Peter’s letter to the Christians of Asia Minor was almost certainly sent from Rome where the Apostle’s life ended. He probably died a martyr and there are strong historical reasons to believe that his tomb in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is authentic.
How do we sum up this man? Well, dull, he wasn’t! He was passionate, loyal, impulsive and human like us. We can take heart from Peter’s experience. Failure need not be final. God’s grace can triumph over human weakness. Peter denied Jesus three times, but after Pentecost his witness to the risen Christ was outstanding and he became the rock on which Christ built his Church. Today 2000 years later we can all be on the Kingdom Road.
It seems that the Christians in Asia Minor were experiencing persecution for their faith. The same is still happening in many countries across the world. It can be dangerous to worship Christ as Lord. Our next song suggests how we might respond when our faith is tested: ‘Your faith is precious, more precious than gold. When it is tested, rejoice and be bold’. What an encouragement and challenge.
Peter seemed to have a special concern for the Christians of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. In a letter to them, he encouraged them to persevere in their faith, building their lives on the foundation stone of Jesus. These words are an invitation to us today.
Having originally restricted their preaching to Jews, Church leaders gradually won more and more converts among people of other races. But some Jewish Christians taught these gentile believers that they needed to keep the whole of the Jewish law as well as following Christ. Even Peter, who had been mixing freely with these Gentile Christians, withdrew his fellowship from them. Saint Paul, who had seen many people of other races come to faith, roundly rebuked him for this.
A meeting of the Church was called in Jerusalem to resolve the issue and Peter was a key witness. He told them about the conversion of Cornelius and urged the acceptance of gentiles as they were. The decision was made only to expect a few basic tenets of the Jewish Law to be kept.
Our next song expresses the spirit of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles which Peter promoted. Throughout the ages, Christ has broken down the barriers between people of different races and backgrounds.
The persecution of the Church continued with King Herod having James, the brother of John, executed. Peter was arrested and thrown into jail. In our next song Peter tells the disciples how he was miraculously rescued.
The religious leaders forbade Peter and John to speak about Jesus, but they continued to do so despite being put into prison and receiving a flogging. Stephen, one of the newly appointed leaders in the Early Church, was stoned to death. This was followed by a more general persecution, which led to many believers leaving Jerusalem.
The Gospel was preached in Samaria and many responded. The Church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria. They laid hands on the new believers who then received the Holy Spirit.
While staying in the coastal town of Joppa, Peter had a life-changing experience. He came to see that the Gentiles, whom Jews considered unclean, were welcomed by God when they turned to Christ. Let’s hear this story of Peter’s encounter with a Roman soldier, Cornelius.
The day of Pentecost was followed by a time of great joy, when the believers shared their goods, met together for fellowship and prayer and witnessed miracles being performed by the apostles. Our next song describes one of these miracles and the opposition of the religious leaders.
When the disciples received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, they praised God so loudly that some people thought they were drunk. Peter addressed the crowd, pointing out that it was unlikely that they were drunk at nine o’clock in the morning! Instead this was a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy that God would pour out his Sprit on everyone. He went on to link the gift of the Holy Spirit with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The crowd accepted their responsibility for handing over Jesus to the Romans and Peter reassured them that they could be forgiven, baptised and receive the Holy Spirit for themselves. Three thousand people accepted this offer and joined the Church. Listen to the words of the next song and you will discover how important the Spirit of God is in the lives of Christians.
The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament gives a vivid account of the life of the Early Church after Jesus had ascended into heaven.
Peter quickly assumed a leadership role. He instigated the election of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle. He was present with the other disciples on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended in wind and fire. Our next song describes four stories, two from the Old Testament and two from the New, when the Spirit of God had a transformational effect.
When Jesus ascended to his Father in Heaven, the joy of the resurrection stayed with the disciples. We are told that they frequently visited the Temple and were full of praise for God. They may well have used the words of Psalm 100, which was sung by worshippers attending the Temple. We invite you to join in as we sing a setting of this psalm.