January 8, 2023
The Christian life can be a winding path marked by seasons of doubt, despair, and weakness. Peter’s first letter, written to dispersed believers in what is now Turkey, encouraged readers to stand firm in God’s grace. In this message, Alistair Begg examines the concluding verses of chapter 5, acknowledging that while believers will surely experience suffering in this life, it is God Himself who promises to meet us in our need, restore our brokenness, strengthen us in our weakness, and keep us safe and secure in Him.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter and to chapter 5 and to follow along as I read. The heading in our Bibles is “Shepherd the Flock of God,” and Peter writes, “So”—i.e., in light of the first four chapters—
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
“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 sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, 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.”
I really want just to look at one verse out of the passage that we read in 1 Peter 5. You turn to it as you choose. And really, what I want to do as we come to Communion is essentially pick up from where we left off this morning. Hopefully you remember that we ended by reminding ourselves, or being reminded from the Scriptures, that our security and our safety is to be found in the fact that the God who knows us entirely has come to us in Jesus, who is the great Shepherd of his sheep. And we read this morning, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
And one of Jesus’ sheep was Peter, who wrote this letter and also the second letter. And you know your Bible well enough to know that it was this Peter who, along the pathway of his life, got ahead of his skis, fell on his face, was dreadfully disappointed. Jesus fastened his gaze upon him, and in many ways, Peter must have thought, “My story as a follower of the great Shepherd and the Master of my life has certainly taken a bad turn, if it hasn’t come to a conclusion.”
And then, of course, you remember that amazing period of restoration where, as it’s recorded at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus comes again, and he meets with his followers. And on that occasion, he addresses a question to Peter, asking him—three times, actually, as you will recall, he asks him, “Do you love me?” And Peter answers, “Yes, I do.” And on the third occasion, John says that Peter was actually grieved that he asked him a third time. And Jesus said to him again, “Do you love me?” “Lord,” he says, “you know everything.” Only God knows everything—Messiah, God. “You know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
And so, what happens is the Holy Spirit is poured out, and at the very outset of the birth of the church post-Pentecost, Peter is central to that. He is feeding the sheep by preaching and by teaching and by moving among them. And also, in response to Jesus’ exhortation, he wrote. And we have in the first and second letters the remarks of Peter, and in particular, in this first letter, he essentially provides his readers with a condensed summary of the Christian life.
If you read these five chapters carefully, you will almost sense that you are part and parcel of a discipleship course. He begins so straightforwardly with three things that are true of every Christian: chosen by God the Father, sprinkled by the blood of Jesus, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. To these people who are scattered all over the place, he immediately writes to feed them and to see them grounded in the faith. The people to whom he was writing were dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, as we find in the opening chapter. Largely, they were in modern-day Turkey. And he writes to them recognizing that they were exiles, that they were part of the Dispersion.
And he writes to them in the awareness of the fact that great storms are brewing; trouble is brewing. I take it it’s before Nero. If it had been during Nero, I think he would have mentioned Nero. But it’s somewhere in the early 60s that he’s writing. And he’s writing to remind them of the fact that—and now we get to 5:12—to remind them of the fact “that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” Now, that’s not our verse, but it’s there in verse 12. When he’s finished his thing, he says, “What I’m actually saying to you is this: what I have provided for you is a record of the true grace of God, and make sure you stand firm in it.”
And as he is coming to his close, he has dealt with the issue of humility in verse 6. He has then gone on to address the question of anxiety. You see how pastoral he is in his care? He recognizes that if people get fat heads, then there will be disruption; there will be disunity; there will be chaos. “So let’s have humility amongst one another,” he says. “Let’s be sure that we have given credit where credit is due,” and so on. And then: “I recognize that your anxiety may derail you. You need to know that he cares for you. You’d better be absolutely clear and be sober-minded, because you have an adversary. Who can thwart the Lord Almighty? Well, the devil prowls around, trying to do so.” And so he gives advice there. And then, finally, he comes in verse 10 to this matter of security or safety. And he says, “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.”
It’s really, really helpful to be able to read this and recognize that as we go back into the workaday life of another Monday and whatever this week or these weeks before us will bring, that Peter understood and so his readers understood that their Christian faith did not remove them from the realm of trials, of suffering, of difficulty, of pain, and so on. Because we live in a fallen world. We live in the “not yet” dimension. All that is before us is before us, but it is not immediately experienced by us. And so he commends them, you will notice, to “the God of all grace.” To “the God of all grace”—a grace that can meet every need; a grace that enables us to prevail in every situation. And it is this God, this grace, that is the basis of our safety and our security.
You may say, “Well, how does this take place?” Well, it takes place in the way that God has ordained: that he comes to us in his Word. He comes to us as we gather around his Table. He comes to us in the company of one another as we watch out for one another, as we care for one another, as we pray for one another, as we learn what it is that we’ve been brought into—a great communion of his goodness. And it is the discovery, as well, that in our weakness, we discover that his grace is most obviously present. Now, that, of course, is true of Paul as well. You remember when he is aware of the fact that he has a besetting problem that he can’t get rid of, and then the Lord says to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my [strength] is made perfect in weakness.” And I wouldn’t be at all surprised that some of you tonight feel a peculiar sense of weakness, for all kinds of reasons. And if the Adversary, or the Evil One, has been at your heels or at your mailbox or whatever it might be, you might feel yourself threatened in some way.
So then, let’s take these four verbs here—which is my point—take these four verbs, somewhat repetitive, in order to make one point, essentially, and that is that “the God … who … called you to his eternal glory” will look after you, and you’re safe in him.
The first verb in English is “restore”— katartisei in Greek—and it is an interesting word. Peter knew this word. He knew it—of course he did, or he wouldn’t have used it in this way—but he didn’t know it in this way. He knew it from his fishing. And you will remember at the beginning of the Gospels that Luke records that the nets, after Jesus had told them to put the nets down on the other side of the boat, the “nets were breaking.” That’s in Luke. And in Matthew, when Jesus comes on James and John, the sons of Zebedee, you will remember they were katartisei-ing their nets; they were “mending their nets.” That which was broken they were restoring. It’s the same word that is used in orthopedics of the resetting of a bone: putting things back in position in a way that is whole. It’s the same word that would be used of restoring a vessel that had run aground, had taken on water, was brought back into dry dock in order that it might be fashioned once again and set out onto the sea. I wonder: Have you ever thought about a Sunday like that? That here you come, broken, torn like nets or punctured, as it were, by the vicissitudes of life, and you say, “Lord, I’m just back. Restore me. Restore me.” That’s the thing. He says, “God will do that. He will restore you.”
The second verb is to “confirm.” To “confirm,” or to establish. I’m not going to try and impress you with my limited knowledge of Greek, but it is an interesting word as well. It means to set up, or to fix, or to firmly strengthen, or to set in a firm and fixed position. So if you have come to a night like this, and you feel that you’ve come out of a week where you just haven’t been able to take a stand for anything at all—you’ve been caught here and caught there and blown about and so on—to where shall we look? Well, we look to “the God of all grace.” Peter says, “You can be confident in the security of his provision for you in this way.”
It actually means to support us so that we won’t topple over. So that we won’t topple over. I never found a child that cared about toppling over. Children have an art in toppling over. It’s what they do: they topple over. And they get right back up! That’s right. That’s good. I like it when you write pieces for me. It helps me. Yeah! They topple over, and they get right back up. But we topple over, and we don’t get right back up. I mean, every time someone comes and asks me to take a photograph here, then I have to go down on my haunches, then down onto my posterior, and then slide off so that I can stand up without just toppling over and making a complete fool of myself. Well, where did that come from? Where did that come from? I used to be topple… I could topple over with the best of them! But not now. Some of us in our Christian lives, we’ve begun to topple. “Now unto him who is able to keep you from toppling…” From toppling. Well, the devil would love to get you toppling, falling all over the place, insinuating lies, discouraging you, making you fainthearted, fearful. “The God of all grace.”
Thirdly, he strengthens: to “strengthen.” The prior verb has to do with fixing us so that we won’t topple over. This verb has to do with preventing us from collapsing. From collapsing—which, again, is another thing as you age. When you go to the doctor, you’ve got to be able to stand up out of the chair without using your hands on the arm, right? Like, I mean, who thinks about that when they’re young? “What?” No, but now it’s like, “Oh, I see what he meant, yeah?” See, ’cause these things, whatever they once were, they’re not what they were—and even, in my case, they never were anything to start with. So it is a peculiar challenge.
Think of it spiritually: to prevent us from collapsing. We all know people—sadly, we all know people—who have missed out in their Christian lives because for whatever reason, they collapsed. They fell apart. They were no longer stabilized, no longer steady.
And the last verb is to “establish you.” To “establish you.” To make you steadfast, ground you.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled?
Here is the great stabilizing safety, security, summarizing it in this way: support so that we won’t topple, strength so that we won’t collapse, and a foundation so that we can’t be moved.
Paul wonderfully addresses this in Colossians, where he writes in a similar vein: “He has … reconciled in his body of flesh [each of you] by his death, … to present you holy and blameless and…” Verse 23: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Same emphasis.
And then you will notice in verse 11—this is just an exclamation. It’s a “Whoa!” “To him…” Peter is writing in this way, and then he breaks off, as does Paul in certain places, and he just says, “To him power, dominion, forever!” He can’t help himself.
Let me finish in this way. If you read the text carefully, you will have noticed what I have noticed: that… In fact, if you read it like this, it comes across: if you leave out “who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,” just for a minute. So, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself…” “The God of all grace will himself…” That’s amazing. He’s going to take care of it “himself.” I don’t know how to understand the intervention of God. “Some have entertained angels unawares.” All of us have met Christ in the kindness of others—God himself.
And Peter gets this, doesn’t he? Peter absolutely understands this. And with this I want to finish and bridge our way into Communion. You needn’t turn to any of this, but you will be familiar with it when we go there.
So, the Peter who is giving this great encouragement to be strengthened by the God of all grace is the Peter to whom Jesus is speaking in Luke 22: “‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I[’m] ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’” And I believe he meant it. Don’t you? Jesus says, “‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.’”
“Now … Peter,” Simon, “was standing … warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You[’re] … not [also] one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I[’m] not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off…” So he—I mean, he knew who he was dealing with. And if your next-door neighbor had his ear cut off by somebody, you would be paying attention. “… a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, [said], ‘Did[n’t] I … see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.”
Let’s leave aside “I[’m] going fishing,” and all the disciples going, “Yeah, hey, we’ll go fishing as well. This thing’s over. It’s come to a crashing halt. We gave our lives for nothing. Look at where it’s ended.” And then somebody said, “Look! It’s the Lord who’s walking out to us here.” And “when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.”
Now, if you’ve been doing Murray M’Cheyne, you read the end of John at the end of the year. And I must confess, I actually sat for a long time with this verse. It made me laugh. I said, “Somebody put this in incorrectly. You don’t put your clothes on to jump in the sea; you take your clothes off to jump in the sea.” No! “When Simon Peter heard … it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” Dress is important: “I’m not going to go and say hello to Jesus in my underwear. I’m going to put my clothes on.”
And if you read the rest of the story, you realize that he then gets to the shore, the others are dragging the boat, and when they finally get up there, it’s breakfast. It’s breakfast, and the chef is Jesus! And when they’d finished the breakfast, Jesus then said, “Do you love me?” And there we have it. And “he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
And we’re still not finished. Because John says, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ [And] when Peter saw him”—that is, John, the writer of the Gospel—“he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about [him]?’” And “Jesus said to him, ‘[Look,] if it[’s] my will that he remain until I come, what[’s] that to you? You follow me!’” “Follow me!”
I hope you’re as encouraged by Peter as I am. I was just upstairs for a little while before, and I went to play the old Gaither song, which I’d like to sing for you now, but in kindness, I’m not going to. But it goes like this:
Something beautiful, something good;
All my confusion he understood;
All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife,
[And] he made something beautiful [out] of my life.
You see, the devil’s going to come and say, “You know, all of that busted brokenness—missteps here, there, and everywhere—that is a disqualifier.” Don’t believe the lie. All the winding path that God has brought you along is in order that you might be the useful person that you are today, so that as you meet strugglers on the sea of life, you don’t have some peculiar, ridiculous story of triumph, but you have a story that says, “He gave me beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning and a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness.” Because he is “the God of all grace.”
Let us pray:
Our Father, we thank you that the testimony of Peter stands the test of time, speaks to our varied lives tonight so that we might look to “the God of all grace,” the one who strengthens us and enables us and keeps us, so that we find our safety there. We recognize that the attacks of the Evil One are real. He would love to get us to despair, to disinterest, disharmony, whatever it might be. And then he would come and tell us, “You know, you should think more about yourself. You’re really quite a good person. Why don’t you bolster yourself up?” Help us to do exactly what Peter did and put our clothes on and go running into the embrace of Jesus. Thank you that even before the throne of Almighty God we have a High Priest who is “touched with the feeling[s] of our infirmities,” and we can safely go to him and be really honest with him. And we pray in his name. Amen.
 John 10:27 (ESV).
 See John 21:15–17.
 John 21:17 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV).
 Luke 5:6 (ESV).
 Matthew 4:21 (ESV).
 Jude 24 (paraphrased).
 “How Firm a Foundation” (1787). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Colossians 1:22–23 (ESV).
 Hebrews 13:2 (KJV).
 Luke 22:31–34 (ESV).
 John 18:25–27 (ESV).
 John 21:3 (ESV).
 John 21:3 (paraphrased).
 John 21:7 (paraphrased).
 John 21:7 (ESV).
 John 21:19 (ESV).
 John 21:20–22 (ESV).
 Gloria Gaither, William J. Gaither, “Something Beautiful” (1971).
 Isaiah 61:3 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 4:15 (KJV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.