1 PETER #17: REMEMBER YOUR TRUE AUTHORITY

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Many of Peter’s first readers were living in a time when they didn’t have much control over their own lives. They had almost zero influence on what the Roman government did, and almost as little over their own local governments. Peter says, “Don’t worry about that. Obey the government, and entrust yourself to God.”

Now, he is writing to those who have even less control over their lives – slaves. He gives the same advice. We need to remember that there is something much more important here than the twisted natures of those who are in charge. This is a chance to show people what Jesus is like. This is a chance for Jesus to manifest his life through you.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 17

1 PETER #17: 1 PETER 2:18-25

Peter is flowing through a series of thoughts, each one connected to the one before. So, after talking about how God has made us his people, he then encouraged us to act like the people of God, citizens of heaven. Next, he explained that, as citizens of heaven, we should live peacefully and respectfully with regard to governments here on earth, submitting to them not because of any inherent goodness found in any particular government, or any kind of government, but rather, submitting for the sake of the Lord.

Peter now expands on the theme of submitting for the sake of the Lord, and he takes us to the case of slaves. I want to remind us a little bit about slavery in that time and place. There were two kinds of slavery in the ancient Roman empire. One kind involved slaves who served on Roman warships and in Roman mines, and a few other places. These were generally prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, and they served lives of hard labor and incredible suffering until they died. It would have been more or less impossible for this type of slave to be part of a Christian house church, because they generally lived their entire lives chained up like animals either on the ships, or in the place where they were used for hard labor. It’s just an unfortunate historical reality that we don’t have much information about whether or not the gospel spread to these types of slaves.

The second type of slavery was much more common in populated areas of the Empire, and it was very different from the slavery that existed in the American south until the mid nineteenth century, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Slaves could be of any ethnicity – that is, slavery wasn’t race based. Most slaves in the Roman empire were not slaves for life. Some of them sold themselves into slavery in order to pay their debts, or to avoid starvation. Even while they were slaves, they were paid wages, in addition to being given food and housing. Slaves could conduct business in their own names, and own property – though many did not have much free time for such activities. In fact, some well-off slaves even owned other slaves themselves! Slave owners could not break up, or sell off, the family members of slaves. Most slaves in the Roman empire eventually became free again, either by gift from their master,  or by contract, or by saving up their wages and buying back their freedom. The average length of time most slaves spent in slavery was about twenty years. Some had the chance to be free, but instead made a deliberate choice to serve beloved masters for life.

Peter uses a specific term in Greek to show he is talking to the second type of slave, not the slave-laborers who were effectively prisoners with no rights. Though the typical Roman slave was better off than most slaves elsewhere in the world for most of history, we should remember that Roman slaves did not have the same freedoms as totally free people. Though they were paid, they worked for their masters, not themselves. Their time was not their own, unless they were given free time by their masters. They had to do what they were told to do, even if it was unpleasant or dangerous, and masters had wide latitude to punish slaves who displeased them.

Maybe the closest thing we have today to New Testament-times slavery is military service. When you join the military you receive some clothing, housing and an income, and even food. In return, you place yourself at the service of the military branch that you joined, for example, the Army. You can’t leave your Army post without permission. You can’t live just anywhere you want to, and you must do what the Army tells you to do, and you can be punished, even imprisoned, if you refuse to obey. Until your term of service is over, you are not entirely “your own person,” so to speak. Yet, there are limits to what the Army can make you do. That’s a pretty similar picture to slavery in the world of the New Testament. Let’s remember, however, though it was far better than what we might normally think of when we hear the word “slavery,” it was not usually a cushy, sought-after position. Maybe it would be useful to adopt the ESV’s translation of “servants,” rather than slaves. With that understanding, let’s get into Peter’s words.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(1 Peter 2:18-25, ESV)

Peter is telling us that because we are the people of God, we see all human relationships through the lens of our position in God’s kingdom. So, in the normal course of the world, you respect people who earn your respect, and grumble about people who mistreat you. Peter says, however, that Christians are different: “slaves, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the good, but also to those who are unjust.” Actually, the literal translation of “unjust” in this verse would be “twisted.” Peter is saying, “Your master might be a severely twisted individual, but you submit to him, and serve him, not because of him, but because of the Lord.”

Now, if we talk of submitting to someone who is twisted, how far should we take that? Last time we considered the exceptions when it comes to submitting to government. We don’t submit when the government tells us to sin. We don’t agree to sin either by doing something wrong, or by not doing something we are supposed to do. The same principles hold when we are talking about submission to any authority less than God. However, when there is no conflict between following Jesus and submitting to proper authorities, we submit, and we do so, not because the one we submit to is worthy in some way, but rather, for the sake of the Lord Himself.

Also, of course, this applies to proper authorities. So for example, I don’t have to obey the instructions of an Army officer, because I am not in the Army. But I do have to obey the lawful instructions of a police officer who is within jurisdiction. I don’t have to pay property tax in California, but I do have to pay taxes in Tennessee, and so on.

There is another important point to be made, which Peter himself makes. He is not talking about cases where a servant is being punished for doing wrong. He comments: “How is there any credit to either you or God if you endure punishment for doing wrong? The situation here is when a master is twisted. The master is likely going to be unfair to the servant, no matter what the servant does. So, the servant might be tempted to think: “Why should I bother doing the right thing if I’m going to be punished anyway? Why not serve badly? If he treats me badly, I will return that injustice with bad service.” This kind of thing, says Peter, gives the servant no credit, and brings no glory to God. Anyone in the world, whether Christian or not, can take that attitude. No, says Peter, Jesus so transforms everything about us that we can patiently endure injustice without doing wrong in return. In fact, he says, twice, that to endure suffering for the sake of God, with the grief that often entails, is a gracious thing to God.

All of this lays the groundwork for some important principles of Christian suffering. First, our suffering for Christ need not be the direct result of persecution. Peter is not suggesting that the master might be mistreating the servant because the servant is a Christian. Instead, the problem is the master is twisted – he’s generally just a nasty sort of person. Because it is not about persecution, this means that whatever suffering we endure can be redeemed as suffering for and with Christ – which, difficult as it might be, becomes a thing of grace.

So, for instance, you might think that having a nasty boss could not be considered “suffering for the sake of Christ.” But Peter says: “It can be.” If we endure while still working as if we are working for Christ, (even though in reality we are working for a twisted jerk) our trials bring glory to God. If we can get free from such a situation, there is nothing wrong with doing so. In writing to slaves, however, Peter is talking to people who are stuck, at least for a couple of decades.

If we encounter any kind of undeserved hardship, and endure it as we look to God, bearing up under it the way Jesus did, it becomes a thing of glory to God and grace to us. Peter says we have been called to this, because we are followers of Christ who suffered when he did not deserve it.

That brings us to an uncomfortable thought. We follow Jesus. What was the earthly life of Jesus like? He lived on this sin-corrupted earth as if he was a citizen of heaven, which, of course, he was. That meant he did not live for temporary pleasure, temporary riches or temporary glory. He lived in the light of eternity, which meant he was willing to endure suffering here and now.

Our lives will not exactly look like that of Jesus. Most of us will not be itinerant rabbis in the country of Israel. But the qualities of Jesus should be manifest in us. The way we handle various situations will remind other people about Jesus. They might think: “I don’t know why, but something about the way she responded makes me think of Jesus.” Some people might not even recognize it as a  quality of Jesus, but merely something that impresses them and appeals to them somehow.

In any case, one of the characteristics of Jesus was that he endured suffering patiently, entrusting himself to God. We Christians ought to approach suffering in the same way. When we endure suffering while also holding God in mind, and our citizenship in heaven, there is grace.

Many of Peter’s first readers were living in a time when they didn’t have much control over their own lives. They had almost zero influence on what the Roman government did, and almost as little over their own local governments. Peter says, “Don’t worry about that. Obey the government, and entrust yourself to God.”

Now, he is writing to those who have even less control over their lives – slaves. He gives the same advice. We need to remember that there is something much more important here than the twisted natures of those who are in charge. This is a chance to show people what Jesus is like. This is a chance for Jesus to manifest his life through you.

I believe this extends to any situation where we might be suffering, and where we have little control. In fact, I think it even extends to situations where you might have some control. After all, Jesus certainly could have destroyed his evil enemies with a mere wink. And yet, aware of God’s will, he chose to suffer in order to bring glory to God.

All of this would be incredibly difficult, except for two things. First, we need to remember, and remain aware of, something Peter has already explained:

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

(1 Peter 1:3b-7, NLT).

Second, we need to remember that it is not up to us to endure suffering graciously through our own difficult effort. Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to manifest the nature of Jesus in us and through us. Practically, what that means might include praying something like this: “Lord, I cannot face this situation with grace or patience. But I know that you can. Would you please live through me right now, so that your grace and your patience are evident to everyone around me? Would you please sustain me through this? I have no other hope but you.”

Some of the trials might include the necessity of dealing with someone in your life who is twisted. The trials will often be things over which we have little or no control. What we can control, is how we respond to them, and we can respond to them with the nature of Jesus, who lives within us. Again, we do that by asking, and trusting, the Holy Spirit to make it so. We have so much more waiting for us than anything that can be found in this life. Think of the very best life you could imagine having on earth, then multiply the goodness and joy of that by a thousand, and you still haven’t even begun to touch what it will be like when we come into our eternal inheritance.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.

DOES JESUS HAVE AUTHORITY IN YOUR LIFE?

jesus teaching in temple

We need to understand that Jesus didn’t welcome sinners simply because they were sinners – he welcomed them because they humbly recognized that they needed forgiveness, repented, and put all their hope in Him. They let him change their lives. They submitted to his authority.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 75

 

Matthew #75. Matthew 21:23-27

I trust that you have noticed as we’ve gone through Matthew 21, that there are certain themes running throughout the chapter. One, is that Jesus is becoming very deliberately confrontational towards the religious leadership in Jerusalem. He is doing so in order to force them to make a choice about him, a choice which he knows will end in his own crucifixion. A second theme is that even though Jesus is doing this in order to fulfill his mission to die for the sins of the world, everything he says and does is righteous. In other words, he is not wrong to confront the religious leaders in the way that he does. I think it is appropriate to take this even a step further, and say that not only is it not wrong, it is good and righteous. The things that he says to them need to be said. They are part of his mission, not only in the sense of forcing the religious leaders to make a choice, but also in that his words are truth that needed to be spoken, and later written down by his apostles. What I mean is, if we did not need to hear the same words today, the Holy Spirit would not have inspired Matthew and the other apostles to remember them.

During this second day of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was found teaching in the temple. It is as he is teaching that the chief priests and elders – that is, the religious leaders – confront him and ask the question of the day: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

These are the people who feel a certain amount of ownership of their own religion, and religious observance. Jesus entered the temple, and let little children sing praises to him. He caused a riot, driving out the money changers and livestock merchants. The feeling of the religious leaders is that he has come into their place, and is acting as if he owns it. Why does he get to decide that the moneychangers shouldn’t be there? Where does he get off, teaching that the people of Israel were not fulfilling the purpose for which God created them?

One thing we should know is that already by this point in history the Jewish people had begun to develop the habit of teaching by quoting “authority.” Suppose, for instance a rabbi (which simply means “teacher) was discussing the Sabbath. The rabbi might say: “The great Rabbi Hillel used to say about the Sabbath that the chief purpose of it is rest for the soul.” The rabbi would then go on discussing Hillel’s ideas, and perhaps offering quotes from other rabbis with different ideas, and maybe finally adding his own thoughts. Rabbis most definitely did not say things like: “This is what I think about the Sabbath.” They always quoted others; that is, they taught in reference to other “authorities.”

This was not how Jesus taught at all. Earlier in Matthew, we have a great deal of Jesus’ teaching, and we see that sometimes Jesus would even go out of his way to show that he was not quoting authorities. For instance, in the sermon on the Mount, several times, he said “You have heard it said…, But I say to you…”

So the religious leaders in Jerusalem are offended by Jesus’ style of teaching, in which he seems to regard himself as the authority, and also by the way he seemed to treat the temple as if it was his own house. By confronting him while he is teaching, the religious leaders are trying to expose him in front of those he is teaching. They’re trying to remind the listeners that he is not quoting authorities.

Jesus turns the question back on them. He asks, “Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?”

I think it is likely that many people knew that John the Baptist, before his death, had endorsed Jesus. It is unclear how many people knew that they were relatives, but many of Jesus’ disciples had started out by following John the Baptist. In a way, this is a big endorsement of the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus is saying that John’s ministry came from the same source as his own.

This caused a big problem for the religious leaders. Many people have forgotten it now, but John the Baptist sparked a movement that lasted for more than a generation. At this point in time, John, and his ministry, were still a very big deal. John the Baptist represented a significant religious and cultural movement within Judaism.

So, the elitist leaders are afraid to say “John the Baptist was not legitimately sent by God,” because they know that will make a lot of people very angry, and they might lose their power over the people. But if they say, “John was from God,” then they would have to explain why they didn’t listen to what John said about repentance, and even more importantly, what John said about Jesus.

Like the politicians they really are, the religious leaders give an evasive answer: “We don’t know.” So Jesus responds in kind: “If you won’t answer about John’s teaching, then I won’t answer about mine.”

Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why Jesus didn’t just answer them directly? Why wouldn’t he just say: “My authority comes from God”? Before this, he was trying to lay low and finish training the disciples, and so sometimes he was evasive or enigmatic. But at this point, he knows he has less than a week to live. Why not just come out and say it? I can imagine that perhaps Jesus wanted to make sure he wasn’t arrested until after he had eaten the Passover with his disciples. Even so, directly saying “My authority comes from God” would probably not have made them arrest him much faster than they did. As it turned out, they arrested him in secret, since they were afraid of the support he had from the ordinary people. I doubt it would have happened any differently if he had answered them directly at this point. So why did he take this approach with them?

I can think of one possible reasons. First, he may have done this in order to expose their own internal dishonesty. Rather than just answering the question, he made them think. His question forced them to become aware of the choice they were making about him, and what was going on in their hearts. They couldn’t pretend they were defending the sacredness of their own religion, or the temple. They had to decide: “Are we going to accept Jesus as sent from God, or not? Does God’s authority even matter to us in this case?”

They understood that if they accepted his authority as from God, they would have to listen to him and obey him. His question made them face that, and decide.

In all of this section of Matthew – almost a quarter of the book – Jesus often sounds harsh and confrontational. As I have said, there is a practical purpose to this, in that it led to his crucifixion. But we need to realize that these words are still relevant today. When people were humble, repentant and desperate, we see Jesus being gracious, loving and compassionate. But when he encountered people who wanted to live their own lives, who rejected his authority, he made them face their true attitudes, often by speaking in ways that seem harsh to us. Jesus still presents people with a choice today: Will you accept his authority in your life, or will you hedge your bets, stall, or evade the question?

These days, we still have religious hypocrites who reject the real work of Jesus in their lives. What I see here in the Southeastern USA, is that a large number of people attend church and claim to be Christians, but in reality, they live their lives however they please. They often don’t wield religious power, but they claim, to one degree or another, that they are people of faith in Jesus. However, when they are confronted with something that Jesus says through the scripture, like: “Don’t get drunk,” or “Don’t gossip and slander,” or “Don’t have sex outside of marriage,” or “Don’t pursue money or wealth,” they are like the religious leaders Jesus confronts. Their internal attitudes are: “Nobody has the authority to tell me how to live my life,” or, “Is that part of the Bible really even relevant anymore?”

When I read these verses in Matthew, I am reminded of a similar attitude toward the authority of God and his word to his people.

1Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’? ”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”

4“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5, HCSB)

From the beginning, Satan has been casting doubt on the authority and reliability of what God said. Like with Adam and Eve, like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, he tempts us to listen and agree when the serpent whispers: “Did God really say that? Do you really have to pay attention to it? Actually, God is just trying to hold you back. You’ll be better off if you don’t pay attention.”

Some people read these parts of the gospels and think, “Jesus is taking down religious people. Go Jesus!” But the problem with these leaders is not that they are religious, but that they have rejected the authority of Jesus in their life. There are plenty of people in the workplace, in bars, at the gym, in our families, who are not religious, but who reject the authority of Jesus in their lives. They are just as proud and stubborn as the religious leaders during Jesus’ time.

We need to understand that Jesus didn’t welcome sinners simply because they were sinners – he welcomed them because they humbly recognized that they needed forgiveness, repented, and put all their hope in Him. They let him change their lives. They submitted to his authority. Unlike the religious leaders, they did not say: “Where do you get the authority to tell me how to live?” Instead, they said: “I need you, your love and forgiveness. Take my life and do whatever you want with it.”

Obviously, no one is perfect. Even those of us who generally are sincere about our faith often fail to live as Jesus wants us to. They key is what happens when Jesus confronts us about it through the scripture, or other believers who are sharing scriptures. Do we hedge, and say, “Do I really have to accept the authority of Jesus [through the Bible] in this matter?” Do we listen to the serpent? Or do we say, “I’m sorry Lord! Forgive me. You have the right to every part of my life.”

I don’t think we need to be afraid every minute that we might be rejecting the authority of Jesus. The religious leaders probably were not thinking consciously about what they were doing, but Jesus, by his question, drew their attention to it. He made sure that they understood the choice they were making. He will do the same for us – if we have a problem, He will make it clear.

Perhaps he is using this scripture passage, and this sermon, to make something clear to you right now. Is there some area of your life where you are tempted to reject the authority of Jesus? Is there some way in which you are saying, “Do I really have to pay attention to that part of the Bible?”

Before we close I want to remind us again that He is merciful and gracious, and loves to show compassion to those who humbly repent and receive him. With that in mind, let him speak to you about these things right now.