Posts Tagged 'Peter'

Peter and Jude, Part 2

What does it mean to be “a citizen?” For all the kerfuffle in the media, citizenship is still an important thing and there are some things a naturalized citizen can do that an alien or even a Green Card holder cannot. I went through the citizenship process years ago and I can tell you it was an expensive (very expensive, truth be told), intrusive, inconvenient, ordeal that ended up in a Federal courtroom with yours truly, along with 25 other immigrants, taking the oath of citizenship. I had been living and working in America for 13 years before I applied for citizenship. I had been obeying the laws of the land, filing income tax forms, and participating in many the things a citizen enjoys, all the while holding a mere Green Card (which is sort of pinkish nowadays).

As a citizen, suddenly I had more privileges than I imagined I would have. I knew that to vote I would have to become a legal citizen, but now I can’t be deported. I can now sponsor family members to bring them here. I can apply for all kinds of federal benefits (I wouldn’t, but I could), I can have a federal job (no thanks), I can run for public office (no way!), and I can get a passport. So, there are all kinds of benefits of being a citizen.

Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven because we are born again. We may be living here on earth, but our citizenship is in Heaven and we enjoy the benefits (or blessings) of our Heavenly citizenship and we have certain responsibilities, too.

Chosen

In 1 Peter 1:23, we read a verse that contrasts perishable (earthly) seed with imperishable (spiritual) seed:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23 | NIV84)

We Christians have been born of imperishable seed – of spiritual seed – making us spiritual people, not carnal or worldly people. In chapter 2 Peter keeps up the contrast by using the Temple in Jerusalem as his example.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4, 5 |NIV84, read 2:4 – 8)

Through Jesus Christ (the living stone), and our new relationship with Him, we become “living stones,” alive in Christ, built into a “spiritual house.” That’s a curious thing to say, but if we read a verse Paul wrote, it become a little clearer:

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22 | NIV84)

The Jews had their precious temple in Jerusalem, where they supposed God lived. But as Christians, we become the place where God lives. God lives in us as individuals and corporately. We as a group comprise a great big “dwelling” in which God lives. But we are not cold and hard or rigid like the bricks the of which the Temple was made. We are “living” or “lively” stones.

As a group we are a spiritual temple in which God dwells and as individuals we are like the Jewish priests who worked in their Temple. We as individuals have been consecrated by God and we are holy as He is holy. We function as priests, offering up our spiritual sacrifices, our very selves, as opposed to offerings of animals. Our spiritual sacrifices are automatically acceptable to God because they are offered through Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest.

You and I have been “chosen” by God to become holy people. When we became Christians, we received tremendous blessings that only Christians receive, but that same salvation carries with it responsibilities. Those things are briefly mentioned in the first few verses of chapter two, but essentially they form the rest of this first letter.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1 – 3 | NIV84)

We have been chosen by God to be different from the rest of the world. God is holy – He is separated from all others – and we are to be holy, too – separated from all others by our behavior. That’s what Peter is getting at here:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 | NIV84)

Verses 9 and 10 give us another contrast: the believer’s new, present life (verse 9) and their past (verse 10). Since God dragged us out of the darkness we were living in, we owe it to Him to start living like those living in the light. Or, put another way, because we are now God’s people, we should be proclaiming by word and deed the praises of God. Quoting Paul again, here’s his take on this:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

Imitate Christ

The question is, how do we do that? It would be nice if God made us live right, using His incredible power to force us into behaving the right way all the time. But that’s not how He works. So He allows us to the freedom to serve Him, and the easiest way to serve Him and to live right is to simply imitate Christ!

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21 | NIV84)

Peter is far cleverer than we give him credit for. Look at how he views the Christian living in the world today:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world… (1 Peter 2:11a | NIV84)

That’s the best way to introduce his topic of living good lives. Since Christians are “aliens and strangers in the world,” we don’t have to behave like the world behaves. Here are some very specific steps believers should follow in living good lives before God, the world, and each other.

Abstain from sinful desires, verse 11.

How obvious is this? Godly living must begin with giving up sin! “Sinful desires” are “fleshly lusts,” and they are always – always – going against the spiritual side of our being.

Live good lives among the pagans, verse 12.

This seems obvious, but it escapes a lot of Christians who seem to think they can live Christ-like lives when they are around their Christian friends but live like pagans when they get around their co-workers or non-Christians friends. That goes right against the notion of “holy conduct,” which is a huge theme in Peter’s letter. Our holy and honorable lives need to be obvious to all who see us. This was a big teaching of Jesus when He said this: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 | NIV84)

Silence the ignorant talk of foolish men, verse 15.

Part of this is submitting ourselves to every law of man for the Lord’s sake (verse 13). Now, keep in mind that Peter wrote this during the horrendous reign of Nero, emperor of Rome. Peter makes it clear that as believers, we should do all that we can to obey civil authorities. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should break God’s higher laws for the sake of the state. It was this same Peter who, when standing on trial before the Sanhedrin, famously said: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29 | NIV) We are, after all, primarily citizens of Heaven.

Live as free people, verse 16.

Here’s another aspect of our salvation that seems to escape a lot Christians: Jesus Christ has saved us to live a life of freedom. In fact, the only truly free people on earth are Christians! Paul was big on freedom in Christ, and he wrote this:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13, 14 | NIV84)

The great freedom and liberty we have in Christ should never, ever be used as an excuse to sin. As soon as we do that, we will lose it and slip back into the slavery of sin. All our freedom in Christ needs to be tempered with love for others.

Honor all people, verse 17.

The word “honor,” timao, is also seen in Matthew 15:4 as part of Jesus’ admonition to “honor our father and mother” and to “honor the Son as we honor the Father.” It’s powerful. The mark of a true believer is that we should honor all people; we should never treat anybody shabbily or as objects for us to use and then discard.

Love the brotherhood of believers, verse 17.

The word Peter used here is agape, a love that transcends feelings and sentimentality. This love that we have for fellow believers should mark the true believer’s life. We ought to honor and respect all people, but love for other members of the Body of Christ should be obvious for all to see. John, the so-called “apostle of love,” believed this to be true and in his Gospel quoted Jesus as saying this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35 | NIV84)

Fear God, verse 17.

To “fear” God is really the greatest need of the Church, which has come to treat God with far too much casual familiarity. The Greek word Peter used is phobeomai, from which we get our word “phobia.” It means many different things, including: “to be in awe of,” “to revere or reverence,” and also “to be put in fear or fright,” and “to be afraid.” You get the idea.

Honor the king, verse 17.

We can imagine why Peter wrote this: Nero was the emporer and to dishonor him could mean losing your head! But there’s a bit more to it than that, although preserving your life or freedom is good reason to at the very least “honor” someone in political office. Here’s another one: At that time in history, many Christians were accused of treason because of their confession of and allegiance to Jesus Christ, King of the Jews. No wonder Peter advised his readers to be obvious in their honor and respect for the King.

In many cases, the laws of the land line up fairly closely to the Laws of God, and there’s nothing wrong when the government does things or passes laws that benefit all people. However, Paul expands on this idea in Romans 13, and adds a qualifier:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18 | NIV84)

There may be times when a Christian cannot live at peace with a governing authority. When that happens, he must remain faithful to God even if it means dishonoring or disrespecting the king, or any governing authority, for that matter.

Living as a citizen of Heaven is the most rewarding life a person can live. It’s not always easy. It requires wisdom and discernment and determination. But God promises to guide and give us that wisdom and discernment and even the power to do so.

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Your Amazing Faith, Part 4

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There is no more amazing thing in a believer’s life than his faith. A Christian may be highly educated, credentialed, celebrated, talented, and decorated, but his faith is his most amazing possession. The thing about the Christian’s faith is that nobody else in the world has it; only Christians. The world has its pale imitation of the believer’s faith, and while practicing positive thinking and while maintaining a positive mental attitude may lead to a better and more fulfilling life, those kinds of things are NOT Biblical faith. You don’t have faith naturally; it is placed into your heart by the Holy Spirit. We take our faith for granted but we shouldn’t. It’s what separates us from the rest of the world. It makes us special. It makes us supernatural people.

The basis of our faith is the Word of God, according to Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

The object of our faith is not our feelings or our emotions. We can’t gin up faith. Our faith is completely objective, and its object is a Person: God –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Faith may be a mystery to some, but not to Paul who had discovered the secret of his faith:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

But possessing faith and living by faith isn’t all sunshine and buttercups. Nobody knew that better that the apostle Peter, and he wrote to Christians who also knew all about how difficult living a life of faith can be.

These 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. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

Background

Some people might refer to Peter as “just a fisherman.” But nobody who spent three years in the company of Jesus Christ could be called “just a fisherman.” In fact, if you were to sit down and read through both of Peter’s letters in the New Testament, you would be reading about such things as the doctrines of election, foreknowledge, sanctification, obedience, the extent of Christ’s finished work on the Cross, God’s grace, the Trinity, salvation, faith, and hope! Peter was not “just a fisherman,” and while we always think about Paul as being the towering intellectual of the Christian faith, Peter was no intellectual slouch. He juggled mighty theological concepts while dealing with the day-to-day problems encountered by believers scattered all over the known world.

Here was a man who, at one time, was impetuous; the kind of guy that rushes in where angels fear to tread. Peter often spoke before he thought and some of the dopey things he said surely caused our Lord’s head to shake. Speaking of our Lord, Jesus said this to and about Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my
Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be e loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17 – 19 | NIV84)

Peter was the “rock” upon which the church was to be built. But before you get all excited about that, Peter, whose name means “rock,” would go on to write this in 1 Peter 2:5 –

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4, 5 | NIV84)

So, in Peter’s inspired opinion, all believers are “rocks.” We are all Peter. Peter knew there was nothing special about him; he knew he was an apostle, but he also knew he was just one of many. The church is built on people like Peter; people like you and me.

Peter wrote his letters after Paul wrote his, probably between 64 and 67 AD, after Nero had come to power and had begun his persecution of Christians. And we know to whom he wrote his letters, particularly the first one:

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1:1 | NIV84)

These were believers in peril; their lives were constantly threatened by persecution on account of their relationship with Jesus Christ and His church. And though Peter mentions persecution many times in his letter, the theme of the letter is not persecution but rather hope in times of persecution. Dr McGee refers to Peter as the “apostle of hope,” and hope in the New Testament is always linked to suffering. What that means is startling and counterintuitive. Suffering, what we all try to avoid at all costs, is something that produces hope.

And the readers of this letter needed hope. They were “strangers in the world, scattered…” all over the place. The recipients were a mixture of both Jew and Gentile believers, and both groups were literally “strangers in the world” and “scattered.” For the Jewish Christians, they were forced out of their homes in Jerusalem and forced to lived in strange, pagan cities. For the Gentiles, their citizenship was in heaven but they had lost so much just to follow the way of Jesus . So both of these groups of precious believers were suffering and that suffering (those trials they were dealing with) was producing something in their lives they didn’t have before: HOPE.

Trials in perspective

It’s easy to understand how trials produce suffering, but how does that produce hope? It all boils down to perspective. When a believer is facing a trial that produces suffering, what he pays attention to makes all the difference in the world. Peter gives us something to think about:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 | NIV84)

There’s your perspective right there. What Peter is referring to when he wrote “In this,” will become self-evident, but for right now, his point is a simple one: in the midst of “suffering grief in all kinds of trials” Christians should rejoice, not worry or be anxiety-ridden. That may sound crazy to you, but you need to pay attention to it. When you are experiencing trials that lead to suffering, you ought to rejoice – not praising the trials, but focusing on God instead of the trial. The key is forcing yourself to see God, not get bogged down in the trial. Remember what kind of trial Peter is talking about here. It’s a trial you experience because of your faith. We’re not talking about the trial of a bad cold or a feverish child, although you should focus on God regardless of what’s going on in your life.

As a side note, modern Christians have a completely warped out perspective on suffering. We foolishly think that whatever is happening at the moment is the most important thing in our lives. So when we are suffering the trial of a bad cold or a feverish child, those things tower over horizon and we behave in an unseemly way for a Christian to behave. When you drag your sick child to the emergency ward at the hospital and are freaking out because you have to wait to see a doctor, that’s unseemly behavior for a Christian to engage in because it says something very disturbing about your faith. It says you don’t have very much. A moment in the waiting room can ruin your testimony for Jesus Christ. And nothing is more important than that. How you behave when the thumb screws of life get tight says everything the quality of your faith.

But Peter is specifically referring to those trials you may face on account of your Christian faith. When that happens, here’s what “in this” refers to:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 | NIV84)

You may be facing trials on account of your faith, but if you keep your focus on what God has done for you and given you in Jesus Christ, your trials pale by comparison. The jeers and mocking, the persecution of losing your job or home because of your faith are NOTHING compared to what you GET in Christ! Thinking about what you have waiting for you in heaven may also seem counterintuitive and a denial of reality, but it isn’t.

Here’s the thing. Our faith in this is both objective and subjective. It is objective in the sense that our faith is in “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and in “his great mercy” that led to our “new birth.” It is subjective in the sense that there are definitely “rewards,” what Peter refers to “an inheritance that can never spoil or fade” that we should think about.

In the midst of these kinds of trials, if we can keep them in perspective and keep our focus on God, we’ll be fine. And that brings us to the verse that started this whole thing:

These 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. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

If you think that verse is a little hard to swallow in light of what came before it, try what Peter’s associate, James, wrote on for size:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 | NIV84)

Both Peter and James were not deniers of reality. Neither of them denied that the readers of their letters were suffering trials. They’re giving Holy Spirit-inspired advice that needs to be noticed and taken by modern believers.

As a Christian, you will face some forms of persecution on account of your faith. That persecution may take many forms, but it will come. Even in America. You may find that hard to believe, but all you have to do is ask the Christian who spoke out in support of traditional family values who has been denied a promotion because of it. Or the baker who refused to bake a cake for a “gay wedding” who had to pay a heftY fine. Those are forms of persecution. That you will face some form of persecution is guaranteed. How will you react to it? Peter wants you to understand that your most precious possession is not your job. It’s not your home. It’s not your friendship. It’s not your family. Your FAITH is your most precious possession and though you may lose much because of your relationship with Christ, you can never lose your faith. In fact, that faith is strengthened when you suffer persecution.

Augustine observed:

In the fiery furnace, the straw is burned by the gold is purified.

Martin Luther chimed in:

The fire does not lessen the gold but makes it pure and bright, removing any admixture. So God lays the Cross upon all Christians in order to purify and cleanse them well in order that their faith may remain pure even as the Word is pure, and that we may cling to the Word and nothing else.

Both of those guys were right. Why does your faith need to be purified? It’s because when we live and prosper and enjoy the blessings God gives us, we as sinful people tend to start focusing on them and trusting in them instead of God. Our faith becomes corrupted by other things, even very good things like friends and family and pension plans. When that happens, those corruptions in our faith – those impurities – need to be removed. And God will allow those persecutions that lead to suffering to do just that.

Perspective is everything. And it’s the one thing Peter’s friends needed and it’s the one thing we need, too.

Be’s of the Bible, Part 4

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Here we are, up to our fourth of seven “Be’s” of Scripture. The first three “Be’s” we looked at include:

  • Be Holy (because God is holy);
  • Be Perfect (or, “be mature”)
  • Be Still (and let God do the work)

In these three, and in fact in all seven “Be’s,” the Lord is issuing a command to His people. These “Be’s” are not suggestions; they represent something God wants us to become, or a way to behave or a way to think. But these commands are not onerous or burdensome; they are for our own good, and the longer we put off “being” the way God wants us to be, the harder life will be for us. God knows what’s best for us, yet He graciously allows us to decide when to obey any of the particular “Be’s” He gives. What a blessing a free will is! All we need to do is smarten up and learn how to use that free will for God’s glory. With His help through the Holy Spirit, we will as we become the kind of people He wants us to become.

Our fourth “Be” sounds like it was written by a teetotaler, but it wasn’t and it has absolutely nothing to do with abstaining from your favorite adult beverage.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

There are actually two “Be’s” there, but we’ll concentrate on the first one: “Be sober.” Let’s look at this admonition in the context of Peter’s first letter.

Peter, the man and the writer

We love Peter. Of all the characters in Scripture, most of us feel drawn to Peter because he seems to be so…human. He had such great successes and a few terrible failures. Sounds like a lot of people we know. Maybe even us! Peter was the kind of guy who had an opinion about anything and everything, and he wasn’t afraid to express it whenever he got the chance. Sometimes he was right, often he was wrong, but he never stopped. Some people might think of Peter as being a bit rash. Maybe. But with a guy like Peter, you always knew what was going on in his head and more importantly, in his heart.

But he was courageous, full of energy, overflowing with self-confidence, and he was full of hope. Sometimes he was fickle, weak, cowardly, a little unstable. Yet he became a towering figure in the early church and he’s often linked to another slightly unstable man, Paul. You couldn’t find two men more opposite in their temperaments, but both men were absolutely indispensable in the formation of the early Church.

Peter was a family man – a good son in law! – and fisherman by trade. Apparently he was a very successful fisherman because he owned a home in Capernaum that was large enough to accommodate his family and the Lord and even other disciples.

The religious leaders of his day believed Peter and Jesus’ disciples to have been uneducated and untrained. But really they were highly intuitive laymen who knew their Scriptures.

Andrew was his brother, and we’re not sure if Peter was older or younger. Peter’s full name was Simon Peter and was one of our Lord’s “inner circle,” along with James and John. For some reason, these three man were closer to Jesus than the other disciples and were witnesses to some things the others only heard about.  For example:

Peter, James, and John witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In fact, the only other people to see this miracle were her parents.

These three men also were the only witnesses to the event that took place of the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

The third event witnessed by this trio of disciples took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that Peter saw a side of His Lord nobody save James and John ever saw: the sheer agony of Jesus as He prayed to His Father concerning the trials about to befall Him.

These three events undoubtedly were seared into Peter’s mind and surely affected his ministry and his letters and gave him a perspective and insight into the spirit world we should pay attention to.

Advice to the church

The future of the church hung in the balance. She was being attacked from without by various persecutors and from within there were the constant threats of false teaching and false teachers. In chapter five of his first letter, Peter, just like Paul, gave some advice to certain people, and the first person in his cross-hairs was the Pastor.

To pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1 – 4 TNIV)

In the original Greek, the word for “elders” is presbuteroi, which seems to set these individuals apart as senior leaders of a congregation. In my opinion, the terms “elder” here, and “overseer” or “shepherd” elsewhere all refer to the same person. All three terms are used by Paul interchangeably in Acts 20:17, 28.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:17, 28 TNIV)

Peter begins his advice to pastors by making sure they knew that he was one of them, and that he had seen things they hadn’t. As a member of Christ’s inner circle, Peter saw things and heard things they hadn’t, so they should pay attention to him. His advice: “shepherd the flock!” Or we could put it this way: “Do everything for your congregation that a shepherd would do for his flock.” This isn’t new advice, in fact, it’s exactly what Jesus told Peter to do!

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 TNIV)

Not an unimportant word in John 21:15 is “my.” Any congregation is the Lord’s. It’s “the Church of God.” It’s God’s flock that any pastor has been given charge over. And Jesus loves His flock; it is extremely precious in His sight. That’s why nobody should view the pastorate as a career or as merely a job. Nobody should “choose” to become a pastor; it’s not a position to be coveted. If anything, it’s a position to be feared because the pastor has been tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of people who belong to Jesus Christ.

The job of the pastor, like the shepherd, is full of joy, and peace, but also anxiety and fear. Sometimes a shepherd has to poke and prod his sheep to stay on the safe path. Sometimes the pastor’s job is unpleasant and full of problems and heartbreak.

The pastor isn’t a dictator, although he could be. His life is on constant display for all to see. And contrary to what Bible colleges and seminaries would have you believe, nobody “learns” how to be a pastor. His example is the Great Shepherd Himself.

And unlike any other believer, the pastor will have to stand before the Lord to defend his faithfulness in ministry and give an account for all his actions with the flock under his care. As some might say, “That sucks.” Yeah, maybe it does, but a glorious future awaits the elder who, to the best of his ability, faithfully feeds Christ’s flock under his care.

To the congregation

But it’s not just the pastor who’s on the hook for living right and behaving right. The survival of the Church also depends on the behavior of the congregation.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5 – 7 TNIV)

Just as the “elders” of the Church will have to give an account of all their actions, in fact, all believers will have to stand before God to give an account before God. So all believers need to practice willful subjection and submission toward each other by respecting and honoring each other. This mutual submission, by the way, isn’t normal and is therefore difficult. This kind of lifestyle is ONLY possible when people are full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

To help his readers understand the kind of life he’s writing about, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34, showing how much God admires the virtue of humility. Saved or not, if people practiced a little more humility, we’d all be better off. But it’s not easy to live this way; not easy at all! So there’s a promise attached to those who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, manage to pull it off: They will be exalted at the proper time, which is God’s time by the way, not man’s. You should remember something else, most Christians won’t experience this “exaltation” in this this life, but in the life to come.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27 TNIV)

Far from exaltation, the peaceful lives of most Christians are threatened by anxiety and fear. Yes, life is full of stress and problems. Peter reminds us that true peace comes when we learn to give God our anxieties.

And this brings us to our fourth “Be.”

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

The Christian should never, ever be careless in how they live. Christians need to live deliberately.We need to be self-controlled and alert at all times. Peter uses two incisive aorist imperatives: Be sober! Watch! Peter condemns anxiety or worry, but says Christians need to be watchful and clear-headed. Believers need to be self-controlled; to not be ruled by their feelings or emotions; not to be inconsistent or flighty in their attitudes toward their faith.

Peter knew all about this because he got caught one time –

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of 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.” When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:31 – 46, verses 31, 32, 45, 46 cited TNIV)

So while Jesus promised to pray for Peter, Peter had a responsibility too! To stay awake! To keep his eyes open. So he’s just passing along to his friends what Jesus tried to teach him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Believers need to be clear-headed and always on the alert because our enemy, the devil, is relentless. He can’t touch those kept by the power of God, but he’s on the prowl, looking for any lost sheep that may have wandered from the fold. He’s looking for the believer restless in his faith; one who has become spiritually lazy; one for whom the things of God have become boring. Satan looks for the believers flirting with the world, and given the chance at the right time, he’ll destroy them. Hence the call to be wide awake and on guard.

Biblical Faith, Part 4

rock-climber

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:13, 14 NIV)

“These people,” the people mentioned thus far in Hebrews’ list of the heroes of the faith, were all commended by God as living their lives in faith, and eventually they all – all without exception – died in the faith. They lived and died continually exercising faith without having received what had been promised them by God. Every single one of them. That’s quite a statement to make, considering what we know about these men. Consider –

Noah. He was certainly a man of faith. For 120 years he built a big boat, big enough to house only his family, plus many, many animals, with only a word from the Lord to go on. He had no weather forecasts or anything else; just a word from God. In the face of mockery, he kept on. Yet of this man of God we read this –

When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. (Genesis 9:21 NIV)

When his sons saw him in such a state, they covered their eyes out of respect then covered him. Another son who witnessed the spectacle was cursed by Noah.

Abraham. Sure Abraham listened to his word from God, just like Noah did, and left Ur. But that’s not the whole story, is it? Here’s what God told him to do –

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 NIV)

Here’s what actually happened.

He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:5 NIV)

So this man of faith wasn’t quite perfect. Then there’s this to contend with –

“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

That’s right. This man of faith, when faced with a famine, chose to go down to Egypt but he was so afraid for his life that he got his wife to lie for him. It gets even better. A few years on, we read this –

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1, 2 NIV)

So this “man of faith” had one serious character flaw: he was a liar. And not a very good one, at that.

Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 20:27, 28 NIV)

It’s bad form for a father to favor one son above the other, but Isaac was a real piece of work. He didn’t prefer Esau because Esau was more righteous than his brother. It was because of the food! Isaac was driven by his stomach. He was a man who was motivated by himself; his likes or dislikes, and his comfort.

He was also a liar who was willing to trade his wife for safety. Sound familiar?

Jacob. Here was a man who was bold enough to wrestle with God in order to get a blessing from him. There have been many sermons about how this is a positive thing, still, would you have the nerve to do that? But then there’s what the prophet Micah wrote concerning this esteemed man of faith –

All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel. What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? (Micah 1:5 NIV)

Jacob was a deceitful schemer and that fatal flaw was passed on to the kingdom that bore his name. And he was a man of divided loyalties. While he didn’t use his wife for leverage, the fact is he took four wives, which led to a lifetime of problems which actually outlived Jacob.

These were the men whom God commended as living in faith and dying in faith. It’s difficult to understand the mind of God most times. To lump the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in with Enoch seems unreasonable. And yet, in God’s view, these imperfect patriarchs were as faithful as Enoch, the man who pleased God so much, God transposed him from earth to heaven.

What do we glean from this? God puts a premium on our attitude of faith but understands we are sinners. A moral or ethical lapse doesn’t automatically disqualify us from being people of faith.

…though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… (Proverbs 24:16 NIV)

This might be one of the greatest verses in the Bible and one every believer should memorize. While there is no excuse for sin, and the Bible makes no provision for slipping into sin and remaining in it, it does teach that “you can’t keep a good man down.” In other words, the righteous will always get up.

We all have a problem

Like the patriarchs, we all have exactly the same problem: The sin nature. We are all prone to fall. Amazingly, at the youthful age of 22, Robert Robinson wrote these words many of us sing in church:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love…

While our sin nature has been dealt with by Jesus Christ through His work on the Cross, there is never a moment in our earthly lives when we are completely free from its influence. We may be “dead to sin,” but sin is very much alive to us, and it is always trying to lure us back into its clutches.

Our sin nature always wants that which the Holy Spirits does not want for us. And our sin nature isn’t subject to God and it will never be. That’s why God gave us a new nature: To counteract the downward pull of our sin nature. The good news is that God has made provision for our new nature to win. Our sinful nature wins only when we let it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 NIV)

There will never be a time on earth when the believer won’t be pestered by his sin nature. But you don’t have to give into it. You never have to yield to temptation. Ever. Granted, you’ll always be a sinner saved by grace, but as far as temptation goes, you have it within you to conquer it every time.

A New Testament example

Peter is a good example of this. Peter, the man whose confession was the foundation the Church was to be built upon, was always falling down.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29, 30 NIV)

Talk about having faith! Peter actually got out of a boat during a storm and, doing what Jesus told him to do, stepped out in faith and walked on the water! He did something crazy; something nobody else had ever done before or since. But Peter did. That is, he did until he stopped walking by faith and started to look around. The storm made Peter sink.

Later on, this disciple of Jesus’ Peter denied Jesus three times. Not once, mind you, in blind panic, but three times. The last time was in a courtyard surround by other people. Peter could have sided with Jesus this time but he chose to side with the society he was with. He went out, and by himself he wept bitterly. He knew he had failed his Lord. And Jesus knew that he knew. Just as Yahweh never gave up on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Lord never gave up on Peter.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But 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 16:7 NIV)

Peter was given one more chance. Peter’s spiritual growth wasn’t instantaneous. It was slow going. But in spite of his falling down, Peter’s heart was right, and he kept getting up. We like Peter because most of us are so much like him. We love Jesus. We think we’re fiercely loyal to Him. We have faith in Him and His Word. But the cold, hard truth is we do the same things Peter did, only fortunately for us nobody is keeping a record of our failings for generations to read about.

Peter got up and preached some powerful sermons when the Church was born and won many converts for the Lord. Thanks to Peter, the Gospel broke into the Gentile world. Peter laid the foundation for the ministry of the apostle Paul – all because he got up.

God chooses to use people, not angels, to do His work. And as we journey through this life, falling down then getting up only to fall down again, God sees what we will become, not what we are. That’s why men of questionable reputations Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all listed among the heroes of the faith.

Abraham’s token blessing

Looking back at Hebrews 11:13, notice this –

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised… (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

Yet, that’s not the whole story, either. Back a few chapters we read this –

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13 – 15 NIV)

Abraham never received the big promise – the promise of a land and of nationhood. He died a nomad. But God in His sovereignty gave Abraham the tiniest glimpse of that big promise in the form of a son, Isaac. Against all the odds, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and the seed of nationhood had been sown. God saw Abraham, not as a nomad living in tents on the fringes of civilization, but as the father of many nations, and God let him experience a small part of that. Isaac was to Abraham as Mount Pisgah was to Moses.

God sees you as you are in Christ, not as you are today. He sees you in Christ, already in the heavenlies.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:6 NIV)

You don’t see yourself in the heavenly realms yet. You see yourself as you are now; struggling to get through this life, one day at a time. You can’t see yourself as you’ll become because you can’t see the future because it hasn’t happened yet. But God sees the future – He lives in it – and in the future you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms!

And that’s why these men, with all their faults and failings, were commended for their faith. That’s why they are heroes of the faith. God saw what they would become, not what they were.

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 NIV)

A SURVEY OF PETER’S LETTERS, 4

Living to Serve God, 1 Peter 4:1—19

In Viktor Frankl’s groundbreaking book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he wrote of his experiences while in a German prison camp during the days of World War Two.  The Germans had become experts at giving prisoners “just enough” to live on.  Some prisoners lived, others inexplicably died.  Frankl concluded that a human being can survive even the most horrible living conditions if they had hope; the moment they lost hope they began to die.

Most Americans have more than enough to live on and live for.  It has been noted that we “have means, yet no meaning.”  How many Americans merely go through the motions like drones every day, waiting for the weekend?  How many Americans have lost their child-like wonder of life?  How many Americans feel like they have nothing worthwhile to live or work for?

In chapter 4 of 1 Peter, the Apostle helps believers to put life into perspective and find true meaning in serving God.

1.  Have the mind of Christ, 4:1—6

(a)  Arm yourself, vs. 1, 2

The essence of Peter’s admonition is these verses is two-fold.  First, Christians will likely suffer for the faith.  Suffering is not necessarily a promise, but suffering to varying degrees does seem to the lot for most of the world’s population.  Suffering, of course, takes many forms, but if our Lord did not escape suffering as a human being, then His followers shouldn’t think they will.  The key is undeserved suffering; Christ’s persecution was undeserved and sometimes Christians will be treated the same way.

Second, when this undeserved suffering comes, Christians need to “arm themselves” with the same kind of attitude He had when He faced His undeserved suffering.  The phrase “arm yourselves” is a military phrase having reference to soldiers taking up weapons to fight the enemy.  Christians need to bear Christ’s attitude as they prepare for, not physical conflict, but spiritual conflict.  Christ’s attitude is seen by Peter as an effective weapon in spiritual warfare.

those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin.  (verse 1b)

This is a difficult phrase that has garnered a lot differing opinion.  What Peter is not suggesting is that somehow physical suffering is virtuous in and of itself or that physical suffering somehow makes one “sinless.”  It is probably good to view Peter’s thought with that of Paul’s—

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  (Romans 6:6, 7)

With verse 2, Peter gives us a two-fold reason for Christians arming themselves with Christ’s attitude.  First, since believers have identified themselves with Christ in His death—

they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires

And secondly—

[They live]… for the will of God.

(b)  Walk in God’s will, vs. 3—6

Peter contrasts the new life of faith with the reader’s former life of sin, and the new life of holiness is linked with “the will of God.”  When it comes to any and all forms of sin, a Christian has only one course of action open to him:  complete separation in both spirit and practice.  Separation does not mean isolation; Christians are never called to live apart from the world in a physical sense.  When Christians, in their daily lives, adopt the customs of the culture around them, the literally absorb the Satanic spirit that pervades the world.

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.  (verse 4)

When Christians live as they ought, in repudiation of the world and its customs, they can expect to be mocked and derided.  Christians are expected by the world to just “go along with it,” and when they don’t the world can’t understand why and treats them accordingly.

This should not come as a surprise to believers.  For too many it does, however, and many Christians find it more desirable to “go along with the world” than stand for his faith against it.

Verse 6 has engendered endless controversy because some scholars are baffled by it.  However, it is simple and straight forward in meaning—

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

In light of what Peter has been saying and in light of the overall teaching of the Bible, it seems verse 6 is saying that the Gospel had been preached to those who have already died.  Some had accepted it, others had not.  Those who died without accepting the Gospel will be judged according to how they lived “in the body,” those who believe will not; they will live “according to God” in the spiritual realm.

2.  A servant’s heart, 4:7—11

(a)  Watch and pray, vs. 7

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

Peter encourages his readers to view life in light of the Second Coming.  This is always the case in the New Testament.  The final consummation of salvation and the Second Coming are always given as ways to stimulate faith in believers who, perhaps, were facing discouragement and frustration in their lives of faith.

Peter’s reasoning is sound:  because the end is so near, Christians don’t have the luxury of experimenting with or dabbling in any kind of sin.  Instead, Christians ought to be engaged in prayerful living.

The characteristics Peter gives in verse 7, being alert and sober-minded, are essential for effective prayer.  Those who take their faith seriously are often made fun of, yet if we would please God and be effective as we pray, we must “get a grip” on our minds and emotions.

(b)  Love deeply, vs. 8, 9

Holiness is practical, and it manifests itself in how we treat others, especially members of the Church—the Body of Christ.  This reminds of Proverbs 10:12—

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

If there is pure love towards God, then Christians will love each other with the same kind of love.  Where love comes first, all other duties and responsibilities will be done.  When Peter writes— love covers over a multitude of sins—is he suggesting that we may ignore sin for the sake of love?  Not at all!  The motive in “covering” sins is not to conceal or hide them, or deny their reality, but rather to forgive them and, as a result, stop any strife or problem caused by that sin.

When Christians are living soberly, keeping their eyes open, praying, and loving each other, they will live generously, offering hospitality to other members of the Body of Christ as they need it.  This does not limit our generosity merely to providing room and board, Peter is just giving a very practical example of love in action.  It costs nothing to tell somebody, “I love you,” but letting that person live with you—feeding them and housing them—might be very costly indeed, but that demonstration of love must come without forcing it or complaining about it if it is to be considered “love.”

(c)  Use your gifts, vs. 10, 11

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  (verse 10)

Every believer is in some way able to minister to others, even if they don’t have a room to let.  Every believer has been given gifts by God; these gifts are not spiritual gifts.  Here, Peter is specifically making reference to practical gifts and abilities we may possess.  The gifts that we possess—gifts of making money, gifts of being able to teach or sell or comfort—are a trust from God to be employed as He intended for “faithful servants,” namely, in blessing others.  This kind of service, rarely seen as spiritual in nature, is, in fact, intensely spiritual.

3.  Commit yourself to God, 4:12—19

(a)  Reason to rejoice, vs. 12—14

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  (verse 13)

Peter returns to his dominant subject, suffering for the faith, as a way to experience joy.  In direct opposition to the conventional wisdom of our society, Christians ought to see suffering as a reason to rejoice.  Does this mean Christians should be happy because they are being mocked or otherwise persecuted on account of their faith?  Of course not!  What Peter means is that if a Christian is treated poorly because he is a Christian, that is cause to rejoice because it means that he is living right.

One thing becomes very evident:  suffering is supposed to be the norm for the believer.  Modern Christians seem to think the days of suffering for the faith are long past; yet the Word of God is timeless.  If we, as Christians in the 21st century are not suffering at the moment, we may rejoice for that; but if it comes, we should not be surprised and complain bitterly to God, instead we should rejoice for the peace we had and for the suffering we are experiencing because it shows we are living as God would have us live.  As in everything, Jesus is out example.  He lived for most of His life in simple obscurity, not rocking the boat or making any waves.  But when the suffering came, Jesus carried on, being obedient to His Father every step of the way, not complaining once.

(b)  Unashamed and unmoved, vs. 15—19

Not all suffering is good, though.

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  (verse 15)

Sadly, this is the kind of suffering most of us are familiar with.  Christians are not blessed for this kind of suffering.  It is suffering for the sake of Christ that brings blessing and joy.

And suffering for the right reason—Christ—should never embarrass a Christian.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  (verse 16)

In the present trials and tribulations, Peter seemed to sense the beginning of a long period of judgment—

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…(verse 17a)

When we read the Old Testament, we see a familiar pattern:  God always disciplines and judges His people first in order to reveal His standards to the rest of the world (see Isaiah 10:12, 13; Jeremiah 25:29; 49:12; Ezekiel 9:6).

When we, as children of God, pass through ordeals of fire, it is to purge the ranks and show those on the outside looking in what God expects from those who claim to love Him.   Christians who are living in obedience to Word and will of God need to take extra care in how they react to “unjust suffering.”  When a believer suffers, he should not be surprised or ashamed but instead  should praise God that he is a Christian.  God’s judgment begins with believers to strengthen them and purify the Body of Christ, and then His judgment reaches out to those who are not a part of the Body of Christ.

Verse 19 is a good verse for living—

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

When suffering is part of God’s discipline, and when it is not the result of personal wrongdoing, it is according to God’s will, and it should be endured with the right attitude; Christ’s attitude.  Those Christians who may be, at the moment, suffering in this way, are to “commit themselves” to God and “continue to do good.”  The rewards for faithfully serving God far outweigh any momentary suffering we may be undergoing.

(c)  2010 Witzend

Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Continued

Two Confessions

Walk into any Christian bookstore and look at the most popular books, and something becomes immediately apparent: modern Christians want easy answers to every situation in their lives. Got a problem in your marriage? There are dozens of Christian books that give you step-by-step solutions. Got a financial problem? There are Christian financial counselors who can give you step-by-step solutions. Got an emotional problem? There are Christian counselors who can give you step-by-step solutions. You wouldn’t know that every single problem in your life can be solved in 40 days or less simply by following a few steps.

Mark would have been a flop as a modern Christian writer. Mark paints a picture of life—Christ’s life—as one that is not smooth and ironed out. He pulls no punches in showing what the real message of Jesus is. It is not what we are used to today: “Come to Jesus and He will solve your problems!” Indeed, the message of Jesus is a message of complete abandonment to God. It is not a message of self-help or self-fulfillment. It is a message of self-denial, not a message of getting all your needs met. In short, Mark demonstrates what Christian life should be by using Jesus as the example. Jesus came to die and He expects the same level of self-sacrifice from those of us who claim to be His followers.

As we have learned previously, Mark is a gospel of action and things happen very fast in it. As early as the third chapter, Mark alludes that the opponents of Jesus wanted Him dead and nothing less. Thanks to this gospel, we know that the death of Jesus was not an accident; it was not something that Jesus fell into because He ruffled some of the wrong feathers. Indeed, the death of Jesus was in God’s mind from eternity past, it was in the minds of religious leaders from the first days of Christ’s ministry, and it was in Jesus’ mind at least as early as His 40 days in the wilderness before actually beginning His work.

1. Peter’s Confession, 8:27—30

Mark’s gospel is a masterpiece of construction. This section is the exact midpoint of his gospel and begins the most important and tumultuous time in Jesus’ life. His crucifixion is a mere six months away, but while Jesus was ready, He knew well that His disciples were not. Much had to be done to prepare them for this traumatic event. The ministry of Jesus up till now in this gospel was almost exclusively among the crowds that followed Him from place to place. But from now on, the work of Christ would be chiefly with His friends.

The resemblance between Mark’s account of this event and those of Matthew and Luke is very close, and except for two verses in Matthew (16:19—19), the sequence of events and even the language used is almost identical. There is, however, enough variation in each account to show that the gospel writers were not just copying each other’s work, but rather, each man wrote the story as the Holy Spirit guided Him, using each man’s temperament and personality.

The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (8:22—26) is an apt prelude to this section; the opening of the blind eyes symbolize and foreshadow the opening of the understanding of the disciples as to who Jesus really was and what His mission really involved. Even so, their understanding was not complete, but they did have a glimmer of the truth.

Jesus asked a question in verse 27 designed to test their spiritual insight (Sanner). The answers given are telling—

Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. (verse 28)

The “some” referred to by the disciples were the crowds who had been listening to and following Jesus during His almost three-year ministry. What is so telling is that despite the many miracles, including the resurrection of the dead, the life-changing teachings, not one person even wondered if this Jesus could have been the Messiah. Part of this was by design; Jesus took great pains to prevent the crowds from making the connection. But part of their ignorance was human nature; they had certain preconceived notions about what the Messiah would look like based on their interpretation of their Scriptures and the tradition they had grown up in. How often do we miss moves of God in our lives or in our churches because He moves in an unexpected or surprising way?

Jesus’ next question is far more searching, and even though He addressed it directly to His disciples, it is a question no human being can avoid when they come into contact with Jesus—

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (8:29)

The Greek is powerful. The emphatic pronoun hymeis (“you”) is used by Jesus to find out what was in the hearts of His friends. He wasn’t at all interested in the people thought about Him, even though that was His first question. His concern was what those closest to Him thought. It is not enough to know what other people think about Jesus, whether they are right or wrong. Jesus’ question was intended to show that the responsibility rests with the individual to know Him themselves.

True to form, Peter was ready with an answer. It was personal answer, but he was also the spokesman for the Twelve, and his confession would form one of the themes of this Gospel (see 1:1).

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (8:29b)

The Greek word, Christos (“Christ”) comes from the Hebrew masiah (“Messiah”) and really means “the Anointed One of God.” In the Old Testament, oddly enough, masiah was used of anyone who was anointed with the holy oil, like the priests and kings of Israel. The word is meant to convey someone with a special relationship with God; a very close relationship and consecration to serve only Him, and an enduement with God’s power to do that. Near the end of the Old Testament era, the meaning of masiah became much narrower and came to refer to, not a living king, but the ideal King who would be chosen, anointed, and empowered by God to deliver His people and to establish a righteous kingdom. Indeed, the many ideas that swirled around masiah were far more political than spiritual, which probably accounted for the reason that Jesus almost never used that term. That, of course, does not mean that Jesus did not believe that He was the Messiah, but that He was not merely the masiah of Israel, but of the entire world.

Peter’s confession, which is much fuller in Matthew’s account, showed that Peter had a depth of understanding into Christ’s nature and mission that set him apart from the rest of the crowd, but it also showed that he had not yet grasped exactly Jesus’ messiahship entailed. He still had so much to learn about the Messiah’s suffering, rejection, and death.

2. Christ’s confession, 8:31—33

Peter has just confessed that Jesus was the Christ. He was the One Israel had so long waited for. Jesus warned them not to tell anybody else—

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (8:30)

That statement is hard for some understand, but in light of what follows, it is clear that Peter’s reach had exceeded his grasp. He and the disciples needed to be taught what messiahship really meant before they tried to tell others. Of note is that Jesus does not refer to Himself as Messiah, but as the “Son of Man.” This is an important point theologically.

“Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite description of Himself throughout the Gospels. It occurs 81 times and with just 2 exceptions, no one else—not His friends or His foes—refers to Jesus as the Son of Man.

The phrase occurs many times throughout the Old Testament, sometimes of men, sometimes of a prophet, namely, Ezekiel; it is used over 90 times in his book of prophecy. This in itself is highly suggestive, however, the most significant passage in which “Son of Man” is used is Daniel 7:13—14, in which the Son of Man is shown to be a person from Heaven who, at the end time, will bring the Kingdom of God to earth—

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

This is significant because this is how Jesus is depicted frequently in Mark’s gospel—

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (8:38)

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (13:26)

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (14:62)

But Mark adds another dimension to the meaning of Son of Man, as seen in these passages, for example—

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (8:31)

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (9:9)

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” (10:33)

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus taught that He would be rejected by three groups: the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law. The three groups of people were not ordinary Jews, but religious leaders, specifically; they made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.

Although the prophets wrote frequently about a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, for example), the notion of an all powerful and invincible Messiah who would be rejected by religious leaders and be killed was unthinkable to Peter and his friends. Even though Jesus assured them that after three days He would rise again, we read this—

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (verse 32b)

Mark says Jesus “spoke plainly,” suggesting He held nothing back and spoke in a way Peter and the disciples could not misunderstand. But with a patronizing air, Peter had the audacity to “rebuke” Jesus.” The word epitimao (“rebuked”) is the same word used to describe the silencing of the demons. Basically, Peter was telling Jesus to “Shut up!”

Jesus, for His part, turned right around and rebuked him, Peter and the rest of the disciples, in the strongest language possible, which must have been startling to say the least. The rebuke was addressed to the Twelve because, as Jesus would have known, they shared Peter’s views.

“Get behind me, Satan!” (verse 33)

Why such a severe rebuke? Elwood Sanner offers—

With the popular view of the Messiah in mind, Jesus once more heard the voice of Satan calling Him away from the Cross (Matthew 4:3—10).

Barclay observes—

The tempter can make no more terrible attack than when he attacks in the voice of those who love us, and who think they seek only our good.

In other words, Peter did not see God’s plan, but was thinking with a “carnal mind.” Peter was literally opposing the will of God; all he could see was the Jewish notion of “Messiah.” That was the world’s way, not God’s way.

3. True discipleship, 8:34—38

In this section, a number of Jesus’ sayings are brought together by Mark, likely for the purpose of encouraging the Roman Christians who at the time were facing persecution and trials. Simply, Mark is telling them that such experiences are normal and to be expected in a life of discipleship. Lane comments—

Jesus had called his own disciples to the realization that suffering is not  only His destiny, but theirs.

Notice that the requirements for following Jesus are not only for the Twelve, but for all who would want to follow Jesus—

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple…. (verse 34a)

There are only two requirements:

  • Denial of self. “Denial of self,” strangely enough, does not mean denying yourself something, but to renounce yourself—to stop making yourself the object of everything you do and think about. For most human beings, this involves a complete shift of our habitual way of thinking, for God, not self, must be at the center of all of life’s pursuits.
  • Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. Cross-bearing does not refer to some sickness or life-long, enduring problem. It is the picture of a condemned man having to carry his own cross to the place of his execution, as Jesus was to do. To bear your cross means to follow Jesus, no matter what, even if it means suffering, humiliation, and death. Hunter makes the insightful observation—

If you want to be [Christs] disciples, you must begin to live a men on the way to the gallows.

For some, the price to follow Jesus may be too high. To those, Jesus says—

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it. (verse 35a)

The word “life” is interchangeable with “soul” because they are both correct interpretations of psyche. A person facing trials and persecution, or even just ridicule and humiliation, may literally save their lives or their reputations by denying Christ, but what would this person gain? The whole world? Not even the whole world can compare to the value of your soul. Once a person has forfeited their right to eternal life (denying Jesus), they can never get it back. Even if a person possessed the treasures of the whole world, they could not use them to buy back eternal life.

The climax of Jesus’ stern warning is this—

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (verse 38)

Following Jesus means the possibility of losing your life. However possible, that is not very likely to happen to us. For modern Christians, the probability is that following Jesus will result in our humiliation or ridicule. Ridicule is truly a weapon of mass destruction! It has slain many believers for no good reason. For those of us who think so highly ourselves and who consider our “reputations” and the opinions of others of greater value than our souls, the End will not be happy. Being spiritually disloyal to Christ, who gave His life for us, carries with it consequences so terrible they cannot be imagined. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exchanged the glories of heaven to become man for you. If you prefer the present glory of man over the future glory of heaven, then that is all you have. The glory of heaven will elude you.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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