Strangers

The Apostle Peter’s letter to believers began with this greeting, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:1-2). The Greek word translated strangers, parepidemos (par-ep-id’-ay-mos) means “an alien alongside that is a resident foreigner” (G3927). It is clear from the rest of Peter’s salutation that he was addressing born again Christians. The reason he referred to them as strangers may have had something to do with his unique understanding of the kingdom of heaven.

Peter went on to talk about Christ as our corner stone and said, “Come to Christ as to a living stone. Men have put Him aside, but He was chosen by God and is of great worth in the sight of God. You are to be as living stones in the building God is making also. You are His religious leaders giving yourselves to God through Jesus Christ. This kind of gift pleases God. The Holy Writings say, ‘See, I lay down in Jerusalem a Stone of great worth, worth far more than any amount of money. Anyone who puts his trust in Him will not be ashamed'” (1 Peter 2:4-6, NLV). Peter used the metaphor of living stones to convey the idea of being spiritually alive in a material body. He also wanted to explain how Christians come together to form the body of Christ. Just as bricks or stones are individual pieces of a building, each believer contributes to the overall structure that is referred to as the house of God or body of Christ i.e. the church.

The key to understanding Peter’s view of the kingdom of heaven may be found in 1 Peter 2:11-12 where it says, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” A building and in particular a house is a physical representation of the people that occupy it. Certain types of structures give the impression of wealth or prestige. The church in the sense of it being a collection of all the believers on Earth is a physical representation of the kingdom of heaven which is being displayed to the world through the lives of believers. That’s why Peter said our good works, which can be seen by unbelievers, will glorify God by testifying to the reality of his kingdom and causing others to accept Christ.

The important thing to note about Peter’s use of the term stranger to refer to born again Christians is that strangers usually stand out in a neighborhood or community. A stranger isn’t someone that doesn’t belong there, but someone that hasn’t been assimilated into the culture. The Greek word parepidemos refers to someone that is bound to another set of rules or has an allegiance to a foreign government. Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of heaven and made it known to his followers that things don’t work the same way there. When a rich young ruler asked Jesus “what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16), Jesus told him that he needed to keep the commandments and then added, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21, NKJV).

The power of prayer

The first of Jesus’ twelve apostles to be killed for his involvement in spreading the gospel was James the brother of John (Acts 12:2). “This event took place about tens years after Jesus’ death and resurrection” (note on Acts 12:1). Herod, the king responsible for beheading John the Baptist, appeared to be trying to increase his popularity with the Jews. It says in Acts 12:3, “And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take Peter also.” The hostility between Jews and Christians seemed to stem from a political agenda that promoted peace at any cost. The reason Jesus was killed was because Jewish religious leaders thought his ministry would lead to Roman persecution (John 11:48). Caiaphas, the high priest that condemned Jesus to death, said it would be better for the Jews if Jesus’ ministry was terminated than to have the nation of Israel cease to exist (John 11:50).

Peter’s imprisonment seemed to signal that an end to Christianity in Jerusalem was approaching. After his arrest, it says in Acts 12:5, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” Peter attributed his miraculous escape from prison to the Lord, who sent an angel to deliver him out of the hand of Herod, “and from the expectation of the people of the Jews” (Acts 12:11), but Luke’s account of the situation made it clear that prayer was the force behind Peter’s deliverance (Acts 12:12). The interesting thing about Peter’s release was that it was completely unexpected. When he arrived at the home of Mary where many were gathered together praying, he was mistaken for a ghost. Luke reported:

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

The Greek word translated astonished, existemi (ex-is´-tay-mee) suggests that the people who saw Peter probably thought they had lost their minds or were actually in a state of shock as a result of seeing him standing in front of them (G1839). It wasn’t until Peter explained how the angel of the Lord had physically removed his chains and led him out of the prison past all the guards that the people praying for him realized their prayers had been answered (Acts 12:17).

Peter’s escape from prison was the impetus for Herod returning to Caesarea and looking for entertainment elsewhere. Herod focused his attention on Tyre and Sidon, perhaps as a way of distracting himself from the frustration of not being able to stop the spread of the gospel. Luke’s account of Herod’s death showed that the prayers of the church were having a significant impact on the Roman empire. He said, “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:21-23).

Breaking down barriers

One of the obstacles that prevented the gospel from spreading outside the borders of Jerusalem was the prejudices that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Centuries of isolation caused the Jews to view the nations around them as a threat to their identity and God-centered way of living. Several years after Jesus commanded his disciples to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19), the farthest anyone had traveled from Jerusalem to do so was about 30 miles (Philip’s and Peter’s Missionary Journeys, p. 1570). The Apostle Peter’s view of the outside world seemed to be skewed by a reluctance to accept the freedom from rituals that Jesus’ salvation by grace afforded him. Peter clung tightly to the rigorous rules of the Mosaic Law in spite of his experience of living in close fellowship with Jesus during his three-year ministry on Earth. In order to break down the racial barriers that were preventing the gospel from spreading further, God orchestrated a mission that caused Peter to step outside of his comfort zone and preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles.

Peter’s adventure began with a visit to the city of Joppa where he raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:40). Afterward, Peter decided to stay in Joppa, the main seaport of Judea, which was located about 38 miles west of Jerusalem (Acts 9:43 and note on Acts 9:36). While Peter was there, a man named Cornelius, who was identified by Luke as a Roman centurion, had a vision in which an angel of God spoke to him these words, “Cornelius, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose  house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3, 5-6). Cornelius’ home town of Cesarea was located 30 miles north of Joppa (note on Acts 10:1). In obedience to the message he received, Cornelius sent two of his household servants, and a devout soldier to Joppa, to bring Peter back to his home (Acts 10:7-8). Luke tells us:

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the house to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)

Luke’s account of Peter’s experience suggests that he was in an altered state of consciousness. The phrase “fell into a trance” (Acts 10:10) describes “A state of mind God produced and used to communicate with Peter. It was not merely imagination or a dream. Peter’s consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God” (note on Acts 10:10). Luke went on to say:

Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee: arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

Apparently, the supernatural vision Peter had while he was in a trance was used by God to overcome his resistance to interacting with Gentiles. Afterward, when Peter received instruction from the Holy Spirit to go with the men that Cornelius had sent to get him, Peter went away with them (Acts 10:23).

 

Walking on water (part 2)

Mark’s account of Jesus walking on water showed that he did not intend for his disciples to know what he was doing. Mark said, “about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It appears that Jesus’ intention was only to get to the other side of the sea ahead of his disciples. “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:49-50). Apparently, Jesus had transformed himself into a form that may have been somewhat ghostlike or transparent. A clue as to what this form was like can be found in John 6:19 where it states the disciples saw Jesus “walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.” The Greek term translated drawing, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means “to cause to be (generate) that is (reflexively) to become (come into being)” (1096). What may have happened was that Jesus transformed himself back into a physical state because his disciples were fearful he was dead when they saw him walking across the sea as a spirit.

Whether or not Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee in a spiritual or physical state is not completely clear, but it is evident that at the time when Jesus arrived at the boat in which his disciples were traveling, he appeared to be normal as he stood upon the water talking to them. His salutation, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50) suggested that Jesus was calming the disciples and making them aware that everything was fine. It was at this point that Peter spoke up and said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Essentially, Peter’s remark was a confession of faith. Another way of stating what Peter said would be, “because it is you, bid me come unto thee on the water.” In other words, Peter wanted to do what he saw Jesus was able to. Perhaps, Peter thought it would be cool to walk on the water, or he may have been trying to impress Jesus with his exuberant act of faith, but Matthew said, when Peter “saw the wind boysterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The difference between Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water was that Peter didn’t have authority over the wind as Jesus did. Peter’s disadvantage was that he couldn’t keep the wind from knocking him around; and he was most likely fearful because once he was out of the boat, he realized the wind’s powerful force could cause him to crash into the water like a tomato on a hardwood floor. Matthew tells us that Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), meaning, he acknowledged Jesus’ deity and his ability to do more than Peter was able to.

Walking on water

It was obvious from the miracles Jesus performed that he had supernatural ability to do things that no one had ever seen done before. What was less obvious, but just as true, was that Jesus’ disciples had the same supernatural ability. When Jesus was about to send his disciples out to preach the gospel, it says in Luke 9:1, “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.” The Greek word translated power, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) specifically refers to miraculous power (1411), but the Greek word dunamis is derived from, dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee) suggests that the twelve apostles had limitless power, the ability to do everything that Jesus was able to. An example of this is found in Matthew’s gospel where it is recorded that Peter walked on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:29). After Peter was come down out of the ship, Matthew said, “he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:29-30). Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter by the hand in order to keep him from sinking, and then rebuked him stating, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt” (Matthew 14:31).

The problem with Peter’s faith was that it lacked confidence. The term Jesus used to describe it, “little faith” could also be translated “puny argument” (3641/3982). In other words, Peter’s demonstration of his faith was unconvincing. Even though he got out of the boat, Peter wasn’t certain he wanted to walk across the sea as Jesus had just done (Matthew 14:25). Jesus pointed out that the reason Peter began to sink was because he doubted (Matthew 14:31) or mentally wavered from his original conviction (1365) about the possibility that he could do what Jesus had commanded him to, “come” to him on the water (Matthew 14:29). Matthew said the cause of Peter’s mental wavering was fear. He explained, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). Although Peter may have been overcome by fear, it was not his fear that caused him to doubt. The Greek word translated doubt, distazo (dis-tad’-zo) means to duplicate (1365), the word distazo is derived from, dis (dece) which means twice (1364) or duo (doo’-o) to have two of something. At the moment when he began to doubt, it is likely that Peter thought twice about what he was doing and realized that walking on water was humanly impossible; but what is even more likely than that, is that at the moment his doubt got the better of him, Peter realized that he and Jesus were doing the same thing and that meant that, if Peter continued, he would no longer be able to excuse himself from doing whatever God commanded him to.

Mixed Reactions

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, it became evident that there were some people among the Jews that did not welcome the good news that their Messiah had finally arrived. In particular, those who knew Jesus as a child questioned whether or not someone like him could actually be the savior God had promised to bring to his people. In Luke 4:16 it says of Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 to the people and then stated “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). After declaring himself to be their long awaited Messiah, Jesus foretold of his rejection and eventual ministry to the Gentiles. It says in Luke 4:28-29, “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Following this incident, Jesus went to a seaside fishing village called Capernaum which became a sort of home base for his ministry. It was there that Jesus called four fishermen; Simon, whom he renamed Peter, his brother Andrew, and their business partners, James and John to be his disciples. The story of Peter’s conversion showed that Jesus understood this man’s reluctance to give up his independent way of life.

Now when he had left off speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:4-8)

Peter’s awareness of his need for a savior was a result of the conviction he felt about his lack of faith when Jesus told him to let down his nets for a draught (Luke 5:4). Peter thought there were no fish in the sea, but in reality there were so many fish, his ship couldn’t hold them all. After Peter’s perception of the situation had changed, Jesus said to him and his fishing partners, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:10-11).