Scripture: 1 Peter 2:1-10
Do you know the difference between dogs and cats during this pandemic? Dogs are happy because their best friends have finally quit their jobs in order to stay home and play with them all the time. Cats are happy because their servants are finally working for them all the time.
I love my cat and dogs. If we’ve learned anything about our dog Ringo over these past two months, it’s that he loves tennis balls. He absolutely can’t get enough of them. He simply never gets tired of having you throw a tennis ball in the yard for him. It’s his favorite thing in the world!
And you say, “Oh, he likes to play fetch,” but that’s not quite right… Because “fetch” implies that when you throw the ball he brings it back to you, so you can throw it again… He doesn’t quite do that. He brings the ball back, but when you reach for it, he backs his head away. If you want to come train him, feel free! Because he literally wants to have his ball and chase it, too—if you know what I mean.
But as much as he loves having the tennis ball in his mouth, if you ignore him long enough and don’t take the ball out of his mouth and throw it, he will… eventually… drop the ball and then nuzzle it against your foot… to let you know that, once again, it’s time to throw him the ball.
But my point is, this dog loves tennis balls more than anything. He craves playing with tennis balls. And the good news is that we humans have the ability to satisfy this deep desire within him.
I bring this up because, believe it or not, Peter says something similar about our relationship with God in verses 2 and 3. Remember last week Peter talked about how we are “born again” if we’re in Christ? Peter continues with this image of new birth. Look at verses 2 and 3: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” In Greek, the expression “spiritual milk” literally means “the milk of the word.” The word is God’s Word, the Bible. So Peter is saying that the main thing that’s required for us Christians to survive and thrive in our faith is hearing, reading, studying, meditating upon God’s Word.
Make no mistake: Elsewhere in the Bible the apostles talk about some Christians needing “milk,” instead of solid food—that those Christians who need “milk” are spiritually immature. But that’s not Peter’s point here. No, Peter is saying that all of us Christians, whether we’re new to the faith or we’ve been Christians for a long time—every single one of us needs the milk of God’s Word to nourish us and sustain us! And we should be like newborn babies in craving it; in demanding it—and in refusing to be satisfied with anything else until we get it!
In one of his books, pastor Tim Keller wrote about his experience of being diagnosed with cancer. Up to that point in his life, he confessed that his prayer life wasn’t as strong as it should have been—that’s a bold admission for a very successful megachurch pastor. But as some of you know from personal experience, nothing kick-starts a vibrant prayer life like being diagnosed with cancer or some other life-threatening disease. I suspect some of us have been praying more right now, during this pandemic, than we did before! Anyway, Tim’s wife, Kathy, insisted that the two of them would pray together every night before bed. She told him this:
Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.
I believe in today’s scripture Peter is telling us something similar about God’s Word: Spiritually speaking, like a life-saving medicine we will die if we don’t take it. Like a newborn baby, we will starve to death without it! Now, I’m not interested in pitting God’s Word against prayer—you know, and asking, “Which one is more important? If you’re a Christian, you can’t have one without the other! We speak to God through prayer. But the number one way that God speaks to us—the way that we listen to a God—is through this book. Whether by reading it and studying it ourselves, or through Bible study, or through sermons, or through singing the Bible-based words of hymns and Christian songs, we encounter Jesus through this book! The Lord guides us through this book! The Lord teaches us through this book. The Lord corrects us through this book. He comforts us, encourages us, strengthens us, convicts us, gives us direction through this book.
Are we treating it like it’s life-saving medicine—like it’s what we need for our very survival? Or not?
In Revelation chapter 2, Jesus speaks a word to the church at Ephesus. He commends them for the good and faithful work they’ve done. But in verse 4 he says, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first”—in other words, the love they had for Jesus when they were first born again.
I can relate! I became a Christian when I was 14. And the Lord really got a hold of me: I responded to an altar call; I prayed a prayer of repentance and confession—asking Jesus into my heart. And I experienced the Holy Spirit. It was real to me. I was excited. I got baptized. I told friends and acquaintances at school what happened to me. I wanted everyone to know about Christ. I was on fire! I had a zeal for the Lord. I was in love with the Lord!
And some time around then I got an NIV Study Bible. It was a wonderful resource for understanding what God’s Word is saying. It’s been updated since then, and there are plenty of good study Bibles out there, but I think this NIV Bible was the first of its kind. Anyway, I loved it. I devoured it. So much so that within a couple of years, I had literally worn it out. The cover had fallen off, pages were crumpled and torn; it was all marked up.
So just before I went off to college, I replaced it with a new copy—a nicer copy. Leather-bound. My name engraved on the front. I took it with me when I went off to college at Georgia Tech—prepared to turn that campus upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And, well… I never needed to buy a replacement copy for that study Bible. Sadly, that Bible made it through my four years of college unscathed… Because I got busy with other things; distracted by school, by the pressure to fit in, the pressure to succeed in a worldly sort of way, the pressure to find a good job… the pressure, eventually, to be a good husband and then father. Before long, I realized I wasn’t feeding on the “pure spiritual milk” anymore. And this lasted for years. Until, at a low point in my life, the Lord showed me that I was not taking his Word seriously. And, thank God, he gave me the grace to change.
And I thought I would give you some evidence of this change… I got this Bible, an ESV Study Bible, about seven years ago, and just look at it! The cover has fallen off… I’ve taped it back on a few times. Pages have fallen out; a friend taped them back in. This is a Bible I’ve used literally every day since 2013. I’ll eventually get it rebound and repaired.
So what changed in my life?
Well, look at the language in today’s scripture: “long for the pure spiritual milk”; “taste that the Lord is good.” You can’t fake longing for something. Either you long for it or you don’t. You can’t fake something tasting good to us. Either it tastes good or it doesn’t!
You see, during that season in my life when I was far away from God’s Word, I thought of reading the Bible and studying it as something that I had to force myself to do by sheer willpower… It was my duty as a Christian… and nothing more.
Needless to say, Peter is not talking about something you have to force yourself to do; he isn’t talking about duty; he isn’t talking about willpower.
He’s talking about—get this… he’s talking about something that brings us pleasure, something that makes us deeply happy, something that satisfies our soul’s deepest longings. And when I flip through the Bible, I see these promises of pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction everywhere!
In [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1.
Or how about Jesus’ words: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44. Or Paul’s words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4.
Brothers and sisters, this is language of joy and lasting happiness and satisfaction of your deepest longings. It’s available to us, and it’s free, and it’s the pure spiritual milk that you find right here in this book! Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. King David doesn’t say, “Think it though; reason it though; apply logic to the problem until it all makes sense.” No… experience it for yourself… and once you experience the kind of pleasure that comes from the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word, you won’t settle for lesser pleasures!
Okay, but hold on… Does the “pure spiritual milk of God’s Word” really satisfy us in the middle of a pandemic?
Just yesterday I saw some scary headlines related to Governor Kemp’s decision to open Georgia businesses back up. I mean, listen to some of these: “New Model Shows How Deadly Lifting Georgia’s Lockdown May Be.” “Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi are veering toward a terrifyingly premature end to their COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a new pandemic analysis.” One article cites epidemiologists and computer scientists at MIT and Harvard.
I’m not saying that these “worst case scenarios” are going to come to pass. I pray that we’ll be okay. But these headlines sound scary, you’ve got to admit.
But then I think of Peter… He was with his fellow disciples during a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee one night. Listen to the way Matthew describes it:
[T]he boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.
And maybe you remember what happens next? Peter summons the courage to ask if Jesus will command him to walk on the water out to him. And Jesus agrees. He tells him to come. And Peter takes a few brave steps out to him. Jesus, please notice, doesn’t calm the storm before Peter starts walking toward him; Peter walks on the water when the wind and waves are still fearsome. And Peter notices the wind and waves… And what happens? He becomes afraid and starts to sink. And Jesus of course is right there to pull him up out of the water to the safety of the boat. And Jesus stills the wind, calms the storm, and brings peace.
Listen, when we read these headlines about the deadly effects of this virus, or the devastating effects on our economy that this virus is having, it’s very possible that we are like Peter: “He was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” But when we long for and receive the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word, we hear the next verse: “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
And suddenly Jesus isn’t just talking to Peter 2,000 years ago… he’s talking to us; he’s talking to you and me. O you of little faith, why did you doubt? “Didn’t you know I was right here the whole time? Didn’t you know I never left you? Didn’t you know I stood ready to pull you up? I know how scary and out of control everything appears. But I’m not scared and out of control. I’m not going to let you drown.”
That kind of pure spiritual milk tastes good! And that’s exactly what I need to sustain me during a time like this!
How about you?