A Bridge Too Far

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20

We compare great people to other great people. Our capacity to assess greatness is limited by our knowledge and intellect. Some have read many books and know men and women of great accomplishments. Others have only temporal exposure to greatness, from press reports of the famous.

Here the Jews knew of the prophets, and did see in Jesus their greatest attributes. But they could not cross the bridge to who he really was, but by revelation directly from God. Peter had crossed this bridge.

If we know Jesus as the Christ we have been granted such knowledge by God himself, and as such we are blessed beyond measure. Further, while we are but a stone, with us he will build his church, not on the backs of human effort, but on the massive rock of his truth, which is founded on the reality of Jesus’ relationship to his father.

As Jesus did the will his father in heaven, so do we. As Jesus withstood all that hell could throw at him, so will we. At the same time, the church will be left standing in the end, triumphant.

He told the disciples not to tell fellow Jews about him, because his time on earth was about to end. They had squandered their opportunity. We pray that God opens the eyes of those around us to know true greatness before it’s too late!

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Ode to the Hand Wringers

12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:12

One of the most frustrating things of life is decision-making based on what we believe the future holds. We choose schools, invest our money, select a job, take a vacation, buy survival gear on the basis of skewed, flawed prognostications.

Solomon tells us no one knows what’s around the corner. This scares the daylights out of the risk averse. These types constantly opt for the protection plan, and they’re first to boast of their foresight when calamity hits.

But the message here is more “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Enter the insouciant man, who sets sail in unpredictable waters, and phones back on the wonderful time he’s having, inciting the hand wringer’s envy!

What a fine line we walk! There are those who can barely get out of bed, and those who plunge headlong into the abyss on a mountain bike.

I get the feeling, though, Solomon would err on the side of “living a little,” rather than burying his head in the sand.

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Farm Team

12 Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ. 1 Peter 5:12-14

It would be intriguing to study all the men around Peter and Paul. Some, like Silvanus and Mark, did time with both icons. When you think about biblical geography and the limitations of travel, to show up in numerous places took huge effort and faithful commitment. Moreover, the apostles were marked men, and association with them had to be dangerous.

But hanging in there–or better, around–proved to put Silvanus in the enviable position to take a letter from the Little Rock.  Peter, from firsthand experience, regarded him as a “faithful brother,” and may have insisted that his secretary include “for so I regard him.”

Silvanus undoubtedly enhanced the finished product, because he was on the same page. What’s more, he had absorbed sound doctrine from “the primary actors” in the early church.

I imagine the dictation to be quite animated since Peter was pacing about in the spirit, “exhorting and testifying” about the “true grace of God.” Surely the words “stand firm in it” were delivered with passion and clenched fist.

The other man mentioned is “son Mark.” By now he was torn between two lovers, with Paul now pronouncing him  “useful.”

Both Silvanus and Mark, I’m sure, were ready to assume the mantle of leadership when Peter and Paul’s work was done. In fact, they were on the verge of being called up.

The reference to she who is in Babylon is curious, but not so, when you consider the escalating persecution of the church in Rome. It was code for “the elect” in that pivotal city.

Every believer should immediately be struck with the same affection upon meeting a fellow citizen of glory. In that time it was expressed with a holy kiss and a peace be with you. Now it’s a holy hug.

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Hang in There

10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11

When Peter wrote this letter, it was likely just before or in the first stages of Nero’s concerted persecution of Christians. It’s interesting to see both Peter and Paul on the same world stage as this vile emperor. We read of all the creative ways Nero killed Christians, from throwing them to wild beasts to burning them alive. These stories had to strike fear into their hearts, no matter how courageous. Perhaps Peter’s preoccupation with suffering in this letter was meant to prepare those who would go through this terrible time. The crux of his message was that, no matter what was thrown at them, the God of all grace would “perfect” them, or as the word means, to join them back together, certainly in glory. Many suffer similarly today under ruthless dictatorships. They too can draw comfort from these words. However, if what we experience is, as Paul put it, “momentary, light affliction,” (2 Cor. 4:17) we know that in “a little while” we, the called, will be “perfected, confirmed, strengthened, and established.” Why? Because we serve a God whose dominion is over the most powerful rulers here and in the heavens, “forever and ever.” Amen.

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Staying Within Ourselves

8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9

An often used sports cliche is the phrase, “if we stay within ourselves.” It’s used along with “sticking to the game plan,” etc. Well, there is no more formidable opponent than Satan in anyone’s life. He’s the most powerful of all the angels, bound and determined to destroy our lives, as he did his. Like a hungry lion on the prowl, he seeks to attack at any sign of weakness or distraction.

We can’t fight him, but we can win out, if we stay within ourselves. That is, if we stay sober in spirit. If we fix our hope on his grace. If we stay alert to his tactics. If we stay disciplined and firm in our faith. All these actions on our part allow us to resist in the “evil day” (Ephesians 5:16). In other words, if we stay stick to the game plan.

While our battles are one-on-one, it’s good to know we’re not the only one taking on the devil. We should be rejoicing with others in faith’s locker room, having won out, i.e. victoriously completed, the same contests.

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Elder Statesmen

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 1 Peter 5:1-5

While Peter was the rock upon which Christ would build his church (Matthew 16:18), a first-hand witness of the Lord’s sufferings and resurrection, and there on the mount when Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17:4), he was a fellow elder. This tells us something about church leadership. You can leave your résumé at the door. It’s time to roll up your sleeves.

This passage teaches what role church leaders play; to shepherd the flock; feed, care for, lead, guide, protect. It teaches how this is to be done; voluntarily, according to the will of God, with eagerness, in exemplary fashion. It teaches how this is not to be done; under compulsion, to get rich, high-handedly.

Done well, the elder will receive an “unfading crown of glory,” not on leader appreciation day, but when the Lord returns.

And there’s more, along with young budding leaders, all are to follow the dress code of humility. Humility levels the playing field.

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Trust and Obey

15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 1 Peter 4:15-19

Peter must be dwelling on suffering as a Christian for a reason. In this potentially troubling passage are some excellent mini-sermons.

First, we might not have murdered anyone or stolen anything, but the chances of our sticking our nose in someone else’s business are pretty strong. Let’s not do that! You’re going to be called out for it, and it won’t be pretty.

Second, suffering for Christ’s sake is a badge of honor, not a matter of shame. You’ve been given a chance to return the glory to our Lord.

Third, we can’t escape the consequences of our sin. If we do wrong, we can expect to have to take our medicine. So how goes it with those outside his family who purposely disobey God? We can at least appeal for his mercy!

Fourth, our salvation required the utmost in pain and suffering to effect. The energy required to move a godless man to salvation is compounded by his sinfulness and rendered impossible by his disbelief. In other words, he’s a sitting duck.

Fifth, when you’re in a jam, how good is it to know that you can entrust your soul to a God who can create something out of nothing? As the old hymn goes, all we need to do is Trust and Obey. There really is no other way under the circumstances.

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