Tag Archives: peter

How to submit to God when life is hard

12 Jul

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There was Jesus on the worst night of his life, knowing that horror was just hours away.  He is kneeling, praying to God, experiencing human pain and anxiety, wishing like we all do that there might be another way, some escape from suffering.  What do you when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do?

You do what Jesus did.  That’s what Peter teaches next. What did Jesus do?  Let’s find out.  Peter’s third and final illustration of the principle “submit to human created authorities, for God’s sake” is found in in verses 21-25 of 1 Peter 2.

He starts by saying: “To this you were called.”  Called to what?  “Followers of Jesus,” Peter has been declaring through his letter, “you have been saved, you have been reborn into his family.  You citizens of a new nation, God’s nation.  You are his holy, royal priests. You have a totally new identity and responsibility.  To this you were called!”

That means Christians will live in a way that is different.  Christians submit to and respect human authorities, even when those authorities mistreat you.

And look at who Peter brings up as the epitome of this.  Jesus.  That’s what the rest of the chapter is all about.  From the rest of verse 21 through verse 25, Peter is glorying in Jesus.  He says Jesus is our example, and we should follow in his steps!  We can submit our lives for the cause of Christ, because Jesus submitted his life for us.  When faced with the darkest day of his life, though he looked for a way out, he still said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

So I urge you, submit yourselves to God first. Make that your daily priority the moment you wake. Pray: “Lord, I submit my life to you today.  I want to live every waking moment for your sake, for your cause, for your mission, so that as many people as possible that you bring across my path today, even if I am struggling hard, will be pointed to you by my respectful, loving attitude and actions.”

And then every moment throughout the day, live that kind of life, for God’s sake.  Throughout each day, who knows what we will be faced with? Meanness? Unkindness? Difficult situations? How will we react?  Will we take up arms and try to maim and injure and hurt back?  Will we take to social media and try to destroy?  Will we unleash venom from our tongues?

Peter says, “Live good lives.  Be respectful.”  The way of the world is to erupt and rage and react with vengeance.   Peter says that is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.

Stay focused on Jesus, our example.  In the face of intense persecution at his arrest and crucifixion he did not retaliate.  Peter was there!  He saw how Jesus handled it.

Of all people, Jesus had the right to retaliate and call down fire from heaven.  But he did not.

Yes, this is hard teaching to swallow.  Is Peter saying that we should just take abuse if we are being abused?  No!  You have to remember that it was a different cultural situation.  Peter was talking to slaves who were Christians.  Peter was talking to Christians who were being persecuted.  Facing severe bodily mistreatment was a real possibility in their daily lives.  Peter wasn’t saying that the abuse was okay or justified.  Peter was simply speaking to a situation that was their daily reality.

You and I don’t live in that situation.  In our culture, abuse is illegal and wrong, as it should be.  We have legal recourse and means to deal with abuse.  First, get away from it.  Second, take appropriate legal action.  But in the midst of our response to abuse, we can still apply the principle: be respectful and considerate for God’s sake.

Make the mission of the God your priority, even when you are being abused.

This passage also applies in many situations in our daily life when, maybe we are not being abused, but we are being overlooked or treated unkind or unfair.  And in some cases we try to take appropriate measures to address the situation, politely pointing out to a boss, for example, that we have not received a raise, while others have.  What if the boss still denies us the raise?  Peter would say, “handle that situation with the cause of Christ as your guide.  Be respectful.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Stay at that job and be mistreated.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Be a doormat for Jesus.”  He is saying, “Handle yourself with kindness and gentleness.  You represent Christ first and foremost, so represent him well, and it will be especially noticeable how you handle yourself under the pressure of mistreatment.  People will notice!”

But how do we know if we Christians should stop respecting and obeying our government?  What would we do, for example, if America outlawed evangelism like they did in Nepal last year?  What will our Nepalese sister churches do?

I will tell you what we will do, and what our sister churches have already started doing.  We’ll do what Peter said to do: “Obey God rather than men.”  I pray we never have to make that choice.  But there are plenty of places around the world, like Nepal, where this is an issue.  That’s why there are underground churches all around this world.

So while we praise God we are living in a country where we are free to worship and to speak our opinions, let’s communicate in respectful, God honoring ways.  As Peter reminds us, we Christians are not really free to do as we please. We are, like Jesus, bound to the mission of God.  As much as possible, we submit ourselves, we bind ourselves to obey and respect all authority, so that the cause of Christ might advance.

Are you facing a situation where you are being mistreated?  How will you respond with respect to that authority, for God’s sake?

How Peter could tell slaves to submit to masters without dignifying the institution of slavery

11 Jul

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Does the Bible condone slavery?  The passage we are studying this week, in particular 1 Peter 2:18-20, seems to do just that.  As I mentioned in this week’s first post, Christian slave-owners used this passage to support slavery.  Imagine being a slave hearing sermons telling you to submit to your master, even when he beats you.  Here’s how authors Powery and Sadler describe it:

“The God [slaves] met in these sermons was firmly on the side of their tormentors, opposing their freedom, reifying the status quo.  The religion they were offered did not emphasize the love of Christ in response to their choice of will, but the subjugation of their wills as a divine duty to other humans who laid claim to their bodies.”  – The Genesis of Liberation, page 1

It is a wonder that Christianity became and remains so prominent among African-Americans.  Is there perhaps more to the story?  Let’s see what we can uncover.

What we are looking at this week is a key principle Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:13: “submit to created human authority, for the Lord’s sake.”  Yesterday’s post examined how Peter applied the principle to government.  In the second of three illustrations, today Peter mentions something incredibly hard for us to hear.  In 1 Peter 2:18-20, he speaks to Christians who were slaves, and he says “submit to your masters, even to those who are harsh and maybe beat you.”  Whew. That is a tough passage.  What was Peter thinking?

First of all, slavery in the Greco-Roman Empire had some differences from slavery in our American history.  Our slavery was racial.  In Peter’s day, it was often not racial.  Slaves in the Roman Empire could earn their freedom, become citizens, purchase land, and rise in society.  Slavery was very widespread, however, and as Peter indicates, it could be brutal.

From our vantage point in 2018, given what our nation went through and still struggles with, to hear Peter say to a slave in verse 18, “submit,” and in verse 19, “it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering,” we cringe.  We want him to say, “Slave, you throw off your chains and be free!”

But Peter doesn’t say that and you can see a Southern slave owner in 1850 pulling out his Bible and proclaiming, “Look, it says right here in 1st Peter 2 that slaves should respect their masters.”  And that’s exactly what those slave-owners did!  Their way of interpreting the Bible, and the racism inherent in their interpretation, is a factor that led to our bloody Civil War.  Those slave-owners were wrong.  They interpreted this passage wrong.

Peter is absolutely not trying to support slavery and beatings.  Peter is talking to Christians who were currently slaves, giving them advice on how to handle the difficult situation, from a distinctly Christian perspective.

Peter says to them, “submit.”  Why though?  Because when they consider the freedom they have in Christ, they will best serve the cause of Christ by being submissive and respectful to the authorities around them.  God is the focus once again, as Peter notes in verses 19 and 20.  “Be conscious of God,” he says, and “This is commendable before God.”  The principle has nothing to do with whether or not slavery is right or wrong.  The principle is simply, submit for God’s sake.

Peter is laser-focused on the mission of God.  “Christian slaves,” he is saying, “you have a grander mission, the mission of Jesus, to see people become followers of Jesus, and so therefore, you give every part of your life to that mission.”

But maybe that doesn’t help you understand Peter’s heart.  Maybe you’re still thinking, “Yeah, but Peter still could have told those slaves that the mission of God also included their freedom from slavery.  God wants slaves to be free.  And therefore, he should have told them to rise up and rebel.”  If you’re thinking that, you’re not alone.  There is a significant portion of the my thinking that agrees with you.

But let’s give Peter the benefit of the doubt, that he too likely thought through this.  He had already in verse 16 said that they were to live as free men. And yet, Peter knew what would happen if Christian slaves chose to take their freedom from their masters.  Think about the slave rebellions in our American past.  They generally didn’t go well.  They almost always led to increased pain and suffering for slaves.

I suspect Peter was well aware of this and had witnessed this.  If the Christian slaves chose to embrace their freedom in Christ and not submit, they would not only face increased beatings, but they would also forfeit just about every opportunity to win their masters for Christ. Peter sees a much improved situation for slaves who are respectful, submit, and through their good lives provide a much greater chance of reaching people for Christ.

But isn’t Peter, then, preserving the institution of slavery?  Shouldn’t he still condemn it?

Even though Peter doesn’t condemn the institution of slavery, and in fact, no biblical writer does so, they did however, lay an ingenious groundwork for slavery to be abolished.  Biblical theology absolutely supports abolition of slavery and the total equality of all humanity. That discussion goes beyond the scope of this post, but I do think it is important to mention it briefly.  The biblical writers talked about racial equality, about freedom in Christ, about how in Christ there is neither slave nor free.  But we are all one in Christ.  They made a culturally-shocking theological argument against slavery.

As Christians we should passionately pursue abolition.  Thankfully slavery is no longer a part of our American situation, but the reality is that there is more slavery, globally-speaking, now than there was during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  There is much work to be done, and we Christians should be leading the charge for abolition.

Check back in tomorrow as we look at the final illustration Peter uses for how to submit to authority for the Lord’s sake.

Why and how to submit to governing authorities

10 Jul

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Yesterday we looked at Peter’s principle in 1 Peter 2:13a, “Submit to human created authorities, for the Lord’s sake.”  As he continues teaching, Peter illustrates this principle three ways:

  • Illustration #1 – verses 13b-17 – respect and submit to the governing authorities.
  • Illustration #2 – verses 18-20 – slaves respect and submit to your masters
  • Illustration #3 – verses 21-25 – Jesus as the ultimate example of submission

Starting with this post, and continuing for two more, we’re going to examine each illustration to see if we can discover why Peter would have mentioned that.  What was going on in the life of the church and in the Roman Empire that might have caused Peter to bring this up?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-17 and you’ll find Peter teaching that those Christians need to submit to the government.  He mentions the king, which is the supreme authority, and in that day it was the Roman Emperor.  In verse 14 he mentions governors, which would have been regional authorities.  And finally in verse 17 he says, “show proper respect to everyone.”

Do you remember the king Peter is talking about here?  We know exactly who he is referring to when he mentions the king, the supreme authority.  It was the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was a bit crazy.  He persecuted Christians.  Wait a minute.  Submit to Nero?  I want to say, “Peter, that is ridiculous! You should be telling these Christians to rise up and rebel, not submit!  They’re being persecuted.”

When you are being persecuted, life is hard, and certain personalities will just react, and fight back.  Perhaps Peter is hearing talk about Christians who are sick and tired of being persecuted, and there are whispers of starting armed conflict.  When we read 1 Peter 2:13, I can hear Peter saying “Woah, people time out.  I know all about what you’re going through. You do not want to pull out your swords, believe me.”  You know why I think this?  Remember what happened when Jesus was arrested in the garden?

Travel back in time with me another 30 years.  Jesus and his disciples, one of which was Peter, had been traveling around Israel, and Jesus was a rockstar preacher, gaining crowds with thousands of people.  Right around the end of his third year as a traveling preacher, things had started to get a bit heated between Jesus and the religious establishment.  The people were fans of Jesus but the religious leaders were not.  The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and they hated how Jesus regularly confronted them and they couldn’t win arguments with him. They were eager to take Jesus down.

When Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem for the beginning of Passover week that year, the people want to make Jesus King.  They’re ready to start a war.  The Jewish religious leaders see their moment.  If they can convince the Roman authorities that Jesus is a rebel, they could get Jesus killed.  Jesus knows this.  He’s not surprised.  At the end of the week, after spending a last supper with his disciples, Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives, just outside the city.  He brings the disciples with him, minus Judas who had mysteriously left the dinner early.  The disciples also are getting a sense that something is brewing.  Jesus has not been quiet about his fate.  He’s been telling the disciples straight up for weeks that he is headed to Jerusalem and a confrontation.  But the disciples didn’t get what he meant.  Jesus was so popular.  That night in the Garden, though, suddenly Judas shows up, now a traitor with a kiss, and with armed soldiers to take Jesus captive.

Peter has a moment of clarity.  This could be the day of Jesus’ ascension to the throne.  Peter whips out his sword, ready to fight!  He cuts off the ear of a guy in the group who had come to arrest Jesus.  Peter is ready to start a rebellion.  Until Jesus rocks Peter’s world.  Jesus looks at Peter and says, “My kingdom is not about that.  Put your sword away.”  Then Jesus heals the ear, allows himself to be arrested and taken away.  Peter is utterly shell-shocked.  His whole conception of Jesus and the mission of God’s Kingdom is now in shambles.  You know what Peter does next?  Maybe an hour later?  He denies even knowing Jesus.  Peter got it wrong.

I suspect 35 years later, Peter is remembering that awful night.  He does not want these new Christians to think that the Kingdom of God is advanced by fighting and war.  Because it is not!

Peter was writing to Christians about how to handle themselves while living in a nation that did not always treat them kindly.  So how should Christians respond to government, even a repressive one?  As much as possible, Peter says, they should obey. Submit. Follow the law.

But you might ask, “Should they give up their faith or break God’s laws if the government said so?”  No way.  Absolutely no.  How can I say that?  Because Peter also had to deal with that too.  A few months after Jesus died, rose and went to heaven, Peter was a changed man.  Jesus had brought him back in to the fold, and now Peter understood the mission of God’s Kingdom.

In Acts 4:19 the authorities in Jerusalem arrested Peter and John for preaching Christ, and do you think he denied Jesus then?  Nope.  He said to them, “Judge for yourselves whether is it right for us to obey you rather than God.”  Jesus had given them marching orders to make disciples, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and the religious leaders were telling them to stop.  Then a few months later, they were arrested again.  This time Peter says in Acts 5:29, “we must submit to God rather than men.”

So how do we know where to draw the line about when we should submit and when we shouldn’t?  Has Peter changed his mind 30 years later?  I would submit to you that Peter has not changed his mind.

In Acts 4 and 5 what was happening?  These are the first times Christians were persecuted for their faith.  The leaders were essentially saying to the Christians, “Give up your faith in Christ.”  Peter responds, “No we’re not going to do that.  Come what may.”  What came was a severe beating, but Peter and the other Christians kept right on preaching Jesus, totally disobeying and not submitting to the religious leaders.

But in 1 Peter 2, 30 years have gone by. Peter is writing to Christians in the Roman Empire who have already been persecuted for their faith.  Those Christians didn’t need to hear “obey God rather than men and keep the faith,” because those Christians had already been faced with that choice and they had remained faithful.  What those Christians needed was guidance about how to keep the mission of God thriving.  Therefore Peter is essentially saying to them, “Don’t rise up, rebel and start a war.  As much as possible, follow the rules, live good lives.”

Look at verse 15. He teaches them to do good in the face of ignorance.  Don’t go tit for tat.  Do good.  Silence the ignorant with your goodness. If you are being mistreated, handle it with kindness.  When you are good and kind and peaceful in the face of poor treatment, it makes a huge statement.  It makes Jesus attractive!  That’s powerful!  People take notice when you handle mistreatment with grace and kindness.

Then in verse 16 he continues this thought.  He says, “You are free,” which means free to disobey government, “but don’t use your freedom for evil!”  Christians are not citizens of an earthly country. We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, so we could say that we don’t have to follow any rules of an earthly country.  We are a holy nation, the people of God.  But to that, Peter says, don’t abuse your freedom in Christ.  Instead, practice submission to the governing authorities.

He concludes with a very expansive statement in verse 17: show proper respect for everyone.  Love the brotherhood of believers, Fear God, Honor the King.

Peter is covering three major groups that Christians should practice respect.  First, the church family, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 22.  “Love one another deeply from the heart.”  Second, fear God, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 17. “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  And third, honor the king, which is a repeat of what he said in chapter 2, verse 13 and 14 which we read today. “Submit to the King and governors.”

Peter is desperate for these Christians to be respectful.

Respect the authorities.  That doesn’t mean you need to agree with all the behavior and choices of the authorities.  In their day, Nero was a wicked man.  Of course they didn’t need to agree with him.  But as much as is possible, respect and honor and submit to the King.

It has become something of a test of authentic Christianity to be disrespectful to our leaders on social media.  I think Peter would be appalled.  So, Christians, respect authorities.  Disagree if you disagree, but do so with humility, grace and respect.  Too many Christians have damaged the cause of Christ by being out of control with their approach.  “Submit yourselves, for the Lord’s sake.” And remember that the Fruit of the Spirit is to be flowing through out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

How all Christians should identify as priests

5 Jul

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Sometimes people have bizarre reactions when they learn I am a pastor.  If they had been cursing, once they find out I’m a pastor, they’ll over-apologize and try to stop.  Often they’ll ask where Faith Church is and talk about how they’ll visit some Sunday.

Even people within our church family can have strange reactions.  At a church meal, they’ll often wait for me to pray for the meal before they start eating.  Or if they get sick and go to the hospital, they’ll want me to visit.  I could go on an on with stories like that.  I’m just a regular guy, so even after nearly 16 years in ministry, I’m still often surprised by these reactions to me.  Pastors aren’t special pray-ers or visitors, but people often think we are, elevating us to a higher plane of spirituality.

As we saw yesterday, Peter taught against this idea when he said that all Christians are royal and holy priests.  Not just pastors.  Not just missionaries.  Not just Bible teachers.  Every single Christian is a priest!  We’re all on the same level in God’s eyes.  Sure, we have different gifts and different roles.  I am so thankful for this teaching about all Christians being part of the holy, royal priesthood.  As a pastor, I think way too much focus is placed on me.  All Christians need to learn how they are priests.  But how?

In our continuing study of 1st Peter 2:4-10, Peter explains our priestly identity, which we will look at today, and he explains our priestly responsibility, which we will look at tomorrow.  So for today, what is our priestly identity?

First Peter says we are holy.  He was telling the Christians in his day that they are set apart.  It doesn’t mean “holy” in the sense that they are perfect.  It means they are set apart for a special purpose.

They are a “people belonging to God,” he says, and “a people of God.”  We all need to see ourselves that way.  A special people, belonging to God, set apart for a purpose, which we will look at tomorrow.

Here we can start to see Peter’s flow of thought into verses 11-12 which we already covered a few weeks ago when we talked about the theme of aliens and strangers.  People who have been built on the foundation of Jesus need to see that that are so precious in God’s eyes.  Though we might be strangers and aliens in the world’s eyes, we are people who belong to God!

Another way that Peter says they are holy or set apart or special is that they have received God’s mercy.  How amazing!  You are loved by God.  He has shown mercy to you!  How has he shown mercy?  God has shown his mercy by making it possible for us to become living stones.  Read about that here.

That is the first way Peter teaches that all Christians are priests: you are a holy priesthood.

Second, he says we are a royal priesthood.

Royal? Did you know, Christians, that you are royal?

You’re like Meghan Markel.  Remember her?  She recently married Prince Harry, and is now known as the Duchess of Sussex.  She doesn’t have royal blood so she cannot be called “Princess.”  That is a title she can earn eventually.  William and Kate’s children, however, were called princes and princess at birth.  They have royal blood.

When Christians consider our relationship to Jesus, we’re like Meghan Markel.  We weren’t born of royal blood.  We were adopted into it. Or as Peter says, we are reborn into God’s family, and thus we are now children of the king, with the rights and privileges of royalty.

Think about how special God views you!

If I were to guess, most of us would never think, “I am a holy, royal priest in God’s Kingdom.”  We don’t see ourselves that way.  I suspect we don’t think of ourselves that way because we are humble or feel unworthy.  Humility is respectable.  But Peter is saying, “You actually are holy, royal priests in God’s Kingdom,” and because of that we all need to see ourselves that way.

But note that the world will not see us that way, and we shouldn’t try to get them to!  Being a holy royal priest of God doesn’t mean that we go around saying that!  “Look at me, I’m a holy, royal priest!”  That would be really weird or arrogant.  Instead, we stay humble.  We know that God looks at us as holy royal priests, and so we gratefully and humbly serve him.  Jesus, our great high priest, gave us the pattern for how live in his Kingdom when he washed the disciples’ feet and gave his life as a sacrifice.

So all you Christians, your identity is holy, royal priests.  Yeah, it is an unexpected identity.  But take on that identity.  And tomorrow we’ll see how Peter describes our priestly responsibility.

Can you smell what The _____ is cooking? (When Jesus give you a nickname and changes your life.)

11 May

Image result for can you smell what the rock is cooking

Can you tell whom I’m thinking about?

Read the title of this post.  Look at the picture.

The Rock!

That is Dwayne Johnson’s nickname from his days as a professional wrestler.

There seems to be a specific kind of person whom we nickname with the word “Rock”. Think about Rocky Balboa. Remember the character Sylvester Stallone is famous for playing in how many boxing movies?  20?  Rocky Balboa is a prize fighter.  Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a professional wrestler and action movie hero.  These guys are intense!

At Faith Church last week we began a series talking about The Rock. Not Dwayne Johnson or Rocky Balboa, but a guy named Peter.  How is Peter like The Rock?

We first meet Peter in Mark 1:16.  Peter was a Jewish man from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, which is the northern part of Israel. People from Galilee had a bit of a different accent, and were considered to be…well…kinda backwards.

As Mark tells us, Peter’s Hebrew name was Simeon, often shortened to Simon.  So why do we call him Peter?  The name “Peter” is actually a nickname Jesus gave him! Right around the same time as the events of Mark 1:16, we read in John 1:42 that Jesus calls Simon a nickname, Cephas, which is the Aramaic word meaning “rock.”  “Peter” is our English version of the Greek word “petros” which means “rock”.  Why would Jesus give Simon the nickname, “The Rock”?  In this post, we’re going to tell Simon Peter’s story to find out what Jesus was thinking.

Jesus would invite Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, their friends and some others to be his followers, most commonly known as Jesus’ 12 Disciples.  Among the disciples, Peter quickly showed his potential.  He is often depicted as speaking first, or in the lists of the disciples’ names, Peter’s is first.  One time in Matthew 17:24 tax collectors come to Peter to ask a question about Jesus.  There is no doubt that he was considered a leader. Furthermore, Peter was bold. Neither afraid to speak nor to ask questions.  He was rock-like.

But, like so many bold people, Peter knew how to put his foot in his mouth. In Matthew 15:15 right after Jesus tells the disciples a parable, Peter pipes up, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus’ response is classic: “Are you still so dull?

In Mark 9:5 we read the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah, two towering figures from Israel’s history, appear beyond the grave, and Jesus’ clothes turn brilliant white.  We are told that Peter, “…did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” But that didn’t stop him. He said stuff anyway, making a fairly offbeat comment to Jesus that perhaps they could build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  God the Father responded this time.  Or was a it a rebuke to Peter’s big mouth?  God says, ”

Also in John 13:4-9, during the account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gets up from the table and, showing them how they should serve one another, washes their feet.  Peter is aghast.  The servants should be washing their master’s feet!  But Jesus warmly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.  Guess what Peter comes out with in response to that? “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.”  Huh?  Can you see the other disciples looking at each other thinking, “Awkward…” Even in Ancient Israel, grown men don’t wash each other.

Peter was passionate.  Yeah, sometimes he said crazy stuff.  Other times he said amazing things.

In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks the disciples a question in private, a question he could not ask in the presence of a crowd, and especially in the presence of the religious leaders who already wanted his head.  He asks his disciples about his identity, “Who do people say that I am?”  Well, word on the street was that Jesus was special, and there were a number of options for who he might be.  One of the famous prophets maybe.  People in the crowds had speculated wildly.  Jesus knew that.  But he wanted to hear what his closest followers thought.  He wanted to know what was going on inside their hearts and minds.  Guess who pipes up right away?  Peter.  And as much as Peter could put his foot in his mouth and say really inappropriate stuff sometimes, he could also come out with some amazing truth.

Peter is right on the money when he says, “You the Christ! The Son of the Living God.” Jesus looks at Peter with great approval, and says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven.”  What a moment!  Jesus is saying that Peter received a revelation from God of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah!  That is amazing!

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Here Jesus tells a joke, a pun to be precise when he says to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter, Jesus says, is The Rock.  It wasn’t just that he was bold in what he said.  Peter also had a bold faith that took action.

There was the time that the disciples saw a mysterious figure walking on the water out to their boat.  As it gets closer, they realize it is Jesus!  So guess what Peter does?  He walks on water right out to Jesus!  And yet, when the wind and waves spray in his face, Peter the solid rock, crumbles, becomes afraid, turns away from Jesus and starts to sink.  You know the rest of the story.  Jesus grabs his hand, steadies him and says “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”

Then just before Jesus was arrested, as the soldiers surround him, Peter whips out his sword, and he cuts off the ear of high priest servant in Garden.  He was bold!  Has his faith become rock solid?

Jesus surprises Peter, telling Peter to put down his sword.  Peter is shocked and confused.  His Lord who he loves, who Peter has committed to follow, seems to be giving up.  Jesus even reaches over and heals the servant’s ear!  What is Jesus doing?  Isn’t this supposed to be his big moment?  Instead Peter’s Lord is now being taken away.  Peter gets scared.  What seemed like a new movement of God appears to be falling apart right in front of his eyes.

With Jesus in chains, Peter follows at a distance, curious, and frightened.  Suddenly, Peter is spotted.  People outside the high priest’s house where the trial is taking place call him out: “You are one of Jesus’ followers!”  Now Peter is really worried.  If Jesus is going down, Peter and the other disciples could easily being going down with him. So Peter, as boldly as he had confessed his allegiance to Jesus just a few hours before, now boldly denies ever knowing Jesus.  And he does it again.  And one more time.  Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus, then the rooster crowed.  From his position, Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye.  And Peter runs away in bitter, bitter shame.  Peter seems to be anything but a solid rock.

We know what happens next.  Jesus is beaten severely, then crucified, died and is buried on Friday.  Sunday morning, a couple of the women who were Jesus’ followers report to the disciples hiding out in a room in the city that Jesus was alive.  Peter’s head jerks up and he on his feet in a flash.  He sprints out the door, John at his heels.  They run to the burial place, and John overtakes him, gets there first and looks in from the outside.  Peter arrives and rushes into the tomb.  It was true!  Their Lord was no longer there!  Soon after Jesus began to appear to them.  It was true! He was alive!

A few days pass.  The feast of Passover, for which Jesus and his disciples had originally traveled to Jerusalem, was over so the disciples returned home to Galilee in the north.  What do you do when your world is turned upside down?  They went back to work.  I bet Peter needed to go fishing, to clear his head.  The disciples, from their boat, notice a man on the beach making a fire, and it was Jesus.  Peter again jumps out into the water to go to him.  After breakfast Jesus does something remarkable to Peter. Read John 21:15-17, and you’ll see.

For each one of Peter’s three denials, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to say, “I love you,” and he directs Peter to feed his lambs.  This is Jesus restoring Peter.  Peter, the one who was so boldly committed to Jesus saying, “I will die for you,” had actually turned out to boldly deny Jesus.  But Jesus knew what was deep down inside Peter was not a coward.  Peter was not a failure.  Jesus loved Peter, and he knew Peter loved him.  So in this amazing moment, Jesus lifts Peter back up. Peter truly would be The Rock.

Now let’s continue Peter’s story in the book of Acts. Very quickly we notice something.  The first 11 verses of Acts chapter 1 are all about Jesus.  But in verse 11 Jesus returns to his father.  Starting in verse 12, the focus then turns to Jesus’ disciples.  How would they react to this astounding turn of events?  In the span of 50 days their master had gone from national hero to criminal to dead to risen again!  And now…Jesus is gone.  The disciples and other followers, which verse 14 tells us number about 120, do what Jesus said they should do: go back to Jerusalem and wait in prayer.

One of them stands up.  Starting in verse 15 Peter stands up and speaks.  Skim through the next five chapters of Acts, these critical early moments of the life of the church, and one name appears over and over and over again.  Peter.

  • In chapter 1 Peter leads the discussion about who will replace Judas.
  • In chapter 2 Peter preaches the first sermon.
  • In chapter 3 he heals a crippled man and preaches again.
  • In chapter 4 Peter is arrested and boldly proclaims Christ before the Jewish leaders.

Look at Acts 4:13 and what it says there is just amazing: “When the Jewish leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

When you spend time with Jesus, he will transform your life.

In Acts, the story of Peter just keeps going.  He takes the lead in confronting sin in chapter 5.  And how about this verse in 5:15: “People brought the sick in to the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”  What?  Peter’s shadow had power?  Just his shadow?  That’s crazy wild.  And the dude was catching fish just a few years before?

At this point in the middle of Acts 5, the new church in Jerusalem is enjoying amazing favor.  Tons of people coming to faith, following Jesus, becoming part of an amazing new community.  Miraculous healings.  Amazing generous gifts of sacrifice to help those in need.

Until Acts 5:17. The religious establishment guys don’t like what they are seeing. The new church is encroaching into their territory, as people are following Jesus.  The Jewish leaders are filled with jealousy, they round up the apostles, these uneducated men who hung out with Jesus, and bring them in for questioning.  They flog the apostles and tell them to knock it off.  And you know how Peter and the other apostles respond?  They rejoice because they were counted worthy of suffering for Jesus!  They do not knock it off.  They keep preaching.  The church keeps growing.

In chapters 6-7 we get a brief pause in Peter’s story.  We meet some of the other leaders in the church, Stephen and Philip.  But in chapter 8, Peter is back, now going on missionary trips to Samaria.  For the rest of chapter 8 and halfway in chapter 9 we meet Philip again and Paul makes his first entrance in the story.

Halfway through 9 we’re back to Peter, who is making more missionary trips.  Then in chapter 10 something momentous happens.  Peter has a game-changing vision from God.  At first, the vision seems really weird.  In the vision Peter sees a sheet dropping from heaven, and in the sheet are unclean animals, and God is telling Peter to eat these animals, that they are no longer unclean.  The meaning of the dream was that Peter was to lead the new Christian church to reach the Gentiles, the non-Jews, with the message of Good News in Christ alone.

Reach the Gentiles?  Peter is Jewish.  Born a Jew, always a Jew, Peter followed Jewish laws all his life.  The thought of eating unclean meat, and of reaching out to the unclean Gentiles is repulsive to Peter.  So once again, put your foot in your mouth Peter comes out when he says, “Surely not Lord!”  But yeah, God wanted to reach the Gentiles too.

Peter obeys and the book of Acts starts to take a major turn as God wants the message of Good News in Jesus to be conveyed to the Gentiles. In chapters 11, therefore, we read about Peter explaining and living out this newly expanded understanding of the mission of God to include all people.

In chapter 12, things get crazy.  The local King Herod is getting lots of political heat from the Jewish religious establishment about these Christians.  So Herod rounds up a couple leaders, intending to persecute them.  He actually puts the Apostle James to death.  That was James who years before was fishing partners with Peter.  Peter gets jailed too.  With James dead, it seems like Herod wants to take down the new church’s leadership, hoping to destroy the church.  Peter is public enemy #1.

But God has other plans for Peter. The night before his trial, chained in prison, praying, Peter is miraculously freed by God’s angel.  Peter then travels away to share more about Jesus in other places. That is the last full story featuring Peter in the book of Acts.  He pops up again in chapter 15, at a major church council.  By that time, Peter has become a missionary.  James, the brother of Jesus, is the new leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Historians tell us that Peter eventually traveled to many places in the Empire, including Rome. He is believed to have been the leader of the church in Rome.  He is also said to have died on an upside-down cross. Just before his death, Peter wrote two letters which we call 1st and 2nd Peter.  But also the Gospel of Mark was likely influenced by him.  Mark was not a disciple, but a traveling companion of Peter.

That’s Peter’s story of life change.

I suspect Peter was always a bold, brash guy.  But I doubt he ever expected life would take him much beyond the shores of the Galilee.  He was a fisherman.  That was a good business to be in.  Feeding his family, feeding many others in his area.  Making a living.

He meets a guy named Jesus one day.  Jesus is remarkable.  Different.  There’s a spark.  Jesus says, “Follow me, Rock, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Only three years later, what do we see?  Fisherman Peter is now the Rock of the Church preaching a sermon in Jerusalem to a huge crowd.  And 3000 of them respond to his sermon.  What. The. Heck?  What happened in those three years?

What happened during those three years were lots of ups and downs.  It didn’t seem like Jesus’ nickname was working out so well.  Peter often seemed more like quicksand than The Rock.  But Jesus continued reaching out to Peter and set Peter up to lead his followers.  When Jesus returned to his father, Peter was ready to be the Rock of the church.  The Holy Spirit empowering the church, Peter was ready to lead this small group of 120 followers of Jesus.

Peter was a changed man.

I think Peter would understand the life that most of us live, because he lived it too.  The crushing realities of life seem insurmountable.

We hear ourselves saying things like “I’m just a lowly worker with no hope for a meaningful future.”

But Jesus comes to us and says “Follow me. I will make you…something you never could have imagined.  I’ve got a new name for you.”

We hear ourselves saying, “I feel like I’m sinking in the raging waters of life, and I don’t know how to swim and no one cares.”

But Jesus reaches out to pull us and strengthen our faith.

When life gets really hard and scary and God seems nowhere to be found, we hear ourselves saying “I don’t know you God, I don’t know you Jesus, I don’t know you!”  And we can’t believe we denied our Lord, and we wonder if we’ve lost it all.

But Jesus comes to us with forgiveness and says “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I have a plan for you.”  And we think “Really?  Me?  But Lord, I turned away from you.”  And he says a second time “Do you love me?”  And we really do love him, and he says “I want to use you.”  And we think, “But I’ve screwed up so many times.  You can’t possibly use me, Lord.”  And he says again “Do you love me like a brother?” And we know where he’s going with this.  We know he is right, and we respond “I really do love you like a brother.”  And he confirms to us “Yes, I have a job for you.”  He really does want to use us.

To follow Jesus we need to do what Peter did.  Peter left fishing behind.  Peter said “Ok. I will make a change and follow you, Jesus.”

What change do you need to make to follow Jesus in a new way?  During my April sermon series, what I learned on sabbatical, I told you some changes that I needed to make.  I was feeling trapped by some elements of life.  I got rid of them in order to make space to follow Jesus.  I encourage you to do the same.  The time has come.

Jesus wants to restore you, to transform you.  He loves you.  That is our amazing Lord.  Merciful, gracious, patient.

He doesn’t always turn a fisherman into the leader of the world-wide church.  But he obviously can do that if he wants.  More likely, Jesus wants to do in you what he did in Peter.  Transformation.  Transformation of the heart, transformation of the mind, of the soul, of the body.

How is Jesus at work in your life?  What does he need to restore in your life? How is he calling you to serve him?

He doesn’t call everyone The Rock, but I suspect he has a nickname for you too.  His name for you might surprise you.  It might take you a while to feel it suits you.  But in time you find it will fit perfectly.

 

How God wants to restore you

16 May

Betrayal and denial.  Jesus experienced both, from two of his closest followers, in a matter of no more than one hour.  That had to hurt deeply. You can read the story in Luke 22:47-62.

Yesterday at Faith Church we talked about what it feels like when we have been betrayed or denied.  We also talked about how easy it is, like Jesus’ disciples Judas and Peter, to betray or deny God.  Imagine how those two guys felt when the realization of their betrayal and denial of Jesus finally broke over them.

We are told that Peter had godly sorrow that led to repentance.  After Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as Jesus said he would, Luke tells us that Peter and Jesus were in close enough proximity to one another that Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  Imagine being Jesus at that moment.  Heartbroken.  Imagine being Peter.  Sick to the stomach at his failure, Luke tells us Peter goes away sobbing bitter tears.

Judas had a different reaction.  We have to go to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life to learn about it.  In Matthew 27:3-5 we read: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  And he went out and hanged himself.”

Peter wept, and Judas admitted his sin.

But there is a difference in the nature of their actions.  Judas acted with premeditation.  Peter did not.  Judas took time to plan out his betrayal, sought out the religious leaders, received payment, set up the arrest.  Peter did nothing like this.  Peter’s denial was not premeditated or proactive.  Instead it was reactive.  It was an unplanned act, a terrible choice in the midst of a horrible situation.

Judas’ response of suicide showed he had no hope.  Why would he have no hope?  Shouldn’t he have known Jesus and the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?  Yes, he should have.  But he didn’t, and that is revealing.  Judas didn’t really know Jesus.  Peter did.

Peter’s response is very different.  He is broken, sorrowful.

Have you ever been like Peter, caught by the proverbial crow of the rooster, reminding you of your failure?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says it perfectly: 

We can be sorry we got caught.  We can be sorry because we don’t want consequences for our actions.  When we examine our motives, we can learn that they are really messed up.

It is hard to be sorry with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  All of us have messed up.  What does it mean to be restored?  To find restoration we can examine Peter’s story: What was it about Peter that led him to make a rebound?

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Do you remember what happened on Pentecost Sunday?

We read about it in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first came to fill the disciples, while they were waiting in Jerusalem, waiting for what to do next.  The Spirit comes and they start preaching in other languages.  One guy takes the lead in the preaching.  One guy is particularly bold.

Guess who it was?  Peter.

Think about the timing.  The events of Pentecost, where Peter is so bold, are only about a month and a half after the events of his denial of Jesus.  A month and a half!

What we saw in Luke 22 is that Peter is a broken man.  He has just denied Jesus, three times, and Jesus knew it, and Peter runs out weeping bitterly.

Now a month and a half later he is preaching boldly about Jesus.

What gives?  How did that turnaround happen?

To find out we turn to John 21:15-17, a story that does not appear in Luke.

After his resurrection, the disciples went back to their jobs.  They were fisherman, and they needed to make some money, feed their families, and so they went fishing.   Jesus found them, made a fire on the beach, waiting for the disciples to return so they could eat together.  Though he had resurrected, he was about to return to his Father and turn the mission of his Kingdom over to them.  He had some unfinished business with them to care for.  The disciples return to shore, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and says “Do you love me?”

It is more precise in the original language, Koine Greek, which has a variety of words, all of which we translate with one English word: “love.”

 

Jesus starts in verse 15 asking Peter “Do you agape me?”  Agape is perfect love.  This is the love that is used to describe God’s love, or to describe the love we should have for one another, as stated famously in 1 Corinthians 13.

Peter responds “Lord, you know that I phileo you.”  Phileo is brotherly love, very relational.  Phila-Delphia is the City of Brotherly love.

In a way, then, while Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter answers very relationally, saying he has brotherly love for Jesus.

So Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  It might sound odd to us, this shepherd language. But Jesus knows that Peter felt terrible about denying Jesus, that Peter would be wondering if he was no longer acceptable to Jesus. Perhaps Peter should forfeit his position in the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Jesus, who had once said to Peter “on you I will build my church”, now reinstates him: “Feed my sheep.”

Then surprisingly, Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?”, and Peter repeats “You know I phileo you”.  You can see Peter internally, and maybe in body language on his face, wondering, “Why is he asking me again?”  You and I know how it feels when our spouse or loved one asks, “Do you love me?” and we respond “Of course I love you!”  And then they ask again, “But really, do you really love me?”  At this second questioning, we can start to get offended, thinking that they shouldn’t have to ask a second time!  Do they not believe us?  Why would they have any reason to doubt?  Peter is starting to feel this, to think these thoughts.

So Jesus says again “Take care of my sheep.” Again, reinstating Peter.

Imagine the shock as Jesus now asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”  But this time Jesus has used the word “phileo”.  Now Jesus is getting very personal.

John tells us in the middle of verse 17 that Peter is hurt.  As any of us would be when we are asked to repeat ourselves a third time.  But Peter now says a third time, “You know that I phileo you.”

And Jesus says a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you see what Jesus has done?  Each of Peter’s three denials have now been overturned by three “I love yous”, and by Jesus’ three reinstatements of Peter to “feed his sheep.”

Peter is restored.

Jesus is in the business off restoration.  Do you need to be restored?  If you have denied him, if you have disobeyed him, if you have been ashamed of him, you can be restored!

He loves you with Agape and Phileo, and he wants to restore you.

So come to him, like Peter, with a heart, mind and will that show your godly sorrow, and he will restore you.

That’s how Peter could preach a powerful sermon just a few weeks later.  He was restored.  And he fed Jesus’ sheep.

If you have betrayed Jesus, if you have denied him, know that he loves you.  Let him restore you.  Then feed his sheep.