January 29 - February 4
Peter's Growth in the Grace of Christ
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 16:13-23; 26:31-35, 69-75; Luke 22:31, 32; Acts 2:14-45; 2 Pet. 1:16-19, 3-9.
MEMORY TEXT: "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must he saved" (Acts 4:12, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: Peter's life serves as a continuous source of inspiration and encouragement for us. It helps us better understand ourselves and our own prejudices. It shows how Christ can change our hearts and teach us how to grow to be more like Him.
GOD SEEKS PEOPLE LIKE PETER TO SERVE HIM. Many can identify with Peter's character qualities and personality traits. He was sincere, passionate, self-assured, and quick to respond to new impressions of truth. Yet, he showed prejudices and limitations of insight that obstructed the progress of the gospel among the Gentiles. However, he was ever willing to learn and to grow when God showed him the way through humiliation and suffering. The converted Peter grew more and more in the grace and the knowledge of Christ. He became one of the best-loved disciples because of his warmhearted loyalty and devotion to Christ. At the end of his life, Peter was an example of courage, filled with the Spirit of Christ. He was indeed an apostle who laid down his life with the deepest gratitude for the mercy and privilege given to him. His life was a testimony of the power of God's grace. It is evident in his letters that his "entire being had been transformed by grace, and whose hope of eternal life was sure."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 517.
To what proclamation of John the Baptist did Peter and Andrew respond? Why did they accept Jesus as the Messiah of Israel? John 1:29-34, 40, 41.
"To them the words of Jesus were full of freshness and truth and beauty. A divine illumination was shed upon the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. The many-sided themes of truth stood out in new light."—The Desire of Ages, p. 139.
What qualities did Jesus see in Simon, and why do you think He changed his name to Cephas or Peter (stone)? John 1:41, 42; Matt. 16:18.
"The eye of Christ rested upon him, reading his character and his life history. His impulsive nature, his loving, sympathetic heart, his ambition and self-confidence, the history of his fall, his repentance, his labors, and his martyr death—the Saviour read it all."—The Desire of Ages, p. 139.
What made Peter so sure that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God? Matt. 16:16, 17. What does this powerful response tell you about Peter?
Peter received a glimpse of the glory of the Son of God in His humiliation. This did not mean that Peter had understood Christ's mission as the Messiah. Nevertheless, the truth that Peter expressed about Jesus is and remains the foundation and assurance of saving faith. Such a faith and assurance in Christ are never the result of human wisdom or reasoning, but a revelation from the Holy Spirit. William Barclay comments: "Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. Jesus Christ demands a personal verdict. He did not ask only Peter, he asks every man: 'You—what do you think of me?'"—The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 (Philadelphia, Penn.: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 138.
How did Peter state his conviction that all believers are "living stones" built on Christ the chosen Cornerstone? 1 Pet. 2:4-7. (See Isa. 28; Ps. 118.)
Peter and the other apostles were the first stones of the new spiritual temple, the church that Christ was founding. The New Testament recognizes them as the new Israel of God (see Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14), established on Christ the Rock, and held together by Him, the chief Cornerstone. "In the presence of God, and all the heavenly intelligences, in the presence of the unseen army of hell, Christ founded His church upon the living Rock. That Rock is Himself-His own body, for us broken and bruised. Against the church built upon this foundation, the gates of hell shall not prevail."—The Desire of Ages, p. 413.
What honor did Christ bestow on Peter and on the other apostles? Matt. 16:19; l8:18, 19. What do the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" signify?
Christ referred to "the key to knowledge" which the scribes had taken away from the people so that nobody could enter the kingdom of God (Luke 11:52). Jesus honored Peter along with the apostles and all believers by entrusting them with the keys of the kingdom, to help open the door to life eternal for all who would receive the gospel. Peter did just that when three thousand souls were converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:41). "But it is not only Peter who has the keys of the Kingdom; every Christian has; for it is open to every one of us to open the door of the Kingdom to some other and so to enter into the great promise of Christ."—William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 145.
"'The keys of the kingdom of heaven' are the words of Christ. All the words of Holy Scripture are His, and are here included. These words have power to open and to shut heaven. They declare the conditions upon which men are received or rejected."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 413, 414.
Christ's use of the metaphor of sifting the wheat implies separation, suggesting that Satan tried to cause the disciples to fail under severe testing (the "you" in verse 31 is plural). But He assured Peter that He prayed for him that his faith may not fail (Luke 22:32).
What did Peter learn from Jesus' rebuke to him? Matt. 16:23, 24; 1 Pet. 4:12, 13.
To understand this dramatic scene. we must remember that Jesus was confronted by Satan in the wilderness with the same temptation that Peter now suggested to Him: to escape the appointed cross! That is why Peter's idea was, not of divine, but rather of human origin. "The temptation to do His own will by avoiding the cross is the great temptation of Jesus' life. It will come to a head in Gethsemane, where Christ will repeatedly pray, "If this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done' (26:42 RSV)."—G. R. Knight, Matthew, Bible Amplifier (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1994), p. 177. This indicates the crucial importance of the atoning death in the ministry of Christ.
How did Jesus comfort Peter and His disciples with the assurance that He was the Son of God? Matt. 16:28; 17:1-8.
Christ prayed that His disciples might be given a manifestation of the glory He had with the Father before the world was. "He pleads that they may witness a manifestation of His divinity that will comfort them in the hour of His supreme agony with the knowledge that He is of a surety the Son of God, and that His shameful death is a part of the plan of redemption."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 420, 421.
How did Peter explain what he had learned from witnessing Christ's glory? 2 Pet. 1:16-19.
Christ wanted His disciples to know that His suffering and death were not the end goal of God's plan and that eternal glory would follow His cross. The glimpse of His divine glory would assure them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of prophecy.
Later on, the risen Lord and the outpouring of the Spirit in full measure on the day of Pentecost motivated Peter to proclaim fearlessly that Jesus was the exalted Messiah. (See Acts 2:4, 32-36.)
"With what burning language they clothed their ideas as they bore witness for Him! Their hearts were surcharged with a benevolence so full,.. . that it impelled them to go to the ends of the earth, testifying to the power of Christ."—The Acts of the Apostles, p.46.
|How can your daily life and witness include the cross of Calvary, as well as the crown of glory?|
How did God reveal to Peter the worldwide extent of the gospel? Acts 10:9-28.
Peter '"hungered for the salvation of his countrymen. He had an intense desire to point out to them from the Scriptures the prophecies relating to the sufferings and death of Christ.... This vision conveyed to Peter both reproof and instruction. It revealed to him the purpose of God—that by the death of Christ the Gentiles should be made fellow-heirs with the Jews to the blessings of salvation. As yet none of the disciples had preached the gospel to the Gentiles."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 135.
What plan of God did Peter discover when he listened to the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius? Acts 10:34-36.
"As Peter pointed those present to Jesus as the sinner's only hope, he himself understood more fully the meaning of the vision he had seen, and his heart glowed with the spirit of the truth that he was presenting."—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 138, 139.
Why did Paul reprove Peter publicly? Gal. 2:11-14.
Peter's accommodation to the sectarian attitude of the believers from Jerusalem was "not acting in line with the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14, NIV). It threatened to divide the church and ignored the decision of the general council (see Acts 15:28, 29). ""This record of the apostle's weakness was to remain as a proof of his fallibility, and of the fact that he stood in no way above the level of the other apostles."—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 198, 199.
What specific qualification did Christ require of Peter for his discipleship and service? John 21:15-17.
Although Peter's love had failed the test, Christ's love for Peter never faltered. "Remembering his own weakness and failure, he [Peter] was to deal with the sheep and lambs committed to his care as tenderly as Christ had dealt with him."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 516.
|What helps you to remember that you also, like Peter, need a gracious reinstatement in the service of the Lord?|
For what purpose did Peter write his first letter to Christians living in Asia Minor? 1 Pet. 5:12.
God has given three distinct privileges to His chosen ones. The Father chooses them as His children, the Holy Spirit sanctifies them, and Jesus Christ cleanses them from sin through the sprinkling of His blood. (See 1 Pet. 1:2.)
What does Peter mean by God's gift of a living hope," and on what historical event is it based? 1 Pet. 1:3, 23.
Without the resurrection of Christ our faith would be in vain and our hope for eternal life meaningless. Peter wrote as an eyewitness, because the risen Lord spoke to him, ate with him, and restored him as an apostle among his brethren (John 21:10-17). He describes the nature of salvation in his First Letter as a "'new birth into a living hope." This implies an unassailable assurance based on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. His resurrection guarantees ours. (See also Rom. 6:4, 5; 8:11.)
What "inheritance" does God keep safely in heaven for the future? 1 Pet. 1:4; compare Rom. 8:17. Why does God's power shield us until the Second Coming? 1 Pet. 1:5-7.
"The lowliest disciple of Christ may become an inhabitant of heaven, an heir of God to an inheritance incorruptible, and that fadeth not away. 0 that every one might make choice of the heavenly gift, become an heir of God to that inheritance whose title is secure from any destroyer, world without end!"—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 235.
God provides His protection from start till finish. He does not abandon the work that He began in the believer. Present salvation is a foretaste and pledge of the coming and ultimate salvation. Peter points to our enjoyment of present salvation, in spite of grief and suffering now "for a little while" (1:6, 8), as the beginning of a more exuberant joy to come at the return of Christ (see 4:13). Trials come to us in order to test and to strengthen our faith (1:7; 5:10).
|Why should we have no doubt about our future glory if we trust and serve our Lord?|
FURTHER STUDY: Study Acts 4:11; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 5:1-4. See The Acts of the Apostles, chap. 51, "A Faithful Under-Shepherd" and chap. 52, "Steadfast Unto The End" in order to understand better the purpose and reasons for Peter's two apostolic letters. In his epistles Peter proves to be also a theologian in his own right. "He refers to God's work of electing, regenerating, redeeming, and judging his people. And Peter defines his doctrine of Christ by disclosing the divinity, humanity, and sinlessness of Jesus. Furthermore, his Christology features Christ's resurrection and ascension. Peter also points to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. to the early church, and to the end of time."—S. J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987). p. 10.
Shortly before his martyrdom Peter called attention to the special privileges offered to every believer in Christ. "'In the full assurance of his faith, the aged disciple exhorted his brethren to steadfastness of purpose in the Christian life. 'Give diligence.' he pleaded, 'to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' Precious assurance!"—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 533.
"It was to Peter a bitter lesson, and one which he learned but slowly, that the path of Christ on earth lay through agony and humiliation. The disciple shrank from fellowship with his Lord in suffering. But in the heat of the furnace fire he was to learn its blessing. [Quotes 1 Pet. 4:12, 13]."—The Desire of Ages, p. 416.
SUMMARY: Peter's life story gives a telling proof of how an uneducated, narrow-minded. and self-confident fisherman can become a mature thinker and effective leader of God's people. His errors and sins are recorded for our sake, so that we may not despair or become discouraged by our own limitations and shortcomings.
An evangelist was holding meetings in a town in Tamil Nadu. Hundreds came to hear the word of God preached in eloquence and beauty. Among them was a young girl named Mary. She met the Savior during the meetings and was baptized.
While still a teenager, Mary left home and took work as a servant to a wealthy woman in a large city. The woman was kind to the young girl, and Mary served her gratefully for many years.
One day Mary learned that the preacher who had baptized her was coming to the city to hold evangelistic meetings. Mary excitedly told the woman for whom she worked about the evangelist and invited her to attend. The woman thanked Mary and agreed to go.
During the meetings this wealthy, refined woman was touched by the message of God's love and sacrifice. She responded to the evangelist's invitation to accept Jesus as her Savior and walked toward the altar.
When the evangelist approached her, the woman asked for permission to speak to the crowd of people present. "I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior tonight, not because of the eloquent words spoken by the preacher but because of the influence of a dear young woman who sits among you. She is not wealthy or well known. Her hands are rough and her back is bent from years of hard work. She has worked for me all these years, and yet not once have I heard her utter an unkind or harsh word, even when I provoked her. Her clothing is simple, but her life is adorned by acts of kindness and unselfishness and love for others.
"When my daughter died, I was left without hope. But Mary brought gladness to my empty life. She read to me from the Bible and gave me hope of life beyond the grave. I began to long for that hope that filled Mary's life and made it beautiful. It was her sweet, Christian life that led me here to the foot of the cross of Christ."
The evangelist invited Mary to the front and introduced her as the true evangelist, for she lived the gospel while he simply preached it.
How many would find Christ at the foot of the cross if we lived more like Mary, the humble servant!
Rajamanickam Daniel is director of Home and Family Ministries in the North Tamil Conference in India.
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