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And Peter

by David Horger

Mark 16:6-7
But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples-and Peter-that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you."

Peter, warts and all
You've got to love Peter... impetuous, brave, and brimming with self-confidence! Of course, if you had spent much time with him you might have felt differently. To his friends, Peter may have seemed pushy, bossy and boastful. But one thing I like about Peter was that he never disappeared in a crowd... even when he wanted to.

When it came to Jesus, Peter never did anything half-way. No matter what the Master asked, Peter was all in. When Jesus walked on water, Peter wanted to walk on water too. When Jesus washed the disciples' feet, Peter wanted his head and hands washed too. When Jesus came back from the dead and stood on the shore while the disciples fished, Peter jumped in and swam to Him while the others rowed.

So many Gospel stories feature Peter by name. Peter was the one who asked Jesus how many times he should forgive another. Peter was the one who caught a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay the temple tax. It was Peter that called Christ's attention to the dying fig tree that Jesus cursed. And when Jesus questioned the disciples if they would leave Him as so many others had, it was Peter who asked, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Peter was counted among the closest to Jesus, one of the "Big Three": Peter, James and John. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Peter was there. When Christ was glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was one of the three invited to witness it. And you get one guess as to who was the first one to speak up afterward! Again, Peter was invited to pray near Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane during that night of anguish before the crucifixion.

All through the Gospels you find story after story where Peter stands front and center. It kind of makes me feel sorry for Bartholomew and Thaddaeus, whose names only appear whenever someone lists the names of all the disciples! Peter wasn't scenery, and he wasn't an extra... he was a major character in the early church.

It reminds me a bit of what it was like for me growing up. I'm third-born of four brothers. The second-born, Joe, is only two years older than me, so we shared two years together in high school. Joe made my high school experience miserable. It wasn't because Joe was mean to me or anything like that; in fact, Joe pretty much ignored me. The problem was that Joe was always better than me in everything, it seemed. He was smarter, wittier, better-looking and far, far cooler than I was. Joe stood out; I blended in. Joe was popular; I was scenery. Joe was Peter; I was Thaddaeus. So I feel a certain kinship with those nearly anonymous fellows who lived in the shadow of Peter.

However, things weren't always smooth sailing for the fisherman Peter. When you charge forward in everything you do, you're bound to make a few mistakes... which Peter did.

While Peter was walking along the waves, he took his eyes off of Jesus... and promptly sank! While Christ was trying to warn His disciples about the impending trial and execution, Peter rebuked Him, prompting Jesus to exclaim, "Get behind me, Satan!" And Peter's high opinion of himself was always a point of contention with the others. But his biggest failure occurred on a certain night in Gethsemane.

The Last Supper
On that last night before the cross, the disciples still didn't get it. They still didn't believe Christ's words regarding the coming trial. They didn't comprehend Christ's role as the Lamb of God. And they still didn't understand how greatness was measured in Christ's kingdom.

Luke 22:24-27
Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.

Can you picture the distress that this must have caused Jesus? After all this time, and so near to the end of His ministry on Earth, Jesus still hadn't gotten through to them regarding the nature of His kingdom. But perhaps even more painful to Jesus was the betrayals to come that same night.

Mark 14:27-31
Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

      ' I will strike the Shepherd,
      And the sheep will be scattered.'

"But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." 
Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." 
Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." 
But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"
And they all said likewise.

Poor Peter! I think he firmly believed everything he said that night in the upper room. He was convinced that he was the last one that could ever betray Jesus. I suspect we're all in that same boat; never really knowing what we're capable of. How brave are you? Do you know? If someone next to you in the train station falls from the platform onto the tracks, would you jump off also to lift them back out? Would it depend on how far away the train was... nowhere in sight, or only 50 yards away and closing fast? Could you force yourself to do the brave, dangerous, necessary thing? Or is there a difference between what you should do, what you hope you would do, and what you could actually make yourself do?

Luke 22:31-32
And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Blustery, blowhard Peter! If only he really was the person he thought he really was.

The Rooster
They left the upper room and headed toward the garden where Jesus often visited. Judas had left earlier. The garden was quiet, and away from the hustle of the crowds that always wanted to see Jesus, to hear Him, be healed by Him... or to test Him and discredit Him. Jesus needed time with God. Everything would change that night. For the first time, Jesus would be at the mercy of this world. Before this, every time men tried to attack Him, Jesus would slip away from the violence, disarm with His wisdom, and speak with power attended by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But no more. The protection of God would be withdrawn. The fellowship with God would cease. And Jesus would be in the hands of the enemy of souls. He needed to pray. He needed someone to pray for Him.

Matthew 26:36-46
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me." 
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." 
Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 
Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done."  And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. 
So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.  Then He came to His disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."

Judas led a large number of thugs, carrying torches, swords and clubs, through the garden and directly to Jesus. The disciples were awake now. Judas then had the nerve to feign innocence as he kissed the cheek of the Savior in greeting. The truth was obvious, however. Judas had betrayed the Christ. The crowd grabbed for Jesus. Peter's moment of glory had come.

Peter drew his sword and swung it at the head of the nearest of the mob, the servant of the high priest. Instead of splitting his skull, though, the blade glanced off the side, taking the ear with it. Somehow, instantly, Jesus was no longer in the hands of His captors. In that shocked moment, Jesus gently reached out and healed the injured man. Jesus then scolded Peter for his rash attack, and calmly allowed Himself to be taken under their control again.

What was Peter to do? He was in confusion. He offered to fight for Jesus and had even drawn first blood. It came to nothing. Jesus even erased the injury. What did Jesus want? What did He expect from Peter? He didn't know. And so he, and the others, fled the scene.

But unlike most of the others, Peter came back. He couldn't bear not knowing what was happening to Jesus. He might be of some use still, if only Jesus would give the word, nod His head... or better yet, summon His twelve legions of angels. So Peter came and watched and waited for a sign. But he didn't see what he wanted to. He saw Jesus mocked, beaten, abused, ridiculed, tormented, laughed at, and spit on. What did Jesus want? Why did He let them do this?

Peter got as close as he dared, mingling at the fire in Caiaphas' courtyard. He tried to blend in, to become scenery. But that wasn't Peter's gift. He was recognized as a disciple of Jesus. So Peter tried a little harder, and denied his association with Christ. But it was unconvincing. As Peter watches, Jesus is dragged into the courtyard and abused by the guards. The concern on Peter's face can't be masked, and his murmurs of horror are overheard. His accent reveals him to be a Galilean. Peter exclaims, "Man, I don't know what you are talking about!", but the eyes around the fire continue to watch him closely. A servant looks at him intently, but this is no stranger. This is a relative of the man whose ear was so recently removed by Peter. Didn't I see you in the olive grove tonight? Peter, who had always been the center of attention, whose character demanded attention, couldn't hide himself. So he tried one more time, with extra vigor, to prove once and for all that he had no part in Jesus by using foul language and swearing an oath to God.

The rooster crows. Peter looks up and catches the eyes of Jesus and knows without a doubt that Jesus is fully aware of what he had just done. Of course Jesus knows! Thinks Peter; Jesus said it would happen exactly like this! And Peter, self-confident Peter... Peter who would never deny Jesus... Peter who would follow Jesus to death... Peter who was braver, truer, more faithful, more loving than all the other disciples, betrayed his Lord. He weeps uncontrollably.

Peter wasn't alone in betraying Jesus, or in feeling remorse. Judas was alarmed at the turn things were taking. Finally realizing the end toward which all these events were heading (because Jesus had foretold them), Judas becomes horrified at the role that he had been playing, begs for the life of Jesus from the priests and exposes their duplicity by throwing the bribe money at their feet. But having been unable to change the course of things, and feeling unable to be forgiven of such a crime, Judas ends his life.

But Peter, knowing himself exactly for the first time in his life, knowing full well the magnitude of his betrayal, waits. Peter has finally fully comprehended his own weaknesses, his own unfaithfulness, his own worthlessness... but also begins to see more fully that what he lacks, Christ has. So he waits. He waits through the trials, the beatings, the screams of rage from the crowd, the cowardice of the Roman governor, the tortuous journey to the Place of the Skull, the cross, the darkness, the earthquake and the dying breath. Peter feels completely empty. Everything has been torn away; he is not what he thought he was. And all that he hoped to become, all that was pure and good and clean, has been killed by evil men and sealed forever in a tomb.

Sunday Morning
Or maybe not.

Mark 16:1-7
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away-for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples-and Peter-that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you."

To me, the words that the angel used here, "and Peter", might be some of the kindest words in Scripture. I feel pretty sure that those words weren't the angel's idea. I imagine Jesus stressed to the angel to make sure Peter understood he was welcome. Peter had declared firmly and forcibly, with cursing and swearing, that he was not aligned in any way with Jesus. Peter must have felt he had burned all his bridges with Christ. So Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter knew he was still invited. He was still included. He was still loved.

A few days later Jesus and Peter found themselves on a beach sharing breakfast. Peter was dripping wet after his swim to shore in his haste to be with Jesus. Once again, Peter had stuck out from the scenery! But it was a different Peter this time.

John 21:15-19
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Feed My lambs." 
He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Tend My sheep." 
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?"
And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You."
Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."

Peter was no longer self-confident. In his answers to Christ's repeated questioning of his love, Peter doesn't use the same word for love that Jesus does. When Jesus asked Peter if Peter's love for Him was deep, powerful and unconditional, Peter replied merely that he loved Jesus like a brother or close friend. Peter, his own faulty character so explicitly revealed to him, could find nothing in himself on which to boast. Though he really loved Christ more than he ever had, he now realized the limitations of what he had to give.  His all was not what he had imagined it was, but it was enough for Jesus.

God is Barefoot
There is a short story by Joe Daniels called "God is Barefoot", which deals with his experience as a nine-year-old child of alcoholic parents. He becomes accustomed to his father's blind rages and the beatings he receives. He often didn't even know what his dad was mad about, and so was constantly waiting for what his parents called "the other shoe to drop."

Joe's best friend is Dick, who's in the same boat as Joe. Dick's parents are alcoholics, too. Joe appreciates Dick, because Dick goes around barefoot and really understands Joe. Dick asks "about stuff that nobody else would. Like did my dad yell like that all the time? Or how did I really get that burn on my arm?" Once Joe mentioned to Dick that he knows trouble is coming soon, that he is "waiting for the other shoe to drop". Suddenly Dick suggests they visit the inside of St. Leonard's church across the street. "You gotta see this," he urges.

Creeping inside through the side door, Dick walks quietly up to the front pew. Joe hangs back by the door "in case some grownup saw me and yelled at me, so I could make a run for it. That's the way the world worked - grownups yelled at you and you ran." But eventually Joe worked up the nerve to enter further in, past candles burning in red glasses before a statue of a man - Dick figured it to be St. Leonard - and on past the stained glass windows to the front pew where Dick sits. It's quiet, almost silent. But not in an eerie way... it's comforting to Joe. There's no shouting, swearing or banging of doors. It's peaceful. Dick is swinging his bare feet, looking at the big Jesus on a big cross hanging from the ceiling. Joe eases himself nervously next to Dick, and they just sit there for a time, looking at the man on the cross. Finally, Dick nudges Joe and they exit the church. Outside, Dick suddenly peppers Joe with questions.

"Didja see it?" Dick asked.
"See what?"
"That's God up in the front there, right?"
"Jesus? I guess so."
"So you saw it, right?"
"Saw what? What was I supposed to see?"
"He doesn't wear shoes either! God is barefoot. Go back and look if you don't believe me."
Go back in there? Joe's heart is pounding. "So what does that mean?"
"If God doesn't wear any shoes, He can't drop any."
As glad as Joe was to get out of that church, part of him just had to see. So he went back to the door and looked in. Sure enough, God was barefoot.

Peter might have been waiting for "the other shoe to drop" when he heard that Jesus had risen. It undoubtedly occurred to him that Jesus might reject him, might cast him off, because of Peter's behavior that night. So when Peter heard those words relayed to him by the women returning from the tomb, "tell the disciples - and Peter", Peter realized that not only was Jesus Lord, the Christ, the risen Savior and the Son of God, He was also... perhaps most importantly to Peter just then... his Friend.

The funny thing about Peter is that, when he was full of self-confidence, he turned out to be a coward. But after he lost confidence in himself, and instead became confident in the friendship of God, he became a mighty servant of the kingdom. He boldly stood before priests and rulers, endured imprisonment and beatings, and faced death with singing not because of his own strength, his own love, his own goodness, his own talent... but because of the goodness of God, the power of His word and the friendship of His Son.

John 15:15-16
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.