Peter’s epistles ring with the words of an eye witness, as well they should. Peter was indeed a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” and now knows himself to be a “partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1). He recognizes that the death and resurrection of Jesus are a model for the lives of believers; he knows firsthand what it means to suffer for our faith.
Perhaps we could be called to die for our faith like so many Christians past and present. Certainly we will occasionally find ourselves scorned and ridiculed, not only by the secular world but also by friends and sometimes by midnight doubt and grief: “fightings and fears within, without” (Charlotte Elliott, “Just as I Am”).
What can calm our fears and give us courage to hold fast to our faith? Hearing Peter’s words helps greatly, for he too knew doubt and fear and guilt– so terrified of crucifixion that he denied knowing Jesus, plunged into utter despair in losing his Lord, and his last memory the sad look Jesus gave him on the way to Calvary. What kept Peter in Jerusalem after Jesus died, when all hope seemed lost and even the possibility of resurrection seemed overshadowed by the terrible thing Peter had done?
I believe it was Peter’s love for Jesus that kept him nearby, a love that Jesus gave him, that Jesus nurtured with constant forgiveness during their time together. It is only love that enables us to endure suffering. In any relationship we know what it is to suffer from worry, self-doubt, and often heartbreak. Friends and family inevitably let us down, yet the more we love them the more we are able to endure.
The same is true for physical pain: from the early Christian martyrs to the German resistance heroes like Bonhoeffer and Moltke, from present prisoners of war to countless more who suffer in the endless ways life presents, it has always been the love of Christ that has given them purpose and enabled them to put their lives into God’s hands. Think of Bonhoeffer’s last words: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”
For a Christian, all suffering is suffering for our faith, for whatever happens it is our trust in God that is being challenged. Suffering for our faith is to suffer with the one who loves us best of all, and so Peter tells us emphatically to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). And it is ALL our anxieties that God wants—when we realize how helpless we are is when relief comes, the relief of giving up.
For Peter that moment came after his denial of Jesus, when he went out and wept bitterly; three days later Jesus rose from death and made sure that the women who met him at the tomb would carry the news to Peter especially! (Mark 16:7)
We too are sustained by the forgiving, all-knowing love of Christ, and we too are called by name when we fail in faith, and suffering overwhelms, and we give it all up to the Lord. Peter heard firsthand God’s words to Jesus on the mountaintop, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Pet. 1:17).
Peter wrote his letters so that we “may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Pet. 1:15). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s memory becomes our memory, “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19), all through the dangerous journey of our lives.