Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr.– No. 35
BY WAY OF REMEMBRANCE
It has often been said that we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. Peter must have agreed with this for he devoted one entire epistle to the task of reminding us. Read 2 Peter 1:13-15 and 3:1. This epistle is a very valuable one to us for it serves as a sort of summary of the things which Peter considered vital. It is one of those books however about which little can be said that has not already been said much better in the book itself. Peter is primarily discussing two things, Christian character and Christian destiny. Verses 5-9 of the first chapter probably comprise the most brilliant brief statement of Christian character that has ever been written. To develop it to any degree would require a whole chapter devoted to each of the graces listed.
Christ’s Second Coming
The third chapter deals with the second coming of Christ. Many professing Christians today no longer believe in this second coming but it is obvious that Peter believed in it. He believed that there is to be a new earth after this earth is no more. He believed it would be a wonderful place where every good thing is preserved and every harmful or destructive thing is banished. He mentions the fact that Paul also had taught of this but says that Paul’s writings on the subject were hard to understand. We feel rather inclined to agree with him. But to misunderstand Peter would require an almost willful blindness. He attempts no cleverness and deals with the subject in the plainest terms possible. He prophesies that the time will come when men will scoff at the idea of the second coming and accuses them of willful ignorance.
Why did this point seem so terribly important to Peter? Why does he bring it up on the heels of a beautiful but stern lecture on Christian character? Peter understood human motivation. He knew that for men to live right they must have something to live for. We hear a great deal of scorn today heaped on what is called a “reward morality.” Men tell us that we should be completely disinterested; that morality is not really moral if it looks toward any future advantage to itself. This sounds all very well and may be theoretically correct but God knows what is in man and has never expected more than he knows man can do. I doubt that any man living is actually capable of an absolute disinterestedness. If man is required to serve without thought of reward it remains an unanswerable question why Jesus had so much to say about reward.
A Real Heaven
Many people are quite willing to admit the fact of a future heaven if only they can mystify it behind a dense vapor of pretended spirituality. They scoff however at the “old fogey” notion of a heaven that includes such things as solid matter. In their insistence on the symbolism of the river life they go so far as to question the existence of rivers at all in the promised home of the soul. While explaining that the trees of life are “just symbols,” they leave the impression that heaven would have to be a treeless desert in order to avoid being “too material.”
Where do we get the idea that God is disgusted by matter? God loves material things. He created every one of them and after he created them he said that they were good. He covered the earth with trees and rivers, raised mountains, and seemed to have a perfect passion for material beauty. When he builds a new earth why do we have to assume that he will prefer some sort of airy nothingness inhabited by disembodied shades? We surely do not have to be so broadminded as to substitute Nirvana for Heaven and call it high minded spirituality. I am confident that every good thing we have known here will be reproduced in the new earth. I believe we will have flowers there.
So we have gone on a journey with Peter from Simon the simple fisherman to Peter the great apostle, and have studied the message that he left us. We have found three stages in his life. They include the natural man, then the confused but following disciple, and finally the Spirit filled apostle. To many of us, the middle period will have been the most meaningful because it will be there that we have found ourselves.
But there is actually more value for us in a study of Peter the spirit filled apostle. Of all the virtues I see in Peter, however, I think the most outstanding is the virtue of humility. This may surprise some who have thought of Peter as anything but humble. They may point to his boasting that night in the upper room, or to the fact that he was always outspoken and abrupt. But these things do not point so much to arrogance as they do to a certain, rather startling, unselfconsciousness that is the very essence of humility. If we gaze closely at Peter’s blunders even we may see in them a rashness which finds its motivation in an intense concentration on the subject before him rather than upon himself. When Peter boasted of his faithfulness shortly before the betrayal and denial that he would never forsake the Lord, he seems to be more convinced by the unthinkableness of the act rather than his own steadfastness. When he repents in bitter tears I believe that the tears were more of shame for what he had done than for fear of what the consequences would be. Few men can be used by the Lord as Peter was and still retain any semblance of humility. But Peter gives no sign of the fact that his Lord could use him so mightily. After all Peter had once seen his Lord make successful use of an ass. I have admitted that Paul was probably a greater man than Peter, but in this one thing I feel sure that Peter surpassed him. Paul was the more self-conscious of the two. Paul had a hard time forgetting himself. To Peter it seemed to be almost natural. I know no higher tribute than could be paid a man.