Full Worship Service – May 3

Growing Up Into Salvation

Growing Up Into Salvation

Imagine, if you would, that you were at work one day just doing your job, whatever that is. It’s a day like any other—nothing unusual is going on. And then a man walks in and says to you, “Come with me. I have a better plan for you.“ What would you do? Would you go? Would you ask for more information? Time to think about it?

2000 years ago, on an ordinary day, two brothers named Simon and Andrew were busy doing their job—which was fishing—when a man named Jesus walked by and said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). And Matthew tells us that “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:20).

That’s all Matthew says—but surely there must be more to the story.  There must have been something really compelling about this man Jesus. Did they realize that everything in their lives would change forever as a result of that decision? Or were they thinking that they’d just take the day off and see what Jesus was all about? Maybe they’d been hearing about Him and were curious. Maybe they were just hoping to discover how you fish for people.

We don’t know–whatever the reason, they left their nets and followed Jesus.

Simon, of course, would later be given a new name by Jesus—Peter, which is the Greek word for “rock.” Sometimes we hear him called Cephas in Scripture, which is the Hebrew word for “rock.”

So now instead of pulling nets of fish out of the Sea of Galilee, Matthew tells us that Peter is spending his days listened to Jesus preach—usually not really understanding what He was saying. He watched Jesus heal many people (including his own mother-in-law). He saw Jesus calm a storm on the sea of Galilee, and he wondered: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” ((Matthew 8:27).

Peter was there when Jesus brought a dead girl back to life; he was there when Jesus fed thousands of people with five small loaves and two fishes. And then during another storm on the Sea of Galilee, Peter saw Jesus walking across the water toward him—and when Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat and walk with Him on the sea, Peter did! When they got back in the boat, the disciples said, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).

Only after all this did Peter finally spoke the words that Jesus was truly the “The Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus told him that it was God Himself, our Father in heaven, who had revealed this to Peter. It was then that Jesus changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter—because Peter was beginning to build an indestructible life. A life built on knowing Jesus, on listening to Him.

Peter still didn’t really understand what it meant to follow “Christ, the Son of the Living God.” On the day of Pentecost, when Peter received the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside of him, he made a huge leap forward in understanding, but even after that we find Peter continuing to grow in his knowledge of Jesus and His plan of salvation.

Because a life of faith is a life of growth. And when Peter wrote this letter, probably about 30 years after that Easter Sunday when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, it’s clear that he’s thinking about all of this.  He wants his readers to understand that salvation is a process. He calls us to “grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2:2).

This idea is really important for us to understand—it’s something we haven’t talked a lot about in the church and many American Christians are confused about the what salvation means. Some people talk about the day they were “saved”—as if salvation is something that occurs at a particular moment in time. Others believe that baptism confers a kind of “once for all” salvation. Still others aren’t sure that we can ever know for sure whether we’re among those who have been saved.

Peter would have been very confused by all these ideas. Because for Peter, as well as for Paul and John and the rest of the New Testament writers, salvation is a process. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, in speaking of entering God’s rest, wants us to recognize that there is no “once for all” about it. He reminds readers that while God saved the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt, He later refused to allow them entrance into the Promised Land because of their disobedience. And he writes, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).

“Let us strive”—I’m not sure we’re used to thinking of salvation as something we need to strive for. So is salvation something we can be certain of—or not? Both the Letter to the Hebrews and Peter’s First Letter seem to be saying yes—and no. So which is it? According to Peter, it’s both.

Peter opened his letter with the wonder of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ—this amazing gift that we have received, not because we deserve it, not because we have earned it, not because we’re somehow better than anybody else, but simply because of God’s overwhelming grace and mercy.

Peter writes “Blessed by the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5). And again, at the end of the first chapter, Peter write that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (I Peter 1:23).

And Peter says we can rejoice in this—we can be certain.

Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus in John’s gospel, says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Now Peter, after assuring us—twice—that we have been born again, calls us in chapter 2, to “grow up into salvation” (2:2).

He’s saying that salvation is a process—being a follower of Jesus, a part of His Body, the Church, is a process. Salvation is something that isn’t finished until we die. At the same time, however, he’s saying that it’s also a certainty for those of us who are, in Peter’s words, “elect exiles”  (I Peter 1:1). He’s writing to a pilgrim people, to Christians—aliens who are temporary residents of this world on their way to their native land, which is heaven.

He’s speaking to people who know they belong to Jesus—and who traveling the road that will take them to Him. Peter himself is one of those people. Eugene Peterson in The Message, translates the first verse of the letter as, “I Peter, an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah.” And what Peter is telling all of us who have been born again is that we’re on assignment, too. That while we did nothing to deserve it, being born again comes with responsibility.

And so in chapter 2, he tells us that we need to be consuming spiritual milk so that we can grow up into the salvation we’ve received—and I don’t think the references to birth and babies and growing up are accidental. In fact, it’s absolutely amazing to me how God has created us and the world in which we live in such a way that we’re continually surrounded by illustrations in our daily lives showing us how God works.

And a newborn baby is the perfect illustration to help us understand the process of salvation. Because I think we can all agree that a newborn baby is fully human. At the same time, I think we can all agree that a baby is not finished in terms of growth and development.

My youngest grandson, baby Benjamin, will celebrate his first birthday next week. When Ben was born, he was completely helpless. He couldn’t even breathe on his own. He spent his first few days outside his mother’s womb in intensive care. And even when he was able to go home, breathing was about the only thing he could do without help.

Now, twelve months later, he can sit up and eat real food; he can laugh and say a few words—he can even walk if he’s hanging onto something. He’s grown quite a bit–but he’s a long way from being full grown and he has a lot to learn.

What Peter wants us to understand is that when we’re born again, we begin our new life as a spiritual infant—no matter how old we are. And maybe the reason that the gospels are so abundantly clear in showing just how little Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples comprehended most of what Jesus was telling them is for the purpose of showing us how much growing up they needed to do in their salvation.

As children of God, Peter is telling us that we need to grow and develop spiritually just as we do physically and mentally. We do this the same way that Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples did it—by knowing Jesus, by spending time with Him, by listening to Him. And our primary source of what Peter refers to as “the pure spiritual milk” is the Bible. Followers of Jesus, he’s saying, must be just as addicted to God’s Word as newborn babies are to their mother’s milk.

Consumers In first century Israel were well aware that it was not uncommon for disreputable merchants to water down the milk or wine they were selling; when Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:17 that he is not, “like so many, peddlars of God’s Word,” he’s saying that he’s not somebody out to make a profit by selling whatever part of Scripture he thinks someone will find appealing.  Pure spiritual milk,” then, is God’s Word in its entirety—not a watered-down version. It’s also free from additives. It’s truth in its entirety.

That’s not something that we always get in today’s church either—or even in our personal study of God’s Word, for that matter.  

Many of us have a tendency to focus on verses and passages of Scripture that are appealing and that make salvation seem easy instead of really studying them in context. Verses like Romans 10:9, which says that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We pull out this verse and read it and think that if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that He’s Lord, then we’re saved. We neglect to pay attention to the rest of the passage, which calls those of us who “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead” to be about the business of sharing this good news. To be living our lives in obedience to God’s will.

To be on assignment for Jesus.

Peter wants us to understand that when we enter into the family of God, we are called to live for God. We are called, as the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 7:17, to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

Salvation is the result not just of what we say we believe, but of how we live our lives. We’re on assignment for Jesus. Peter’s understanding is that this is not optional. Anymore than it is optional for a child to be obedient to the will of their parent.

We’re on assignment for Jesus. But, Peter says, this isn’t something we’re forced by God to do—he says that we do it willingly “if indeed, we have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). Not just willingly, but we consider it to be a great honor to be allowed to serve God in whatever way He asks.

We’re not sure why, thirty years earlier, Peter dropped his fishing nets to follow Jesus. But we do know why he continued to follow him for all the remaining days of his life—once Peter tasted life in Jesus, he found it good. And not just good, but better than anything else. Being with Jesus, Peter discovered, was better than being anywhere else. Even when being with Jesus involved painful or difficult situations.

Yes, Peter says, being on assignment for Jesus requires humility and submission on our part, but it’s not submission as slavery, it’s simply living the way Jesus lived. Jesus lived in complete and total submission to the will of the Father—not because He was forced to do so, but because there was nothing He would rather do.

It’s what He calls us to do—if we want to be His friend. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). And “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).

Salvation means spending all eternity in the presence of Jesus—and only those who will love being with Him are invited. Not because Jesus doesn’t want everyone to be there, but rather because He won’t force anyone to love Him.

Those who have tasted and not found Him good, He allows to turn away—to choose not to be with Him. But He wants everyone to have the opportunity to taste Him. And He has chosen us for a purpose—all of us. Because, together with all those others who are chosen, we “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5).  

Jesus came from heaven—He knew exactly what was waiting for Him when He returned to heaven. And so in this world He was willing to endure pain and suffering and humiliation—because He knew that the exaltation that would result would more than make up for any temporary suffering. And because He knew that His suffering would allow us—you and me—to be joined to His exaltation. And what Peter is telling us here is that all those of us who have “tasted that the Lord is good” have already been joined to Jesus in His exaltation. In Christ we are God’s people, God’s temple, His kingdom and His priesthood.

The prophet Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord to the princes of Jerusalem who foolishly think that they, and their city, are invincible. God declares that only one building can stand against the storm of destruction—and that is God’s building, established upon one sure foundation stone. It’s us—the Church of Jesus Christ. We can stand against anything—even a global pandemic.

Did you know that? Do you believe it?

When Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell could not prevail against His church, He wasn’t saying that we have to depend on Peter—or an earthly pope—to hold everything together. He was describing Himself as the builder, the cornerstone—the One who would hold everything together. He’s declaring Peter to be an apostolic rock of foundation.

Jesus is alive! Today—right here and right now. Christ is risen! Peter wants no one to think of Him as dead.

The builders who rejected the cornerstone (v 7) were the leaders of the Jewish religion, the Pharisees and chief priests and scribes who rejected Jesus—the ones who crucified Him. But in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter says that all they accomplished was only what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27). And instead of getting rid of Jesus once and for all, which is what they thought they were accomplishing, Peter says that it was their rejection that actually caused Jesus, the cornerstone, to be put in place. Fulfilling God’s Word to Isaiah centuries earlier.

They, too, were on assignment for Jesus—without even knowing it.

Jesus is alive! He is still King of kings and Lord of lords. What incredibly good news this is. We live in a world where promises are everywhere: lose weight fast while eating all your favorite foods. Buy now and make no payments until 2022. Look ten years younger in three weeks. Get rich quick. We all want to take the easy way and we all think there is an easy way. This is human nature and it hasn’t change in the last 2000 years—or 10,000 years. We want everything in our lives to be both easy and effective—including our faith. We want to follow Jesus. We want to have faith, we want to be saved, but we want it to be easy.

2000 years after Peter wrote this letter, our world looks completely different from ancient Israel. We’ve managed to think of easy ways to do almost everything: from moving from one place to another, to having homes that are always the perfect temperature to cleaning ourselves to cleaning our clothes and our dishes. We can buy almost anything without ever leaving the comfort of our homes—we can even have our meals delivered directly to our door. And so if we can create time and labor-saving methods for everything else, it’s probably only natural that we should begin to think that we can do the same thing with our faith.

But, unlike almost everything else in our world, the way to heaven has not changed at all in 2000 years. It hasn’t become any easier—but really, it’s good news that it hasn’t changed. It’s good news that even in an ever-changing world, our God doesn’t change—He is the same yesterday, today and forever. When He promises that we have been born again of imperishable seed, we can depend on that. When He promises that those of us who are growing up into salvation are “like living stones being built up as a spiritual house,” we can depend on that.

When He says that we are a people, we can depend on that. We’re not in this alone—ever. And we’re not just a people—we’re a people of God’s “own possession.” Chosen by God “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:10).

What has God called you to do? First, He’s called you to know Him—not just know a lot of things about Him, but to really know Him. To know Him the way Peter came to know Jesus. We do this the same way Peter did—by listening to, or reading, His Word. Then we’re called to live according to that Word, to be obedient to whatever God calls us to do.

To be on assignment for Jesus. To grow up into salvation.

Baby Ben has a big brother, Lucas. And Lucas adores his baby brother. He’s continually trying to teach him new things. He knows how much Ben doesn’t know yet, he knows how many good things are waiting for him to experience—and he wants him to be able to experience them all.

This is how God wants us to look at those people around us who have not yet had the opportunity to “taste that the Lord is good.”

When has this ever been more important? We’re living in the midst of uncertainty—uncertainty about everything. We wonder if it’s safe for us to go to work if we still have work to go to? If we don’t, will we be able to go back to work at some point? Will we still have a job? Will our children be able to go back to school? Will there be food in the grocery stores next month? Will we get sick? Will we die?

People are anxious and afraid as a result of all this uncertainty. But you and I don’t have to be anxious. We know the future—whether we get there today or tomorrow or in forty years, it’s unchanging. We know that God—and God alone–holds our future in His hands. If it’s not God’s plan for us to die today or tomorrow, it’s not going to happen. Life is not just some random set of events. We know that God has everything under control—we know, just as surely as Peter knew all those years ago, that God is with us. Right here and right now. That no matter what’s going on, He’s right here with us in the middle of it all. And because He is—because we have tasted that He is good—we can have peace.

Isn’t that something we should be sharing with all those anxious, frightened people out there? Could it be, that right now, that’s the assignment that God is calling us to be on?