The Praise of the Persecuted Pilgrim

The Apostle Peter’s life was one that we can classify as a life full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Peter had been given faith enough to call out to Christ to come out of the boat, but he lacked faith when he looked at the troubled wa­ters instead of at the Messiah. Peter’s faith lacked when he denied the Christ three times the night in which Jesus was betrayed, even though he had said just a few days earlier, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter had wit­nessed the growth of the church through the power of the Spirit af­ter Pentecost and on the foundation of his testimony that Jesus was the promised Lord and Savior.  Peter’s first letter was written to the pil­grims of the Dispersion.  Peter had not only seen the church grow, but he also saw the church persecuted. Forced into hiding, believers were being imprisoned and killed for their faith.  Hardship and trials abounded. Peter saw a church struggling to reconcile living in the last times, anxiously awaiting the return of Christ with the present context, the everyday reality of their suffering and trials.

Peter’s first epistle could have been written directly to us. We live in a land that no longer regards the Bible as its source of truth or moral­ity. We are persecuted, seeking God’s face to understand the suffer­ing and trials that come to us. Even so, Peter could do nothing but bring hope to the scattered church because of his faith in the Triune God. Peter brought a message of great hope and comfort, a message that Calvin wrote “raises us above the world, in order that we may be prepared and encouraged to sustain the spiritual contests of our war­fare.” Paul wrote in Ephesians “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against princi­palities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wicked­ness in the heavenly places.”

We are fighting a battle against a world that beats us down and hates our Father.  But our hope is in God, the author of our election, in the Spirit who continues to work out our sanctification, and in Jesus Christ, who has cleansed us by His blood and raised us up unto obedience to the honor and glory of His name. Peter, in faith and by the power of the Spirit, wrote his letter, not in sor­row, but in a jubilant note of praise and encouragement.  It was written not just for the suffering churches then, but also for himself and for the church today.

The Praise of God’s Redemption

Peter began his epistle by outlining why we would bless our God.  In His grace and mercy, the Father elected us. He is blessed because He has sent us the Comforter, the blessed Holy Spirit that we may continue to be molded and shaped by the love of our Savior.  He is blessed in the love and the cleans­ing brought by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In that blessing, we have been set free and made whole­heartedly ready and willing to serve Him.

Peter could have finished his letter to the persecuted pilgrims at this point.  There was more than enough hope given to the church in just the first two verses of his epistle. Yet Peter goes on to remind the people that their praise is to be found in their Father and in the re­demption that He has provided in Jesus Christ.  We are to praise Him for His works and His redemption and for the attributes that Peter shares with us throughout his letter.

The first blessing that we receive is that God is our Father. Because of the work of Christ in drawing us to the Father and the Father’s abun­dant mercy in redeeming us to Him­self, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope. Look again at the situation of Peter’s day. Peter would soon be martyred.  The church was persecuted at every angle. How could they speak of hope, much less, of a “living” hope?

Peter’s response was this:  God has given us new life. He has be­gotten us, caused us to be born again, given us this new life where we are children of God, and God through Christ has be­come our Father. This in itself is hope. Surely the church’s physi­cal and spiritual world was being attacked and tested and tried. But Peter reminded the church that the world, the testing and trials of our life, cannot touch our standing with the Father.  Our faith will never be taken from us.  Our re­demption is secure.  God is our Father.  He has shown us mercy that cannot be shaken.

In addition, we have been given a living hope through the promise and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The early church had a living hope be­cause Christ was the fulfillment of the promise, the covenant promises God the Father had established with His people.  We have a living hope through the resurrection because of the promise of Immanuel, God with us. We have a living hope be­cause the resurrection was the ful­fillment of the promise that Christ would be as a lamb led to slaughter, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We have a living hope through the resurrection because in that new life on that glorious Easter Morning, Christ has fulfilled the great promise of Genesis 3, in crushing the head of the serpent, in defeating sin and death and hell, and bringing His people then before the Father’s throne of grace for all eter­nity.  This is the promise set before the people of God by Peter.  Look at what you have, Church of God; in the resurrection you have the ful­filled promise of God. This is your source of rejoicing and praise. Do not look at the toil of the day, but look to the completed promise that is yours in Christ.

God had given new life to Peter and to the persecuted church of his day, all the way to the church today.  God has called us together as a church to uphold one another in the praise of God’s redemption. Not only were the believers to look to the Lord, but He had blessed them in the context of a congregation, of a church that they were a part of then, as well as being a part of the promise of God’s continuing covenantal faithfulness

There is still an additional blessing in our redemption and that is our in­heritance.  If we have truly been made sons and daughters, then we are heirs to the promise that had been fulfilled in Christ. This is not the inheritance one receives when someone dies, but a promise that is sure to be and is also now. This in­heritance is eternal life.

The Father’s redemption is not fin­ished there.  He has redeemed us to this inheritance. Through Christ we have been made His children, heirs to the promise, now! Peter is speaking to today, providing a glo­rious description of God’s covenant promise to us. Though the world be full of death and decay, stained by sin, and full of darkness, we are assured that His covenant promises will never pass away, that we will be changed and never see or know sin, pain, or hardship again.  That promise will shine forth as real as did the promise in the book of Gen­esis, unto all eternity, never perish­ing, spoiling, or fading. Together, as those kept by God’s power, we will see that glory day, whether in death or at the trumpet sound in that last day.

We await our heavenly existence with the redeemed of God.  God is, and ever will be, blessed because of the work of His hands. He has been faithful in the past in causing us to be born again and will continue to preserve and keep us until that glo­rious day in the future. This vision of the future coming and our bless­ing now is sweet and must move all of us to songs of praise.

The Praise of God’s Reassurance

The church past, present, and future has enjoyed the thought and reality of the now and coming promise of eternal life. However, there is ten­sion. The vision is before our eyes, but like Peter, so often we get caught up in the turbulence of life. Peter had to learn this lesson for himself.  He showed the pilgrims some of the reasons for the struggles and trials that they have encountered.  It was meant to reas­sure them in their faith. Although the time of trial is short, and we are grieved for a little while, there is still a reason for it as God keeps us by His power.

Peter wrote, “you may have had to suffer” or in other translations, “If need be.” Simply put, we need to be tried.  James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you en­counter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2, 3). The Father is working in us His salva­tion. The Father, through various tri­als, upholds the promise of Lamen­tations 3:31-33. “For the Lord will not reject forever.  For if He causes grief, He will have compassion ac­cording to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.”

Even in our grief we have hope. We are tried and tested so that the genu­ineness of our faith may be found to praise, glory, and honor at the rev­elation of Jesus Christ. If something is genuine it will withstand testing. Gold, when tested by fire, proves to be pure gold. Our faith indeed is much more precious than gold. Hope lifts us from the world to see that gold perishes, but faith, when tested and sent through the fires of trial, lasts because of its Creator.

Job was a man who knew much trial and suffering. Yet God gave Job faith the cry out “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job knew the source of his faith, a faith that showed itself genuine in Job 23:10. “But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Faith is a gift given to us from the Father that He preserves and keeps and makes grow and by the tests and trials of life He shows us the pre­ciousness of that gift.

God gives us that faith that He tests. True faith shows itself through all circumstances and all times to be exactly what He said it was!  All of this brings Christ praise, honor, and glory.  At Christ’s return He will say, “Come and enter my rest.” This is the glory of Christ for which Peter longed.  He rejoiced at his source of praise in reassuring the faith of the church.

You can almost hear Peter’s own struggle and passionate faith throughout his epistle.  “Look, I saw Christ and doubted Him, yet though you have not seen Him, you LOVE Him. I did not believe when Christ said He would suffer and die, but because of Him you not only be­lieve, but you are filled with inex­pressible and glorious joy even in the struggle we call life.” Peter was showing us the preciousness of faith and was encouraging the pil­grims in their walk. The Church was learning through her time of hardship simply to walk by faith and not sight!

The Praise of God’s Revelation

Peter drives us back to the founda­tion of our hope, back to Christ. Still, Peter has more to say about the source of our praise because of the gift of the Word of God.  God has provided His revelation so that we could know ourselves, and salvation so that we could know Him. He has given us His word that we might rejoice all the more. The church’s salvation was known and written long before Christ died and rose again. It was given in the garden, and it was given to the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.
Indeed, the prophets lived in hard times and often were called upon by God to deal with the injustice and sin of the people. From the begin­ning of the Old Testament to John the Baptist these men were equipped to bring the Word of God, of Redemption, and Reassurance. Daniel brought a word of judgment and deliverance; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Habakkuk brought the same message, a message of destruction and trial and yet a Word of Hope. Jeremiah and Habakkuk cried out, “How long O Lord,” and rejoiced in the great faithfulness of their God and the life of the righteous. These men agonized and grieved over what they had heard and yet were filled with praise in proclaiming deliverance. It was more than de­liverance from the nations that would try them, but it was deliver­ance from sin.

As much as the prophets inquired of its meaning, there is no mean­ing without Jesus Christ. They carefully searched and inquired, wanting to know and see and un­derstand what we know. All that they had were shadows. They wanted to know when and how and why a Messiah would come as a man in sorrow to die and rise again. For the Spirit of Christ was not yet upon them in its fullness. We live in reality not shadows. We understand the sufferings of Christ by the Spirit. We under­stand the glory of Christ seated at the right hand of God making in­tercession for us. Yet the Spirit did testify to the prophets that they were speaking to us. They were ministering peace to us, not to themselves. Their prophecy stretched well beyond their physi­cal trials and deliverance from spiritual oppressors.  They be­lieved the promise, a promise that we have seen fulfilled in Christ.

Our hope is in the Gospel. It is in the plan of salvation that God our Fa­ther has willed, that Christ has ac­complished, and that the Holy Spirit continues to proclaim to us. A story so awesome, so majestic, that even the angels who minister before the Lord in the fullness of His glory, de­sire to look into it. The story of God’s love for His people is the greatest, sweetest thing ever heard. This is the hope of the pilgrim, the redemption, reassurance, and rev­elation of God; blessings that tran­scend our vapor of life, and are a living hope promised for all eternity. No longer must the pilgrims look at themselves or the trials that last for a moment, but instead they marvel and praise God for His goodness in providing salvation, and making it known in His Holy Word.

Mr. Matt Nuiver is a graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.  He is a candidate for ministry in the URCNA.

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