Three times Jesus gave Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for his Lord, and three time Peter humbly proclaimed love that came from the heart. This experience deeply affected him, and I believe set the course for who he would become as apostle and an elder in the church.
During the next few days we will look at the mature elder Peter’s faith through his letters.
Nero’s Persecution of Christians
Are you going through a rough time right now? Maybe you are in the middle of a crisis, or you are weathering a heavy loss, something or someone you were counting on has really let you down, and the stress is building up. If you are feeling a heavy load, or weathering a tempest, then you will be able to resonate with something of what the first century church was enduring.
In July of 64 AD, Rome went up in flames. Hundreds of public buildings were burned to the ground, hundreds of acres scorched, thousands of homes destroyed, thousands of people left homeless. Emperor Nero set Rome on fire to burn down the old, ramshackle buildings in the city so he could have some room to build marble palaces and other monuments with his name on them.
The people were ready to revolt and overthrow Nero, so he quick looked around for a scapegoat to blame, and it did not take him long to discover there was a group of people who were just perfect.
Rumors were flying all around Rome that they were cannibals because they talked about getting together in their houses, drinking someone’s blood and eating his body. They spoke about “love feasts,” they would greet each other with a holy kiss, and they shared their innermost problems with each other, which the rumors claimed were all a cover up for sex orgies. That is what several other cults were doing, and many were already deeply suspicious of the Christians. It was such a countercultural movement, it made everyone uncomfortable.
To make his false accusations look legitimate, Nero convicted certain Christians of arson, conducted mass arrests, and began serious persecution. During this time Christians were dipped in tar and burned as torches to light Nero’s outdoor garden parties. They were tied to his chariot and dragged through the streets of Rome until they were dead. They were thrown to the lions, or they were tied up in leather bags and thrown into water.
Eventually, Peter himself was martyred under Nero’s tyranny.
In 67 AD, the apostle Peter wrote this letter from Rome to Christians who had been scattered, exiled, throughout Asia partially as a result of Nero’s persecutions. Peter’s letter is especially helpful to anybody who is facing the problem of suffering of any kind.
To the Elect
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance.1 Peter 1:1-2 (NRSV)
Who have been chosen and destined by God!
From the first words of his letter, Peter was writing doctrine, and this one, of being chosen—or elected—by God is a hard one for us to read. At first pass, it seems as though God is selective choosing—and not choosing—who will be save. That what stands between a person and salvation is God’s choice rather than their own.
Each one of us has at least one person in our lives whom we love as life itself, and they are adamant unbelievers.
How can we be held responsible for a choice we could not make?
Yet we know God’s character of absolute holiness, impartiality, justice, and goodness guarantees the Lord’s choices are never arbitrary, but always good. God is love! And God loves mercy, God is compassionate, the Lord’s very nature is grace and lovingkindness, God is longsuffering and patient, and gives every opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.
So how do we make sense of Peter’s opening statement?
Secure in God’s Love
The first step is to understand the apostles’ teaching on election is centered on the security of God’s love.
Jesus says to all people,
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.Matthew 11:28-29 (NRSV)
And, Jesus says,
Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.John 6:37 (NRSV)
To those who do come in faith to Jesus, the Apostle Paul reassures,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.Ephesians 1:3-6
When lovers fall in love, it is on purpose. God uses the metaphor throughout the scriptures of a man wooing a woman, the lover has settled his affection on his beloved and he woos her. By the same token, she has also chosen him and settled her affection upon him. There is mutual desiring.
The point of saying, as the Apostle Paul did, that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world is one of faithful love. In a world of breakups and betrayals, faithlessness and treachery, the apostles were saying God’s love is profoundly different.
Safe in God’s Love
In another letter, Paul described the unbreakable bond of love between the Lord and those who place their faith in God.
What then are we to say about these things?
If God is -for- us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will [God] not with him also give us everything else?
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies!
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us!
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV, emphases mine)
Special in God’s Love
Peter had publicly denied Jesus three times, and wept bitterly once he realized what he had done. But Jesus had restored Peter, had given him the chance to publicly affirm his love for and devotion to Jesus. Jesus had chosen Peter from the very beginning, Peter mattered to Jesus, they had a relationship that mattered to Jesus.
Jesus actively held on to all of his own, saying,
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”John 10:28-30
While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost.John 17:12
Now, Peter had a deep sense of thanksgiving for God’s choosing him. This letter is filled with praise that pours forth from Peter’s thanksgiving.
[Rome Burning | By Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886) – http://www.reproarte.com/files/images/P/piloty_karl_t_von/0191-0237_nero_auf_den_truemmern_roms.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10629003%5D