Drawn by the sound of a violent wind, God-fearing Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus, and the Roman province of Asia stood in a multinational crowd and heard a message from Galileans in their own languages. Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). At the end of weeks that included a shameful denial, a death, a resurrection, a restoration, and now the flames of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and introduced listeners to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Peter described the power of Christ’s resurrection, portrayed the mission of the Holy Spirit, and laid out the work of Heaven. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 37-39). Filled with that Spirit, thousands of his listeners returned home to share the truth they had found. This was Peter’s first recorded sermon.
Decades later, near the end of his work and his life, Peter wrote his last recorded sermons. They are encased in two letters addressed to the listeners and spiritual descendants of the Pentecostal, God-fearing listeners visiting Jerusalem that day from Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia, as well as Galatia and Bithynia. In these letters, Peter again presented Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the tasks that were before the believers at this stage of their spiritual development. I love reading and learning about the growth of Peter’s relationship with Jesus. In his letters, Peter shares the depth of that relationship by the names he calls Jesus, the way he describes the work Jesus has done for us, and the gifts Jesus gave the young church, and (two millennia later), gives us in the church today.
Early in Peter’s first letter, he used the name, Jesus Christ. Jesus: the One who saves us; Christ: the Anointed One. Anointing, in many BCE cultures, was a way of setting aside a person for a specific task. To those who understood the ancient sanctuary and temple services, all parts of that sanctuary were anointed and set apart to represent the work of the One who would come to save. Christ means that Anointed One set apart from times eternal, whose costly task was to save us from the disastrous consequences of Edenic decisions. Almost immediately in his text, Peter added the title Lord to the name Jesus Christ. What a lesson is wrapped up in a name! The One who rules is the One who was set apart to rescue and Who loves infinitely, deeply, and unselfishly.
Peter describes our relationship with Jesus as coming to Him, the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4). The Greek word used here is lithos, which can mean a boulder, a piece of the boulder, or a precious stone. What a multifaceted use of a single word! Peter is clear that Jesus is the boulder, chosen and precious Cornerstone; and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame. He is the Cornerstone, a stone that causes men to stumble because they disobey the message (vs. 4,7,8). I think it is a remarkable gift of God’s love that Peter also uses lithos to say we can be part of the Cornerstone, living stones being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood (vs. 5). I like the nuance of precious stones, like jasper. Both the Cornerstone and we who are part of the Cornerstone are precious gems, treasures of Heaven.
Finally, Peter used the name Savior (soter) which means the one who rescues from grave danger. In the New Testament, this nomenclature is only used to refer to God the Father and Jesus. We were indeed in grave danger, and the Deity, as a team, went on a costly mission to rescue us.
Peter talks about the gifts Jesus gives us through His life and mission on earth. The resurrection gives us new birth into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), a good thing for a people in grave danger. His sufferings would lead to the glories that follow (vs. 11). I remember reading, “It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love” (E.G.White, Desire of Ages, p. 19). That sentence has changed how I read the word glory. Now, when I read Peter’s statement in verse 11, I hear that the suffering of Jesus will lead believers to understand Heaven better and, as part of God’s community, will choose to live lives of self-sacrificing love. We are redeemed (lytroo: to free a slave by paying a ransom) by the Lamb without blemish (vs. 18). He bore our sins that we might die to sin (1 Peter 2: 24). We were slaves to that which causes harm to ourselves, others, and the earth. We can live differently and forever because we are ransomed by the Lamb.
Peter focuses on the ways Jesus strengthens us as individuals and as a church. Jesus, revealed and seen clearly, fills us with inexpressible and glorious joy for [we] are receiving the end result of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls (1 Peter 1:9). We are blessed when insulted because of the name of Christ . . . because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon [us] (1 Peter 4:14). For each of us, the ways we are blessed by the Spirit of God are unique to our journey and suited to our needs. It is important for us to look for and note the blessings God sends us even in the most difficult, frustrating, and heartbreaking of times. That action is part of a discipline that gives us eye salve to see God at work for good. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). This is a discipline to trust even when we cannot see an outcome we want. His divine power gives us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him (2 Peter 1: 3). In Hebrew minds, “to know” meant an intimate and vulnerable relationship. When I read this statement I think of the journey it took Peter, and takes us, to develop a relationship with Jesus that is so intimate and so vulnerable that we see the ways Jesus answers his promise in our life. And finally, Peter describes a gift from Jesus that is also an example for us to follow: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Our Ruler is saving us from grave danger and not waiting to strike us with lightning bolts. Our Anointed One is looking for us to turn around so we can face Heaven clearly. Jesus is also waiting for us to be as patient with others as Heaven is with us.
I remember the Peter from the Gospels—impetuous, protectively violent, racist, self-assured, fearful when threatened, and not yet able to know that glory means self-sacrificing love. What I enjoy about these letters is that Peter is the living example of what he wrote. His understanding of the character, nature, and mission of Jesus grew stronger. He, who tried to block a journey to Jerusalem and crucifixion, could now see himself as a slave ransomed by a bleeding Lamb. He learned to live the glory of self-sacrificing love. He knew the blessing of being insulted in Christ’s name and the ability to respond with a fearless grace instead of a sword. Peter saw how long-suffering Jesus was with him, and impetuousness became patience. Simon, who had bowed in shame at his denial of Jesus, had been restored. I can only imagine what it must have meant to him to be able to write Simon Peter (part of the Rock), a servant of God, and trusted to be an apostle (congregation builder) of Jesus Christ. My heart sings at his redemption. I am glad he shared his journey with us.
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