AFTER YOU BELIEVE: Instructions from 1 Peter
By Fr. Dustin M. Lyon
In hearing the Gospels, many of you will have noticed that Jesus was known to have walked around asking, “Who do people say I am?” He got many different answers to this question, including some strange ones. The best answer he got was from his disciple Peter, who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). However good this answer is, a question still remains: what does it mean to be the Son of God?
There are a few ways to answer that question. Jesus tells St. Peter that for him to be the Son of God means that he is the Savior, and he must undergo crucifixion on a cross, but in three days God will raise him from the dead (Matthew 16:21). Jesus goes on to say that we should follow in these same footsteps (16:24). St. Paul says the same thing in his letter to the Philippians. There, St. Paul tells us we should have the same mind of Christ, who humbled himself to die on a cross – that is, we should be willing to also put aside our pride in order to follow God, even if it’s hard for us to do that (Philippians 2:5-11).
Now that we have an image of Christ dying on the cross, what can we say about the gospel message? I believe we can say a few things. Firstly, this was a voluntary act. God did not force Jesus to die on the cross; and because it was a voluntary act, we can say that it was an act of love. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus, and Jesus so loved the world that he was willing to die for our sins. We can also say that this act of love, this death on the cross, and this resurrection from the dead, is an event in history that is so earth shattering that everything changes. It means that it is now possible for anyone, no matter what your background, to join the people of God and receive all the blessings that this entails.
Having established this foundation, we can now turn to the First Epistle of St. Peter. Many scholars believe that this epistle was originally a homily given at a baptism service. Because it was probably written in the 1st century, it is most likely that those who were baptized were adults. It is also to these ‘newly illumined’ adults that St. Peter was writing. This makes sense if you consider that a large part of this epistle is about how to live life after baptism (chapters 3, 4, and 5).
St. Peter opens his epistle proclaiming that the good news is that Jesus Christ has regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection (1:3). Through this hope, God has given us a promise, that through Christ we have an inheritance that is incorrupt, undefiled, and unfading (1:4). However, this promise will come to pass at the end of time – it’s yet to happen. In the meantime we must endure trials, which may lead to suffering (1:7). Though this won’t be fun, we should try to understand our suffering as a test, and if we pass this test – if we endure – then it will be to the glory of God (1:9). In other words, it will make us stronger and lead us closer to God. It will be an aid to our salvation.
Here’s where an understanding of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection comes in. It helps answer the question: how, exactly, does God call us to endure suffering? He calls us to endure suffering in the same manner that Jesus endured suffering. Jesus went to the cross willingly, out of love. We too should confront our suffering –whatever it is – with love (1:23). But it’s much more than that. It’s not just a way to confront suffering, but it’s also a model for our entire life. In everything we do we are to remember how Christ acted as a servant out of love for others. Our approach in dealing with others should also be out of our love for them. St. Peter gives many different examples in his epistle: wives, husbands, slaves, masters, presbyters (priests), people under authority, etc.
The key to all of this is that Christ’s suffering was earth shattering. His resurrection from the dead starts a transformation of the world, though it won’t be complete until the end of time. Through our baptism, we participate in this earth shattering moment; and because we have now “put on Christ” – as we sing at baptisms – we are united to Christ and become the people of God. This is why the cross becomes a model for our lives. Though it may be tough to live up to these standards, we are called, nonetheless, to try.
As Christians we are the people of God, and we should be honored. St. Peter says we are, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession” (2:9). In short, when we practice being the people of God – dealing with others out of love – then they will know that we are Christians. In this way, we are to be a light in the darkness. We extend God’s love of the world into the world. In return, God continues to look after us, and take care of us. St. Peter ends his epistle very beautifully; he reminds us of the great love God has for us, “ And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (5:10).