The Writings of Peter
Since the first Sunday of September, we have been on a journey through the New Testament writings of Peter.
As has been discussed week by week, the writings - two letters - were written by Peter, who identified himself as an apostle and servant of Jesus Christ. A messenger for Jesus. A messenger totally dedicated to doing his Master’s will.
In his letters, Peter wrote to people who had become exiles because of their Christian faith. People who nonetheless were described in I Peter as chosen people. Chosen by God to be set apart by the Holy Spirit to obey Jesus Christ.
Peter challenged those people to put away and abstain from bad behaviors like malice and slander and to replace such passions with good conduct like fearing God, honoring leaders, and loving others. Good conduct was and is to be evident even within families. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Husbands are to live considerately with their wives. Living according to the teachings of the Bible is important because the end of all things is at hand. Living that way is possible as we humble ourselves enough to cast all our anxieties on God, that being necessary to resist the devil, who looks to devour us spiritually.
In II Peter, he wrote that we are to beware of false prophets - teachers who teach anything other than Jesus being the source of blessings now and Heaven later.
Here is a related story.
The ancient sport of falconry used trained hawks or falcons in the pursuit of wild game.
There was a problem, though. When a trained hawk or falcon was allowed to fly, it often rose too high for human eyes to see it.
To compensate for that, a hunter often carried a small caged bird called a shrike. By watching the antics of the little bird, the hunter could always tell where his hawk or falcon was because the shrike instinctively feared the predator and cocked its head to keep it in view.
We who are Christians need the alert perception of a shrike when it comes to detecting spiritual enemies, including false teachers. In his letters, Peter words it that we must be spiritually sober and watchful. We must always be on the alert.
To accomplish that, we of course do not have shrikes with us, nor would they be of any spiritual use. Neither does God provide sirens to warn us of impending spiritual attacks. But the Lord does provide the Bible, which is to be read and studied and thought about regularly. He does give us opportunities to pray. He does challenge us to invite the Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts. In those ways we can be sensitive to spiritual dangers, including threats to our faith posed by false teachers.
Here is a poem.
The devil is clever, deceiving us all.
He subtly can cause even the strongest to fall.
But we his sly methods are sure to discern
By making God's warnings our daily concern.
Also in his second letter, Peter wrote of the need for Christians to grow in their faith. Peter listed steps of growth. They are virtue, knowledge and self-control, steadfastness and godliness, brotherly affection and love.
We are chosen to live righteously in all aspects of our lives, thereby showing our connection to Jesus. We are to grow spiritually, which will help us to beware of the devil and false teachers. Those points have been made during our journey through the New Testament letters written by Peter.
In this message, we bring the journey to a close as we look at the last chapter of II Peter. Chapter 3. In that chapter, Peter ends his letters with some important challenges. Challenges for the exiles to whom he originally wrote. Challenges for Christians today as well.
In the Revised Standard Version, chapter 3 is divided into four paragraphs. That is how the chapter will be presented in this message.
Verses 1 through 7.
Peter mentioned this was his second letter to the Christian exiles. He did that so they would recall all of what he taught, including in I Peter. That was important because of his desire to arouse them to live for Christ. Something they were already doing. Peter complimented them with the statement they had sincere minds. Peter wanted them to continue to live for Christ as they grew in their faith.
It seems repetition, as in writing a second letter, is an important aspect of the Bible. In addition to Peter repeating his challenge to live righteously, using both I and II Peter to do so, repetition is found elsewhere.
Paul repeated his teachings in several of the New Testament letters he wrote. Jesus repeated Himself. The four Gospels have similarities. Repetition comes every Christmas and every Easter. Every year Jesus’ birth and resurrection are celebrated. It is not new information that is learned, but rather the same events covered each year.
There is a purpose of repetition. It is to help us learn what is important to know.
In football it is important for players to get reps, the hope being that what they are supposed to do will become second nature. The same is spiritually true for Christians. The more we read and study the Bible and the more we pray and the more we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, the more ingrained right living will become.
How many times do we need to hear or see something before it really gets into our minds? I could not find a definitive answer, but it is certainly more than once. I found suggestions of three times or 11 times or 13 times. The point is that repetition is important, which is why Peter wrote a second letter to the Christian exiles.
And notice the word beloved, which is found a number of times in chapter 3. Again there is repetition, in this case to remind the exiles they were dearly loved by Peter. Loved enough by Peter that he was willing to teach them and challenge them so they, like him, would be strong in their faith in Jesus.
A faith communicated in three ways - the predictions of the holy prophets in the Old Testament, the commandment of the Lord during His earthly ministry, and through the apostles, including Peter.
What an important teaching about the unity of Scripture. Christ is foretold in the Old Testament. Christ is told about in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The message of Christ is taught by the apostles.
The exiles to whom Peter wrote knew about Jesus. They knew the challenge to stay true to Jesus. They also knew - Peter wrote about this next - that scoffers had come and would come. That the scoffers did and would try to get Christians to turn away from their faith in and obedience to Jesus.
Scoffers will come in the last days, following their own passions and saying, where is the promise of the Lord’s coming? They bolstered their scoffing by claiming that all things have continued and were continuing as they had been doing forever. Scoffers said life went on and on, with no changes. They took that to mean things were not going to change, meaning Jesus was not going to return, so anyone and everyone was and is free to live however they want to live.
Peter denied that teaching by providing the reminder that this is not a stable universe.
For instance, there was nothing before God created the universe. Creation was definitely a major change.
Then the Great Flood happened. It filled the earth with water, causing the deaths of almost all the people and animals and birds of the earth. That was a major change.
And, according to many Old Testament prophets, another big change is going to come. The change will be a time of great fire. Predictions of that are found in Joel, some Psalms, Isaiah, Nahum, and Malachi.
Life has changed, it was and is going to change again. Moving to the second section of chapter 3 - verses 8 through 10 - when that will happen is not known. But, Peter wrote, do not ignore this one fact. There is the word beloved again. Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Put another way, the Lord’s timing is not necessarily our timing. He is not bound by time.
And there is this. For every day Christ delays, there is a purpose. A good, positive purpose. The purpose is forbearance. Patience. Giving more and more time for people to come to repentance. Jesus is patient because He does not want anyone to perish in their sins. Jesus is patient, waiting for more and more people to accept Him as the Savior so they, too, can reach Heaven.
However, one day the Lord will return. It will happen like the coming of a thief. That is also taught by Old Testament prophets Joel, Isaiah, and Zephaniah, and by Jesus. Then, in an instant, as in too quickly to give another chance - so decide to accept Jesus now - the skies will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.
Verses 11 through 13. Since all the things of the world are to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you and I to be? Peter answered this way. Live lives of holiness. Be different from the people of the world. Live lives of godliness. Do everything in ways that are pleasing to God. Wait for - know it will be according to God’s timing - but anticipate the coming of the day of God. The coming return of Jesus.
Peter repeats the news that on that day, the heavens will be kindled and dissolved and the world will melt with fire, which is a scary thing to think about, but something we can be ready for and spiritually survive if we are right with God. Then we will be in Heaven, where righteousness dwells.
Verses 14 through 18.
Therefore, beloved. There is that word again - a term of endearment, a reminder Peter was writing these words because of his love for those to whom he wrote, a love so great he wanted them to be blessed here and be rewarded with Heaven later.
Beloved, since you wait for Jesus’ return, be zealous to be found by Him on that day - on the day of His return - without spot or blemish, and at peace. Zealous refers to studying and applying the Bible to life and praying and worshiping. Without spot or blemish means to be pure, which spiritual growth allows His people to be. Peace, as mentioned before in this series of message, is not necessarily happiness, but rather a spiritual confidence that when we have accepted and are obeying Jesus, we are right with God now and in Heaven, knowing we are in God’s will, knowing He will therefore help us in times of trouble.
Peter mentioned Paul. I am sure those who first read these words of Peter were more than willing to heed Peter, but just in case, he mentioned Paul as having the same teachings in the letters he wrote. Interestingly, Peter added that Paul was sometimes difficult to understand, but, Peter claimed, Paul’s teachings were like those of Peter. Again, repetition is important. In this case, it came from two different leaders of Christians.
Therefore, beloved - there is that word yet again - knowing the danger at hand, beware of those who twist the truth, lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own spiritual stability.
Instead, grow. That word is also a repeat of what both Peter and Paul wrote over and over again. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him - not Peter, as important as he was - to Jesus be the glory - the honor and splendor and praise and worship and thanksgiving - both now and to the day of eternity.
* * * * *
In Fort Knox, Kentucky, there is the United States Bullion Depository. It is a fortified building that stores 5,000 tons of gold bullion and other precious items entrusted to our federal government.
Fort Knox is protected by a 22-ton door and layers of physical security, consisting of alarms, video cameras, minefields, barbed razor wire, electric fences, armed guards, and unmarked Apache helicopters. Based on the level of security, Fort Knox is considered one of the safest places on earth.
You know what? There is another place that is even safer. It is filled with something even more precious than gold. That place is Heaven, which holds the gift of eternal life.
Peter encouraged the Christians to whom he wrote, and those of us who are Christians now, to live righteously, including accepting Jesus as Savior, so we will be able to enter, not Fort Knox, but Heaven. So we will be able to have, not tons of gold, but eternal life that nothing can taint and no one can steal.
What encouragement did Peter give? Repeating the summary one more time. Those who were and are Christians are chosen people. Chosen by God to be set apart by the Holy Spirit to obey Jesus. We who are chosen people are to put away and abstain from bad behaviors like malice and slander and replace such passions with good conduct, like fearing God, honoring leaders, and loving others. Good conduct was and is to be evident even within our families. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Husbands are to live considerately with their wives. Living according to the teachings of the Bible is important because the end of all things is at hand. Living that way is possible as we humble ourselves enough to cast all our anxieties on God, that being necessary to resist the devil, who looks to devour us spiritually, and false teachers, who seek to destroy us spiritually. We are to grow spiritually, adding a number of things to our faith - virtue, knowledge and self-control, steadfastness and godliness, brotherly affection and love.
And, as discussed in this message, we must be zealous to be ready for whenever it is time for us to be in Heaven, either personally or when the Lord does return.
All of that written by Peter, an apostle and servant of Jesus Christ. A messenger dedicated to doing his Master’s will. The will of Jesus Christ. Jesus the one who deserves glory now and forever.
As Peter ended his letter, so this message ends. Amen.
The closing song for this message and for this series of messages is Prayer of My Heart, which speaks of the need to pray for a closer walk with God, for a deeper, richer life based on God’s love, and for a deep-rooted faith in God’s word, all possible through God’s Son Jesus.
O for a closer walk with God,
A life that bears no stain
Of earthly pride or vanities,
A life that’s not in vain!
O for a deeper, richer life
With treasures stored above;
A life that soars o’er eternal strife
And nestles in God’s love!
O for a faith that’s rooted deep
In God’s eternal word;
A faith unmoved in time of trial,
That’s anchored in my Lord!
Lord, help us to not only know, but also obey the teachings You gave to Peter to write. Teachings of warning. Teachings of how we are to live as Your people. Teachings of promises that will be fulfilled for all who believe in and obey You.
Help us, please, to walk close to You so we can obey. Help us to live lives that are rich, which will be our reward for obeying. Help our faith to grow so we will want to obey. All this is the prayer of our hearts. Amen.