Tag Archives: Peter

Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13

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WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

Who’s the Boss?

Many times we fall under the impression that being a Christian means that things will be “nice” from now on and all of our troubles will be over.  However, we soon discover that this is far from the reality.  Rather than being moved to a retirement community, we find ourselves in the midst of strife.  When we gave our life to Christ, we rejected our sin and agreed with God that it is vile and worthy of destruction.  Thus, we stepped out the dark and into the light.  Our former partners in crime (our sinful nature, the World, and all enemies of God), are loathe to see us go over to Him and do all that they can to regain control of our lives.  Perhaps the most intimidating of these foes is Satan and the rest of the fallen angels.  They are often portrayed as immensely powerful beings seeking to deceive, destroy, and dominate.  Peter refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and John uses the terms “dragon” and “serpent” to describe him.  We read in the book of Job how Satan afflicts Job and destroys all his worldly possessions (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-10).  Later, in the Gospels, we read of the terrifying results of demonic possession such as the man who wandered among the tombs crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:1-5).  Many stories exist of the desert monks being harassed by demons appearing in many fantastic and horrifying shapes.  Even today we see churches torn apart by petty quarrels, cults rising up to spread false doctrines, and all manner of death, suffering, and destruction.  The size and scope of the threat posed by demons often leaves us dumbfounded.

It is easy, when confronted by Satan and his works, to forget a profound truth:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

-1 John 4:4

We often speak of the war between good and evil, but consider this: when has God ever fought a war or a battle?  God does not fight, He smites or refrains from smiting.  Satan and his ilk run around and cause trouble only because God does not strike them down as He can at any given moment.  To ask why God refrains is to ask why there is suffering in the world; this is a question that God is not obliged to answer us on and we must trust in His goodness and holiness.  Returning to the main point, two instances illustrate that God has complete power to do as He wishes with devils.  These are the same two instances cited by St. Anthony in his speech to encourage his fellow monks in the desert.

The first instance is Jesus’ casting a legion of demons out of the man who lived among the tombs.  At the very sight of Christ the demons cried out and begged Jesus, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  Not exactly the words of someone who getting ready for a battle.  Rather, it rings more of a scoundrel caught in some mischief by the king and who begins to plead for his life without the king saying a word.  Perhaps more startling is the fact that the legion of demons is begging Christ for permission to enter into a bunch of pigs and it is only after Christ says they can that they are able to do so.

The second instance involves the story of Job.  While Satan’s affliction of Job is what may first come to mind, recall the events leading up to it:  the angels are coming and presenting themselves before God and Satan shows up as well.  The conversation between God and Satan soon turns to Job, a man who “fears God and shuns evil”.  After Satan slanders Job before God, God gives Satan permission to do what he will with everything that Job has.  However, God sets a limit on Satan’s power, commanding him not to lay a finger on Job’s person.  Satan destroys Job’s children and possessions, but leaves the man untouched.  Again Satan comes to God and slanders Job and this time God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s health but sets another strict limit on his power by commanding him not to kill Job.  Here we have Satan himself, the leader of all demons and ruler of the World, unable to do a thing without God letting him.

It is important to keep in mind that God is not ordering the demons to cause havoc, but instead He allows them to carry out what is in their minds to do.  Jesus allows the demons to go into the pigs as they requested.  Satan is allowed to carry out his plan against Job only after God permits him to and only to the degree that God allows him (first not to harm Job himself and second not to kill Job).

What this means to us is that although it may seem like Satan is in control, we can still trust in God who is the One really in control.  We may not understand why God doesn’t just destroy all of the rebellious angels rather than allowing them to pursue their wicked schemes, but we know that they act only as far as God permits them to.  This is one of the reasons why Paul can encourage the Corinthian church by writing,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:13

Why should demons, who have no interest in our welfare (quite the opposite, actually), refrain from overwhelming us with their wickedness and despair save that the hand of God holds them back?

Thus, despite their apparent power and authority, Satan and the other angels who have rebelled against God, are still subject to God’s power and authority.  They are “reserved in everlasting chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day,” unable to do anything without God’s allowing it.  We are not held at Satan’s mercy, we are given refuge under God’s.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

–James 4:7


A Question of Repentance

We often think about repentance strictly in terms of saying “I’m sorry God, I won’t do that again.”  (If we’re really honest, we might rephrase the latter part of that statement as “I’ll try not to do that again.”)  However, that angle seems to squeeze the grace in repentance down to strictly giving another chance.  It makes it sound more like tolerance than restoring a relationship.

Our situation is very similar to that which Peter found himself in after the crucifixion.  Like him, we have denied Christ, our Lord and Savior.  However there is no taking back what is done and we were sorry for what we did, so now we have returned to our normal routine without bringing God into the picture.  When we next see Jesus, we are more than happy to go meet Him, but we don’t bring up our sin.  Jesus, however, isn’t going to let it go.  He loves us too much to do that.  But neither does He lecture us or demand an apology.  Instead, He addresses us with a question:  “do you love me?

The question seems to cut through the air like a sword.  At first, it seems like the absolute worst thing Christ can ask us.  If He is calling into question whether we love Him or not, then we must be in dire straits.  Believe it or not, Christ’s question comes from grace.  It doesn’t spring from anger, disappointment, or the intention to make us feel guilty.  While having remorse for what we’ve done is a part of repentance, it is not the capstone.  According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus looked right at Peter when he denied Him the third time and would most likely have seen the look in Peter’s eyes as the dreadful realization of what he had done came upon him.  Likewise, since God knows our hearts and is always with us, He knows that we’re sorry as soon as we are so.  The reason we can say that Christ isn’t trying to make us guilty with His question is because he already knows our regret.

So what does Christ intend to do by asking that question?  We mentioned earlier that His question probably cut through the air like a sword; it also cuts to the heart of the matter.  There are no hidden meanings to the question, no undertones.  He is very simply asking Peter, and ourselves, if we love Him.  Where’s the grace in that?  God says that He desires mercy and not sacrifice.  Christ isn’t asking us to do penance, He’s asking us to attend to the matter at hand.  Earlier, Christ makes that statement, “If you love me, you will obey me.”  That is to say, our obedience to God comes from our love of God.  We are not being called back to obedience.  We are being reminded of our true love.

Additionally, Jesus isn’t asking for His own benefit.  Peter says to Him, “Lord, you know I love you.”  Jesus asks for our benefit; to remind us of one very important thing:  repentance isn’t about making up for the past (Christ has personally taken care of that).  It is about where our heart is now.  Being sorry about what we’ve done is part of repentance because we love God now are upset that we turned away from Him.  That sorrow soon passes because we love God now and are no longer bound to our sin.  We are no longer bound to our sin because God has always loved us.