( Luke 22)
Satan intended this test of faith to be the spiritual ruin of Peter- the leader of the disciples. The Lord intended it to show Peter where his faith was.. and in doing so burn of the dross of self-reliance and pride in his abilities. if you think you are standing firm, be careful you dont fall.
Do you not realize failure at some point is a part of the process of success? We will all fail the tests of faith at times. Peter knew what it was to disappoint the Lord. He denied he knew him three times the night of his arrest. In what Peter would have viewed as his greatest failure, would become a new beginning and understanding of faith that would pave the way for even greater works. Faith has to be tested. Jesus often did this with the disciples in his three years with them and usually their failure to believe was met with his penetrating question; where is your faith? This failure of Peters was perhaps the turning point in his faith journey. We see this story throughout the Bible of faith being tested, and individuals failing the test. But we also see the patience of the God that though we stumble we are not utterly cast down, for He upholds us with His right hand.
Lets review Peters journey to restoration after a faith failure, for we know how important faith is and we need to know what happens when we fail the test. In John 21, we see the road to restoration.
In this precious story we see three steps to restoration. Peter was devastated by what he had done. Knowing this would happen, the Lord had instructed the angel to tell the women go tell His disciples, and PETER, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.: (Mark 16) The Lord Jesus knew Peter felt he was disqualified as a disciple and for this reason Jesus reached out to Peter by including him in this invitation. ( Oh how sweet is the forgiveness of our sins!)
- Restoration happens because of repentance. Repentance is not the same as remorse. Remorse is being sorry something happened, it is often a part of self-pity. Judas was an example of this type of remorse. But Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Peter wept bitterly the night he denied the Lord three times. Repentance is a change in thinking and behavior, a turning back.
- Reconciliation is being made right with one whom you have wronged. This is a part of repentance. It is getting serious about repairing your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Did you notice how anxious Peter was to be in the presence of the Lord? He could not wait for the boat to get to shore, he jumped in and swam and waded ashore. Realize that Jesus loves you, in spite of your sin and your behavior and that He wants to forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteousness when you confess your sin. Jesus wants you to affirm your love for Him. He asks Peter three times- do you love me?
- Restoration is about giving up something because you love Jesus more than you love those things you are giving up. Jesus asks Peter do you love me more than these? Did he mean do you love me more than you love these men? Or more than this- fishing your life work? Probably both. Peter loved his work and his co-workers. But Jesus said you must love me more than these.
Peter needed to know he could start over again and again. We need to know this also. Peter knew failure is a part of the process of success and learning. God knew we would fail the tests of faith at times and this is why He made a provision in I John 1:9.
Peter knew it was necessary for these fiery trials to come even with their disappointments. It was necessary for they tried our faith and removed the dross. Only when we have come through this tested faith do we see these result in praise, glory and honor and a revelation of Jesus Christ. A faith that has been tested, can be trusted.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. For by it the elders received a good report. ( Hebrews 11:1,2)
FAITH IS CONFIDENCE THAT GOD WILL DO WHAT HE HAS PROMISED.
FAITH IS ALWAYS TESTED FOR AT LEAST THREE REASONS:
- To prove whether our faith is real.
- To help our faith grow.
- To bring glory to the Lord.
Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him, must believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. ( Hebrews 11:6)