You climb the steps to the great oaken doors of the marble-floored hall. Tall men in spotless uniforms swing the soaring doors open and reveal a long, pillared room. The room is almost entirely empty except for a raised dias at the far end upon which sits a massive throne. The throne is not ornate, but it is made from stone and metal and sits immovable.
Yet you hardly notice the throne because of the imposing figure of the one who sits upon it. His face is steady and his eyes seem to see into every part of the room at the same time. He is robed with a splendid robe and crowned with a golden circlet encrusted with rich jewels. Yet even the clothing and the jewels do not distract from that all-seeing, all-knowing face.
Suddenly you notice that there are others with you, men who visibly tremble as they, and you, approach the throne.
"Stop," says a voice deep and strong. You realize it is the first sound you have noticed since entering the chamber. "You all have broken the law, my law," the king and judge continues. "I know when, and where and why. I know how and with whom. No offense has escaped my notice and no violation will ignored. What have you to say?"
There is a moment of absolute silence, and then men begin speaking all at once. "Surely, when compared to other lawbreakers I am far from the worst?," some beg. Others, though their voices are cracking, are attempting to sound confident and call out, "I haven't broken your law! Not once! Or at least not in any particularly awful way! I am on your side! Are you not impressed with all that I have done for you?!" Some are even listing all the good things they have done and trying to show with symbols and gestures that those good things outnumber any bad.
It is a pointless effort, however. The moment anyone enters the judgment hall of the king, they instantly know that there is no escape. The best rehearsed excuses sound flat and empty even in the ears of the teller. Before this throne one finds only justice.
The king turns his head and looks directly at you. His face changes noticeably. Your mind is full of the many times you have broken his laws. You know your own guilt, and you know your guilt is known. There are no chances of escape even if someone could ever muster the courage to try. The king is obviously waiting for you to speak and so you clear your throat, lift up your eyes to meet his, and speak the first word which had entered your head the first moment you caught sight of him - "Father."
What a dramatic scene. And yet this story only illustrates an even more amazing reality for the believer. As we are going to see this evening, we are woefully unable to please a holy God, and yet we are miraculously redeemed by that same God who has paid an unthinkable price - and not so that we can live carelessly, but so that we would walk before Him fearfully.
An Amazing Reality - 1 Peter 1:17a
Peter here begins with a rhetorical question. In the original it is implied that what he is stating is true.
Have you stopped recently to remember that you refer to the divine judge of the universe as your father?
As Solomon observed, there is a time for everyone to stand before God as judge - Ecclesiastes 3:17.
I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
- God will judge the unrighteous - Revelation 20:11-15
- God will judge the righteous
- 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
- 1 Corinthians 4:3-5
- 2 Corinthians 5:9-10
- God will judge the righteous first! - 1 Peter 4:17
- Through His personal discipline - Hebrews 12:5-11
- Through His church - Matthew 18:15-20
This is the universal reality - all men will be judged. Hebrews 9:27
A special reality for believers, however, is that they can call this great judge their father! Hopefully most of us will not have to stand before an earthly judge. Standing before a judge usually means we are facing some sort of condemnation. However, for the believers Peter is writing to, and for those of us here tonight who are also saved, we can stand before the most terrible and powerful judge in the universe and call Him father.
As Peter wrote these words he likely remembered the day we read of in Luke 11:1-4 when he and the other disciples, as they had done so many times before, watched Jesus pray to His Father. Politely they waited until He finished, and then one of them said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus turned, and in His first sentence taught them two critical lessons about God - He is our father, and He is holy.
Brothers and sisters, we refer to each other thus because we are all children of the same Father. But if we really know who our Father is - we will conduct ourselves in fear.
An Arresting Reminder - 1 Peter 1:17b
Peter's words here may come as something of a shock, and perhaps surprised his readers.
Peter wrote to a group of churches scattered about the area of what is now Turkey. As he wrote the storm clouds of persecution that would break under Nero were forming and fast approaching. Already the believers were undergoing the fires of testing that would purify and bear proof to their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
What could be more comforting than to tell the saints that God was their Father so they could all breathe easy, relax, and stop worrying. Instead he tells them to do exactly the opposite. If you call God your Father, writes Peter, then you had better live in fear! In fact, Peter has been strongly challenging his readers for several verses now.
After encouraging them with the Gospel and reminding them of the glories awaiting those who faithfully endure, Peter moves immediately to a serious exhortation.
1 Peter 1:13-16.
If holiness is our standard, and God is our judge, then we must walk carefully.
The word here usually translated "conduct yourselves" has the idea of turning yourselves every which way. It came to mean a person's behavior and their actions. No matter which way you are facing, no matter which way you are going, in every part of your life you are to live in fear - this is Peter's message.
And what does Peter mean by fear? The word for fear here usually means, get ready for it, fear.
It is used to the fear the disciples felt when saw Jesus walking on water and thought he was a ghost - Matthew 14:26
It is also used of the sense of awe people experience when they witness miracles - Luke 1:65; 2:9
It can also refer to an appreciation of power and authority and the required respect and submission that authority deserves - Romans 13:7
So in what sense are we to understand our fear of God? How about all three!
We serve the God whose holy wrath has destroyed the entire earth through a flood, has allowed the devastation and exile of His own people, and who will destroy the entire planet again in the future through fire because of His hatred of sin. As we have already seen, His discipline extends to His children, so there should be a healthy fear of discipline in the heart of every child of God. Also, we recognize the amazing things that our God has done, from speaking the universe into existence to orchestrating every detail of that universe right down to knowing every hair on each of our heads. We should always have a sense of awe and amazement that takes our breath away when we think of God. Lastly, God is the supreme judge. He is the ultimate source of all authority. He holds the highest office and wields surpreme might. He deserves and commands absolute obedience and submission. We respect and reverence Him because of who He is.
Bottom line - we worship Him. Worship has been defined by some as recognizing the worth of God. It is a lifestyle of ascribing to God what He is due. I would emphasize that proper worship does not only depend on a proper view of God, but it also depends on a proper view of self. The difference between the saint and Satan is not primarily in how they understand the character of God. It could be argued that Satan's knowledge of God, in some senses, outstrips even that of the most earnest believer. Where the difference is the most profound, however, is in how they view themselves. A devil thinks himself to be like God - a saint, recognizing his true condition before God, knows that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).
Thus, to fear God is of the essence of our worship of God. Fearing God flows from recognizing both the true nature of God and man. With every step we take we step in fear, awe and reverence.
Notice, however, that there is a limit to the length of this fear. We fear during the time of our stay on earth. Literally this could be translated, "during the time of our wandering." While treading this fallen world, we walk in fear. But what of that day when our wandering is over?
The Bible tells us of an almost unimaginable reality that awaits us someday:
- 1 John 3:2 - we will be like Him and see Him as He is
- 1 Corinthians 13:12 - now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face and we will know fully
- Ephesians 5:25-27 - Christ loved the church so that the church would be sanctified, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless
There will come a day when we will not only be viewed as righteous legally because of our relationship to Jesus Christ, but we will be perfectly righteous actually because of our resurrection into glorified bodies.
We will never get over our awe and amazement, our reverence and our respect for God. But, there is coming a day when we can stand before Him knowing that His penetrating gaze sees no sin, no blemish, no fault of any kind. There will be no need to fear His discipline!
We see now that there is no ability for us to offer a pure sacrifice of worship to God, and we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to intercede for us so that our offerings to God will be appropriate. However, there will be a day when we can confidently give to God a sacrifice acceptable to Him because it will come from hearts perfected by His grace.
What a day that will be, but we are not there yet. Until then we live in fear, first because we know that God is the judge, but that is not our primary motivation. Our primary motivation comes in the next four verses.
An Awesome Reason - 1 Peter 1:18-21
Peter wants us to live our life of fear primarily motivated by our redemption. He specifically focuses on two aspects of this redemption: (1) the sacrificial price of our redemption, and (2) the sovereign plan of our redemption.
We have often been reminded that what we know and what we do are connected. Paul is often fond of presenting doctrine and then applying that doctrine practically. Peter here presents these two in reverse order, but they are no less connected. "Live in fear," says Peter, "because of what you know." The word "knowing" here is in a tense which speaks of something which has happened in the past but which is affecting the present. What we know to be the truth is to affect what we are doing in the present. Notice also the absence of "feeling." We too often wait until we feel like obeying. Once we know the truth we need to just get to work obeying. This is how the Christian life works. Knowledge must be connected to our will and our mind - causing us to act. If our knowledge is connected instead to our emotions and our "heart," we will live a Christian life of inconsistent or nonexistent obedience.
Our fearful living, then, comes straight from our knowing - and what we know, and what affects us today, is that we have been redeemed.
The Sacrificial Price of Our Redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Redemption is a wonderful word. It means that a price has been paid to ransom something. It is a word only used when a sacrifice has been required to gain something.
Those who call God Father are those who have been redeemed. Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that they must glorify God in their bodies because they have been bought with a price. He tells them not to be enslaved to men for the very same reason just a chapter later in 1 Corinthians 7:23.
This causes us to logically ask two questions: (1) why did I need redemption, and (2) what price was paid for my redemption?
Why I need redemption
The short answer is this - because your life, and my life, is useless. It doesn't matter what you are living for. It could be an early retirement, medicine, saving starving children, piloting a space shuttle, starting your own business. If you are living an un-redeemed life, your life is useless. Why? Because all the living this world has to offer will be useless to you when you stand before the judge. What life can you pursue that will enable you to be holy "like the Holy One who called you (1 Peter 1:15)?"
Human merit - this has always been how men have tried to get ahead. Pull yourself up by your own boot-straps. Reach for the stars. Climb every mountain. Believe in yourself. Chart your own course.
These are the mantras and the ideas we receive from our forefathers, and these are the words that doom us. What value have they to grant us the favor of a wrathful God? None!
What price must we pay, then, to achieve the redemption we so desperately need? What does God require?
The price of redemption
Peter begins by telling us what is unacceptable to God. He refuses all earthly forms of payment. Silver? Gold? Are you kidding? But why not? Why can't God accept a ransom payment in the form of the treasures of this world? To ask this question is to completely underestimate the seriousness of our sin.
We have sinned against a holy God, a sin requiring eternal condemnation as its punishment.
Image a visitor in the Louvre museum in France. Now suppose they came around a corner and saw the Mona Lisa sitting unprotected. What if this visitor then took a cigarette lighter and lit the great masterpiece on fire.
Do you think the managers of the museum would be amused if this visitor took a wrinkled piece of notebook paper out of his pocket, scribbled a smiley face on it with a crayon and handed it to them as payment? They would be angered by his complete mockery of the loss suffered by the arts.
Do we think God is impressed when we try to appease him, the almighty judge, with our petty attempts to do more good things than bad? Will a perfectly righteous judge give us a pardon because we throw what Isaiah calls the filthy rags of our human righteousness at His feet (cf. Isaiah 64:6)?
Will He not be offended? Will He not pronounce upon us the just punishment for our sins? If everything we could offer Him in this world, indeed, even if it were the world itself, cannot purchase our redemption, what can?
The answer is this - the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of Christ is the most valuable form of currency in the universe. It alone can purchase the most priceless of all treasures - redemption.
We hear this a lot, so I want to just state this simply and let it sink in for a moment. God crushed Jesus and let Him bleed out to ransom you and me from those sins we are in love with right now.
If this does not motivate us to walk before God in fear, nothing will. Whenever you come to God in prayer, whenever you experience the favor of God in your life, whenever you look forward to the glories of heave, remember this: I don't deserve to be here. The price is too high, my sin too great.
It is sad that there are those who would look at this great redemption and think, I'm glad I exercised my own free will and helped out with this whole process. You, and I, praise God, had nothing to do with it - and Peter wants to make this clear.
The Sovereign Plan of Our Redemption (1 Peter 1:20-21)
The sacrifice of Christ was not our idea. We were still dead in our sins when Christ died (Ephesians 2:1). No, the idea for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God was formed in the perfect mind of God before He had laid so much as the foundation of the world.
This plan, timeless in origin, came into time during a historical event known as the incarnation. With the birth of Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the plan of redemption was set in motion. Peter reminds us that God sent Christ to us so that we could come to God through Christ.
Not only is Jesus the only way to the Father (John 14:6), but He is power acting to give us belief in God. He is the way and the means.
And He has fully satisfied the Father. The successful accomplishment of the eternal plan of redemption was verified when God raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory. It is all about Jesus. Paul wrote to the Philippians about this very thing in Philippians 2:8-11.
Once again we are forced to stop and declare I do not deserve this. I have no part in this! Our faith and our hope are in God and in Him alone.
This faith is what Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 1:8 when he wrote that even though we have not seen Jesus before, we love Him. And even though we do not see Him now, we believe in Him. Therefore we greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory because the outcome of this faith is the very salvation of our souls.
Faith gives us the courage to endure the storms of our lives today looking ahead with hope to that peaceful harbor we shall find one day in His presence.
If you don't know the judge of the universe as Father, please abandon any hope of ever pleasing God on your own and accept by faith what His Son has already accomplished!
If you do know God as Father, walk in fear.