The selection of this text was quite purposeful. The Apostle Peter, writing from Rome, addresses Christians in another part of the Roman Empire who are suffering because of their allegiance to Christ. Throughout this epistle you find Peter himself in the hotbed of persecution in the city he calls “Babylon” (the veritable place of exile situated, as he was, on the Tiber) offering steadfast encouragement to those undergoing persecution for professing the fact of Jesus as truly Lord of all, not Caesar. Jesus is the world’s rightful King. He alone, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is to be worshipped as God and Savior. Any title or honor which may have been conveyed to Caesar was now heaped on Jesus.
Not only were these Christians professing this, but they were also living it. Every Christian in the preacher’s hearing can relate.
Sacrifices to the gods came to a halt by these Christians, and there were gods galore to attend to: Household gods, family gods, city gods, tutelary gods, regional gods, a pantheon of Greco-Roman gods syncretized with Egyptian gods and, of course, on top of the entire heap of deities (at least here on earth) was the divine Caesar, who at the time was Nero. Breaking a link anywhere in the chain swiftly brought trouble as the whole system was an interdependent web of obligatory superstition on which everything hinged; economics, politics, civil affairs, marital relations... everything. The Christians to whom Peter writes were not breaking a link, they tossed out the entire chain which they believed kept the world in bondage to the darkness, the ignorance of superstitions, and the violent forces empowering it all. When the Creator-God visited humanity and reclaimed His throne over Jews and Gentiles in Jesus of Nazareth by conquering death and rising from the dead as the Lord of Life, there was no need for these newly converted Christians to immediately start smashing icons. They simply left them in the dust since Christ exposed them as nothing but bits and blocks of stone anyway. Jesus was the destroyer of the gods as the only true and living God. This is what the earliest Christians believed, taught, and confessed right amid their pagan culture. It was the result of the crucifixion and resurrection of the world’s rightful Lord.
Now, they were paying the price for their faith in one God through persecutions. They were Christians, but their culture was not. Their persecutions were, therefore, inevitable. Oppression came from every domain of life; spouse, family, employer, guild, community, and government… all the way up to those who governed in the name of Nero. So, Peter writes to encourage them to remain steadfast in our holy faith (5:7-10).
They were Christians, but their culture was not. Their persecutions were, therefore, inevitable.
This pericope is not merely for the anxious, the persecuted, and the humbled. It is also for the self-reliant, confident, and accomplished because at one time or another, they too will be anxious, persecuted, and humbled.
Persecution creeps into life in various forms, with two of the more common being failing health and mental degeneration. Other oppressions and anxieties frequently come under the auspices of loss of life, tragedy, hardships, and misfortunes. This is because in our fallen world, life is fragile and precarious. Human health is a bewilderingly complex thing with inherent limitations to which we are all, inevitably, subject and will inescapably succumb.
What then? It is all good and fine to speak about rational people and hear about their lively faith, but what happens when they simply are not themselves and even their faith wanes or at least seems to because they do not or cannot express it any longer? What then? There are many who have had parents, grandparents, or other loved ones decline and degenerate, sometimes to the point where they do not recognize you or, indeed, even themselves. What then?
Peter answers: All has been provided for our redemption through Jesus Christ. He saves to the uttermost.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you... [be] firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:6-11).
No persecutor can avail over the victory of Christ for His people. Even if death separates them from this world, it cannot separate them from the love of God and the redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ. The world’s rightful King, Jesus Christ came into this world for the very purpose of reversing the power of human sin and rebellion, and the debilitating effects of illness and disease which lead to death. This is what resurrection life promises.
We may suffer for a little while, but Peter continues by saying, “The God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” (1 Peter 5:10). And the God of all grace does this through the promise of the resurrection of our mortal bodies. We know this to be true because Christ has been raised from the dead. Through baptism, as Christ is, so we shall be.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11.