Today’s selected reading is found in the first New Testament epistle which was written by peter the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first two verses of the first chapter. When you come to the first two verses of this epistle you will find the apostle Peter opening up and beginning the first of two epistles which he would write unto a very specific group of individuals. As I began reading the opening two verses of this epistle I was immediately struck by two distinct realities—the first which is the title and phrase “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” for I couldn’t help but think of everything that went into the process of transformation of this long time fisherman into one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. These first two verses brought me face to face with the tremendous concert that Peter was transformed from this fisherman into a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the transformation would continue from being a disciple of Jesus Christ into being an apostle of Jesus Christ. Concerning this reality and concept of following Christ—a path and process which Peter inevitably and ultimately needed to do—I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus Himself spoke concerning following after Him. I am immediately gripped by the words which Jesus spoke—words which are recorded for us in the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew. Beginning with the twenty-fourth verse of the sixteenth chapter we find the following words: “Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and w hosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? OR what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to His works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the soon of man coming in His kingdom” (Mathew 16:24-28). These same words were echoed in the New Testament gospel which was written by John Mark, and specifically beginning with the thirty-fourth verse of the eighth chapter. Consider if you will the words of Jesus which Mark recorded in his gospel account of His life and ministry:
“And when he had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? OR what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).
If you continue reading the New Testament you will find that these words of Jesus were also echoed in the gospel account which was written by the beloved physician Luke. In fact, if you begin reading with and from the twenty-third verse of the ninth chapter of Luke’s gospel you will find the following words recorded by the physician: “And He said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For showoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:23-27). Each of these passages—though they all bring us face to face with the incredible call to follow Jesus—are directly linked and connected to additional words which Jesus spoke. In fact, we cannot have a discussion and dialogue about following Jesus without also considering the words which Jesus spoke unto the multitudes when they went with Him along His journey. If you turn and direct your attention to the fourteenth chapter of the same New Testament gospel of Luke—specifically beginning to read with and from the twenty-fifth verse—you will find the following words:
“And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, He cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciples. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. OR what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty-thousand? OR else, while the other is yet a great way off, he senders an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-35).
It is necessary that we ready and pay close attention to the words which are found the three synoptic passages, as well as the words which are found in this passage, for each of these passages bring us face to face with the tremendous journey which Peter whose surname was Simon undertook and underwent in order to become an apostle of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote thirteen distinct epistles within the New Testament, and in each of the epistles he referred to himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet the journey of the apostle Paul was drastically different than the journey with Peter took. If you study and examine Scripture, and if you carefully regard and concern the life of Peter, you will notice that a great process and undertaking went into his becoming an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot, we dare not, we must not lose sight of the tremendous process that went into Peter’s being and becoming an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, for to do so would be to miss the tremendous journey he underwent to reach that point. One does not simply become an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ without walking through and experiencing the necessary steps along the journey that leads them to that place. In all reality, I would dare say there are a number of men and women among us who desire the end result while completely neglecting and ignoring the process that needs to take place and occur in order to get us to where we need and ought to be. There are two distinct passages within Scripture which I can’t help but be reminded of when I consider this tremendous process of being transformed into who and what were were meant to be. The first is found in the first chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Philippian congregation. If you begin reading with the third verse of the first chapter you will find the following words: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may bound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgement” (Philippians 1:3-9).
You will notice in this particular passage of Scripture how the apostle Paul not only references the work which was begun within each and every one of us, but you will also notice the apostle Paul referencing that work as a good work. What’s more, is that you will notice the apostle Paul declaring that He who began a good work in us will be perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Oh how precious and wonderful is this particular promise, for it brings us to terms with the fact that the Lord has not intention of abandoning the work which He has begun in us. The Lord has never begun a work and then decided to abandon that work, and to simply allow that work to go. The Lord has never and will never place His hands on anything, or on anyone, and then take and remove His hands, thus abandoning the work. The Lord who began a good work in you can and will perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is necessary that we recognize, understand and pay close attention to this, for to anything otherwise would be to miss and lose sight of that which the Lord has done, and that which the Lord desires to do within our hearts and lives. With that being said, I am also reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation—words which are found in the fifth chapter of the epistle. If you turn and direct your attention to the sixteenth verse you will find the following words within this chapter: “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh,: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, He is a new feature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). It is with these words that the apostle Paul brings us into the place where we understand that anyone who is in Christ—that individual not only is, but must be a new creation and a new creature. With that being said, such an individual who is in Christ has at the very of this new creation the reality that old things have passed and are passing away, and all things have become, and all things are becoming new in Christ. If we are to truly understand this journey of becoming that which we were created, called and chosen to be, we must not only understand and recognize that it begins with the Lord beginning a good work in us, but it also includes and entails us being new creatures in Christ as old things have passed away, and all things are becoming new.
When Jesus spoke about those who wished to follow after Him He emphatically declared that if anyone sought to come after Him, that individual must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. We cannot afford to miss it as it pertains to the words which Jesus spoke, for Jesus held no punches and made absolutely no apology when He spoke of those which would follow after Him. Jesus made it perfectly clear that those who wished to come after Him must to three things—(1) deny themselves, (2) take up their cross, and (3) follow Him. We cannot miss on one of these points and not expect to miss on the other points at the same time. It’s n to as if we can deny ourselves, and follow Christ, and yet not take up our cross. It’s not as if we can come after Christ and seek to follow after Him without also deny ourselves and taking up our cross. Coming after Christ and following Christ are intrinsically linked and connected with two distinct necessities—namely, denying ourselves and taking up our cross. We cannot expect to be able to follow Jesus the Christ without being willing to take up our cross and denying ourselves. In fact, I would dare say that if we aren’t willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross, we cannot expect to come after and follow Jesus Christ. What’s more, is that later on Jesus would speak to the multitudes who went with Him and declare unto them that whosoever among them chose not to forsake all that they had, they could not be His disciple. These words take on additional meaning when you consider that Jesus began speaking on this particular occasion by declaring that if any man would come to Him, and yet that one did not hate his father, his mother, his wife, his children his brethren, his sisters, and yea, even his own life, they cannot be His disciple. It is quite clear and quite obvious from these words that coming after and following Jesus the Christ is no simply or small matter, for it requires of and asks much of us—perhaps more than what we are really willing and able to invest and spend. There is this underlying current of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses when we consider following Jesus the Christ, and there are very few among us who are truly reading, willing and able to deny ourselves and take up our cross, for to do so would require a great deal of sacrifice within and upon our parts. The apostle Paul used language similar to this when writing unto the saints which were in Rome in the epistle which was written unto them. Beginning with the first verse of the twelfth chapter of the epistle written unto the saints in Rome we find the following words:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. If Is ay through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:1-5).
This journey of Simon Peter being transformed from a lowly fisherman into a might apostle of Jesus Christ began with one simple step and act of faith. If we are going to recognize and understand that which took the apostle Peter from a lowly fisherman to becoming a mighty apostle of Jesus Christ we must recognize that it began with one simple decision—a decision to leave and forsake everything and to follow after Jesus. This journey of the apostle Peter began shortly after Jesus emerged from the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and of the power, might and strength of the Lord. Matthew records the beginning of Peter’s journey for us in the fourth chapter of his gospel beginning with the eighteenth verse: “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a new into the sea: for they were fishers., And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-22). The beloved physician Luke paints another picture of Jesus calling this fisherman unto Himself—calming this fisherman to leave, abandon and forsake everything and follow Him. Beginning with the first verse of the fifth chapter of Luke’s gospel we find the following words which were written by the beloved physician:
“And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fisherman were gone out of them, and were asking their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a drought. And Simon answering said unto Him, master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down a net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net break. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the drought of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him” (Luke 5:1-11).
The journey which the apostle Peter took from being a lowly and humble fisherman to being a might apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ began simply by hearing the voice of Jesus beckoning and calling unto him to follow Him. The journey which the apostle Peter took to becoming a might apostle of Jesus Christ began with forsaking and leaving everything he had known, and everything he had, in order that he might follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In all reality, I am convinced that this is how every journey begins with the Lord—not only as we seek to become disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, but also as we seek to become friends of the living God. I can’t help but be reminded of the account of Abraham when he was called out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Consider if you will the words which Moses records for us in the twelfth chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis beginning with the first verse of the twelfth chapter: “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was sent and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south” (Genesis 12:1-9).
This journey of following Jesus Christ and this journey of becoming a friend of God begins with making the conscious decision to leave everything we have known, everything we have been comfortable with, everything we have been familiar with, everything we have sought to hold on to, and to deliberately and intentionally follow after Jesus with everything we have. What’s more, is that it requires us to put our hand to the plow and to not turn back, and to not look back, and to not return to and from the way and place were have come from. I am reminded of the words which the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews—words which are recorded for us in the eleventh chapter of the epistle: “These all died in faith, not having received, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16). This reality is echoed even further in the ninth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Luke beginning with the fifty-seventh verse. Within this passage we find certain individuals seeking to come unto Jesus, and even declaring unto Him that they would follow after Him. What marks this particular passage as so incredibly interesting is when you consider that certain of these individuals—while they came unto Jesus declaring and professing unto Him a desire to follow after Him—had an excuse for what they needed to do before they could actually follow Jesus. Consider if you will the words which Luke records concerning this particular encounter between Jesus and these various individuals:
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto Him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nexts; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).
Within this passage we find Jesus emphatically declaring unto that one who came unto Him declaring they would follow after Him that no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God. Please don’t miss that which Jesus Christ was declaring in this passage, for Jesus was emphatically declaring—not only unto this particular individual, but also unto all those who were present on that day, and even all who would seek to follow Him throughout the ages—that no man who sets their hand to the plough, or made the decision to follow after Him, and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. These words directly correspond—not only to that which we find in the eleventh chapter of the New Testament epistle written unto the Hebrews, but also that which we find in the opening verses of the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote. You will notice in the eleventh chapter of the epistle written unto the Hebrews that the author declared that if “truly, they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15). Only two verses before this the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews declared that all those who they had just mentioned “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). You will notice in the first verse of the first chapter of the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote that immediately after he spoke of himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he then acknowledged and revealed those to whom he was writing—“to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). When the apostle Peter set out to write his first epistle, he sought out to write to those strangers who were scattered abroad—those who were sojourners within and upon the earth. Those whom the apostle Peter wrote were those who were like him—those who recognized and understood that they were merely strangers and pilgrims within and upon the earth. These to whom the apostle Peter were writing were those who had their citizenship in heaven, and those who treated and regarded the earth as nothing more than a temporary environment they were stewards in before they finally arrived to where they truly and actually belonged—the kingdom of heaven where the Heavenly Father, the eternal Son, the eternal Spirit, the great cloud of witnesses, and the myriads upon myriads of angels For the apostle Peter, he forsook everything he had to follow Jesus Christ, for he regarded himself as a stranger and pilgrim in the earth—as one whose home was not the earth, but whose heart and home was found in heaven. Consider the words which our Lord spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, the light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:19-23).
If you continue reading the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote unto the strangers which were scattered abroad you will find in the second chapter his again writing and mentioning the saints as strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Beginning with the ninth verse of the second chapter of this epistle we find the following words written by the apostle: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are not the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:9-12). The apostle Paul also wrote similar words when writing unto the Ephesian congregation, for in the second chapter of this epistle we find the following words: “For though Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner strong; in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18-22). It’s worth noting and pointing out the words which the apostle Peter wrote in the first epistle and in the second chapter, for he directly connects and links the concept of being strangers and pilgrims in the earth to abstinence from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. What’s more, is that the apostle Peter directly links our being strangers and pilgrims in the earth to having our conversation honest among the Gentiles, in order that we might have a wonderful and powerful testimony in the earth. It’s necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to these words, for within this passage of Scripture we find that it is only when we consider ourselves as strangers and pilgrims within the earth that we can truly Alastair from fleshly lusts. The reason for this is actually quite simple, for if we truly are strangers and pilgrims in the earth, then that not only means that we have no treasure in the earth, but it also means that there is nothing in this world that has any appeal to us. I am utterly and completely convinced that there is a great need for us to once more consider and count ourselves as strangers and pilgrims in the earth, for by doing so, we not only acknowledge that this world is not our home, but we also position ourselves in the place where we can truly deny ourselves and take up our cross as we follow Jesus Christ. I would dare say that only strangers and pilgrims can truly deny themselves and take up their cross, for only those who regard this earth as having nothing for them, and only those who regard this earth as not being their home can truly walk in the fulness of the reality of abstaining from fleshly lusts, and can have their conversation honest among the Gentiles. Oh that we would read the words which the apostle Peter wrote in the first two verses of the first chapter of this first epistle, and that we would recognize that the path to true transformation begins with our making the conscious decision to abandon and forsake everything, to follow after Jesus Christ, and to live our lives as strangers and pilgrims in the earth—those whose treasure is not here within and upon the earth, but those whose treasure is found in heaven. In other words, only heavenly and the joys and treasures of heaven can satisfy us, for there is nothing in this world that has the ability to satisfy the true and intense longings of our heart and soul.