I Peter 5:10-14
Experiencing True Grace
Now turn with me for the last time in I Peter to chapter 5 and we’re going to pick it up at verse 10 and read through to the end of the chapter. Pray with me as we are about to read God’s word. Let’s pray together.
Our Father we ask now for Your blessing as we read and examine the Scriptures together. This is your word; You wrote it by the very finger of God and we pray as we examine it together that You would pour out Your Spirit. Give us a spirit of wisdom, of illumination and grant that we might also not just be hearers but doers also for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now I hope that you have, like myself, have mixed feelings as we come to the close of this brief study of what Peter himself called “a brief epistle.” We covered, in 13 or 14 sessions or so, these 5 chapters of Peter’s epistle in which we have learned something, I trust, of how to live a Christian life in the kind of society that you and I are living in today. If we took a poll, I suppose, it would probably be the result that of all the apostles that you and I identify with the most, I would suggest that it is probably Peter who would come out on top and that is because we know Peter to have been a failure. Peter had this colossal failure in his life and yet we see him here with this longing and desire to be holy and godly and that’s his pastoral concern for the people of God that you and I his leaders would also live a godly life for the glory of God.
And it reflects something of our own experience because our greatest regrets in life are that we have let our Savior down on many occasions. And perhaps for some of us, we have let Him down in a major way on a par with what Peter did but the wonderful grace of the gospel that is revealed in this epistle is that God uses people like Peter and God used Peter in an extraordinary way to minister, not just to his generation but he ministers yet to us today. I don’t know about you but even if we never get on to the rest of this closing section of I Peter, that in itself is something to be wonderfully thankful for, that God should use broken vessels, that God should use flawed vessels.
Now maybe you think you’re perfect. I don’t know what you’re doing in First Presbyterian Church if you think you’re perfect, but maybe you do. But in reality, don’t we identify with Peter and perhaps identify with him all to closely.
I can’t think but of our Lord’s words to Peter right at the end, you remember, of John’s gospel when he exhorts Peter to “feed My sheep” and to “feed My lambs” and that’s what you see Peter doing here. He’s shepherding the people of God; he’s feeding the people of God; he’s giving, not just soup or chowder, but he’s giving solid food. I’m not a soup sort of person but that’s okay. But this is meat and potatoes, this is solid, this is substantial. Peter wants us to understand how to live a Christian life in the midst of trouble, in the midst of persecution, in the midst of trial, in the midst of impending hostility, whatever form that may take.
Now as he brings this wonderful epistle to a close, he makes the kind of incidental remarks that you and I make when we write letters or e-mails or whatever; not complete sentences, just thoughts, just little half-broken sentences that could be opened up and elaborated and exegeted but Peter hasn’t got time. Maybe he was running out of paper. Maybe the papyrus was almost at the end and he’s just scribbling little things at the end – “I wish I had time to say more.” And contained in these short, pithy little sentences right at the end are some wonderfully pastoral remarks and helps. Two things in particular I want us to see. The first of which is sort of striking, personal details that he gives of his own life. Secondly, the pastoral directives that he gives to stand fast in the things that he has been saying.
I. Personal details.
Now the first thing are the personal details that he gives and he gives three personal details. The first personal detail we find in verse 13 is the setting in which he wrote the letter. We’ve had to come right to the end to find out where it was he was writing this letter. And it’s a pretty strange setting. He says, in verse 13, “She who is in Babylon.” Now forget about the she for a moment; we’ll come to that in a minute. But the Babylon is the thing I want us to focus on. Peter is writing from Babylon. In the first century, in the middle of the first century, in the sixties when Peter is writing this epistle, Babylon is a ghost town. There was no such location as Babylon. It’s not as though Peter was in Babylon, the literal Babylon, the Babylon of the great city, and eventually empire of the Old Testament; that wasn’t there anymore. So Peter is using this as code language, you know nod, wink, wink. You Christians, you understand what I mean when I say Babylon. Now those Roman hordes, those heathen Roman Gentiles, they don’t understand maybe what I’m saying, but you Christians, you understand when I say “I’m writing from Babylon.” He’s writing from Rome, from the city of Rome, from the capital of the Roman Empire, from the capital of this regime that Peter has been warning these readers from the very first sentences of this epistle that persecution and trouble and strife is coming. He’s writing from Babylon.
Now if you know your Old Testament, you understand the code language; if you know the book of Revelation, you know the code language. In Revelation 21, you remember, the great contrast is drawn, and John has been drawing it really from the beginning of Revelation. He’s been drawing the contrast between the city of Babylon and the city of the New Jerusalem and these are antithetical; they’re in contrast to each other. The city of Babylon represents the city of the world, the city that is opposed to the kingdom of God, the city that is in hostility to God and everything that is God. And what Revelation 21 is doing, of course, is painting for us a euphoric, utopian image of the New Jerusalem in all of its splendor and glory and transparency and beauty in such a way that when you end Revelation 21 you’re saying, “I want to be in the New Jerusalem; I want to be out of Babylon and in the New Jerusalem.” It’s a utopia, of course, the new Jerusalem and in much the same way as in literature down through the centuries. Various kinds of utopias have been drawn from Plato’s Republic to Thoreau’s Walden or Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s 1984.
But the Bible picture is an entirely different kind of picture. It begins, of course doesn’t it, back in the book of Genesis – Babel, the tower of Babel, that’s where Babylon begins. The pyramid-like ziggurats that were built in order for the people of the Sinai peninsula to make a reputation, to make a name for themselves and all of that in Genesis, of course, was code language for a new religion, a false religion, a religion that was antithetical to everything that God had revealed. And they built a tower, a tower like the twin towers or the Eiffel tower that had a reputation, that had a name for itself; it was pride. Augustine was to take this picture of Babylon and Jerusalem and draw from it a representation of the totality of history, The City of God against the city of this world.
So what Peter is saying is, “Look, I’m writing from the city of Babylon.” Don’t you often say, “So what.” Don’t you sometimes say when you read the Bible, “Now what does the Bible know of my situation? What does the Bible know about the pain and hurt and difficulty that I find myself in?” And Peter is saying, “I know all about it. I’m writing from Babylon; I’m writing from Rome; I’m writing from the capital city that is about to launch forth a massive wave of persecution on the people of God. I know exactly what you’re going through. I know what it is to suffer, I know what it is to experience pain and hurt and disappointment and grief, to have my ambitions crushed, my hopes dashed, my dreams spoiled. I know what’s it’s like because I live in the city of Babylon.” That’s where the Bible comes from. The Bible is written to people who are in the city of Babylon and long to be in the New Jerusalem.
Well, that’s you; that’s why you sang from your hear “The Sands of Time are Sinking” and perhaps some of you longed that it would sink a little quicker because in truth and in reality, we long to get home. We long to be with Jesus, we long to be in the New Jerusalem because this Babylon hurts. You long to be in the place where there’s no weeping and no crying and no parting and no sorrow and no disease and none of these prayers that were uttered tonight for people in desperate circumstances, friends of ours, brothers and sisters of ours in this church; we long for that. And Peter is saying, “Look, the mark of the cross of Christ is on my forehead as I write this epistle because I’m writing from Babylon.”
But secondly, the person who shares the ministry with him in this letter and he mentions in verse 12, “Silvanus,” or Silas as he’s sometimes known. He’s the man, perhaps one of the most unheralded characters of the early New Testament church, who appears in Acts 15 and who’s given the responsibility to bear the apostolic decree and letters that accompanied it from the Jerusalem council, and he was the one who had the responsibility to go around to the various churches to speak on behalf of the apostles and elders. In other words, the apostles and elders looked to Silas as a man they could trust.
You remember when there was that awful bust-up between Paul and Barnabas? How could you ever fallout with Barnabas? But there it is - Paul fell out with Barnabas. You know Paul was not the easiest of people to get on with and he falls out with Barnabas over John Mark, because John Mark had let them down. And that was enough for Paul; Paul wasn’t about to take him a second time and Barnabas, dear Barnabas. Isn’t it wonderful that we have Barnabases in the church? The Barnabases are the people that Ligon and I have blue files for. Do you know what a blue file is? It’s for days when you’re feeling blue. You know when you get letters from them, a little note that says “We love you, we’re praying for you”? You put those little notes in a blue file. You need a blue file. Barnabas took John Mark with him. Paul took Silas. Silas was the sort of person that Paul trusted. Peter is saying here, “Silas was the man” perhaps he wrote part of this epistle. I don’t think that’s the case but perhaps what Peter means is that he is the one who is now taking this letter of I Peter to modern-day Turkey to all those places that are listed in the opening verses of chapter 1, “To the Christians who are scattered in Cappadocia … and Bithynia” and all those other places that are mentioned at the beginning of chapter 1. Perhaps it was Silas that Peter was entrusting to do that. And when they would read the epistle and they would scratch their heads and they say, “What does Peter mean?” Silas would interpret for Peter. Peter trusts him. The church needs men like Silas. We’re coming up to officer elections this year. It’s a difficult, tense, encouraging, enthusiastic, exciting time. Oh, pray for men like Silas: solid, dependable, and trustworthy. You can put you life in their hands. People that you can entrust the Bible doctrine and message to and they will faithfully interpret it; men like that.
But there’s a third personal detail and that’s the little reference to she in verse 13. The companion who remained behind after he’d sent the letter. “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings.” “She who is in Babylon.” Now all of the interpreters, Puritan interpreters, interpreters of the 17th and 18th century would have, by and large have said this was Mrs. Peter. I don’t know about you, but my wife would not like it if I called her “she who is in Jackson.” That would not be how I would refer to Rosemary so I’m not taken with that. I think that this is a typical New Testament, first century way of saying “The church,” which is usually female, “The church which is in Rome.” It’s not just his greetings, Peter’s, but the entire church in Rome is sending their greetings and their love and their affection to the scattered people of God in Turkey.
But not only she, the church in Rome, but notice at the end of verse 13, “my son Mark.” You can read that passage and go to the next verse and say, “Well, that’s interesting, but so what.” This is John Mark. This is the John Mark that Paul fell out with Barnabas over because John Mark had let them down on that first missionary journey ,and now Peter is calling him, “my son Mark.” And what’s even more exciting is that in II Timothy, Paul, not just Peter, but Paul refers to John Mark as someone who is useful for him. Oh, I don’t know about you but I think Peter, perhaps there was a lump in Peter’s throat when he thinks about John Mark because it’s a very parallel story to Peter himself. Peter knew what it was like to let the Savior down. And Peter had an affection, I think, for John Mark. He knew what it was to have a moment of insanity, to have a moment of cowardice, to have a moment that you wish you could undo.
Do you have moments like that? Are there days in your lives, maybe in the distant past; I don’t want to rake up old memories now, but just say yes and we’ll move on. But days in the past that you long weren’t there, when you did something foolish, the foolishness of the things that you do in your youth? And isn’t it wonderful that God doesn’t put people like Peter and people like John Mark on the shelf and say, “Well, that’s it. No more usefulness for you”? Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that wonderful that God uses clay pots, that God uses flawed creatures like you and me in the progress and advancement of the gospel? I find that the most encouraging thing, perhaps of the entire epistle, this throw-away comment about John Mark.
II. Pastoral directives.
But there’s a second thing that I want us to see, not just these three personal things, but he says three things by way of pastoral directive as he brings this epistle to a close. The first thing he says is in verse 12, and he speaks about the true grace of God: “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God.”
Now what does he mean by “this is the true grace of God”? Well this picture, this explanation of what the Christian life is like. And for Peter, the Christian life is a life that has about it the mark of the cross. The Christian life is not health, wealth, and success. The Christian life is one of trouble and difficulty and persecution and suffering. Five times in this epistle Peter has returned to the theme of suffering because he knows that the people of God do suffer. And this is the true grace of God; this is the kind of life that God has called you to.
Do you remember earlier when he said that Christ had left us an example that we should follow in His steps and he used the word there “example” that would have been used in first century Greek of what a teacher might do when she would write on a blackboard – I’m probably anachronistic now but go with it – writing on a blackboard and saying to her charges, her children “do as I do. Copy the letters.” Do you remember that time? I remember it when I was four, I think, when these big fat black pencils and having to copy letters in between three lines, some of them touching the top and bottom lines, some of them just crossing the middle? You know what I mean, and that the word that Peter is using. Jesus left us an example that we should copy, imitate what He did and this is the experience of the true grace of God. Now don’t you find sometimes, when you find yourselves in trouble, you find yourselves being tested, you find yourselves being pulled apart that you begin to wonder, “Where is the grace of God?” And Peter is saying, “That is the grace of God” because God is preparing you for glory and the way He does that is to remove the dross in order to purify. That’s what the Christian life is like.
The second exhortation or pastoral directive he gives is in verse 14 to “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” Elsewhere, Paul of course, uses the expression “a holy kiss.” Now what are we to do with this? You know in some cultures in the Middle East it is common for people to meet, and not just women, but men with men to greet one another with a kiss on both cheeks. France, the French do that sort of thing. The Italians, I think, do that sort of thing in Europe. We don’t do that sort of thing. If men were suddenly to begin to kiss each other on the cheek there would be all sorts of talk. I mean all sorts of talk.
So what’s the application? This is a cultural thing, so what’s the application? When we read this, what are we supposed to get from it? And I think what we are supposed to get from it is that we are to love on another. We are to treat one another as though we loved each other, we were glad to see each other. I think here at First Presbyterian Church it’s one of our greatest needs because we struggle with a big church, big numbers. It’s so very easy to be lonely in big numbers and one of the things we need to exhort each other to do all the time is to do in principle what Peter is saying here, to remember that you are part of a family. This is my family. This is my home. Whatever you think of as coming home, this is coming home – being amongst God’s people. This is a little reflection, it’s just a little cameo of what heaven will be like. So greet one another. Be friendly to each other.
And then a third thing, a final thing that Peter says and I want to go back a little now to verse 10 and draw in what he said there because experiencing the true grace of God has about it, Peter has suggested, the experience of trial and tribulation. Don’t be surprised when tribulation comes. But look at what he says in verse 10: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
And the way to see the true grace of God, Peter seems to be saying, is to see it as part of God’s plan and determination to bring you to glory. Never lose sight in the midst of the battle, never lose sight of the goal. “Don’t take your eye” – don’t take your eye off the ball when you are playing golf. “Don’t,” Peter is saying, translate that, “don’t take your eye off glory.”
I can’t help but think as Peter is writing this and as his readers are reading it for the first time, they knew what Peter had done. The whole church knew about it; it was something people talked about. “Do you remember what Peter did in the courtyard? Do you remember how he crumbled? Do you remember how he swore and blasphemed that he’d never known Jesus when a little girl recognized his northern Galilean accent? And here is Peter saying, “The way I cope with my past is to remember that the grace of God is determined to bring me to glory; He is determined to bring me to glory.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones, who I think without any prejudice, was perhaps one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century and a wonderful gift to the church, and if you’ve never read the biography of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful read, not least because you’ll have to get your tongue around some of those wonderful Welsh names, but the day before he died – and he had been experiencing a long and difficult illness and battle with cancer – the day before he died he asked his family, he said to his family, “Don’t pray for healing. Don’t hold me back from glory.” He died that night in his sleep and that’s the perspective Peter wants us to live our lives. In your trouble, in your difficulty, in the midst of your pain and stress and battle, keep your eye on the glory.
The sands of time are sinking
The dawn of heaven breaks
Why? Because glory, glory dwells in Emanuel’s land.
Lord help us to keep that perspective in our minds. Let’s stand together and pray and receive the Lord’s benediction. Let’s pray together.
Our Father we thank you for this wonderful epistle. We thank you for these closing remarks. We pray that you would write them now upon our hearts for Jesus’ sake.