Joining the Unashamed
1 Peter 1:3-9
Dr. Jim Denison
There is a Fifth Great Awakening sweeping the nations in these days. More people are coming to faith in Christ every day than ever before. David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia documents 82,000 new Christians every day. More Muslims are becoming Christians than ever before, many of them after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. This movement is touching the globe.
It started in South Korea after the devastation of the Korean conflict. Today that nation is one-third to one-half born-again Christian; five of the ten largest churches on earth are in South Korea. Last year the Koreans sent more missionaries into the world than America did.
There is a worship movement in Australia, a Pentecostal movement in Central and South America, a tribal movement in sub-Saharan Africa. As many as 100,000 people come to Christ each day in the underground church movement of China. China is now the largest Christian nation on earth.
In Cuba, a million people have come to Christ in the last ten years. I have preached there seven times, and am amazed each time at what God is doing on the island. My last time there, last fall, we saw 330 people make public professions of faith on the Sunday morning I preached. Not because of me—the day before, 294 Cubans knocked on 1050 doors and shared the gospel with 5,000 people. As a result, 330 made a public commitment to Christ in a church which is four feet from the Communist headquarters.
God is at work in these days. But of the 82,000 Barrett documents as coming to Christ every day, only 6,000 are in Europe and North America, combined. How can we join the Fifth Great Awakening? How can we experience the power, peace, and purpose of Jesus as they are experiencing his grace and joy? How can we join the Fifth Great Awakening? By experiencing the First Great Awakening.
This Easter I wanted to bring a message I’d never preached before. For 25 years as a pastor I preached each year on Easter, of course. I didn’t want to rerun one of those messages. As Janet and I were talking about this service, I was drawn to a passage I’ve never preached before in all my ministry, much less on Easter. But I believe it is God’s word for you and me this morning.
Our author is “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1). When you think of Peter, what images come to mind? A Galilean fisherman, eking out a living with his fishing line, a peasant fisherman struggling to get by? That’s how many people see him.
One of the activities of our ministry is to lead study tours of biblical lands. A month ago I was back in Israel. One day we visited the ruins of Capernaum, the village where Peter lived when he met Jesus. We went to the house which 20 centuries of tradition has marked as that of Peter. It is the largest house yet discovered in the entire area, and is located closer to the Sea of Galilee than any other.
We know that Peter and Andrew, James and John operated a fishing consortium. They had many boats and hired servants. They exported fish across all of Israel, even to the palace of the High Priest himself. And Peter was the CEO of their company, living in the largest house in Galilee, on the lake. If he were alive today, he would fit right in with us.
He turned from his business to follow Jesus, when his Lord called him to “fish for men.” Peter is named first in every list of apostles in the New Testament. He was the first to call Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”; in reply, Jesus told him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not withstand its assault” (Matthew 16). Peter was the one disciple willing to get out of the boat to walk on the water to his Lord. He was with him on the Mt. of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
But when Jesus needed him most, Peter failed his Lord. He denied knowing him three times. He fled his cross, and went back to his fishing business. But Jesus didn’t give up on Peter. He came back to Capernaum, to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter recognized him, jumped from his boat and swam to him. Jesus forgave him and restored him and called him to “feed my sheep.”
This Peter would do for the rest of his life.
He was with Jesus at his ascension, and with the disciples in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit filled them on the day of Pentecost. He preached the Pentecost sermon which led 3,000 to Christ and birthed the church. He testified for his Lord before the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court which had sentenced Jesus to die and could do the same to him.
He was used by God to raise Dorcas from the dead, to welcome Cornelius and the Gentiles into the church, and to pastor the great church at Rome. When Nero called him to renounce Jesus or be crucified, Peter asked that he might be nailed to the cross upside down, since he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as did his Lord.
What made the difference? What turned Peter from a coward who denied knowing Christ to one of the boldest preachers and missionaries in history? Easter. Easter changed Peter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changed this man, and sparked in and through him the first Great Awakening, a movement which has swept the nations and is now embraced by two billion people on earth. Easter happened.
Peter wrote his letter to Jewish Christians scattered across the Roman Empire. Here’s what he says to them about the One whose resurrection we celebrate today.