Peter’s Letters to a Persecuted Church
In the first verse of 1 Peter chapter 1, Peter begins with the greeting: “To those who are elect exiles….” For Christians who may lose their home, their family or their very lives for the sake of Christ it is best to live according to the reality that ‘this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”
This reality is coming true for so many Christians all over the world. First and second Peter are wonderful letters from a man on death row to churches under pressure to grow in their love and appreciation for Christ.
THE FIRST AND SECOND LETTERS OF PETER
In the end, when Jesus returns to bring everyone before God’s judgement there will be a great many things that will no longer matter to us. Our cars and houses, our jobs and paychecks, our schedules and our plans…none of these things will matter anymore.
In the end, what will really matter? Perhaps Peter’s final words in his final letter can instruct us.
Are you growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? How horrifying it would be to hear Him say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Know Jesus! There is nothing in this world that is more important than this.
In Peter’s first letter his focus is on strengthening the faith of those followers of Christ who have already begun to suffer persecution from their governments and neighbors. They must stand strong in their faith in the face of losing their possessions, their health and freedoms and, even, their very lives.
When Peter writes his second letter his focus is upon those within the fellowship of Christians who are taking advantage of the love and trust that they share for each other. Lord willing, our lesson will begin by summarizing the internal threats to the early church in 2 Peter chapter 2 in order to sharpen our focus upon chapters 1 and, next Sunday, chapter 3. It is in these chapters (1 and 3) that Peter’s encouraging words about the certainty of our faith are expressed with majestic confidence and assurance.
In troubled times, being certain of the promises of God through His word, Peter’s words offer confirmation of our belief in Christ and hope for the future beyond the grave as he points to a new heaven and a new earth “where righteousness dwells.”
The Apostle Peter encourages the elders of the churches in Asia minor as ‘a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” He tells them to shepherd the flock of God willingly and eagerly, being examples to their people. These leaders, who have been shaped by the suffering example of Christ, guide their younger members to humbly listen to them.
The quality of humility is the universal attitude that is to characterize God’s people; humility towards God and towards one another.
After warning his audience that “The end of all things is at hand,” Peter talks to a persecuted church about rejoicing when sharing in Christ’s sufferings.
When happiness is a person’s goal in life this phrase makes no sense. Living for the present moment we want to do things that make us happy. So, rejoicing in times of suffering sounds insane!
The radical difference is found in Christ and in Christ alone. In Christ, suffering has meaning and purpose! So, Peter says, be prepared to make a defense of why you are joyful in the midst of suffering. Our suffering, like Christ’s suffering, is God’s megaphone to the world!
Peter begins his letter by affirming those known as “the elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Christians are living examples of the unfolding of God’s plan, foreseen by the prophets and guaranteed by the very blood of Jesus Christ.
With chapter 2 Peter turns to those Christ followers to ‘grow up into salvation’ as living stones of God’s spiritual house; priests who are called to be holy. As such, they are called to live consistently with their calling in regard to 1) human institutions and the emperor, 2) slaves their masters, 3) wives and their husbands, and 4) brothers and sisters in Christ as they address each other and their persecutors.
Why? “Because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.”
Peter’s teachings were likely the primary source for Mark’s gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Written to a persecuted church, therefore, Mark’s account lends itself to examine the apostle Peter’s writings towards the end of his life, known today in our Bibles as first and second Peter. After concluding our study of the gospel of Mark with the abrupt ending of Mark 16:8 we are left with the question, “Do you believe?” If, indeed, Mark was writing to a persecuted church then this urgent plea insists upon an answer because it will be severely tested very soon under Emperor Nero’s reign.
It was during this time that Peter was likely executed as Jesus had been, by crucifixion. So, Peter’s letters take on special significance for encouraging us all to stand strong in our living hope in Christ.
This is especially true after considering Dean’s summary of Peter’s role while he was with Christ and, as Peter approached the end of his own life, as he appealed to those early Christians to prepare for persecution for their faith.
PETER AND PERSECUTION
Presentation by Dean Wolf, Shepherd.
Preparing for our study in First and Second Peter, we are reminded of the importance of living out our Christian lives every day. This is especially true when our faith is challenged, even to the point of being persecuted.
Dean summarizes Peter’s role while he was with Christ. As Peter approached the end of his own life, as he appealed to those early Christians to prepare for persecution for their faith. His encouragements and example speak to us today as we strive to stand strong in the Lord Jesus Christ.