The Cross in 1 Peter
I have recently reread John Stott’s “The cross of Christ”. It has been such a blessing to me. I have heard that there are those who teach that it is not necessary to explain the cross of Jesus when proclaiming the gospel. I’m not sure where these ideas come from. The cross is the centre, the foundation of all that we believe and are in Christ. So, I would encourage these people to read John Stott, or 1 Peter!
Peter has been called the patron saint of failures. Imagine how he felt, when out of sheer love for Jesus, he said that Jesus would never go to the cross, and Jesus replied “Get behind me Satan”. Peter had already left his well ordered life, had begun to recognise how sinful he was, and see his true identity before God. But he had underestimated the severity of the battle, and what was really going on. He had yet to learn to trust Christ, and not himself. This was demonstrated when foolishly he said he would go to the death for Christ.
Later, it was Peter who had to be corrected when he had dared to say words that are contradictory, “Not so, Lord!” when he was asked to take and eat ‘unclean’ animals.
It was Peter who had to be withstood to the face by the Apostle Paul because he insisted on imposing Jewish regulations on converted Gentiles.
Nearly 40 years later, in AD67, after the Apostle Paul had died, and shortly before his own death, Peter wrote to Christians scattered throughout the world, who were feeling the after effects of persecution. It was years since Peter last caught sight of Jesus. Grace had refined his heart and restructured his beliefs. He saw the cross as all-important and as all sufficient. Peter, who had been so impulsive, rough-handed and fond of action, was used by the Spirit of God to write the most tender and comforting words.
1 Peter is born out of much sorrow and many tears, as the author marries together suffering and glory. It is steeped in the Old Testament. Peter loves to quote, without using quotation marks.
He makes the foundation of all he teaches, the cross. Peter has nine themes or waves of thought, but for each the foundation of the teaching is the cross. It permeates and saturates every part of his letter, even the greeting! This is my outline of the book, and the last verse is the key to that section, which focuses on the cross:
1. 1 vv 1 –2 Greeting founded in the cross 1 v 2
2. 1 vv 3 – 12 Blessing of being a believer 1 v 11
3. 1 vv 13 – 25 Call to be holy 1 v. 19
4. 2 vv 1 – 10 A living stone and a holy people 2 v. 7
5. 2 v 11 – 3 v. 7 Call to submission 2 v. 21 & 24
6. 3 vv 8 – 22 Suffering for righteousness sake 3 v. 18
7. 4 v. 1 – 11 Call to practical obedience 4 v. 1
8. 4 v. 12 – 19 Suffering as a Christian 4 v. 13
9. 5 v. 1 – 14 Christ-like pastoring and farewell 5 v. 1
So the cross is the foundation of our:
· Christian fellowship
· The blessings which we know and experience as Christians
· The desire and ability to live as holy men and women
· The fellowship we have with God
· The willingness to submit to and obey King Jesus
· Our acceptance of and contentment in suffering
· Our loving care for Christian people, as well as lost men and women
As a mature Christian, Peter had understood the real meaning of the cross and this is what he proclaimed and underscored as he wrote to Christians.
Lecturing on evangelism recently, I was stressing the need in every evangelistic message to pave the way to the cross. Asked, “If it is not in the passage, how can we.” It is a good question if we are to be biblical preachers. The answer is that the cross is the backcloth to all of Scripture. We wouldn’t have “In the beginning God …”, if it wasn’t for the cross!
There is a temptation to be cleverer than God is, and to move away from the foolishness of proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. Reading in passages such as 1 Peter, (or 1 Corinthians 1 vv. 17 to 2 v. 2), we are reminded that:
1. There is an inherent weakness in the message of the cross
- this sends us to God for His blessing
Peter repeatedly speaks of the sufferings of Christ. Hanging on a cross in agony and shame was hardly macho or mighty. However, it is not the physical sufferings of Christ that atone for our sin, but that God laid on Him the sin of the world – this is the hidden work that no human eye can see, but is the heart of the gospel.
2. There is an inherent power in the message of the cross
- this sends us to men and women for their salvation
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians. 1: vv 22 –25)
There is an offence to our message. Jay Adams says a Christian sermon is one that would cause you to be thrown out of synagogue or mosque. Of course, this is exactly what happened in the Book of Acts.
We have no authority to harangue people. We are not to beat people with our words, or to be aggressive. I grieve over gospel preaching which comes across as if we are angry with the listeners. “Be kind, you do not know what people are bearing,” said the Scottish preacher John Watson. And he was right. As sinners, we are sharing with other sinners Jesus, the Friend of sinners. People are carrying sorrow, pain, shame and hurt; they bear intolerable burdens, have shattered experiences, crushed hopes and terrors of spirit, so let us be tender, compassionate, winsome and loving.
3. There is an inherent foolishness in the message of the cross
- this sends us to Scripture for our authority
Our authority is not in our eloquence or creativity, but in what God has revealed in His Word. We proclaim Christ and Him crucified because Scripture does. Bishop J.C. Ryle said, “Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the Church. Give me the cross of Christ. This is the only lever, which has ever turned the world upside down and made people forsake their sins. And, and if this will not, nothing will. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross. Never was there a minister, who did much for the conversion of souls, who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, McCheyne were all most eminent preachers of the cross. This is the preaching that the Holy Spirit delights to bless. He loves to honour those who honour the cross.”
4. There is an inherent wisdom in the message of the cross
- this sends us to any situation for their salvation
There is nothing to be ashamed about Jesus, or His cross. There is nothing of which to be embarrassed; there is nothing to hide, or disguise, or sweep under the carpet. We have the most glorious message. Our gospel is sufficient to meet the needs of each individual and every situation. God blesses the ministry which exalts His Son, and nothing so exalts Him as the proclamation of His finished work. So let us learn from Peter, and saturate our preaching with Christ and His cross.