AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH April 11, 2010
A Presbyterian Church following the Bible without Qualification
and the Lord Jesus Christ without Compromise by Faith
MARK 14:32-72, ACTS 9-12
PETER AND PERILS, CONFRONTATIONS, EXPECTATIONS AND DELIVERANCES
There are times when confidence, conviction and assurance are tested to the uttermost; and then again, when a test being failed, and the strength needed being exposed as similar to that of an ultra-light aeroplane in a tempestuous storm, there are complications of remorse, surprise and emotional control.
Peter illustrates these things in both dimensions, and in so doing, in heights and depths, the latter turned from, as when one walks free from air crash, gives good example to those in similar situations, such as he covers in I Peter 4:12:
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."
Do not, he adds, suffer as a thief or criminal; but rather even when wrongfully accused for Christ's sake, know that the Spirit of God and of glory rests upon you. There is no substitute for truth, and when in truth it is so, then does the Lord so greatly bless the one who trusts altogether in Him, as Saviour and breacher, even of death for eternal life. It starts now, and does not end later, but expands into eternity in the known, delightful and constant presence of God when the resurrection, which Christ secured for His people, is consummated for us at the time which is it season.
I. The Challenge Uttered and Early Failure.
Peter is lost in his self-confidence (Mark 14:27-31), contradicting his correction by Christ's solemn warning. He would never betray Him!
Taken into Gethsemane, to be with Christ during His ultimate wrestling with the fulminations of the cross, this time to level guilt and penalty at Jesus for sins He never committed, even when He says, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here an watch," Peter does NOT watch. As the climacteric horror gripped Christ, facing in advance what was to come, Peter went, with the other two, simply to sleep. "Are you still sleeping and resting ?" Christ enquired, as the moment of the betrayer's foreseen approach came near (Mark 14:41). What made it much worse was this, that that was the THIRD time Christ had come to the disciples, only to find those whom He had asked to watch, slumbering. Defects as in an aircraft might well lead to a crash, were appearing.
Yielding to natural desire to protect the Christ, Peter not only drew his sword, but narrowly missed cleaving the head of the servant of the high priest in two. When Jesus forbad such conduct, since Christianity is NEVER interested in force, in terms of the demonstration of faith, judgment being the final ruin only when the day is done, for those who reject the truth: Peter was bewildered. Unable to comprehend, he then was overtaken by fear and flight.
To be sure, Christ had asked them to find a sword, and they found two, but this was in order to fulfil the word, "He was numbered with the transgressors" The same was said of money bags: it was to stress that normalcy was dispersed, dénouement was to strike, and they would be treated as if criminals, thus giving to His accusers some support for their follies. Yet at once, the idea that they should actually BE like that, had to be removed, so Christ healed the ear stricken from the head of one of those coming to condemn and arrest Christ. How often the disciples would misunderstand His depth and His principles, only to learn: and that was the great thing - they DID learn. Errors are one thing; being unwilling to learn from them is another. They were most willing.
In this they give us an example: never be so taken up with pride or alarm that you do not learn the obvious from the word of God, whether written or in constraint to your heart according to that word. This correction too had to be digested by Peter, in a welter of woes, coming close together.
2. The Horror Mounts
Warming himself by the fire, Peter was confronted again and again, to the effect that he, a Galilean, as clear from his speech, was recognisable as one of Christ's disciples. Amazed, deflated, confused, concerned and perhaps disoriented temporarily, Peter strenuously denied the true confrontation, and even went so far as to state that he did not EVEN KNOW Jesus, and to confirm it by fishermen's swearing.
This was an ultimate compliment to the One whom he would defend to the death by all means; and how often traitors treat their principles and colleagues like that, when the intention has been monetary, psychological, social or personal gain, and then the contrary concept of loss for the truth, suffering for the love of God and its proclamation comes up! Peter here joined those ranks, not because of a basic insincerity by any means, but it seems because he had been so ruffled, smitten by psychic blows, piercings to his troubled soul, anxiety for Christ, now arrested, suspension of his natural instinct to fight, even when he had had some success, that he got into a negative gear from which, temporarily there seemed no shifting. This may help any caught up in extremities.
Christ, passing from judgment to judgment, meanwhile, saw Peter and caught his eye, which no doubt, in the midst of His pseudo-judicial woes, came like a guided missile to his heaving heart (Luke 22:61). He wept bitterly to experience the penetration of his guilt.
To have that happen close to the time when he had just been denying even KNOWING Christ, held immeasurable impact for his soul, so the more vigorously precipitating his hearty sorrow.
To make it the more dramatic, dire and direct, the cock crowed just then, fulfilling what Christ had foretold. While this was yet another barb, yet it held within it, consolation after the extremities of shame and horror had been reached. Was not Christ still in watchful and detailed control.
However, Peter had now to wait with the rest, till Sunday. This would become the day of rest for the simple reason that the personal participation of God in the death, one not by feeling from a distance, but by body bred from a virgin for this purpose, and His own breach of death in the resurrection was altogether needed for the alarmed disciples. Overwhelmingly, it was thus that the disciples were shown, quite simply, that for His people death was a sun setting, blood red the sky, and dawn was its breach, a new day with a new breach birth from death's very womb. Without this, fear sought to govern them; with it, grace triumphed, sight unfolded, reality rejoiced them, and Peter came to life, like one who had been unconscious.
Even here, however, he did not for his own part, see Christ at that first time of dawning morning, on the third day: for as to that, Christ did not wait at all, but with the very rising of the sun, arose from the dead! It was the women who first heard from the angels of His rising, and Peter was still unsure, at their word, insisting on running down to the empty tomb in order to see what had happened. He looked in, but still troubled in soul, he left wondering; whereas John was convinced at once.
This too was a weight for him; but Christ who knows our weaknesses, and how to strengthen those who wait upon Him (Isaiah 40:26ff.),appeared to Peter personally on the first day, before He met with the other disciples in the upper room. It was Thomas who insisted on a very practical demonstration of Christ's resurrection by touching wounds, but Peter was convinced, present when Christ appeared on that first day, at evening in the house which they were using Now he went from strength to strength (cf. Psalm 84:7).
3. The Restoration Rears like a Geyser, so that Old Failure become New Faithful.
Peter had been told by Christ, before he fell, when he had more self-confidence than faith in his mood, that after his turning back to the Lord, he should strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:31-32). The irony but also the testimony of Christ's entire wisdom was this, that this was said before Peter made his great boast (even if love drove it), so that Christ knew it for itself, in the wisdom not given to this world, He BEING the very wisdom of God. Peter would both fall and rise. He was even given his coming duties after he would arise, before he so much as fell! God knows; the Lord understands.
Now, corrected, he did this very duty. When Christ appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when Peter had thought to go fishing, since there was nothing doing, and perhaps because that was where they had been told to go to meet Christ, after His resurrection, and told even before He was killed, from His own foreknowledge of events then still to come (Mark 14:28), who acted first, gave the lead ? It was Peter who in a desperation and perhaps tumult of desire, leapt into the sea and swam ashore to meet Christ the first, finding their breakfast preparations, with fire ready to cook. This followed Christ's repetition of His earlier direction, telling those who had fished in vain, where to find the fish, this a symbol to us to ask!
Here he was given an interrogation, this time by Christ, to match but not mirror that of those who had thronged in the area of the high priest's house. Three times the interrogation proceeded, as three times Peter had failed earlier; and this time, increasing responsibility was placed on his shoulders, not denial for denial, but grace upon gracel. Christ and Peter had already met (I Corinthians 15) on the first day of the resurrection, and now the commission came anew, to fill out what had been given earlier, in FULL KNOWLEDGE of Peter's first and vast cringing cowardice and confusion. Knowing this would be, Christ at that very time, before it occurred, told of his mission after it: to strengthen his brethren.
Time moved on; and in it, Peter was moved to prison by scheming authorities. 16 soldiers surrounded his cloistered, death threatened body. First, arrested ready to be killed, Peter this time was sleeping on the night before what could have meant his death. His conscience was clear; and so was the prison, for the guards slept, as the disciples had done. Before the angel, the doors opened, as the door from death had opened for Jesus the Christ, and Peter found himself delivered, so escaping ... only to be met at the door of the house where the disciples were praying, by stark unbelief in any such thing. Arriving at the door of the house of prayer, he was left there, by the maid who ran to tell those praying of his appearance. They alas who were so confident of prayer victory in this case, that they called the girl mad for announcing Peter at the door! This was more for Peter to bear without breaking, and showed the need to strengthen his brethren. They had perhaps become too used to tragedy. Thus his deliverance, though a marked man, confident, careful, calling on his friends was already used to give them a lead.
Then in Acts 10, we find Peter in a vision around mid-day, as he prayed on the housetop, being shown that Gentiles were to be included in the breadth of the faithful, this by the figure of animals unclean, yet to be eaten. At once people came asking him to come to a far off centurion, to tell what he had to say to this godly person, who had helped the Jews. The combination of vision and request was overpowering, and Peter went to address those with the centurion so that the Holy Spirit fell on these, and he proceeded to baptise, just as those who had not yet been baptised (the Jewish mode being circumcision in terms of the Abrahamic covenant - Col. 2:11ff.), earlier at Pentecost, received baptism.
At a later council meeting, Peter attested what God had done and was used to convince the brethren, with James, of the vast new area for the testimony of the Lord. This was the whole realm of the Gentiles: they were no longer a Jewish phalanx, bringing help to those in darkness; they were a Christian body bringing Christ to all (Acts 11). This was in agreement with the prophecy of Amos, which extends further in Amos 9.
Prior to this, in Acts 9, we find Peter used in the physical resurrection of a woman of great good works, whose friends were mourning her passing after a sickness. In fact, Peter even put out of the room where this Dorcas' body lay, those who noisily mourned, just as Christ had done with those surrounding the body of the synagogue ruler's daughter. Similarly to what Christ did, Peter told her to arise, and them to give her food, showing the application of John 14:12 already in the offing. Before that, he had healed Aeneas, a long-term paralytic, and indeed it was after this that the call to Cornelius, the Roman centurion came.
In all these ways, fallen but not frustrated, failed but restored, smitten in heart but received by Christ, the friend of sinners, fearless in faith, straightforward in courage, Peter was not merely an example, but became a leader, one to strengthen the disciples. At the same time, he was as far as possible from anyone pretending to become GREAT by being some kind of an alter ego to Peter, such as a Pope, who seems in the pride of the papal pretensions, more like a Peter who having fallen, stayed there, confident of his capacities, and not waiting on the Lord, who DEFINES us all as brethren, with but one Teacher and master, however well we may serve each other (Matthew 23:8-10).
Thus Peter's rise was by no means a place for popes, but it is by all means a place for us who fail in this or that, however extreme the case may seem, to seek out the Lord, to become aware that being bodily resurrected, He gives us immunity from fear of death and place for courage and use of the godly gifts and graces given with confidence. This confidence has no place in ourselves, but all place in Him who is able to keep that which is committed to Him against that day (II Timothy 1:12).