Preached in the Parish of the North Peace, Easter I, 2023. The first in a series on 1 Peter.
Over the next number of Sundays we are going to work our way through 1 Peter. So as we begin we are going to ask some of the foundational questions that will be important in accessing this text. First, who is Peter. Second, who is he writing this letter to.
Who is Peter? We first meet Peter in the Gospels as Simon, son of Zebedee. Jesus calls him and his brother Andrew to leave behind their nets (Luke 5, Mark 5, Matthew 4). Jesus goes to his house and heals his mother in law (Matthew 8). Jesus appoints this Simon one of the Apostles and sends him out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven, casting out demons and healing the sick (Matthew 10, Mark 14). This Simon walks on the water of the Sea of Galillee out to Jesus, but getting distracted by the waves sinks. By Jesus’s hand he is pulled out of the sea and called “ye of little faith” (Matthew 14). When most of the crowds following Jesus desert him, Jesus asks the Apostles if they too will desert him and it is this Simon who says “where should we go, you have the words of eternal life” (John 6). At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks the Apostles who they say he is. Simon blurts out “you are the Messiah the Son of the Living God”. Jesus says that flesh and blood has not revealed this to him, and Jesus gives Simon at that time a new name, Cephas, which means “the rock”. He says that upon this witness, this man, he will build his church. Of course this ‘rock’ immediately says that he should not go to Jerusalem to die and be raised again to new life so the same Jesus says to the same man “get behind me Satan” (Matthew 16). Some stable Rock. This is the theme of Peter, he oscilates between rushing in and faltering as he rushed out on the lake. When Jesus washes his feet Peter isn’t so sure, so Jesus says to him you will have no part in me and zealous Peter says wash my hands and face also, for which he is rebuked(John 13). He says he will never deny Jesus, but denies him three times before the cock crows (Matthew 26). What a shaky and undertrustworthy rock is this mortal man.
But upon this rock Jesus does build his church. After he has risen Jesus restores Peter, commanding him to feed the sheep he will entrust to him (John 21). When God sends down the Holy Spirit and gathers thousands at Pentecost around the Apostles Peter is given a sermon that I borrowed much of in my Easter Sermon. When Peter preaches God creates the foundation of his church, these thousands gather around and are shaped by the Eucharist, by the Apostles’ teaching, by fellowship and by prayer. These remain the cornerstone of how we do this thing that we call church. Peter has a large role in organizing the work of this young body, ordaining and appointing deacons to coordinate works of mercy to the weak and needy, in organizing evangelical missions to Samaria, Damascus and Babylon, and by visions from God understanding that the Lord was now raising up Christians not just among the Jews but among all nations.
So how does Peter introduce himself in this letter? Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1). He uses the name Jesus gave him, the name he by grace made real in his life, and he uses the office Jesus gave him as an apostle. Do people know what the word apostle means? It comes from two greek words “apo” which means send and “stello” which means forth. Those Jesus sent forth are the apostles specifically those he first sent forth in his earthly ministry to announce the coming of the kingdom of heaven and those he sent forth on a mountain in Galilee after his resurrection to preach the gospel to every creature baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To whom is this letter sent. At Pentecost many exiled Jews had come back to celebrate at the temple. These went away changed by the gospel. They had been scattered by the empires of this world, by Babylon and Assyria and Alexander the Great and Ptolemy. They had been gathered in for harvest by the king of the universe. Peter wrote to those who had come to believe in Jesus among the Jews scattered throughout Anatolia or what we might call today the larger Asian part of Turkey. They are listed in the order of where a messenger might deliver this letter arriving along the Roman road. The locations are given as provinces of Roman administration. To Pontus, To Galatia where some wild Celtic Gauls had settled, a place with many gentile converts as well hence Paul’s letter to the Galatians, to Cappadocia later a region of amazing monasticism and a place with these beautiful breathtaking fairy chiminies, these geological features that seem not of this world, to Asia along the Aegean Sea including Ephesus this massive city back then of hundreds of thousands, and last to Bithnyia along the south coast of the Black Sea. I know some people think that Peter is writing this letter from Rome and is using the term Babylon with artistic license. But given the way this letter was delivered, the list of the provinces in the order they are presented to us I do think Peter is writing this letter from where he says he is writing this letter from. I think he is writing it in and from Babylon an important area for exiled Jews to whom he had a mission.
He names those he is writing to as those given a new birth in Christ Jesus. That is their identity, those born from above, those born again. He names those he is writing to those who have a living hope in an inheritance they are coming into after death. These are they who have heavenly treasures stored up for them. But now, while they wait to come into their inheritance they will suffer. This is a theme throughout this book. We have a joyous and sure hope. From today until the day we receive it we will have troubles as heaven and earth convulse, as we are tried and tested and prepared for eternity. Peter identifies them as those who are being refined by fire so that they may receive the end result of their faith, the salvation of their souls when Jesus is revealed.
Cling to Christ friends. He is a good shepherd who will lead us to green pastures and beside still waters, but the path is a narrow way, and he will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, and he will lead us to feasts surrounded by terrible enemies. This will be the theme of this book, that goodness and mercy will follow us through many troubles, but through them Christ will lead us into what he has promised us, eternal life in him. May he bless our reading of this book in the coming books, may he feed us spiritually as we gather to feast.
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