Monday, June 14, 2010

Standing firm on Grace. 1 Peter 5:10-14

It's about eighteen months since I started in 1 Peter and now is the time to draw it to an end. I am reluctant to leave it since it is one of the most insightful books about the Christian condition and so practical in its application.

It is written by the apostle Peter, a man who came to Christ flawed and whom Christ left as one of the living stones in the Church.

There are caves in Somerset in England where Calcium Carbonate drips from the limestone stalactites in the ceiling onto stalagmites on the floor building up columns of calcium. Sometimes people bring soft toys like teddy bears to be dripped upon so that after a while soft cuddly teddy becomes tough teddy, bristling with firmness.

This is what happened to Peter, turned from soggy Simon into 'Rocky' Peter. We all need to be 'petrified' by our exposure to this letter. It won't be achieved by just reading it or even hearing sermons preached on it, we must apply it to our lives and walk the walk.

1 Peter 5:10-14: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Peter began his letter by explaining what grace is. Not an elegant way of moving, not a girl's name, but undeserved kindness. As human beings, right from an early age, our natural response is to try and justify ourselves. We are adept at pointing the finger and blaming someone else. If there is no-one to blame, then the sun was in my eyes or the ball hit a bobble, or these are new gloves that are not broken in yet. We are reluctant to make the confession that we just weren't good enough, that we made a mistake, to take the blame ourselves. The surprizing thing is that God understands that. He knows that in order to put things right between him and us, he has to make the first move. In fact, he has to make all the moves.

This is what he has done, in and through his son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know the acronym, God's Riches At Christ's Expense. That pretty accurately sums up the meaning of grace. It is all about Christ. The very fact that God sent his son was an act of grace. He need not have done so; why should he not leave us to perish?

Jesus taught a perfect message. Philosphers who think him but a man revere him for what he taught. But in revealing himself like this, God was gracious. How could we know anything about God except he reveal himself?

Jesus lived a perfect life, not submitting to temptation, not even accepting glory, instead enduring suffering and shame and finally a disgusting death by torture. On the cross he suffered the separation from his Father; the Godhead torn in two. Why? Because we deserved it? Never!

In the grave he lay for three days before his glorious resurrection. It was a sign that it was sufficient! Had he stayed dead it might have been a precious martyrdom, a wonderful example, but who would have remembered 2000 years later? There have been plenty of martyrs. But in raising him from the dead, God declared "It is finished!" No more is needed. We need to bring nothing to the table because the table is fully furnished.

Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling, sang Toplady, and he was right. All, all is of grace. To try to add anything is to besmirch it. I brought my goodwill, I brought my acceptance, I brought my obedience, I brought my good works - anything I claim will tarnish grace.

But grace didn't end there. Jesus spent 40 days on earth when he could have left to join his father. He taught and instructed his disciples. He forgave them. He inspired them. He convinced them and when he ascended he did not leave them bereft but sent his Spirit on that wonderful Day of Pentecost when flame and wind and voices came, astonishing not only them but thousands gathered in Jerusalem.

Grace doesn't stop with undeserved mercy; it goes on acting with undeserved help. Do you find life difficult? Is life a struggle? Are you sick or sick of heart? Is your marriage hurting? Is it the kids? Are you lonely, longing for a life's partner? Do you mourn for a lost one? Does depression grip you? Are you unemployed or seemingly unemployable? Are you poor? Are you abused? Are you homeless? Are you afraid? Are you in danger? God is the God of all grace. Whatever your circumstances he is there for you.

You see he has called you. Just as he called Abram form Ur or little Samuel in the Temple, or Peter, Andrew, James and John from their nets, or Saul of Tarsus from the road to Damascus, so he has called you. It may not have been as dramatic as some, but it was a real call. Sometimes, as when he spoke to Elijah, the word is not in earthquake, storm or fire, but in a still, small voice. He may not have shouted at you, but he called you, and he called you to his eternal glory in Christ, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you. Peter tells us in chapter one that we are shielded by God's power.

Those poor soldiers in Afghanistan are shielded by better and better armor in their vehicles yet the IUDs still maim and kill them; but we are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Our future is secure. That too is part of God's grace.

He does not deceive us. After you have suffered a little while, he says. I am afraid that suffering is the human condition. Adam sinned and we live in a fallen world. How wicked is Satan! Blame him for the world as it is! He tempted Eve and then Adam and now we see the consequences, but Oh! the riches of God's grace that he should restore us so! And see who it is who does the restoring. "He himself will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast"

This is what he is doing now. As Peter's letter is applied to us so we become strong and firm and steadfast. No longer that floppy teddy bear, but petrified. No wander Peter exclaims, "To Him be the power for ever and ever, Amen" This isn't a prayer or petition. It isn't just an exclamation; it's an acclamation of praise to Almighty God.

In verse 12 he takes up the pen from Silas (or Silvanus). It is interesting to know that even Peter needed help to write his letter. We really do need each other, don't we? Silas also helped Paul write 1 and 2 Thessalonians - not bad to have on your CV eh? But Silas was more than a mere amanuensis. Peter calls him a faithful brother. Very likely he job was not only to do the 'typing' but to deliver the letter to the various Turkish addresses, to read it out and explain it. What did Peter mean by living stones? In what way are wives to be submissive? And Silas would patiently draw out exactly what Peter had said and why he said it. He would emphasize that this was the "true" grace of God.

Many times today we are given a false grace. There are many phony substitutes. You will be healthy, wealthy and wise. No, that's what comes out of a Aladdin's lamp not from true grace. It's exactly the opposite. You will suffer for a while, says Peter. Couldn't be plainer than that. Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross to follow him. He didn't mean one of those silver or gold necklaces. the cross is the symbol of suffering and shame. It was the ancient gallows. We must stand fast on that true grace and not be drawn into fakes.

In the Rumpole books and TV series the rapscallion lawyer referred to his wife as "She who must be obeyed." Who is Peter referring to by "She who is in Babylon"? Is it his wife? We know that he had one. It sounds like family greetings together with his son Mark, and in a sense it is. Babylon represented the exile and here might represent the Christian church as a whole, still in exile from heaven, or perhaps since Babylon was the home of the Emperor, it represents Rome, from where Peter probably wrote this letter. But the sentiment is that the whole church is in this together. We must recognize the Body of Christ, which is the whole church of Christ. Beware of factions, of denominationism and of division. We can have no truck with those who believe another gospel, but with those who trust in the redeeming blood of Christ we are brother in arms. And we must love the brethren.

Every day I receive messages from brothers and sisters who are suffering for the gospel. Here is today's message from Open Doors: A 14-year-old girl has accused two Muslim boys of drugging and then raping her after abducting her from her school in Kamboh colony, Lahore. The girl, whose name was withheld, said she was waiting for her younger sister after school on 6 May when Muhammad Noman and Muhammad Imran, both 17, overpowered her, took her away by motorbike and forced her to consume a soft drink containing tranquillisers. Shortly after being raped by each boy she lost consciousness. She was found on the road near the school gate by a neighbour after her mother raised the alarm.

We must work out how we express our love. I detailed above how many people are suffering. Is there some way you can be God's amanuensis in this struggle? A visit? A letter? A donation? A telephone call or e-mail. Perhaps you need to go? I honestly think that many times God answers prayer by moving in the heart of his people.

This invitation to kiss should not be taken lasciviously. It was the formal greeting among families. Whether you 'mwah' on one cheek, two or three, or if you shake hands or hug, do it with love and enthusiasm. Really mean it.

Finally, peace. 'Shalom' was the greeting for all Jews. It wishes God's best. Unity. "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"

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