Having done so and thus having regained his strength, he arose from his prostration with a bright and beaming countenance. And he exclaimed, “Now, I thank God, I am strong, and fear not what man can do unto me!"
With that he returned to his companions at the stake, placed the chains securely around himself, and suffered his execution with a spirit of valor.
What was it that so enlivened this poor soul, and what was it that caused him to rise up again to face death with such courage? Here he was with life and death in the balance, one option just as viable as the other. What was it that stirred him up to virtually beg his persecutors to come at him with their torches?
It was his having come for one instant to prayer and sought the face of God. It was in that moment that he caught a glimpse of his Master’s supremacy. And having been reminded of God’s exceeding greatness all his fears were quenched. He was ready to give his life, and he was able to face the fires that would consume him.
Indeed that is the only thing that can cause any of us to stand strong when we are opposed for our faith. When we are faced with the fires of persecution, be it a literal burn or simply the brandings of men’s tongues as they ridicule us, we need to have a greater fire kindled within us. And the only thing that can do that is God. That is why it is absolutely necessary that we have a sound doctrine of God firmly ensconced in our minds. For it is only when we comprehend the excellency of the Lord that we will have the strength to stand the temptation to deny our faith.
That is exactly why Peter starts this epistle the way he does. Peter bursts into an exuberant doxology right out of the starting gates. His first note is that of adoring praise. That is because he knows that what you need most is not a personal cheerleader. Your number one need is not someone chanting: do better, stand stronger! He knows that what you need is to have your eyes cast heavenward so that you may be reminded of who God is and what God has done on your behalf.
And when you look at the opening line here you find some of the richest theology in all of Scripture. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In these words Peter gives you a lesson in the very nature of God. He distinguishes who your God is, and sets him above all the rest of the gods in the pantheon. And if you want to stand strong in the midst of persecution, you need to appropriate what is said here about God. And, of course that means understanding that God is God.
I. Strength to Stand comes from knowing something of who God is
It says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first thing Peter does is point you to the divinity of God. In other words, the suffering that you are experiencing is not without purpose. You suffer because the one to whom you pay allegiance is wholly and unmistakably divine. As such he is above all things and deserving of our utmost loyalty.
When I’m at work and my boss says, “Don’t put those there.” You know what my response is? I don’t put those there. I don’t question him. And if someone else tells me to put the do-hicky there I don’t do it because he’s not the boss! I only listen to the guy who is in charge.
That’s something of what Peter is getting at. When it comes to life in this world, don’t forget Who is in charge. He’s the boss because he is God, and there is no other that is divine like God.
But not only does Peter remind us of his divinity, but he points our attention to the fact that he is Trinity.
We don’t see it in whole, but we do see something of the plurality of the Godhead here. He’s not just God, but he is the God “of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now the words “Lord Jesus Christ” all point to the fact that Jesus is not just any ordinary fellow. Each of these words stand for the deity of Jesus. The names of Jesus are always a good study. And if you have studied them, you know that “Lord” means Master. Jesus means “the Lord saves.” Christ is means “anointed one.” And each of them points to the reality that Jesus is essentially divine.
So in one sentence we have recognition that Christ is divine and God the Father is divine. So Peter’s praises point us to the plurality of the Godhead.
Why is this mentioned? Well, just as his deity reminds you that he is above creation, his Tri-unity reminds you that he is above reason. He is so radically different—His greatness is of such enormity, that he cannot even be comprehended.
I understand that the world mocks this idea. One of the first things an atheist or unbeliever will attack is this notion of the Trinity. They think it is absurd. But we have a different reaction, don’t we? Whenever we meditate on the fact that our God is one, yet three, our reaction is that of wonder and amazement. It so bewilders us that we cannot help but stand in awe of him.
And that is exactly what we need when we face persecution. We need that reminder that this awesome God—this God who is so big that we can’t even comprehend his true being.
But as we contemplate the nature of God let us not forget that while he is divine and Triune, he is also a tender and loving Father.
Peter says that he is the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With this word “Father” we are reminded that He is not a God who is far off. He is a God who draws near to us and takes personal interest in us. He is a God who relates to us with a tenderness and affection that only a father can express. He enters into a personal relationship with us and sheds upon us all his fatherly goodness.
This is such a radical nuance to our faith—that we have a God who is a “father.” Just think of how vapid atheism and agnosticism is. There is no transcendent in which you can take comfort. There is no other worldly love to console you.
The same is true for Islam. The god of Islam is no fatherly figure. At least not a tender one like you have described in the Bible. It is interesting that earthly fathers in Islam many times tend to be cold, controlling and abusive. I believe that is replicating something of their god.
Our religion is very different. We have a God who can be denominated Father. We have One who relates to us tenderly and affectionately, with all his benevolence being expressed towards us at every minute.
He’s divine, He’s Triune, He’s a Father. That should make a difference, especially when faced with the notion to turn away from him or deny him.
I have an ongoing bet with the Mormons who come to my door. When we start talking I’ll will sometimes say to them, “If you can prove that your god is greater than mine, I’ll become a Mormon.” (I ask them that if I can convince them that my God is greater than theirs, if they would convert to my religion too. I haven’t had any takers though!) I make it a like Elijah when challenged the Baal prophets to see whose God could burn up the offering. I welcome the chance to compare my God to theirs. I say bring it on! And I talk about the divinity of God, how his divine nature so exceeds the pitiful little Mormon god. And I talk about the Trinity. They balk at it, but they have to admit that if it was true my God would be greater. And when it comes to the Fatherhood of God, they might call their god “Heavenly Father,” but he is a wishy washy, mamby pamby Father who has no sense of justice and righteousness.
All this is to say, think about your God! Think about how awesome he is! There is none like him! There is not one who can compare to him. And there should be no other who energizes you like him. If you need strength to stand, all that you need is found in him. The supremacy of who he is will evoke your unwavering devotion.
And if that doesn’t do it (I can’t believe that it wouldn’t!—but if it doesn’t give you the strength to withstand any opposition), then think about what God has done for you.
Peter packs some serious amnion in this passage. He comes out with both barrels firing. What he does here is put on a little shock and awe. Because not only does he praise God for who he is, but he goes on to praise God for what God has done in your life.
II. Strength to stand comes from knowing what God has done
You might say that his Theology automatically leads into a Soteriology. His doctrine of God gushes over into a doctrine of salvation. These verses explain something of the wonder of the salvation we have received from God.
Now, I want to admit that I will not be able to expound every phrase contained in these verses. There’s a lot here. It’s a lot like a chocolate cake: it’s so rich that you can’t devour it all in one sitting. But that even should hint at the fact that God has done tremendous things on your behalf!
I do want to highlight a couple of things though. Perhaps I can summarize some of this passage by noting three things that God has done on your behalf with this salvation. When you need strength to stand, think about the fact God has given you a new life.
It says, “According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” To say that you were born again is to talk about the miracle of regeneration. It is that moment when the Holy Spirit came into your life and gave you a new heart. He resurrected you from the dead, and caused you to live for God and for righteousness.
Think about that! God has radically altered your very nature. He has removed that heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. And he has filled you with new desires and a new orientation towards. So now you have a completely new life to live than when you were first born.
Have you ever stopped to think about where you would be today if you hadn’t been born again? I can’t even imagine where I’d be! I know the trajectory that I had, and I can’t even begin to imagine where that road would have led.
But each of you here who have been born again have now a radically different life than what you might have. And you know deep down in your heart that it is a better life than what might have been. Even if you would have had a million dollars by now, you wouldn’t trade the life you now have for it. You wouldn’t even think of giving up the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit that you have come to possess because of your being born again.
And along with this new life God has given you a living hope. It says, “You’ve been born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Now what is a living hope? Well it’s the opposite of a dead hope or which is wishful thinking. You know there are two kinds of hope. One kind of hope is the kind of hope you have around Christmas. You hope that your husband will get you something good this year and not a vacuum or another pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. That’s wishful thinking. You cross your fingers and hope he does, but there’s not a chance that’s going to happen.
This is the kind of hope that built a whole presidential campaign. People were hoping and wishing that President Obama would do all sorts of grand things to make America a thriving country. Putting their trust in him was all for not though. It was all dead hope.
But the hope that God gives us is a living hope. It is a sure confidence that God will do what he has promised. It is the full expectation that the new birth that we experienced will lead to something greater—to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. That’s what Peter means when he talks about the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Peter is talking about entering the Promised Land once and for all.
We know that it is coming. We know that we’ll one day walk through those gates because God has promised that we will inherit it. This is not a wishful thinking kind of hope, because it is based upon God’s faithfulness to his own word.
And you live with that living hope. No one else does. I talk to people about salvation and about going to heaven all the time. And people always say they are going to heaven. But when I talk with them about how they know this, they give me all sorts of silly answers. In the end their hope is dead. It’s a false hope. It’s only wishful thinking.
But not you my friends. God has placed in you a living hope, a sure expectation of the world to come because Jesus Christ has washed away your sins.
And you know that you wouldn’t trade that for anything!
But there is one other thing that God gives you. He not only gives you a new life and a living hope. He also gives you unbroken security.
Verse 5 says that, “by God’s power [you] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Here you have an awesome assurance. If you fear falling away, don’t. God here promises that it is absolutely impossible! You are eternally secure because you are being guarded by the power of God. There is no way you can slip out of it because God’s grasp on you is greater than your grasp on him. The salvation you possess through faith cannot be ripped away from you because they would have to pull the omnipotent hand of God off of your soul finger by finger.
Think about it! God himself is guarding your soul. Your faith is securely locked up in the greatest fortress of all time!
Fort Knox is where the government holds a large portion of its gold reserves. And it is one of the most secure places in all of America. Do you know what it would take to get into Fort Knox?
To get in there you would first have to slip through razor wire fencing that encompasses the grounds. And you would have to evade the US Mint Police who are on guard there. Then within the premises is housed a United States Army post. So if you don’t get caught by the police, you have a whole battalion with which you have to deal. All the while you approach the depository you must be invisible to the array of alarms, cameras, and armed guards you will meet along the way—not to mention avoiding the Apache helicopters, tanks and other forms of artillery which are based there.
Should you happen to get to the vault where the gold is stashed, somehow you have to get by the 25 inch thick granite walls or opent blast proof door (which, btw, weighs a mere 22 tons!). And of course, if you use the vault door you would have to know the entire combination of each of the several locks, which must be dialed all at the same time. Once you do that, it’s no problem. All you have to do is unlock each of the smaller compartments within the main vault.
But you know what? It would be easier to r all the gold out of Fort Knox, than to take your salvation away from you. Because you are being guarded by the power of God. And that is one fortress that is absolutely impenetrable.
You want to know what God has done for you? He’s given you a new life, a living hope, and a security that will abide to all eternity! It’s no wonder that Peter praises God with the intensity that he does. It is no wonder that Peter starts this letter this way. You can’t help but praise God when you think about all that he has done for you! And you can’t help but be strengthened by it either. All your fears of men and what they could do to you will be dashed to pieces when you consider the work of God which he has wrought on your behalf.
The great church father Polycarp is a good example of this. Polycarp was a Christian who came to be captured by some soldiers in the Roman Empire. When they came to his door, his captors were surprised at his peace of mind. He made no attempt to escape, nor did he give any sign of fear for his life. And when he was afterward called before the crowds for his execution, the elderly man did not express any sign of waivering.
Indeed, when called to recant he expressed he could not. He said, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never once wronged me. How then can I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?”
He knew that God had done so much for him, it was impossible for him to deny his God.
I understand that you are not being threatened with burnings or have any real fear that you will be murdered for your faith. But we live in this land as foreigners. At every turn we are ridiculed for our faith. We are told that only fools and weak persons need religion. To say that we are minority would be to put it mildly.
But my friends, let not your hearts be troubled. You need not fear the overwhelming tide of unbelief that is against you. Neither should the forces that wish to pry you from your beliefs deter you. Your God is greater than them all. Only keep your eyes fixed on who he is and what he has done. When you do, you will have strength to stand, and you will be made to replicate Peter as he declares the praises of God.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.