Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Peter was a good guy. Right? I think we would count Peter as a good guy. But Peter was incredibly flawed. Which is both good and bad. It is good because we are all flawed, and if Jesus can use Peter, then Jesus can use all of us. It’s bad, though, because Peter is kind of an important character, and for an important character to be as flawed as Peter is can be problematic.
Let me show you what I mean. First off, the high points:
“I tell you that you are Peter [literally, “Rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
“Jesus asked them, ‘And who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ'” (Mark 8:29).
“Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, ‘Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words!’ … Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day” (Acts 2:14, 41).
Pretty impressive, no? I don’t think I even know 3,000 people much less preach a sermon that welcomes them into the new community that God is creating in the church. Peter has some pretty great moments. But, he also has some pretty significant struggles. Take a look at some of the low points:
“Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts'” (Mark 8:33, literally 4 verses after Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ).
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus told Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (John 18:10-11).
“Peter responded, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!’ At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words, ‘Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably” (Luke 22:60-62).
A bit less impressive.
So, what are we to make of Peter’s story? How does Peter help us to understand these New Beginnings that we have been discussing for the past several weeks?
Of course, we could turn to the end of the Gospel of John and see Jesus three part reinstating of Peter. We would learn that Jesus not only offers us New Beginnings, but that Jesus has tasked each one of us with specific duties according to our gifts. Or we could read further about Peter’s role in leading the church forward after the ascension of Jesus in the book of Acts and learn that not only did Peter stick it out with his New Beginning, but that God was able to do amazing things through him because of his faithfulness. And either of those options, or a dozen more would be valuable.
But, I prefer to wrap up our reflections with a moment that could have, if Peter (and John) had reacted differently, ended the movement of faith. It is a story that comes from the book of Acts, and it is a moment where it looks as if the movement of the church could be stamped out.
Peter and John are still in Jerusalem, and they encounter a man who has been crippled since birth. In the name and through the power of the Holy Spirit, they heal this man, and all the crowds are amazed. There is a great swell of interest and the crowds are ready to follow these men. That is, until the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Saduccees come to confront them. Peter and John are thrown into prison and they are questioned about why and how they do what they do.
And as I read this story, I cannot help but think of the scene that we read briefly above where Jesus is imprisoned and Peter denies Jesus three times. Of course, Peter was heart broken when he realized what he had done and how Jesus knew that it would happen. But, he also was able to avoid the same fate as Jesus on the cross. I wonder if that is in the back of Peter’s mind at all? That if he denies Jesus here in this scene, he will be let go and there will be no consequences (at least, no immediate, physical consequences).
But that’s not what happens. Take a moment to read the scene as it unfolds: Click Here to Read Acts 4:5-22.
Peter and John respond by saying, “It’s up to you to determine whether it’s right before God to obey you rather than God. As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Not only does Peter have a New Beginning, he has deep conviction and faith that there is nothing more right than telling the story of Jesus to the people he encounters. God offers us new life, transformation, and God shows us that we are partners with God in this world. And now, from Peter, we learn that these New Beginnings offer us deep conviction to live faithfully, even in the face of a threat. For there is no better way to live. There is nothing more right than the story of Jesus.
As we continue this 2021, may we lean into the new life that God offers us at every point that we need it, and may we live with deep conviction that this is the right person to follow. For Peter, the decision wasn’t difficult. He chose The Way. May we do so too.