by John MacArthur
We’re beginning a series in 1 Peter. But this is going to be an interesting opportunity for you because we’re going to share the pulpit. There are going to be a number of different men who are going to be taking passages in Peter as we roll through. They assigned me the first message; and I can’t exactly say who’s coming in next order, but I think Mark Zhakevich is next week, and then more will follow, taking you through this book in a remarkable study.
Now they said that I get the first message. So go to 1 Peter, if you will, and I’m going to read my text. You ready for this? “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” That’s what I was assigned. I know the name means much to you already, and you know much about him; but we want to examine his life in relation to this incredible letter.
It was July 19, 64 AD, and Rome burned, famously, while Nero fiddled. The great city of the ancient world was consumed in a holocaust of fire. And Rome was a city of high wooden tenements and very narrow streets. The fire spread fast for three days and three nights and was put out here and there, and broke out again and again; and each time it was even worse. The Romans actually believed Nero was responsible for bringing down their glorious city and their homes because Nero loved to build, and so he seemed to want to destroy what he thought was inferior so he could be famous for rebuilding it. So he sat and watched the raging inferno from the Tower of Maecenas and said he was actually charmed by the loveliness of the flames.
People who tried to put out the flames eventually were hindered, and new fires were started. Obviously the people of Rome were devastated. The Temple of Luna, the Ara Maxima (the Great Altar), the Temple of Jupiter Stator, the Shrine of Vesta, the very household gods—everything was burned, and the people who were left were homeless.
The resentment of Nero was bitter, and possibly deadly. Nero needed to redirect suspicion away from himself because he had admitted nothing, so he found a scapegoat. And the scapegoat were the Christians. It was a rather ingenious choice because Christians were already the victims of hatred and slander in the city of Rome. They were connected in the minds of Gentiles with Jews, and already anti-Semitism had a place in that culture. The Lord’s Supper, they heard about, was closed to them, to pagans. And since they didn’t know what was going on, but they heard about eating and drinking the flesh of Christ, they assumed that this was some kind of cannibalism, and the Christians were cannibals who ate babies, and even Gentiles. The familiar Christian embrace called the kiss of love used at the love feasts was a source of accusations about orgies.
Christians were also very unpopular because they split families. Jesus had said that, right, “Unless you hate your father, your mother, your brother and your sister, you can’t be My disciple”? Christians also spoke of a day when the world would dissolve in flames. And Peter even writes about that. So they could easily be blamed for the fire. And as a result of this deflection away from Nero, and making the Christians appear to be guilty of this massive holocaust, savage persecution broke out against Christians.
Tacitus, the Roman historian, reported that Nero joined in on the persecution. He rolled Christians in pitch and then set fire to them while they were still alive and used them as living torches to light his garden parties. He sewed them up in the skins of wild animals and set hunting dogs on them to tear them to shreds. And they were crucified. Christians perished in sort of a delirium of savagery. And even lynching became common in Rome. Within a few years Christians were imprisoned, racked, seared, broiled, burned, scourged, stoned, and hanged. Some were lacerated with red-hot irons, some were thrown on the horns of wild bulls.
This letter was written just after that persecution began, at a time when Christians were suffering severe persecution. And if you look at 1 Peter with me—just go through it. And to capture it in a few verses: chapter 1 verse 6, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” Chapter 2 verse 21, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Chapter 3, verse 13, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong.”
And even in chapter 4 verse 12, we read again, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” And then at the end of the chapter, verse 19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
And that beautiful promise down in chapter 5, 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.” So this letter is full of comments from the apostle Peter on the suffering that is happening to these believers under Nero and the power of Rome.
The emphasis, you might say, of this epistle is to teach believers how to live victoriously in the midst of persecution—how to live without losing heart, without wavering in faith, without becoming bitter, without hating the persecutors; realizing that we have a hope, and that hope is ours because of the promises of God in Christ. And we have an inheritance waiting for us undefiled, unfading, unscarred, laid up for us in heaven. So we live in hope.
As I read you those various verses which speak of suffering, I want to go back and go through it again and look what’s connected to suffering. Chapter 1 verse 7, the next verse, “So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Or, verse 13, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in your spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Or again in chapter 2 and verse 12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good works, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Over in chapter 4, verse 13, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
Chapter 5 verse 1, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.” And verse 4, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Now the apostle Peter doesn’t promise them anything better in this life, but he promises them something infinitely better in the life to come, doesn’t he? This life would be brutal to them—brutal, as I described it. But there’s another life to come, and that is the life to which those in persecuted situations must always look. That’s one of the benefits of persecution: heavenly reward and heavenly preoccupation. So that’s the character of this book: being able to keep your focus on the glory to come in the midst of suffering that is more than normal, more than your human strength could bear.
Now with that in mind, the Lord chooses Peter to write this letter. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Now let me see if I can just do a quick little biography on Peter, just to put the pieces together that we all are familiar with.
There were twelve apostles, and they’re named four times in the New Testament: Matthew 10, Mark 3, Luke 6, and Acts 1. And every time you have a list of the twelve apostles, the first name is always Peter. The last name is always Judas, for obvious reasons. But the first name is always Peter. He was the leader of the twelve. And the group of twelve is divided into three segments or four segments: three, three, three, three. The first three—Peter, James, and John—the most intimate with our Lord. But among those most intimately acquainted with our Lord in that inner circle, who, for example, were taken to the Transfiguration, Peter is the one who is the dominant figure.
These men were specifically called by Christ. In John 15 Jesus says, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” He chose them. They were chosen for the purpose of being trained to go and preach the gospel. They were to be the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, and out of that eyewitness account—knowing Christ, knowing Him through His death and resurrection—they were to go and be the first wave of preachers of the gospel. They also were the key authors of New Testament revelation—they, and those associated with them.
In Ephesians 2:20, we’re told there the foundation of the church: The church is built on the corner stone of Jesus Christ, but the apostles are the foundation. They received direct revelation from God. In Ephesians 3:5, we read that God has revealed His truth to His holy apostles in the Spirit. They were the recipients of revelation. Jesus even said to them, “When I am gone, the Holy Spirit will come; and He will lead you into all truth, and He will tell you things about Me.”
They were the source, then, of teaching divine truth. And that is why when the church was founded on the day of Pentecost, according to Acts chapter 2 and verse 42, they were regularly, daily engaged in studying the apostles’ doctrine. It was divine doctrine coming through the instrumentation of the apostles.
So they were gospel preachers chosen by the Lord; they were the foundation of the church. They were the recipients of revelation. They were the teachers of that first generation; they taught revealed truth. They repeated revealed truth again and again. Not every time, when they spoke, did they give new revelation. They received revelation which they repeated often. They were examples of the life that the Lord wanted them to live as a pattern for all to follow. That is why they are called “holy apostles”—I just read that to you—“holy apostles,” Ephesians 3:5.
God gave them a special talent, a special, supernatural gift to do signs and wonders and miracles according to 2 Corinthians chapter 12; these are called the signs of an apostle. So how do you sort out an apostle from everybody else? If you have somebody teaching over here and somebody teaching over here, how do you know who’s true? Well, the one who does miracles gives evidence of speaking the Word of God because he’s being validated by the power of God. So the miracles, as in the case of Christ, were to validate His claim to be God. And the miracles done by the apostles were to validate their claim to be the messengers of God who spoke on His behalf. They will be eternally honored. We read in Revelation 21:14, that heavenly city called the New Jerusalem has twelve foundation stones, and each of them is named for an apostle. Obviously one of them is not Judas; so whether it’s Matthias, who was selected to take the place of Judas, or the apostle Paul, we’ll have to wait to see. We haven’t had word from heaven as to who gets that honor.
Now Peter is the dominant man, the dominant figure among the apostles. In fact the four gospels are full of Peter. If you know anything about any apostle, you certainly know most about Peter. After the name of our Lord, no name is mentioned more frequently in the four gospels than the name of Peter. Our Lord speaks often to Peter, more often than to any other of the disciples—sometimes in praise, sometimes not so much, sometimes in blame. No disciple was so pointedly reproved by our Lord, rebuked by our Lord, as Peter. No disciple ever ventured to reprove his Master but Peter. No disciple ever so boldly confessed, no disciple ever so outspokenly acknowledged and encouraged our Lord as Peter repeatedly did, and no one ever intruded and interfered and tempted Him as repeatedly as Peter did. He gave his best efforts on both sides. Our Lord spoke words of blessing on Peter, words of approval, the likes of which He did not speak—at least, it’s not recorded—to any other of the apostles or anyone else. At the same time, the harshest thing that ever came out of His mouth was spoken to Peter. The only one He spoke more harshly to was Judas.
We all love and identify with Peter because he’s so very human. And the good story about Peter is this: that God can make something out of a very, very duplicitous soul. God has to use weak people with myriad faults. And that is evidenced in the life of Peter. So let’s look at his life. And we won’t take a lot of time, but I’ll give you a quick run-through.
The gospels record Peter as the spokesman. And when you hear him speak, you can be pretty sure that on most occasions he’s speaking on behalf of everybody else. He’s sort of the spokesman for the others; he’s collecting their thoughts and representing them to our Lord. It is Peter who asks the meaning of a difficult saying. It is Peter who asks how often he should forgive. It is Peter who asks, “What is the reward for those who leave everything to follow You?” It is Peter who asks about the fig tree that withers. It is Peter who asks about the things which Jesus said about the approaching end. It is Peter who comes to ask Jesus about His taxes. It is Peter who answered when Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” It is Peter who interrogates the risen Christ. Peter is a spokesman; it’s just in him. He’s the leader.
His actual name is Simon. And by the way, in Hebrew that means listener. No wonder the Lord changed his name. His name was Simon, and his father’s name was Jonas, or Jonah or John, and he’s called Simon Bar-Jonah—son of Jonah.
He was a fisherman by trade, and by that we probably should understand that he was part of a fishing business run by his family. As many as seven of the apostles might have been fishermen. There was a lot of fishing business around the Sea of Galilee, and a lot of the fish that they caught were moved around the ancient world, so it could have been somewhat of an extensive business.
He lived in Bethsaida with his brother Andrew, and then later in Capernaum. And, by the way, you might not have thought of this, but according to 1 Corinthians 9:5, he was married. I don’t know if his wife got a word in edgewise—she doesn’t appear—but we know that the Lord was gracious to his wife’s mother in healing her.
The question comes, “Did Peter take his wife along on all those years of discipling?” Perhaps he did. James and John took their mother. Maybe Peter’s wife was there. We can certainly assume that she was a part of whatever she could be a part of in that small country. The Lord changed his name—you remember, right?—from Simon to Peter in the Greek, or Cephas in the Aramaic. And it means stone.
Now as you read the stories of Peter, sometimes he’s called Simon, sometimes he’s called Peter, and sometimes he’s called Simon Peter. And try, as I have, I really can’t be definitive about why that happens. When it’s talking about something sort of earthly, like his house in Mark 1, it’s “Simon’s house.” When it’s talking about his wife’s mother in Luke 4, it’s “Simon’s wife’s mother.” “Simon’s boat,” Luke 5. “Simon’s fishing partners,” Luke 5:10; “Simon’s location” in the book of Acts in chapter 10. Anything that’s sort of earthly seems to be “Simon.” But when it moves into the spiritual sphere, not surprisingly, he becomes Simon Peter, or even Peter. Usually in John—he’s “Simon Peter” at least seventeen times in the gospel of John. Occasionally it seemed to me that when he was acting like his old self, the Lord called him by his old name, “Simon, Simon”—like when your mother said your name in a certain way, and you know it wasn’t good.
Simon was not unlike any of us. He showed strength, and he manifest weakness, both, because that’s what it is to be human—even when the Lord has changed your heart.
Now we could spend a lot of time on all the incidents that are memorable, but let me just run by a few of them. These are the highlights of Peter’s life: He received, really, two great revelations that are recorded in Scripture.
Look at Matthew 16. Matthew 16 verse 13, “Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi,” way in the north of Galilee. “He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’” He’s asking what’s popular opinion about Jesus, about Himself. And “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” That is one of his great revelations. Heaven spoke through his lips and identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
There’s a second amazing revelation that Peter had, in John 6. In John 6, Jesus had a lot of followers; they could be called disciples. The word means learners, students. But in John 6:66 it says, “Many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” His teaching drove them away. “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” A second remarkable, remarkable revelation related to the identity of Christ as Messiah, Lord, Holy One, Son of God, giver of eternal life. So he had heaven speak to him in these glorious revelations.
He also had been promised a great reward. Not only great revelation, but go back to Matthew 16 and verse 18. And the Lord said to him after that confession, in verse 18 of Matthew 16, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I’ll build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Peter is going to be part of the foundation of the church—Ephesians 2:20, I mentioned earlier—the apostles are the foundation stones of the church, Christ being the corner stone. This is an immense reward for this fisherman, to receive divine revelation, and to be rewarded by being a part of the foundation of the church that the Lord is building.
He had a great revelation and a great reward. He also had a great wrong. Go down to verse 21: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’” That was not a revelation from heaven. And the Lord “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to Me; for you’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’”
That was a revelation from hell. He was suggesting exactly what Satan had suggested to Christ back in Matthew 4: “I’ll show You the kingdoms of the world, I’ll give You the kingdoms of the world if You bow down to me. You can have the kingdoms without the cross.” And Peter was giving Him the devil’s message. The great revelation didn’t insulate him from a moment when he became a tool of the devil. He may have called out in love, he may have made this statement in compassion, but he was saying exactly what the devil will say: “You can have the crown without the cross.”
If that was a terribly disastrous moment, there’s a worse one: the great rejection. Look at Matthew 26. A man given great revelation, promise of great reward, foundation of the church, has a moment in which he speaks for Satan. And then when you come into Matthew 26 verse 31, “Jesus said to the disciples”—they were on the Mount of Olives the night of His betrayal—“‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.” But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ But Peter said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.’ And the disciples said the same thing, too.”
Fast-forward to the end of the chapter in verse 69. Jesus was before Caiaphas the high priest, on trial. “Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you’re talking about.’ When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you too are one of them, for even the way you talk gives you away.’” You have that Galilean accent. And “then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’ And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
The recipient of great revelation, the promise of a great reward, part of the foundation of the church—he spoke for the devil, and he denied his Lord on three separate occasions in three different locations, probably multiple times. But before you run too fast to condemn Peter—at least he was there. Nobody else was. All the rest of the disciples had fled. Something has to be said for the fact that he was there; he was at the high priest’s house. It’s the kind of failure that only happens to the brave, only happens to the people who are in a position where it can happen. It only happens to people who get close to the enemy.
So is that the end of the story? Is Peter now useless? No. He received a great revelation, was given a promise of a great reward, did great wrong, and committed the crime of great rejection. But there’s a recommissioning. Go to John 21, John 21. After the Resurrection, Jesus told the disciples to go to Galilee and wait for Him there, and that He would come and meet them. Peter had not done that; he had gone back to his old career of fishing. We learned that earlier in the chapter. And now at breakfast we read that, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,” right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’” “What do You mean ‘these’—these fishing implements?” You can understand how Peter felt. “I was a colossal failure when in the courtyard. My crime was of the kind that Judas committed. I’m not worthy to be an apostle; maybe I can’t do it. I’m going to go back to fishing.”
So the Lord comes to him and says, “Do you love Me more than these trappings that go with fishing?” He said, “‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’” That’s the recommissioning of Peter to serve the Great Shepherd by being a shepherd of His flock.
“He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’”—and He actually used the word that Peter used. The Lord says, “Do you love Me with the highest and noblest kind of love?” Peter says with a different word, “I have affection for You”—didn’t think he could claim more than that. “I have affection for You. Can I at least get by with claiming that, in my disobedience?” And now the Lord gives him back his own word: “Do you actually have affection for Me?” And he said to Him, “‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” That’s the recommissioning of Peter. It’s an amazing, amazing picture of the most tragic failure becoming Christ’s special, chosen shepherd for His flock.
Go to the book of Acts, because that’s the next page. What does Peter look like in the book of Acts, now that he’s been recommissioned? Well, in the book of Acts the apostles are listed in verse 13. And there he is, Peter—and then John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, and the rest. He’s still the leader. And then it’s time to choose somebody to take the place of Judas. And verse 15, “At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of a hundred and twenty person were there together), and said, ‘Brethren, the Scripture has to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.’” And by the way, Peter for the first time had an understanding of the Old Testament, and he quotes it all through this and chapter 2.
“We have to choose somebody to take his place” is what is going on here. But Peter is the one who initiates that effort. And we know the story. “The lot” at the end of chapter 1, verse 26, “fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Peter has enough boldness to step up and say, “This is what we need to do.” He’s back in a leadership position. He has, to some degree, recovered his confidence from the horrors of his denials.
And then in chapter 2:14 it even gets more amazing. Day of Pentecost, “Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.’” The Spirit having come on them, he preaches this incredibly powerful sermon. The church is born that day, and three thousand people, verse 41, are added to the church the first day the church existed. Peter is back, and he’s back with power.
In chapter 3, we see him again. He is in the Temple, along with John. They see a man there who has been begging alms, “been lame from his mother’s womb.” He was actually carried. They would set him down every day at the gate of the Temple called Beautiful. “When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms,” begging. “But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!’ And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I do not posses silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” And verse 11 says, “He was clinging to Peter and John.” No doubt.
In chapter 4, he defied the Sanhedrin. They were preaching; the Sanhedrin had forbidden them to do that. Verse 3, “They laid hands on” the apostles, “put them in jail.” They were told not to preach. Verse 8, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit,” launches again, preaching Christ. They could not stop him; they could not silence him—no threat could do that. Eventually they let him go. And you know the rest of the story.
When you come to chapter 5, he is the one who confronts Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit. Peter says, in chapter 5 verse 3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? . . . You have not lied to men,” he says at the end of verse 4, “‘but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.” There was an elapsed interval of about three hours, and his wife showed up. “And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who’ve buried your husband are at the door, and they’ll carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last.” And she was buried beside her husband.
Peter is a powerful person. He’s the one that inaugurates the selection of the twelfth apostle. He’s the one that preaches the great sermon on Pentecost. He’s the one that defies the Sanhedrin. He is the one that heals the man born lame. He is the one who deals with lies that pollute the church.
In chapter 8, the familiar and amazing story of Simon the Magician—and Peter again is the figure that deals with him. When Simon wanted to buy the Holy Spirit, verse 18 of chapter 8, “Peter said,” verses 18 and 19,“‘may your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right with God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you’re in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’ But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.’” He rejected real repentance. Again, Peter is exercising amazing authority; he’s behaving in a way that is almost like the Lord would behave if He were there.
In the ninth chapter, he meets a very interesting person—if you go down to verse 33—“a man named Aeneas, bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed”—maybe by an accident or something. “Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which is translated in Greek Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it happened at that time she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, ‘Do not delay in coming to us.’ So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them”—very charitable lady. “Peter sent them all out, knelt down, prayed, turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” This is like Jesus all over again.
You mean that the Lord Jesus would do this through such a frail vessel? In the tenth chapter, you know the story: He takes the gospel to the Gentiles. We can go all the way to verse 34, Cornelius. “Opening his mouth, Peter said, ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, for in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” What happened? “While Peter was preaching,” verse 44, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also, and they were speaking in languages and exalting God,” just as the Jews had done on the day of Pentecost. This is a pretty stunning life. Immediately after his recommissioning, Peter becomes the primary representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we had time, we could go back through the gospels, and we would learn that in Matthew chapter 17, for example, Jesus taught Peter submission. In John 18, He taught him restraint. In Matthew 26 as well as John 13, He taught him humility. Also in Matthew 18, He taught him forgiveness—seventy times seven. In John 21, He taught him sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own life. In John 21, He taught him love: “Do you love Me?” In John 21, He said, “You’re going to die; your life is going to be taken from you.” And so He basically prepared him to be courageous. Through all of these encounters in the life of Jesus and Peter, Jesus was strengthening Peter for this incredible, incredible ministry responsibility that he would have in the book of Acts.
Now that was for an apostle. None of us could ever hope to have that. Oh, He also gave Peter, with James and John, a glimpse of glory, right? Matthew 17, the Transfiguration. Took them to the mountain so they could see Him in His Second-Coming glory. And Peter writes about that. Oh, by the way, in his letter—in Peter’s letter, 1 Peter and 2 Peter—he writes about submission, restraint, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, love, courage, faith, and glory. He remembered all those lessons. And oh, by the way, he also writes about being a shepherd of the flock. The Lord said, “Feed My sheep,” and that’s exactly what he did. And he enjoined other shepherds to feed the flock of God, 1 Peter 5.
But there was one final glimpse of Peter that stands out, and it’s Matthew 16 again. And in Matthew 16 verse 19, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Now what is that? “What do You mean?” “Well, I’m going to give you ability to unlock the kingdom.” And borrowing language from rabbis—the rabbis used to say you are either bound in your sin or loosed from your sin. Binding and loosing was rabbinic talk. “So Peter, I’m going to give you the keys to the kingdom, and you can declare to people, ‘You’re bound in your sins,’ or, ‘You are loosed from your sins.’ And whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” What is He saying? He’s saying, “You’re going to be able to tell people, ‘Here is the door to the kingdom. I will give you the key, the gospel which opens the door, and I will tell you by how you respond to the gospel whether you’re bound in your sins or loosed from your sins.’”
This isn’t papal authority; this isn’t authority to forgive sin. This is simply authority to open the kingdom door with the key which is the gospel, and to say to someone, “If you believe the gospel, you’re loosed from your sins; if you don’t believe the gospel, you’re bound in your sins.” That is the most important thing that Peter could ever do: would be to have the key to the kingdom, and open the door and tell people that they were either loosed or bound in sin by how they responded to the gospel.
And you say, “Well, was that for Peter only?” No, because over in John chapter 20 and verse 20, our Lord is talking to the disciples. This is after the Resurrection. And He said, “Look at My hands and My side.” And they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’” He extends that power that He gave to Peter to the rest of the apostles, and saying the same thing: “If you, because people believe the gospel, tell them their sins are forgiven, you are authorized by heaven to say that.” All the apostles had that same authority to declare that people’s sins were forgiven. “If you believe the gospel, I declare unto you, your sins are forgiven. If you do not believe the gospel, then your sins are not forgiven.” The twelve were also, then, given the keys, the gospel key that opens the kingdom, and the right by whatever response a person has, to declare whether they were freed from sin or bound in sin.
Now to wrap that up, go to Matthew 18, Matthew 18. This all seems so marvelous and grand and apostolic. But let’s pick up something very familiar: Matthew 18:15. Talking to believers, “If your brother sins”—this is for all of us—“go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you’ve won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen, tell it to the church; if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” And then look at verse 18: “Truly I say to you”—now this is to the church—“whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” This is incredible. This is for all of us. When we go to someone and confront them about their sin and they will not repent, we have the authority that Peter and the apostles had, to say, “Based upon your rejection, you are bound in your sin; based upon your repentance, you’re loosed from your sin.”
Not for a moment would you want to consider yourself an apostle. Not Peter. He seems far away from what we are. You wouldn’t want to even consider yourself one of the other apostles. But the truth of the matter is you bear the same authority of the apostles. Based upon how people respond to the gospel and the Word of God, you can say, “You are free from your sins,” or, “You are bound in your sins”—which reminds us, folks, what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the gospel. We’re talking about sin and forgiveness. Not a happy life.
Peter opened the doors to the Jews, opened the door to the Jews. He had the key. He opened the door to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. He was the first one to open the door to the Gentiles: Cornelius in Acts 10. And then the apostles went everywhere preaching the gospel and opening the door and saying to sinners, “If you believe the gospel, you’re freed from your sin; if you reject the gospel, you’re bound in your sin.” And that same commission and that same privilege has been handed down to us.
It’s not personal authority, it’s authority based on biblical truth. You can say to someone, “You reject the gospel, you’re bound in your sins forever; you believe the gospel, you’re loosed from your sins.” We’re given the right to say that based upon how people respond to the gospel. We’re even given the right to say that within the framework of the church, based upon how people respond to being confronted by others over their sin. And when they refuse to repent, treat them like a tax collector and a Gentile—or an outcast—because they may well not even be believers at all. So God has given us immense, immense authority from His Word. And we carry that apostolic authority based on this book.
Our Father, we thank You for the time tonight to just take a look at Peter, and to look at his life and what You did through him, even though he was frail and flawed. And You always do that because that’s the only kind of people there are. And I know we think of ourselves as so weak, and nothing like an apostle, nothing like Peter. But how incredible it is that You have given us the key to the kingdom of heaven, which is the gospel. And when we proclaim the gospel, we can say to someone who believes the gospel, who repents and believes the gospel, “You are loosed from your sins”—because that is the promise of Scripture, the divine promise of heaven. For someone who rejects the gospel, “You’re bound in your sin.”
And this is what You’ve told us to do: to confront the world of sinners, show them the dire reality of their sinfulness and its everlasting end, and call them to repent. We have the key: It’s the gospel. Lord, use us to open that door and show the way in to the kingdom, through the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to redeem His people. May we be faithful to proclaim Him even as Peter did, all the way to the end of his life. That would be our desire. We pray in our Savior’s name. Amen.