INTRODUCTION TO THE
FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER
Behold, I sent you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.17 But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:16-18).
With these words, Jesus sent out His apostles to preach the message of His coming kingdom, warning them that they would suffer persecution. Many years later as Peter sits down to write a letter to Jewish believers in the provinces of Asia Minor, this prophecy was being fulfilled with bloody accuracy.
The persecutions had initially been of local origin, instituted by Orthodox Jews who resisted the teaching that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. They had persecuted the Apostle Paul as he traveled through that region, but they had not been able to prevent his leading people to Christ and raising up churches that were made up of both Jew and Gentile.
In recent days, the winds of persecution had reached a new intensity as their direction shifted to strike the church from the west. It was now Rome, with her cruel tyrant in the person of Nero who fanned the flames of wrath against Godís people.
On July 19, 64 A.D. a great fire broke out in the city of Rome, destroying large sections of the city. The fire lasted for three days. A rumor began to spread that Nero had mounted his private stage overlooking the flames and sung of the destruction of Troy. This led to a growing suspicion that Nero himself had started the fire. To turn these suspicions away from himself, Nero determined to find a scapegoat. He settled on the Christians.
Christians were already looked upon with some suspicion by the pagan world and it did not take much to fan these suspicions into open hostility. After all, the Christians did not worship any of the gods of the ancient world. For this reason they were labeled "atheists." They were accused of cannibalism because of the Lordís Supper in which they were reputed to eat flesh and drink blood. They were accused of immorality because of their "love feasts." They were accused of splitting up homes -- Jesus had promised that His message would bring about such a situation. And finally, they taught that Jesus would return one day and destroy the earth with fire.
As a result, Christian persecution broke out throughout the Empire. Many were crucified. Others were sewn up in the skins of animals and thrown to wild dogs to be torn apart. Women were tied to mad bulls and dragged to death. On special occasions Nero had Christians soaked in oil and tied to stakes and burned alive to light his garden parties.
While the worst of this persecution was found in Rome, this anti-Christian attitude began to spread to the outer provinces. As Peter writes to Jews who name Christ as Lord and speaks of their sufferings, it is not merely a theological theory of which he is speaking. They are in the midst of great hurt and he deals with the problems they are experiencing.
The Bible is like that. It always speaks to the needs of people and relates to where they are hurting. It never glosses over the hard times. It never pretends that the valley of despair does not exist. It does not encourage you to hide your head in the sand and hope that all of your problems will merely vanish. It deals in a realistic way with those hard times.
This is what Peter is going to do. He will have real answers for real problems. The result will not always be easy, but it will be victorious!
PETER THE MAN
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it (Matthew 16:18).
There is probably no disciple of Jesus who more stirs the imagination than Simon Peter. That is not to say that he was always perfect or that he was always able to say the right thing. Far from it. He has been described as the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth.
And yet, there is something loveable about Peter. We can hardly read about him without having our imaginations stirred. This was a man who did great things. Like all men of high magnitude, both his victories as well as his failures were great.
If you were called on to, pick the most qualified man on which to build the church of Jesus Christ, Peter wouldnít even have been in the running. There was nothing in his background to suggest that he could succeed in fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave him. He had received no formal seminary training. He had no management background. He was only a simple fisherman.
Donít miss this! The fact that Peter was unqualified to be a disciple of Jesus teaches us something about the kind of man God uses. He uses men who are unqualified. This is good. It means that he can use me. It means that he can use you.
What kind of man was Simon Peter?
His name was Simon. It was a common name among the Jews, looking back to Simeon (Hebrew. spelling), one of the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.
He seems to have been a practical, down-to-earth sort of man. He stayed home in Capernaum to watch over the family fishing business while his brother, Andrew, went off to become a follower of John the Baptist.
It was Andrew who first met Jesus when John proclaimed Him to be the Lamb of God. Andrew went on to follow Jesus, but not before he had gone and first brought with him his brother Simon.
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peterís brother.
Can you imagine Andrew dragging his brother out to meet Jesus? I can just hear Simon grumbling about how the work never gets done because his brother always wants to follow some religious teacher.
It reminds me of the first time I tried to get my older brother to go with me to a Bible Study. He agreed to drive me there and then, when I suggested that he come inside and listen, he made up excuse after excuse. Reluctantly he finally gave in. The result was electrifying! He went on to attend Bible College and then to go out as a missionary to Germany.
This initial meeting with Jesus changed the course of Simonís life. No longer would he be the simple fisherman. In fact, he was never again able to catch a fish unless directed by the Lord. From now on, he was going to be a new man. He was even given a new name: CEPHAS. It is the Aramaic word for "Rock." Its Greek form is PETER. His name would stand for stability. He would be the solid foundation on which Christ would build
His church. But this would take time.
It would take time for God to transform this vacillating fisherman into the mature writer of the epistles which bear his name. Many experiences combined together to make this man into the rock of God.
1. The Lesson of Sovereignty.
Like most lessons which we learn in life, the lesson of sovereignty was one which was reinforced again and again.
Peter was first confronted with this lesson after a long night of fruitless fishing. Peter and his partners had come back to shore and, while they were washing and repairing their nets, Jesus got into one of the boats and began teaching the crowd that had gathered on the shore.
And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets." (Luke 5: 4-5).
I can think of nothing more frustrating than to toil all night, laying out and hauling back in the heavy drag-nets, only to find them completely empty. And yet, here was Jesus telling Peter to go right back out and do it once again.
Iím sure that Peter must have been tempted to say, "Not now Lord, I have to get some sleep first." After all, Peter was the expert when it came to fish. If anyone was qualified to go out and catch fish, it was Peter. Jesus was speaking out of His field of expertise, or so it seemed. He is telling an experienced fisherman to fish in the most unlikely place -- in deep water and in broad daylight. What Peter failed to realize was that Jesus had created all of the fish in all of the seas. Peter was outclassed and didnít even know it. However, out of respect for Jesus, Peter agrees to do as he is asked,
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break;
The result went far beyond anything that Peter dreamed possible. Suddenly the nets were strained to their capacity. Before they knew it, Peter and his partners were up to their armpits in fish.
It is obvious that Peter was unprepared for this great catch. Another boat had to be called over and even this was barely enough. Loaded to the gunwales and lying low in the water from the miraculous catch, the significance was not lost on Peter.
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesusí feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8).
This was a turning point in the life of Peter. In this one instant, he recognized both the sovereignty of Jesus as well as his own unworthiness. He came face to face with the truth that Jesus is Lord of all creation.
To him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:11).
2. The Lesson of SUBMISSION.
Another vital lesson that Peter had to learn was that of submission. It came about in a most interesting way.
And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?"
He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?"
And upon his saying, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Consequently the sons are exempt." (Matthew 17:24-26).
The two-drachma tax was a yearly tax which went to the support of the Temple. All Jews were required to pay this tax. No Jew was exempt from paying this tax. Peter knew this, and so he assumed that Jesus would pay it.
Jesus uses the opportunity to confront Peter with a question. He asks whether it is customary for the son of a king to be forced to pay taxes to his father. Peter knew the answer and replied immediately that only outsiders are required to pay taxes.
Do you see the implications? If Jesus is the Son of God, and Peter had already come to realize that he was, then this meant that He was exempt from paying the Temple-tax.
However, there was another lesson that Jesus wanted to teach Peter. It was the lesson of submission.
"But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me." (Matthew 17:27).
This was an important lesson. Peter was learning the necessity of submitting to governmental authorities. It was a lesson that he would later pass on to the church.
Submit yourselves for the Lordís sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
There have been a number of people these days preaching that Christians ought to rebel against governmental authorities. Peter speaks on this issue.
3. The Lesson of SERVITUDE.
On the night before He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room. Following their supper, Jesus rose from the table, rolled up His shirt sleeves, and began to wash the feet of the disciples.
It was a vivid lesson in servitude. Jesus explained to the disciples that this was an example for them to follow.
And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
Jesus and his disciples had come to Jerusalem that day from Bethany. It was a two-mile walk and, no doubt, their feet were dirty. To wash the feet of.dinner guests was a menial task, normally left to a servant. Since there was no servant available, one of the disciples should have taken on the task of washing the feet. But these were proud men. After all, Jesus had picked them to be His representatives. This job was beneath them. And so, Jesus shows them by example what their attitude ought to be. They are to have a servantís attitude.
In the fifth chapter of his fist epistle, Peter demonstrates that he had not forgotten this lesson.
...all of you, cloth yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.
4. The Lesson of SATANíS ATTACK.
Probably the most painful lesson Peter ever learned was the danger of over-confidence in the face of Satanís attacks. Jesus had warned him to be alert as they came to the Garden of Gethsemane, but Peter was soon fast asleep.
As a result, the betrayal and arrest of Jesus found him confused and uncertain. First, he brashly tried to attack those who were arresting Jesus. Then, later in the night when he was questioned, he found himself denying that he even knew the Lord.
It was a lesson that Peter was never to forget. Years later he was to warn believers to be on the alert.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8).
5. The Lesson of SUFFERING.
In the early days of the church, Peter was forbidden to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus. He was threatened, beaten, arrested, thrown into jail and placed in chains. Peter had been on death row in the prison of Herod Agrippa, only to escape through miraculous intervention. Peter had become well-aquainted with suffering when he wrote these words.
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
The apostle who had denied Christ in a moment of blind panic had learned to be ready to speak out for Christ in the face of suffering and death.
Church tradition is unanimous in its account of Peterís death. Under sentence of death, he was first forced to watch the crucifixion of his wife. Then, when the soldiers went to crucify him, he asked that he be placed on the cross upside down because he did not think himself worthy to hang on the cross in the same way that Jesus had been crucified.
No longer was this the poor fisherman who was filled with panic when questioned by a slave girl whether he was a disciple of Jesus. The fisherman from Capernaum had grown up to be a great man of God.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).