The latest audio and PDF notes from my Sunday School series, on 1 & 2 Peter, are available here. All the audio and notes will be posted here as I progress through this teaching series. Today’s lesson was on 1 Peter 1:3-5.
Sometimes, you can be right about something, and yet still be completely wrong.
When I was a criminal investigator with the Military Police, I had a case involving a Sailor who might have faked his promotion and been receiving extra pay for the past three years. That’s a lot of money. Add to it that your cost of living allowances change depending on your rank, and you’re looking at even more money. This was a good case.
Everything pointed to the conclusion that he had forged paperwork, and somehow gotten it past Personnel. We interviewed the Personnel Officer for several hours, wondering how it could have been done. We had the admin guys calculate a dollar figure. We briefed the Staff Judge Advocate, who began salivating with glee and plotting a general courts-martial. We were just missing the one thing. We needed confirmation from a training school back in Texas that they did not promote the guy.
The school told us, “No, definitely not. But, let us dig around in some file cabinets.”
We waited. We waited some more. The Staff Judge Advocate kept drooling. We interviewed the suspect. He denied everything. Liar, we thought. I told him his lies wouldn’t look good when Texas called back.
This is your only chance for leniency, I warned him. Confess now, and show at least an ounce of integrity. He refused. We cackled to each other, waiting for the death blow, for the phone call from Texas.
It finally came. They had promoted him. Some clerk made an admin error, way back when. They said they were sorry. No case. No courts-martial. Over.
I was right about a lot of things, but I was still wrong. That’s what happened to Job’s friends.
Job’s friends assumed he was being punished because he had sinned. They thought:
Is their logic really that far off? Isn’t it true, sometimes? Listen to what one of his friends said (Job 22:2-5):
2 “Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
4 Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you,
and enters into judgment with you?
5 Is not your wickedness great?
There is no end to your iniquities.
This seems like rock-solid logic. Does God reprove you because you fear Him? Of course not! Therefore, Job, you must be a very, very wicked man.
His friend continued (Job 22:21-30):
21 “Agree with God, and be at peace;
thereby good will come to you.
22 Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty and humble yourself,
if you remove unrighteousness far from your tents,
24 if you lay gold in the dust,
and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent bed,
25 and if the Almighty is your gold,
and your precious silver;
26 then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
and lift up your face to God.
27 You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you;
and you will pay your vows.
28 You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
and light will shine on your ways.
29 For God abases the proud,
but he saves the lowly.
30 He delivers the innocent man;
you will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”
There is some good stuff here. Important stuff. Some wise principles. That bit about “return to the Almighty and humble yourself” is pure gold. That’s the idea of repentance. But, here’s the thing – Job’s friend was right, but yet he was also wrong.
He was right – God does punish and chastise His disobedient children. Solomon knew this (Prov 3:11-12):
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
The writer of Hebrews jotted this down (Heb 12:5b-6), and added some commentary of his own. God disciplines His covenant children for their own good (Heb 12:7-11). After all:
God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb 12:7b-8).
If God didn’t discipline His children, it would prove He didn’t love them. But, He does love His children, so He does discipline them. Simple. Got it.
But, what if God has other reasons for making things happen to His children? This is where Job’s friends were wrong.
You see, Job hadn’t done anything wrong. He kept telling his friends that. They called him a liar. They called him prideful. They invented wicked deeds, and accused him of harboring some dark, sinister sin. They told him God wouldn’t do this without a reason. They told him (Job 4:7-8):
7 “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
Just confess, they told Job. Stop lying!
They were wrong. Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” (Job 1:1). He hadn’t committed some great sin. There were no skeletons in his closet, no secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, no illicit text messages on his smartphone and no incriminating internet browser history. He was just a normal, Godly man.
The point is that, sometimes, God makes things happen to people for His own reasons. They’re good and holy reasons, because He’s a good and holy God. He works all things for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). We are clay, and He is the Potter. He can do with us whatever He wants.
You’re right, it was Satan who afflicted Job so much.
You’re right, God allowed Satan to do this. But, is that really all there is to it? Look at what the book says (Job 42:11):
Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house; and they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.
When all the layers are stripped away, God brought that upon Job. He had a reason. I can’t solve the “problem of evil” in this short article, but I can at least nudge you towards a deeper understanding of God’s providence. People make free, intelligent and willing decisions – but behind it all, God is working all things according to the council of His good and holy will.
There are all sorts of caveats I could add, but the point is that God is in control, and sometimes He brings hard times upon His children through no fault of their own, and it’s always for a good and holy reason.
Here are some wise words from the Belgic Confession (1618) about God’s providence (Article 13):
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.
This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.
In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.
God is in charge. If you’ve repented and believed the Good News of Jesus Christ, then rest assured – nothing happens to you without God’s permission and will. He’s a good Father. He’s the best Father. He has a reason. Don’t think He’s abandoned you. He never will. Thank God!
This article originally appeared at SharperIron.org. Reprinted by permission.
In this passage, we read that the Pharisees are seeking to kill Jesus, but the demons confess Him as the Son of God. This is a great irony of the Gospels. The leaders who ought to recognize him hate Him. The fallen angels who should hate Him bow before Him. Meanwhile, the people who should gladly receive Him ignore His message.
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him (Mk 3:7-8).
After the latest confrontation, Jesus withdraws from Capernaum “to the sea.” We’re not sure where Jesus went, because Capernaum is on the Sea of Galilee. He probably went to a more secluded location along the coast, away from the city. It is clear Jesus doesn’t intend to wage a full-out theological assault against the Pharisees. To borrow a military analogy, His confrontation with the Pharisees in the synagogue (3:1-6) is better seen as a strategic raid than a declaration of all-out war. More direct confrontation will only result in a premature arrest, torture and execution. The Father has a divine timetable (cf. Ecc 3:1-8), and Jesus follows it – thus He beats a tactical retreat.
What a contrast between the Pharisees’ homicidal intent, and the response from the crowds. They come to Him from everywhere; Jews from Jerusalem and Judea, and Gentiles from the south, east and north. They come separately, meet together and form one mass of pilgrims. John the Baptist didn’t draw this many people (Mk 1:5), and only preached to Israelites (cf. Lk 3:1-17). Jesus, on the other hand, indiscriminately preaches to the Gentiles and the Jews. He does not have the racist, exclusivist mindset that is so foreign to the Old Covenant Scriptures, but was so common in His day. He truly was a light for the Gentiles (cf. Isa 49:6). Jesus is Jewish, but many Israelites forgot that their Jewish Messiah came to be a Messiah for all people (cf. Lk 2:29-32, Acts 13:46-48).
And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him (Mk 3:9-10).
For Jesus, crowds are no indication of success. Then, as now, people often followed Jesus for selfish and unholy reasons. These crowds followed Jesus because they wanted divine healing.
Jesus, always a practical fellow, orders a boat prepared so He can flee, if necessary. He’s in danger of being crushed and trampled. In a modern context, Jesus would be preaching on a street-corner in front of the open, sliding door of a minivan, the engine running, a disciple at the wheel!
Mark describes a nearly out of control mob. The scene is at once frightening and exhilarating. Jesus fears being crushed because His healing miracles have incited a frenzy. The mass of people, Jew and Gentile alike, press forward relentlessly, fighting and clamoring to get near. This is very different from the silly stereotype of gentle Jesus, meek mild, teaching the adoring masses from a landscaped hillside while He cradles a lamb in His lap.
These people don’t care what He preaches, what He says, or who He is. They’re pressing forward to touch Him, so they might be healed. He’s a rabbit’s foot, a talisman – somebody who can give them what they want. Yet, it is remarkable that Jesus did not angrily send them away. He evidently healed many of them.
Little has changed. Many people do not seek Christ because they want forgiveness and justification. They seek Jesus because of what He can do for Him. He’s a Cosmic Butler, who lives to serve us.
I recently listened to a sermon from a pseudo-megachurch near my home. It was blasphemy of the worst kind. The message was, “come to Jesus so He can make your life easier, give you a better job, more money and make you happy.” In this church, Jesus’ actual message, His doctrinal content and ethical commands to repent, believe and deny yourself and follow Him, are meaningless. Christ is just a prop for charlatans to hang blasphemy on.
These crowds in Mark’s Gospel are the same. His message is irrelevant to them; they just want healing. The implications of that healing are lost on them (cf. Lk 7:18-23, Mk 3:22-27).
And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known (Mk 3:11-12).
The Pharisees are plotting to kill Him. The crowds don’t care what He says. Yet, the demons give Him the glory! Many people in this crowd are demon-possessed. Whenever they see Him, they fall down and literally scream and shriek their confession.
Can you imagine the scene? This is an ongoing event. The crowds press forward, anxious to touch Jesus and be healed. In the midst of this mob, demon-possessed men, women, boys and girls alternatively scream and howl, loudly, that Jesus is the Son of God. They do this whenever they catch sight of Him. In the crush of the crowd, they don’t have an unobstructed view. As they catch periodic, fleeting glimpses of the Christ, they scream their confession, despite themselves. They fall down before Him, wherever they are, and confess His identity in the most public way possible.
Demons are fallen angels. Jesus is their creator. He is their ultimate adversary, and His power over the forces of darkness is absolute. Those who have Christ as their King and God as their Lord should respect Satan as a formidable adversary indeed (cf. Jude 9), but they need not wonder how this conflict will end. Satan will lose.
Why does Jesus forbid the fallen angels to make Him known? The text doesn’t say, and a whole lot of ink (and even more kilobytes) have been spilled trying to figure it out. It is clear the true nature of Jesus as Messiah can only be appreciated in light of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the inauguration of the New Covenant. This is as good an explanation as any for why Jesus commanded the demons to be silent.
Because He is God and they are not, the unclean spirits obey. What else can they do? This decisive confrontation with the forces of darkness is a prelude to perhaps the key passage about the purpose of His miracles (Mk 3:22-27).
And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mk 3:13-19a).
After Jesus demonstrates such complete mastery over the fallen angels, He delegates this authority to His chosen disciples. They did not choose Him; He choose them. This is the church in embryo form; a group of called out believers in Christ, who are sent forth by Christ, bringing His Good News indiscriminately to the wide world beyond.
Jesus appoints twelve:
Jesus is God. He has clear and obvious power over the unclean spirits (cf. Mk 1:27). He delegates and dispenses this power to His apostles, and will eventually send them forth as His representatives. The demons see and recognize Jesus’ authority. They scream, fall to the ground and confess His identity at the very sight of him. They obey His commands. They are putty in His hands.
In contrast, we see the Pharisees in Capernaum plotting their little plots. We see the crowd as a near mob of half-crazed pilgrims who seek only physical healing. His own disciples are spiritually dull; their training has only begun. Ironically, only the demons truly give Him the glory. Yet, as they do so, they testify to His divinity, and His co-equal and His co-eternal status with the Father. He confirms their testimony in the most appropriate way possible – by silencing them.
We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.
 See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 103. Ezra Gould also suggests Jesus sought solitude on another portion of the seashore (The Gospel According to St. Mark, in ICC [Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1896], 55).
 William Hendriksen observed, “We must bear in mind also that the time for the decisive head-on confrontation with the religious authorities had not as yet arrived. According to the Father’s time-clock Calvary is still some distance away. For the present therefore the seashore is better suited to the Master’s purpose than the synagogue,” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 118).
James Brooks, however, suggests “probably it refers to nothing more than Jesus’ desire to extend his ministry beyond the towns and their synagogues,” (Mark, in NAC, vol. 23 [Nashville: B&H, 1991], 69–70).
 “Mark seems to have been suggesting that all peoples should seek Jesus and that they may be assured of acceptance. Readers and hearers of his Gospel naturally think about the later Gentile mission,” (Brooks, Mark, 70).
 A.B. Bruce, The Synoptic Gospels, in Expositor’s Greek Testament (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 357.
 For an argument that the “soldiers” John addressed were Jewish, see Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, in BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 312-313. One need only read the Baptist’s preaching to realize this is an exclusively Jewish message, and the context of Malachi’s prophecy (3:1) makes this quite clear.
 Peter’s comment to Cornelius (Acts 10:27-29) reflect this blasphemous view of Gentiles. Even as a fully-illuminated and Spirit-filled Christian, Peter still struggled for a time to get rid of this baggage. So did the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).
 Mark Strauss suggests, “The boat may have been for escape in case the crowd crushed forward, but more likely is meant for crowd control, a kind of platform or podium to keep from being jostled,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 154). I find this explanation unlikely. Jesus ordered the boat to be prepared in order that (ἵνα + subjunctive) they would not press Him (μὴ θλίβωσιν αὐτόν). The reason is to avoid the crush of the crowd.
Matthew Henry suggests this was simply a practical measure, so “that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity,” (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994], 1782).
 See especially Edwards’ discussion of crowds in Mark’s Gospel (Mark, 74-75). Each person will have to come to his own understanding of the crowds. I believe the Gospel of Mark (indeed, all the Gospels) are clear that crowds followed the Christ for unholy and selfish reasons.
 Matthew Henry remarked, “What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain,” (Commentary, 1782).
 Again, Strauss has a positive interpretation of the crowd. “It is excitement and enthusiasm for Jesus’ healing power that is motivating the crowds,” (Mark, 154). R. Alan Cole also has a positive interpretation of the crowd (Mark, in TNTC, vol. 2 [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1989], 135-165). Similarly, Gould writes, “[T]he verb is a strong word . . . and is intended to bring before us vividly the turbulent eagerness and excitement of the crowd,” (St. Mark, 55).
Brooks suggests, “apparently the crowd sought Jesus because of his healings, not to submit themselves to the reign of God,” (Mark, 70). This reflects the wide gulf of opinions about the crowds.
 Some commentators suggest the demons are attempting to exercise dominion and authority over Jesus by crying out His name. See, for example, William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 130. Strauss (Mark, 155) and Walter Wessell (Luke, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 641) also follow this line of interpretation.
 Strauss suggests the demons were not the kind of beings Jesus wanted testifying who He was. “[T]he demons are inappropriate heralds of his person and mission (cf. 1: 25). Jesus will reveal his identity in his own time and through his own words and deeds,” (Mark, 155).
This doesn’t go far enough. Jesus tells both demons and healed men to not tell anybody about Him (cf. 1:44, 5:43). The real reason must be deeper than this. One good explanation is that the true nature of the Messiah cannot be fully appreciated until after His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. He comes the first time as the suffering servant; the second time as the conquering king.
 “Christ calls whom he will; for he is a free Agent, and his grace is his own,” (Henry, Commentary, 1782).
 “The proclamation which they were to make was the coming of the kingdom of God,” (Gould, St. Mark, 57).
 “This showed that the power which Christ had to work these miracles was an original power; that he had it not as a Servant, but as a Son in his own house, in that he could confer it upon others, and invest them with it,” (Henry, Commentary, 1783).
 This is one of the implications of the title. “As the Son of God, Jesus shares the Father’s glory, power, and authority,” (Strauss, Mark, 155).
 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 2.
Here are the notes for this week’s Sunday School. The audio is below:
Peter opens his first letter with these words:
Peter, [an] apostle of Jesus Christ – to [the] chosen who are resident foreigners; that is, [the] diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, [chosen] according to God the Father’s plan, by the Spirit’s sanctification, for the purpose of obedience, as well as sprinkling with Jesus Christ’s blood. May grace and peace be always increasing to you! (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Peter isn’t trying to teach the Trinity; he just assumes it as he writes the opening words of the letter. It’s interesting that Peter doesn’t feel he needs to teach these Christians about the Trinity. We worship one being who is God, and within God three co-equal and co-eternal Persons have always existed – Father, Son and Spirit.
Here are some foundational pillars for understanding the Trinity:
Here is the point:
Knowing this is the truth about God, put yourself in a Christian’s shoes who heard this letter read, somewhere in Northern Turkey, on the shores of the Black Sea in the early 60s A.D.
How tempting would it would be to try and mold your pagan beliefs back with your Christian beliefs? How easy would it be to try and rationalize this kind of move? After all, you live in a syncretic culture – your friends and family would love if you’d just add Jesus to your list of pagan gods!
You’d need some pretty good reasons to stick it out and remain a faithful Christians in this kind of environment – so Peter gives you some:
All three Persons of the Trinity are involved in your salvation. If you’re the new Christian in Bithynia, this gives some extraordinary comfort to you as you think about life, late at night, when all your family, friends, community and entire life has gone up in smoke because of your faith. If you’re a Christian today, it does the very same thing.
Peter focus on the Trinity to give you hope. God chose you. The Spirit set you apart for service, so you’d be obedient to the Gospel and have the Son’s work applied to your soul. This is why you can continue on, day by day, week by week, month by month. This is why you can and must persevere for Christ.
I’m preparing to work through 1 Peter 1:1-2 this coming Sunday, for Bible study. The best way to teach through a book is to outline the entire thing to understand the flow of the argument, and then teach those units of thought individually. In my own outline, I kept 1 Peter 1:1-2 separate from vv. 3-9. Here are some good questions to ponder from this passage:
The translation above is mine; here are the detailed notes. No matter which Bible translation you use, you’ll still be able to answer these questions!
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee, and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
From The Book of Common Prayer (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 832-833.