I wonder how many of us can associate with the following scenario? And if so, how many of us can associate with both sides of it? Someone is needing advice on a matter that is troubling them.
Who do they turn to for it? Do they go to a friend or family member whom they know has been there before or do they go elsewhere? Possibly to somebody like a counsellor who should be more objective and able to stand apart from the emotional side of your dilemma. Whatever route you go down the last thing you really want to hear or indeed say if you are the one who has been sought out is, ‘I know exactly how you are feeling and this is what I did when it happened to me so therefore you would do well to do the same thing.’ We all know it is impossible for us to feel exactly the same or for that matter to know exactly how another person is feeling. The first letter of Peter is written not by a man who has been asked by the recipients to offer his advice or counsel but it is written by a man who has known suffering, on a personal level and as a first hand eyewitness to all that his friend and Lord had to endured. He is not a man who is writing to tell everyone that he has the answers. He is a man who is encouraging other believers that Jesus has the answers and it is to him and him alone that they should go. We will follow the letter and as it unravels three main themes will become clear. The privileges and responsibilities of Salvation. Christian submission and God’s honour. And finally. The suffering and persecution of Christians.
During our journey through the Gospel according to Mark we encountered Peter in several places. I said that we would often find him at the most important parts of Jesus’ journey and sure enough he was there at the highs as well as the lows. In the Gospel narrative Peter is seen as one who covers the spectrum of disbelief to absolute faith. He is amongst the first to be called by Jesus as a disciple. He is the one who denies Jesus three times on the night of his arrest but he is also the one who Jesus calls the rock upon which the church will be built. Over the next few weeks we will look at Peter’s letters beginning today with his first which is believed to have been written when Peter was in Rome around the year 64AD. Most scholars place Peter’s death during the persecution times that he writes of in this letter, that being mid to late 60’s AD. In the early days Christianity was tolerated by the Roman Empire but as time moved on the government eventually began to take exception to some of its teaching. It did not like the talk of another kingdom, and certainly not a kingdom that was greater than the one Rome had created. It did not take kindly when Christians refused to bow down to the Roman idolatrous way of life with its numerous gods for all things. It could not understand how the Christian people had turned their back on the advancement of worldly wealth for the benefit of feeding and clothing the poor.
Peter writes in such a way that reveals his simple background as a fisherman, he was no academic who had learned about Jesus in a book, he was a man who had given over his life to walk closely with the man who called him forth. His writing resembles a sermon rather than a written thesis. He uses expressions that were common figures of speech. Remember Jesus too would speak in ways that people hearing him could understand when he addressed them through the parables. Peter speaks about things such as cornerstones, or a lamb and a shepherd. But this letter is not some homespun untampered, ill-informed advice from a man who just thinks he knows what is best for people, oh no, Peter was well grounded in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets. Peter quotes form the Old Testament more than any other New Testament writer. His letter is written to various provinces across the empire in what we now know as Turkey. It is a letter of encouragement for believers to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It will discuss many of the trials and persecutions the Christian Church will face in these early days but they are urged to stand firm in the face of these ordeals and keep the faith. With a crazed Emperor Nero blaming Christian people for everything that was going wrong in the empire and making a sport out of using them a scapegoats. Torture of Christians in a very public way became a pastime of pleasure for many. Of course it is a word written for a season at different points in history when persecution has occurred. During WWI in or around the area Peter is writing to, that is modern day Turkey, many attacks took place on Christian villages. The Turkish assault on Armenian Christians is counted amongst the bloodiest religion-inspired massacres in history, with over one million people being killed. During the 20th Century thousands of Christians died in East Africa during the Mau Mau uprising and the Idi Amin reign of terror. Many more have suffered under Soviet and Chinese persecutions.
Even in our time, oppression continues with Christian converts being tortured and or imprisoned. What advice could one man offer to all these people? If you or I were asked, ‘How can I handle all of this?’
Would we know where to even begin? Peter comes at all of this from a very personal starting point. Having walked with Jesus he encourages those who have not seen with their own eyes but believe. In closing I want to look at just one verse from our reading, verse seven, and the refiner’s fire. The Good News Version puts it this way, ‘Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honour on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed.’