God brings the future to the present.
Peter begins his first letter to the Christians scattered throughout several provinces by reminding them of everything they have inherited through Christ: “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.” (vs 3-5)
As we know from church history, there was a lot for Christians in those days to be discouraged about. Life was difficult, and Christians were relentlessly persecuted—not only by secular entities, but also by the Jews. I’m sure it was very easy for them to lose sight of all they had been promised in God through Christ.
And while Peter certainly reminds them that “a better day is coming,” he also mentions that they don’t have to wait to begin enjoying the promises God has made: We've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!
To me, this is an intriguing (and somewhat counter-intuitive) idea. Is it true to say that heaven can begin now? Can we really enjoy the benefits and blessings of God’s promises in a world that is so corrupted by evil and wickedness and sin? Can we experience in “this life” what we have always looked forward to in the “next life”?
I think the answer to all those questions is yes. Of course, when Jesus comes again and takes us to heaven, our circumstances will change (not to mention our location!), but all the peace, love, and security we long for on that day can be ours today. We don’t have to wait for it. Because God has promised that He is always with us, we can experience all of those things right now, no matter what our current circumstances are.
I also believe that part of what Peter is saying here is that there is no such thing as “this life” and the “next life.” We don’t have two lives. It’s all one life—with a teeny, tiny second of sleep somewhere in the middle. But whether today holds “good” or “bad” experiences, it’s just another day in the eternal life that we’re already living with God. As long as we hang with Him, our life is eternal, for He has no other quality of life to give.
In so many ways, our “future” in heaven starts right now. Sure, we may be in for some radical shifts in situation and circumstance, but that’s a normal part of life, isn't it? Thus far in my relatively short life, I have experienced being a child, a teenager, a single woman, a married woman, and a mother. All constitute radical shifts in situation and circumstance, but I don’t consider each to be a different life. It’s all one life.
So, we have one life. One past, one present, and one future.
And the future begins now!
God brings the future to the present.
The Bible has a lot to say about priests. Ever since the origin of the sanctuary system in the Old Testament, a recurring theme in Biblical literature is the priesthood—who may serve, what they must do, and what they must not do.
In the Old Testament, priests were a crucial part of the spiritual life of the Israelites. The people were, for some reason, afraid of God, so they had asked for a mediator—someone to go between, to speak for them—right from the start. At first, Moses stepped into that position. But after, when the sanctuary system was introduced, God set up the priesthood.
Priests were the ones who worked in the temple, offering the sacrifices for sin that the people brought to God. They came to the temple to confess, to receive forgiveness, and to worship, but it was all facilitated by the priest who was the go-between for the worshiper and God. Nobody was willing to meet with God face-to-face as Moses did.
But things changed when Jesus was here—particularly on that Friday afternoon He hung on the cross. At the moment of His death, the veil in the temple that had separated “God” from “the people” was torn in two, signifying that there no longer needed to be anyone between. In fact, it had never been God’s idea to have anyone between in the first place.
He, as He so often does, graciously accommodated us in fulfilling that request.
And now, Peter affirms that again with this statement: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (vs 4-5)
There are no longer priests . . . or perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are no longer not priests. Everyone is now a priest. Everyone has been freely and openly invited to boldly approach God for themselves. There is no longer a need for anyone between because Jesus has shown us that God doesn't need anyone between and that there is nothing to fear in approaching Him.
You don’t need a priest or a mediator or a referee or a negotiator when you come to God.
All you need is you.
God is a radical.
If God doesn't seem like much of a radical to us, it’s only because we live in a completely different time and culture than the one the first Christians lived in. Undoubtedly, though, God is a radical, and those who keep their ears open to the Spirit today should expect to hear the unexpected.
There’s a perfect example of that in today’s chapter from 1 Peter: “You wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. . . In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (vs 1-2, 7)
Of course, with our 21st-century feminist tendencies, we probably look at this passage and think the part about wives accepting the authority of their husbands is the radical part—and not in a good way. But actually, the really radical teaching here was to the husbands who, in the ancient world, owned their wives like property.
That’s right. In Peter’s day, when you were married, you held absolute rights over everything in your household—including your wife. Husbands could beat and abuse their wives without fear of any repercussions. Married women had no rights. For example, in the Roman world, if a man caught his wife having sex with someone else, he could kill her on the spot. But if a wife caught her husband with another woman, she couldn't do anything.
The men who were listening to Peter’s letter had grown up in a culture where every single duty and obligation in marriage was put on the wife. So, for Peter to say that husbands “must give honor” to their wives and treat them “with understanding” was a little outrageous. And they probably would have thought it downright scandalous when they first heard that their wives were “equal partners” in God’s eyes.
Talk about turning your world upside down! How ironic it is, then, that God gets accused of being anti-woman because of Peter’s advice for wives to submit to their husbands when, in this very passage, God is actually instituting women’s rights in a culture that had never heard of such a thing.
God is a radical, my friends. And if He hasn't turned something upside down in your world in a while, it’s quite possible something else may be drowning out His voice in your life. For just as Jesus turned over the tables in the temple so long ago, I guarantee there are at least a few misconceptions, erroneous beliefs, and false perceptions He wants to overturn in our minds.
Give Him a bit of time, and He’ll shock you.
In this chapter of his first epistle, Peter makes a very, very odd statement: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” (vs 12-13)
Of course, you might be thinking, what’s so odd about that? After all, it’s not as if this is the first mention of suffering in the Bible—especially as it relates to those who believe in Jesus. We are told over and over again to not only bear up under suffering, but to rejoice in it.
But Peter seems to take it a step further here. Not only is he saying that we should endure suffering, not only is he saying that we should rejoice in suffering, but he’s saying that we should expect suffering. We shouldn't be surprised by it, as though it were something strange.
Instead, Peter seems to imply we should consider it a normal part of life with God.
Why do we have such a problem with this? Four thousand years of Biblical history before Christ revealed that God’s people routinely encountered suffering; Jesus Himself said that suffering was part of following Him; and two thousand years of Biblical history since Christ has revealed that God’s people have continued to routinely encounter suffering.
So, why are we still surprised? And what would it take to begin to expect suffering in our lives?
Might it be as simple as realizing that the God we want so much to be like not only endures, but embraces suffering at the very core of His being? He did not rule out the possibility of suffering when He created His universe. And when His creation went awry, He came here in the flesh, specifically to suffer. In fact, as one famous writer put it, Jesus’ most intense sufferings were but a revelation to our sin-deadened senses that God has actually been suffering all along, ever since the beginning of sin.
We look for ways to avoid and escape suffering, but God doesn't. When He is confronted with suffering, He picks it up and shoulders it—not only His suffering, but ours, too. And if that’s how our Lord handles suffering, no wonder Peter tells us to be glad when trials make us partners with Christ in His suffering.
He is already suffering, and when we stand up under the weight of fiery trials, we share a part of God’s very heart with Him. It is in those times when we have the opportunity to know God in a closer, more intimate way. It is in those times when we have the opportunity to truly be more like Him.
God suffers, and as His followers in this sin-ravaged world, He has invited us to join Him in that suffering.
How much do you want to be like Him?
God cares about you.
One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is a multi-layered experience. By turns, it is complex, simple, mysterious, deep, funny, and dramatic. Just when you think you've read it all, you better read it again, because you’re sure to see something brand-new every time.
Today’s chapter held this very simple, yet very important, verse: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (vs 7) Sure, it may not be the “deepest” verse in the Bible. On the other hand, doesn't it sum up in only a few words one of the main themes of the Bible?
God wants us to know that He cares about us and is always right here to help us.
Why is it that we seem to so easily forget one of the most simple messages the Bible declares? Why do we doubt that God is interested—invested, even!—in our lives? Why do we scoff at the idea that God cares? Is it because we look at our lives and the world around us and conclude that a truly caring God wouldn't have let us get into such a mess in the first place?
That might be tempting, but this verse from the Bible actually addresses the fallacy of that thinking. For in reminding us to give all our worries and burdens to God, Peter acknowledges that those things are a given. God’s care for us won’t cause Him to erase our worries and burdens, but rather to shoulder them for us.
If that seems like less than a satisfactory answer, consider how it is in your life—especially if you have children of your own. You can’t shelter your children from every single thing that might hurt, disappoint, or annoy, but when your child is in distress, you do everything you can to alleviate their burden, don’t you?
That’s also what God does.
Think about that today as you contemplate the things that are causing you stress, anxiety, and fear. You don’t have to shoulder those things alone; in fact, you don’t have to shoulder them at all. The simple truth is that the God who holds the entire universe together cares about you, and He wants you to give all your worries and burdens to Him.
Let Him deal with all the heavy stuff today.
You take a well-deserved break!