Saturday 18th May: Acts 14.19-26; Psalm 31.1-5

Fifth Sunday in Easter: 19th May                                                                                     Morning Prayer: Matthew 5.1-12; Psalm 119.105-112                                                       Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 4.12-19; Psalm 5.1-7

Getting back to fundamentals: The Beatitudes

The grandeur of the cathedral set my mind to ponder on where it had all gone wrong.   As I looked round at the high archways, massive pillars and marble steps, it came to me that the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 had failed to register as a prophecy of key significance in the establishment of the church. Human pride overcame an ethos of love and turned it into imperialism: the pursuit of power, prestige and wealth. Had Jesus not prophesied the event? (Mark 13.2). And had he not revealed himself as the sanctuary that would replace the Temple? (John 2.19-22).

In Christ, priesthood, sanctuary and sacrifice are interwoven because, as Messiah and Son of God, he is effectively heaven come down to earth, the Word made flesh (John 1.1-5). The Temple was a symbol of holiness and the spiritual centre of Judaism. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of holiness and the absolute centre of our faith.

As High Priest, Jesus is our only mediator, for he has gone ahead into the heavenly sanctuary and is seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16.19; Hebrews 8.25; 1 Timothy 2.5). There is no requirement for a caste of priests to serve as additional intermediaries. The Temple priests are now superceded by one who has in his own person undergone the perfect sacrifice and entered the sanctuary of heaven where he administers judge-ment (John 5.22-27; 2 Corinthians 5.10).

As sanctuary, Jesus functions in two ways. Firstly, as the focus of our worship, just as the inner sanctum of the Temple served as the Holy of Holies, except that we can freely approach Christ in prayer and adoration, whereas the sanctuary of the Temple could only be entered by the High Priest on rare occasions. Secondly, Jesus is the fount of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent in his name (John 14.26). As the sanctuary of the Spirit he frees us from the letter of the Law because he is the very Word of God (John 1.14). He is the synthesis of God. The Law is replaced by the Word dwelling in our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ summarises the Law as love of God and love of neighbour (Luke 10.25-37).

As sacrifice, Jesus has entered the sanctuary with his own blood, having redeemed mankind. As the sinless one, he is the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 7.26; 9.12-14; 1 John 5.5-8). This sacrifice was a once-and-for-all event. It is memorialised to recall the agony of the Cross by which mankind was freed from slavery to sin (Matthew 26.26-28). The Last Supper is a fellowship meal, the breaking of bread, not a ritualised separation of clergy and laity. In the early church the meal was a joyous affair celebrating the resurrection, later changed to a solemn ritual recalling the crucifixion. Sacrifice is now spiritual, one of self-denial and self-sacrifice, not the liturgy of the altar (1 Peter 2.4-5).

The New Covenant, wrought in Christ’s blood, is a new era. It is not Judaism in another form. The Christian faith was nurtured in Judaism but emerged from it as a religion in its own right, and this began early on (Acts 2.1-47; 10.34-38; 13.26-49; 15.1-29; 16.5). Sanctuaries, altars, sacrifices and priests are redolent of the Temple. They have no place in Christianity which is built on an ethos of love, for God is love. God sent his Son to teach us a new Way, the refreshment of new wine poured from new wineskins (Luke 5.37-39). The theme of renewal runs through the New Testament. Our old nature was crucified with Christ (Romans 6.6), our new nature is created by Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17) and sustained by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.1-11).

The teachings of Christ are radically new because they draw us away from legalism towards self-giving love. Humanity is restored by a reoriented faith in God through Christ. In the power of the Holy Spirit we become a priesthood mediating Christ (1 Peter 2.9-10), not in an ecclesiastical sense but as disciples ministering in his name, using spiritual gifts which he has bestowed on us (Ephesians 4.11-13).

The Christian ethos is captured beautifully in the Beatitudes which serve as a prelude to the greatest of all Christ’s discourses, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7). Everything we do in his name brings a blessing, by exuding the highest attainments of the human spirit: humility, gentleness, justice, mercy, purity of heart, peace, courage in the face of persecution. None of these qualities can be achieved without the infusion of God’s grace and our unswerving trust in his power. Christ demonstrated the Beatitudes in his life and ministry, and ultimately in submitting himself to sacrifice on the Cross. Through the Cross and resurrection Christ triumphed over death and evil, and salvation to eternal life is promised to those who follow him (John 14.1-6).

Suggested further reading: Matthew 5 to 7; Romans 8.18-39; 2 Peter 1.1-18

Monday 20th May: Acts 15.1-21; Psalm 102.12-17

Tuesday 21st May: Acts 15.22-35; Psalm 92.1-2, 12-15

Wednesday 22nd May: Acts 15.36 – 16.10; Psalm 18.28-32, 35-36

Thursday 23rd May: Acts 16.11-40; Psalm 34.15-20

Friday 24th May: Acts 17.1-15; Psalm 64.1-9

Saturday 25th May: Acts 17.16-34; Psalm 115.1-8, 16-18

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Welcome to the Fellowship of St. Peter

The aim of FSP is to promote Christian faith and spirituality.  The central focus is on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christianity in the modern world

As the number of churchgoers dwindle in the western world, orthodox Christians need to overcome their differences and consider a form of unity that recognises their common purpose.  It’s time for the faithful remnant to act as a creative minority and formulate a unified response.  The goal must be to preserve the orthodoxy of the faith in the face of the continuing erosion of religious liberty in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity.

The Fellowship extends a hand of friendship to those who have withdrawn from churches which have aligned themselves with secularism and liberal values, thus fatally compromising the integrity of a faith that is essentially counter-cultural.

We must read the signs of the times.  The era is drawing to a close.  It is time to stand up and be counted as the people of God.  Do not be afraid.  The gathering darkness will not enshroud the light of faith nor quench the flame of truth.  These will remain, along with all those whose steadfast faith shields them in the coming storm.

‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28.20).

The word of God

The word of God is a powerful force for enlightenment, a necessary counterweight to secular humanism.  The Fellowship seeks to recapture something of the simplicity and vitality of the church in apostolic times, before the purity of the Christian message was corrupted by spurious doctrines.  The emphasis is on spirituality that supports the life and ministry of Christians everywhere, regardless of denomination.

The Bible speaks to the world.  All Christians have something of interest and value to share through their witness.  The aim of the Fellowship is to promote prayer, Bible study and spiritual reflection which will bear fruit in daily lives.  These disciplines can form the basis of a Rule of Life that requires a strategic withdrawal from the mainstream.

Let the word of God fill your hearts and minds, let it guide and inspire you and refresh you like a clear mountain stream.  Be still with God in prayer.  Be an instrument of his loving purposes, a purveyor of peace, and let your peace rest on all those you encounter, especially those in need of compassion and healing.  Heed their cares and bind their wounds.  Live in uprightness and modesty and exercise restraint in your material needs.  Guard your tongue, practise discretion, speak only words of counsel and encouragement, the words of Christ.

Your eyes, hands and impulses should be those of Christ.  Pray always for strength and enlightenment.  Praise and thank God and place into his care your needs and those of others.

Bible.  Prayer.  Witness.  These are the three principles on which the Fellowship is founded.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from who every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3.14-19).

stpeter

Why Peter?

Peter represents Everyman in all his frailty, vulnerability and confusion.  He was headstrong yet inspired, well-meaning but impetuous.  His heart was in the right place but he didn’t always live up to his own rhetoric.  He triumphed over his weaknesses by the grace of God and saw the perfect vision of Christ and what that vision meant for the church and the world.

Peter was a leading figure during Christ’s walk on earth.  He occupied a position of seniority amongst the disciples.  He was there at all the major events during Christ’s ministry and in the final days leading up to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  It was to Peter and his fellow apostles that Jesus entrusted the legacy of truth enshrined in his teachings, the keys of the kingdom.  After Pentecost Peter and his companions went out to the world to proclaim the Gospel.

Acts of the Apostles.  Peter became a leading light in the early days of the church, the apostle to the Jews living in the diaspora.  His authority in the nascent Christian community has to be viewed against the ascendancy of Paul as apostle to the Gentiles, a position that gave Paul equal authority in the direction of missionary work.

In terms of Peter’s primacy of leadership, however, “….one should not look in Peter or in the primitive church for the developed conception of the primacy which appears no earlier than the third century.  The development of power possessed by the church and by Peter into monarchical leadership lies outside of biblical theology.” (John McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible)

The Gospel of Mark.  The church historian Eusebius (d. ca. 339) wrote: “Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord.  For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers.” (Recommended reading: Meeting God in Mark, by Rowan Williams (SPCK, 2014)).

1 and 2 Peter.  Of the two letters that bear Peter’s name, the first seeks to encourage and strengthen early Christian communities suffering persecution, reminding them of their heritage.  The second has more to do with the dangers of heresy and how Christians can have confidence in the truth of Scripture.  These encouragements and warnings resonate with us living in times of moral decline and religious indifference.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Peter 1.3-5).

Peter was martyred in Rome during the Neronian persecutions, probably in the year 64.

Jerusalem Cross

There are various interpretations of the symbolism.  The four smaller crosses are thought to denote either the four gospels or the way the Gospel spread to the four corners of the earth.  In terms of God’s revelation and world history, the city of Jerusalem is of huge political, religious and symbolic importance.  The focus is highlighted in the gospels and in the emergence of the first Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles.  It was from Jerusalem that the apostles scattered to proclaim Christ

Bible translations used

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Quotations marked NJB are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1985 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
In both the Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, FSP renders ‘Yahweh’ as ‘Lord’.
Quotations marked ESV are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers, copyright 2001 Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The spiritual life

We must keep the Bible open before us.  It is our enlightenment, our source of consolation, our prayer book.  It contains the revelation of God’s purposes in salvation history.  It is the well-spring of all the truth, goodness and wisdom that God wishes to transmit to human beings who he ordained to administer the complexities of the natural world and to carry forward knowledge of salvation history with its outcome in the incarnation of Christ.

The Lord guides and strengthens us, keeping us firmly rooted in the faith. Throughout all the trials we endure in this troubled world, Christ is with us.  The word of God inspires us in various ways, and through the Holy Spirit we gain knowledge, wisdom and discernment, maturing in the faith as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Remain within the confines of God’s kingdom.  Stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to salvation.  Do not look with longing towards the sunlit hills at every temptation. Too many have trodden the path to destruction, too many have fallen by the wayside.

The Christian life is about being transformed by Christ, being absorbed by him so that his teachings and his very presence guide our every motivation and action.  Christ’s love is mediated through us in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We follow the leadings of the Spirit in order to renew and deepen our faith.

There is a wonderful symmetry involved in the divine-human relationship.  Christ, the sinless one, is the embodiment of human perfection.  Through his very nature as Son of God he brought mankind nearer to the Father.  Through Christ, God shared in our humanity and he also made it possible for us to share in his divinity.  Christ underwent the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile man to his creator, making it possible for God’s plan of salvation to be brought to completion, inaugurating a New Covenant with mankind.  We need to keep before us the astounding truth of his victory over evil on the Cross, through which mankind gained forgiveness and the freedom to live the gospel life infused with selfless love (cf 1 Corinthians 13.1-13).

Christ established a new reality, that to be justified by faith is a sacred identity.  We are identified as Christians when we accept and appropriate the fullness of Christ.  This requires a heroic response from human beings because it runs counter to human pride, the instinct for autonomy.  The response must be underpinned by contrition and humility and it is brought to perfection by obedience.  Once we take hold of Christ we become his disciples.  Discipleship is a life-long commitment, a transforming friendship with Jesus. (Luke 9.23-26; John 15.14-17).

Christ’s death and resurrection brings to mankind redemption and salvation to eternal life.  Christ has opened the way for us to follow him to the perfect vision, far superior to the limitations and imperfections of our earthly existence.  To consolidate the New Covenant with man, the Father has sent us the power to sustain us on our journey through the snares and pitfalls of this troubled world.  This power is the Holy Spirit (John 14.16, 26).  Christ’s presence is manifested in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit reminds us of his teachings, works in our conscience when we fail, grants us perception when we read Holy Scripture, inspires us in our prayers and meditations, whispers to us in our silent spaces, strengthens us in times of adversity and provides us with prophetic speech.  The Spirit empowers us in our various ministries and impels us to rise above the banalities and temptations of a world that is hostile to our sacred calling.  (Mark 13.5-13; Romans 12.3-9; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; Ephesians 4.7-13; James 1.16-18, 3.13-18; 1 Peter 3.13-17, 4.7-19).

The worldwide community of faith

Christians across the world have a common purpose: striving to live the Gospel life in the face of widespread indifference or open hostility to the teachings of Christ.  The Christian faith is essentially counter-cultural yet many churches are now aligned with secular humanism, thus inflicting upon themselves the fatal wound of apostasy.  The enemy is no longer at the gates, he is within the citadel.

For our Spirit-filled life to succeed we are to distance ourselves from the corrupt influences of modern culture (1 John 2.15-17, 5.18-20).  There are to be no half measures, no compromise with evil in any of its forms, no accommodation with other religions.  This detachment is crucially important to safeguard the integrity of the Christian faith.  These are perilous times.  Christianity is under assault from atheistic humanism, the dominant force in social and political culture.  Faced with this threat there is to be no weakening on our part.  We are to profess the faith and demonstrate in our lives the true destiny of humankind, the freedom to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  There is no higher ideal for man to attain (cf Mark 12.28-34; Romans 13.8-10).

Discipleship

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) portrays Christ as the new Moses, but he far exceeds all the prophets and patriarchs of old by his uniquely divine provenance and his destiny as Saviour of the world.  He is not only the promised Messiah, he is also Priest, Prophet and King.  His teachings lead us into the Kingdom of God, into a realm of love, creating a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2.1-10).  We yearn for the promised homeland above where our labours will be rewarded by eternal peace (2 Peter 3.8-14).

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) are a concise presentation of the Christian ethos, describing the blessed virtues essential to life in the Spirit.  They are the supreme ethical and moral guide to Christian life and discipleship, illuminating our path in the human maze.  They set out the Christian way of life, lived in response to Christ through faith.  We strive to uphold values intrinsic to human dignity, stable family life and the maintenance of social order: humility, gentleness, compassion, justice, peace, integrity, courage and witness.  All the blessings of the kingdom are encapsulated in the Beatitudes.

Christ came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5.17-19).  The validity of the Ten Commandments remains (Exodus 20.1-17).  In the Beatitudes Christ describes the spirit in which the Commandments are to be lived in both church and society.  They exemplify Christian discipleship.  They are echoes of the divine, revealing Christ in his perfection.  They define the inward motivations of integrity and love that characterise discipleship, as well as the blessed rewards of faithful service in Christ’s name.  Our acts of charity and mercy spring from a heart filled with selfless love founded on the teachings of Christ and energised by the Holy Spirit.

The teachings of Christ are uncompromisingly radical.  They are employed to combat philosophies that erode the dignity of man: consumerism (money and possessions bring happiness); relativism (there is no absolute truth); secularism (a world view without God); existentialism (life has no purpose).  In the midst of these evils the Gospel shines like a beacon of truth.  And through it all we persevere in the name of Christ, despite the difficulties we encounter on our journey of faith (1 Peter 4.12-19).  God will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us in times of adversity (1 Peter 5.10-11).

Our faith is a wonderful gift to possess and convey to others, and discipleship places on us a sacred responsibility.  It is a joy and a holy privilege to walk with Jesus, to be in his loving presence in a life of Christian service (Luke 10.23-24; John 15.1-17; Ephesians 4.7-16).

Further reading

J. Heinrich Arnold   Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind.  Plough Publishing, 2nd edition, 2011.

Steve Chalke & Alan Mann   Different Eyes: the Art of Living Beautifully.  Zondervan, 2010.

Rod Dreher   The Benedict Option: a Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Sentinel, 2017.

Cameron Lee    Unexpected Blessing: Living the Countercultural Reality of the Beatitudes. IVP, 2004.

John Stott    The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living.  IVP, 2010.

John Valentine   Follow Me: Becoming a Liberated Disciple.  IVP, 2009.

 

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