June 28, 2020
Last week, we spent a lot of time talking about why Peter was the author of the book that bears his name: II Peter. But we didn’t talk a lot about Peter himself. Anyone who’s read the NT knows Peter played a central role. In all the lists of the disciples, he’s always mentioned first. Not just first – but as the first among the disciples – the chief among them. No one is mentioned more in the Gospels than Peter – except of course, Jesus. And if there was anyone who knew Jesus, it was Peter.
Peter was actually from a little fishing village called Bethsaida – just off the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. But at some point, he and his brother Andrew moved their fishing business to Capernaum – a larger town on the northwest corner of the Sea. In one gospel we read that Andrew told his brother Peter, we have found the Christ. Actually, at that time, Peter’s name was Simon, or Simeon. Simeon was popular name for Jewish boys – Simeon was the second son of Jacob – you know, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Well, Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who then gave him a new name, Cephas. Cephas was the Aramaic name, Peter was the Greek name – they both mean rock. So, that’s how we got Simon Peter.
Early on, Peter seemed to hang out a little with Jesus. He saw Jesus do some teaching, heal some people. You see, Jesus had Himself moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. There at the local synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. The people were amazed – who is this guy that even evil spirits obey Him? He left the synagogue and went to Peter’s house, where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. That evening, everyone from the surrounding area who was sick showed up at the house, and Jesus healed them all. Certainly Peter was scratching his head – who is this guy?
It was a little later we read the story Michael told in the Kid’s Minute. Peter had spent the night fishing, caught nothing. So Jesus told Peter to go out again, and at first, Peter protested. He finally relented, went back out with Jesus, and caught so many fish, the nets began to break, the boat began to sink. Andrew and John signaled for their partners in the other boat – James and John – to come help. And it was at that moment, Peter realized, Jesus was different. Not weird – he realized Jesus was Someone other. And so he said to Jesus in the boat, depart from me, for I am a sinful man. I don’t know who you are – but I know who I am – depart from me. Jesus looked at Peter and said, don’t fear – from now on, you will be catching men. They rowed back in – pulled the boats up on shore – left everything, and followed Jesus.
And what a wild ride it was. There was the time they were out in the boat – not fishing, but making their way across the Sea – when they encountered a big storm. Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. The boat was being battered by the wind and the waves. They cried out – Jesus, don’t you care if we perish? Jesus got up and rebuked the storm – said Peace, be still. And everything was suddenly calm. And the guys in the boat looked at each other and said, who is this guy? We’ve seen Him drive out demons, we’ve seen Him heal – but now, even the wind and the waves obey Him!
Then there was that time – again in a boat – when they faced another storm. This time Jesus wasn’t with them. But soon, as they were being battered by the storm, Jesus came to them – walking on the water. You remember that – Peter said, Lord, if it’s you, let me come to you. Jesus said, come on Peter – and Peter went walking out on the water to Jesus. Amazing.
If there was anyone who knew Jesus, it was Peter. He had heard His teaching, seen His miracles – driving out demons, healing everyone, raising the dead, calming storms, walking on water, feeding thousands with a little boy’s lunch. They were all beginning to figure out – Jesus was different – other. He’s not from around here.
Then there was the time in Caesarea Philippi – the northernmost corner of Israel – up by Mt. Hermon. It’s a highpoint of the Gospel narratives. The disciples knew Jesus was different – but did they know who He was? I guess that’s the question for you today. We can recognize Jesus was different. That He, in fact, changed the world. Our calendars are dated from His life – this is 2020 AD – anno domini – the year of the Lord 2020. He founded the world’s largest religion – well, at least those who say they follow Him. But do you realize who He is? That’s the question He asked the disciples up in Caesarea Philippi that day – who do the people say that I am? There were lots of guesses. Then He asked them, who do you say that I am? We’ve been hanging out together for awhile now – have you figured it out? And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” You got it right, Peter. If there was anyone who knew Jesus, it was Peter.
And from that point, they made their way back south toward Jerusalem – and the waiting cross. Here’s a couple other quick Peter stories that help us understand why he was uniquely qualified to write this letter of II Peter. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus said, strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter. You will all fall away because of Me. Even though you know who I am, you will desert Me. You remember Peter’s false bravado – even though all these other guys fall away, I won’t. And Jesus looked at Peter and said, Simon – interesting, not Peter the Rock – because he would not be a rock. Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you – and after you have fallen away – after you have deserted, when you turn back, strengthen your brothers. Before the rooster crows, you will deny that you know Me three times. But when you turn back, and you will, strengthen your brothers.
You know the rest of the story. After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, all the disciples fled. Peter and John apparently followed from a distance, and went into the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas. And just as predicted, Peter denied that he knew the Lord, not once, but three times, and the rooster crowed. We read Jesus, who was in the courtyard at that moment, looked across at Peter, and they made eye contact. Do you know who I am, Simon? Do you understand what I’m doing?
The last story is found in John 21, after that desertion, that betrayal. By this time, Jesus had been crucified, and risen from the dead. He appeared to the disciples, and told them to go to Galilee and wait for Him there. They went and waited. One night, Peter said, I’m going fishing. He and six others took the boat – probably the one in which Jesus had slept, calmed the storm – the one from which Peter had walked – they took it with the nets that had dried out for three years – and went fishing. That night, they caught nothing. The next morning, no doubt deeply discouraged – a stranger appeared to them and told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. They did – and they could hardly pull the net in – it was so full of fish. John – Peter’s old fishing partner – one of the ones who had been there when this happened three years before, said to Peter, it’s the Lord. Peter – I should say Simon since he was acting like Simon – threw himself in the water and swam to shore. Would this guy ever be Peter, the rock?
There, after a silent breakfast, Jesus looked at Peter and asked him three times – corresponding to Peter’s three denials – Simon – notice, not Peter – Simon, do you love Me? I suppose He could have asked, Simon, do you know who I am? You said you did. If you know who I am, the Christ, the Son of the living God – the one who called you to be a fisher of men – if you truly love Me, Simon, then shepherd My sheep. Tend My lambs. Three times He said it.
And that’s the last time we see Peter fishing for fish. They pulled the boats and nets up on shore, again, and left them this time for good. It makes me wonder – what should we pull up on shore and leave for good? Do you hear Jesus asking you, Do you love Me? You said you did. What is keeping us from following Jesus? Do we really know who He is?
Well, Peter became a pillar in the church. He preached the first message of the Christian church after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and 3000 people were saved. He preached the gospel again after himself healing a man lame from birth at the Temple. He spent the night in jail that time. Better get used to that. He later traveled to Joppa and raised Tabitha from the dead. After a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of unclean animals, he went to Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea and told a centurion name Cornelius about the gospel. He then went back to Jerusalem, where he was arrested again, facing imminent death. They’d just killed James, his former fishing partner – and Peter was to be next. But an angel delivered him – he went to the house of Mary where the church had gathered to pray for him.
He then traveled about, settling eventually, tradition tells us, in Rome. There, he spent the last couple decades of his life – and then, more time in prison. Only this time, the last time, his imprisonment ended in death during the Neronian persecutions – just like Jesus said by the Sea that day – the last day of fishing. Peter had fished for men for three, maybe four decades. And he gave his life, figuratively and literally, doing so. I guess it answers that question – who was Simon? I guess you could say, he was Peter, the rock.
Simon, after you’ve fallen away, after you turn back from your denials – after you really become Peter, strengthen the brothers. Shepherd My sheep. Peter did just that. In fact, that’s why he wrote I and II Peter – to shepherd, to strengthen the church. I Peter was written to encourage them in the midst of persecution from without. There have always been those opposing the church from without. II Peter was written to strengthen them, warn them because of false teachers within. There have always been those opposing the church from within its ranks. Peter writes to strengthen them so they don’t fall away – like he did. Look at a couple verses:
II Peter 1:10 – 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
II Peter 3:17 – 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,
I’m trying to strengthen you so you don’t stumble, so you don’t fall – like I did. I’m doing what Jesus told me to do. This is what I want for you, my brothers and sisters. In a world becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity; in a world becoming more atheistic; in a world turning from the Christian faith because it’s popular – in vogue – I don’t want you to fall away. Such turning has eternal consequences. We finally get to the text of the letter. Let’s look at the first couple verses today, which are Peter’s salutation. Read II Peter 1:1-2.
Peter follows the typical letter-writing convention of his day, but like others, he infuses the salutation with gospel truth. As was typical, he introduces himself as the writer, he identifies the recipients of the letter, then gives them a greeting or prayer-wish in verse 2. Usually, the prayer wish was for physical health. He wants you to have spiritual health.
So we’ll look at those – which will form our outline – but we’ll really focus on the Christian elements of the salutation – because Peter answers the question – who is Jesus? If anyone knew, Peter did.
- The Writer – Simeon Peter (1)
- The Recipients (1)
- The Greeting, or the Prayer-Wish (2)
So we know Peter is the writer of this letter, but notice how he identifies himself:
- First, he says I am a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. The word bond-servant is actually the word doulos – more literally translated, slave. We try to soften it, distance ourselves understandably, from this socially-charged term. Slavery is a horrible human institution.
But we should know that being a slave or bond-servant of Jesus is a good thing. It means Peter was under the complete authority of his Master. You see, to be a slave is to be owned by another, and in a sense, to bear the owner’s honor – value. What makes slavery bad is the evil of the owner. That’s why slavery – one person owning another – doesn’t work. We are evil. But if the owner is altogether good, then being owned by Him is good. Did you know, for example, there are several OT saints called slaves of God – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David. In the NT, Paul, James, Jude and Peter call themselves slaves.
Because to be owned by God is good thing. You see, Paul said, we are not our own for we have been bought with a price – a high price – the blood of Jesus. Which speaks to our current value – to be clear, not that we were valuable – but we are now, having been paid for by an infinitely valuable price. Further, if you are owned by an altogether good master – my care is His responsibility. And being altogether good, my care will also be altogether good.
So when Peter speaks of being a slave of Jesus Christ – he’s not demeaning himself. Far from it – he’s saying I am owned by the sovereign and good God of the universe, who bought me at an infinite price. He redeemed me from the slave market of sin – and now I am His.
Further, Peter says not only am I a slave, I am also an apostle of Jesus Christ. As many of you know, the term apostlespeaks of a messenger sent as an emissary, representing the one who sent him, with a specific message. Now, the word was used generally in a number of places in the NT, but it was also used officially to refer to the Twelve. Jesus selected twelve of His disciples, and called them, officially, apostles. These were given the responsibility of the foundation of the church – Paul said the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets – Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone. So, this writer says I am Peter, one of the official twelve apostles – with a commission by Jesus to found His church. So for a pseudonymous writer to claim this title would be the height of arrogance, deception and frankly, error.
Which brings us to our second point, the Recipients. As I mentioned last week, in chapter 3, Peter references a previous letter he had written to them. If he’s talking about I Peter, then it would be the churches is Asia Minor. But, it’s also possible he’s talking about another letter we don’t have, written to a different group of people. In the end, we don’t know, while I lean to the former – that II Peter refers to I Peter.
Be that as it may, he identifies his readers as those who have received a faith of the same kind as kind as ours. Meaning, of the same precious value as ours. Now, who is ours? Since it seems clear from the book the readers were Gentiles, some think the same faith as ours is referring to the same faith we Jewish believers have. In other words, he’s affirming the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles – that is without racial or ethnic division. And that is certainly possible. After all, Peter was the one given the vision of the sheet lowered from heaven with all kinds of unclean animals in Acts 10 and told to rise and eat the animals. You’ll remember he had some argument with God – but God told him, what I’ve cleansed, don’t call unclean. Now, that didn’t mean the God was only cleansing bacon.
It was an object lesson. Because about that time, the messengers from Caesarea arrived, inviting him to come to Cornelius’ house. That God had told Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa. So, Peter went, shared the gospel in a Gentile’s house – and they were gloriously saved. The lesson? The gospel is for everyone – so we’ve all received the same precious faith. True. In fact, a few chapters later, Peter was at the Jerusalem council and argued the gospel was for Gentiles, and they shouldn’t be put under the onerous demands of the Law of Moses that no one could keep anyway.
So again, it’s possible. But it’s also possible, having just mentioned he was an apostle that he meant, you have received the same faith of precious value as the apostles received. The end result is the same. There were not two classes of Christians – apostles and other believers, or Jews and Gentiles – we have all been saved the same way, and have the same precious faith. All believers stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross. That message is for today.
I’ll just make a quick comment on this, but don’t miss that his readers had received – the word means, they have been granted faith. You say, oh, I thought faith was mine – something I did. Not exactly – God gives even faith as a gift – the ability to believe.
Here’s the part I want to camp on for a moment – to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Now first, what does by the righteousness of our God and Saviormean? There are two options. One, it could be speaking of justification – that is, by His righteous life, death and resurrection – by faith in Christ and His finished work – we receive the righteousness of Christ. It is imputed to us. Luther called it the Great Exchange – He gets our sin, we get His righteousness. This was undoubtedly the Pauline idea of justification – of the righteousness of God imputed to us. But it could mean, secondly, because God is righteous – just – He justly gives us salvation without prejudice. Unearned, undeserved, but because of His loving rightness, God blesses us with salvation. Both are true, and we end up in the same place – saved people because God is good beyond measure to us. In the midst of this global pandemic, in the midst of horrible social unrest, in the midst of personal struggle – I want to remind you, God is good and righteous to give us a salvation we do not deserve.
By the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Do you know who Jesus is? I want you to know I could spend the rest of my life on this verse – it is my favorite topic. This is one of the clearest declarations of the deity of Jesus Christ to be found in the Bible. The Greek grammar does not allow for this translation: by the righteous of our God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ – as if they are two persons. No. I won’t go into the technicalities, but this is clearly and obviously translated rightly – by the righteousness of one person – Jesus Christ – who is our God and our Savior. Thomas – one of the Twelve – got it right when he saw Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, fell at His feet, and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
I won’t take the time this morning to go through all the other verses in the Bible that proclaim the deity of Jesus Christ – the fact that He is God. But there are many. And if there was anyone who knew Jesus – it was Peter. He heard His teaching, saw His miracles, witnessed the Transfiguration, witnessed the resurrection. He rightly said it up in Caesarea Philippi – You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You got it right, Peter. And so now, Peter is proclaiming to us, strengthening our faith, making sure we don’t fall away – Jesus is your Savior and your God.
By the way, the OT is filled with verses that proclaim God is Savior and Lord. And throughout this letter, Jesus gets the same titles – He is Savior and Lord, because He is God. To be clear, we are Trinitarian. That is, we believe there is one God, who eternally manifests Himself in three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We are not tri-theists – that is, we don’t believe in three gods. We affirm the biblical truth that there is one, true and living God. And we want to grow in our understanding of that truth, and be strengthened in our faith.
Finally, in conclusion, verse 2 is a prayer-wish. Peter writes, Grace and peace be multiplied to you. The typical letter of that day would have the word greetings. It’s similar to grace, so the authors of Scripture often took the typical word greetings, rearranged a few letters to make it grace. Grace – God’s unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor to us in the face of His Son, be multiplied to you. May you continue to increase in the grace of God. And may you know multiplied peace. May peace – His peace – a fullness of peace that comes from being in right relationship with God through Christ. It’s not just a cessation of conflict, but a wholeness, a completeness.
Which is why Peter says, Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Now this is referring to the Father and the Son. May you grow in the true knowledge of God. This is how grace and peace are multiplied to you. This is how, by the way, you will not fall in the face of false teaching. This is how you will stand fast. By knowing the Father and the Son and the Spirit rightly.