“Even if all fall away, I will Not!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “Today-yes, tonight-before the Rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And ALL the others said the same (Mark 14: 29-31 NIV).
Jesus had warned Peter that Satan had requested to test them all (Luke 22:31-32) and told Peter to pray for strength of Faith. He even told Peter the result by telling him what to do after he turned back to Him. Jesus instructed him to ‘strengthen your brothers’ when he turned back. Peter could not fathom he would ever abandon his Savior. He strongly protested his loyalty and devotion to follow Christ to prison or even death. Peter’s epic faith failure would be infamously recorded for all time. Even if Peter was not branded with a catchy handle like, “Doubting Thomas”, it has not diminished the bumper crop of criticism his behavior has harvested throughout the ages. Humans tend to humanize everything including our understanding of Scripture even when denied huge swaths of the storyline. Although the crucifixion of our Savior is well documented in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and through the multitude of Old Testament prophet preludes, we are still required to seek the truth.
Before I begin getting complaints that this is all Easter stuff requiring me to field questions as to why am I dragging it up at Christmas, please afford me a small back step. The Advent season is largely restricted to Christmas and the crucifixion event is relegated to Easter alone. I would argue that folks who see the two events as separate are missing the point of Christmas. The gift of Christmas is our salvation. It is not a beautiful story of angels singing on high, shepherds being amazed, wise men visiting, or even a cute little baby being born in a humble livestock cave and being place in a feed trough. I love everything about the Christmas story but to see it as a singularity robs Christ of the gift he brought for you. If you do not think of your personal salvation at Christmas then you have missed the boat of understanding. The human mind and heart tends to want to separate the “happy event” from the “sad event”, which is wrong on too many levels to keep this paragraph brief. It is the guilt we all feel at the need for Christ to bear our sins that tends to make us recoil from “remembering” Easter at Christmas. Insisting on the strict separation of the two holidays blinds you to the blessings. When you understand the integral connection but deny yourself the contemplation of that connection then you, too, are secularizing and falling for the commercialization of Christmas. A Christian celebration of Christmas MUST look and feel different to participants and onlookers alike. If it does not then you may want to review how you are conducting your celebration. A more prudent move may be an in-depth review of your Faith Walk. Hey, I get it there are many stressful things that compete to veil the joy to be had. After all, even Jesus’ mom stirred the pot of family-get-together irritation when she asked him to do something about the wine situation at a wedding. So, if you think Christ cannot understand how irritating the eclectic pool of variously gifted relatives who grace your home once/twice a year then you would be very wrong. The “know-it-all”, “moral crusader”, “shady character”, “sponger”, “political activist” “the nutrition Nazi”, “Woe is me Molly” or the one who is especially good at making the highest “mountains from molehills” are all small potatoes compared to all of us because we are his family and he gets all of us every single moment of every single day and night. There is nothing you can endure that God does not understand. Now, back to Peter.
Wave after wave of criticism has submerged Biblical figures like Peter, Thomas and Judas for eons but how valid is that criticism and who, exactly, is qualified to levy such criticism? As many of you know, one of my pet peeves is folks who are ignorant of the facts but still feel justified in voicing an opinion. First and foremost, learn the historical context in which the story took place. Become a super sleuth, pursue your God and He promises to be found. Don’t depend on others to tell you a truth you say you base your Faith Walk upon. What if they are lying? What if they are ignorant? What if they are only trying to manipulate you to believe how they believe? Try to put at least as much time into your pursuit of God as you do your favorite TV program, book series, video game, etcetera.
Did Peter fail in this test of Faith? Yes…yes he did. Jesus knew he would. Jesus told him that he would. Jesus told him he would come back around to be the rock all his brothers in faith would desperately need him to be. Jesus did not condemn Peter for what he knew would happen, for he understood that Satan was going to be suppressing his beloved disciples with overwhelming fear. I wrote about Jesus’ fear in my last post; therefore, we already know that fear is not only permissible but expected. Nevertheless, fear cannot become a roadblock preventing you or him from fulfilling God’s purpose. Courage is not the absence of fear but continuing forward in spite of it.
In all of my humanness, I gauge the absolute worst part of Peter’s experience occurred when that cock crowed and he lifted his head only to see the broken hearted Jesus looking directly at him. An immediate, overwhelming, soul-wrenching sorrow overtook Peter. The weight of his failure at that moment cannot be equaled and it must have been truly devastating to him. Every gospel records the event but only Luke includes this very important detail. Imagine the exact moment in time when you see the hurt in Christ’s expression knowing that it wasn’t the insults, abuse or even false accusations of the accusers that had put that pain in his expression. Nope, his eyes filled with tears because of you. The pain for both of them had to be indescribable. Scripture tells us that Peter went outside and wept bitterly. That tells me that a lot of body shuddering sobbing was going on here. You know, the really ugly crying event that makes you look as if you went ten rounds with three prizefighters the night before. Yet, this event is not over yet. This is only the beginning of a night and day of horror for our Savior and all who loved him. For Peter and his fellow disciples it was going to get much darker as their friend, brother, teacher, and master would be torn apart on every human level. Also, if you noticed, Peter was not alone in his rapid flight from Christ. ALL of his flock would scatter when the shepherd (Jesus) was struck.
So why is Peter’s story of fear and failure highlighted? Why doesn’t God tell us of all the other disciples who ditched Jesus that night? Simply, it was not necessary because Peter’s account was enough for us to be able to identify with him. We are Peter. How often have you thought, “I would never abandon Christ?”I would stand with him till the end! I would surely die for him if that were what is asked of me! I would never, ever, ever hurt Christ that way!”
I would respond as lovingly as I could by saying, “Oh Really?” Then let us consider a few facts that may help you level out that ‘hero complex’ to a human reality. First and foremost, your sins and my sins put him in that situation. He was betrayed, mocked, hit, ridiculed, humiliated, spat upon and then had his flesh torn from his bones as he was flogged. Each lash should have been delivered upon your back, upon my back, for our sins put him there. All past, present and future sins of humanity were borne by Christ and he did nothing to deserve it…nothing. You may say, yeah, I heard that one before, what else you got?
First of all, that attitude got to go but I do have more. When is the last time you complained of an ailment, an economic hardship, being attacked for a belief, being subjected to false accusations, betrayal, being used, abandonment, and/or any combination thereof? To be certain, complaining and asking ‘Why?’ is not a sin unless it serves to drive you, yourself and others away from Christ. Then it becomes a handy tool of Satan that is very apt at destroying you and those who love you. The rub is that those who have been rooting for you to fail are also harmed when you behave this way because they just “knew” you were ‘full of it’ with this Christian crap.
Suffering is a guarantee, not just a possibility, if you choose to follow Christ. Plain and simple, Jesus tells us that we will face many of these things if we strive to walk in the Faith we claim to have. Our proud boasts and claims of sticking by Christ, “no matter what” often do not stand the test. When hardships and sickness hit we begin the self-defeating mantra of, “Why Me?” Again, asking God, ‘why’, is not a sin but staying stuck because you are not looking for the answers; thereby, refusing to fulfill your purpose may be something you will have to explain to your creator one day.
As some of my readers may remember, the story of Job, was a huge stumbling block for me as there are so many things in that book that I do not understand and no human can explain to me. Still, it continues to surprise me how many people claim to have the life of Job while making the indignant claim, ‘My life just isn’t fair!’ If you are claiming such a boast then I expect you to be pretty darn righteous. God judged Job to be a righteous man in all ways. Your Faith Walk better be able to rival those of Peter, Paul, Noah, Reverend Graham or Mother Teresa’s just to name a few. Not that any of these folks were perfect but their Faith walk was pretty solid by the time they began becoming effective for God’s kingdom. No, they were not born that way; instead, many Faith failures tempered the genuineness of that faith. Suffering hones the strength of our faith or adds to the level of bitter anger we tend to nurse. It is your choice. Another feature of a Job claim-to-be, EVERYTHING is a huge deal as there is no rational perspective of suffering. God is picking on you, right? You do not care or want to understand someone else’s suffering. You just want your suffering to stop. I get that, I have been there too. There have been moments in my existence where I have actually told God, “I don’t care if they are hurting. I do not care if he or she needs me. I do not care if this experience will make me better or more able to understand the pain of others. I just want it to stop. Yeah, I am not too big a fan of the honing part of this Faith building journey. It hurts. Pain perspective cannot be learned from a book, it is earned through experience. It matters not what type of pain the sufferer is enduring because it can all be destructive if not handled properly.
“Can it possibly get any worse?”. This question is either asked by someone who is ignorant or just plain foolish. The answer is, YES, YES, YES, it can always be worse, always. I used to bemoan my challenges all the time and would snap at those trying to counsel me saying, “You do it then…you walk in my shoes then offer me the same useless advice!” I have I ever encountered a person with the same volume of simultaneous challenges with which they must cope as I work through every day. I am NOT saying that I have it the worst of all humanity, nor am I comparing my pain and suffering to anyone else’s. Numerically speaking, the volume of simultaneous problems occurring within a finite time frame has been daunting and served as an effective stumbling block upon my journey. Suffice it to say, .it can and usually does become worse before it begins to get better. The impetus of change is usually you, your choices, your decisions…period.
For instance, you go to the doc because you are having a hard time catching your breath. She tells you that you have case of COPD in the initial stages but that you could slow its progression and improve your short and long-term quality of life by making some lifestyle changes. Stop smoking, lose some weight, stay away from concentrated second-hand smoke, watch your alcohol intake and get involved in some cardiovascular exercises at least three times a week. The problem has been identified and you go home and do what? Decide on a plan of action so that you can drop some weight, quit smoking and get some more exercise? Perhaps you will alter your social hangouts so that you can stall the disease effectively affording you a couple more decades of a higher quality of living.
Unfortunately, a very small percentage of us react in such a proactive manner. Rather, we begin binging on all the stuff that must now be restricted or eliminate and that is just at the mere thought of giving any of it up. We feel sorry for ourselves and begin imagining the worst-case scenario and in that active imagining we become our own self-fulfilling prophecy. We either ignore or refuse to participate in the possible solution. We actively sabotage our future by living, in this case, as if we have stage four lung cancer. We effectively take ourselves out of the land of the living long before that ever happens. I have known people who are figuratively standing in their grave, shoveling dirt upon themselves while yelling at those trying to dig them out. What are they yelling at the potential rescuers? “No one understands, no one feels what I am feeling, No one will help me! I am worthless, useless and a burden. I don’t need anyone to help me. God is persecuting me, God has abandoned me or ‘I have the life of Job, woe is me!” Of course, their actual verbiage may take on a more colorful tone. How does this relate to Peter’s faith failure? When we do these things, we are failing in our faith walk. We allow fear to control us. We allow Satan into our minds and let him run amok until he has convinced us that we are all alone, God is unjust, and that no one cares or understands what we are going through.
Granted, it is the normal human reaction to ‘wig out’ when faced with such life altering news. However, if you are a Christian then you must get beyond the initial reaction and concentrate on finding the purpose in the pain. We all have faith failures throughout our lives and sometimes those failures are spurred by agony that cannot be verbalized. Pain, so intense and pervasive that can be felt by others due to the constant pulsating ache emanating from the person upon everyone around him or her. This is true regardless of whether it is being felt by us or by another depending on how empathetic you are and/or how close the person experiencing the suffering is linked to you.
Every time we ‘stay stuck’; we are abandoning Christ just as his disciples did after that night in the garden. Every time we dwell on the negativity surrounding the problem we are laying down our crown of thorns and allowing our cross to shudder as it bounces off the hardened ground. We look at Christ as he looks right back at us and we drop the crown saying, “I am sorry but I cannot follow you to the end. I am too afraid, it hurts too much. I am sorry Jesus, I thought I would never abandon you but I was wrong.” Then we weep bitterly, for we have broken our promise to be there for our savior. We are certain we could fulfill our promises to follow him no matter the cost. Yeah but, you didn’t understand just how high that cost was going to be and how many were going to try to stop you. “Sorry dude, you are on your own Jesus and please do not give me the “Jesus eyes” of total love and total forgiveness. That is like a knife in my heart.”
Peter could have chosen to fold in on himself in pity, shame, and sorrow effectively removing himself from the critical role Christ had called him to fulfill. He could have run and hid after his friend and savior looked straight into his soul. On the other hand, he could have chosen the easy way out like Judas had by killing himself. Dying is much easier than choosing to live and face your mistakes atop all the challenges ahead. Satan knocked Peter to the dust but he did not choose to stay there; instead, he eventually got up and took the hardest step…the one leading forward.
I used a large life-changing example to illustrate the point but every time we hear another take the Lord’s name in vain and stay silent, it is a brutal lash across our Savior’s back. When we see a neighbor or stranger hungry, cold, or lonely and remain invisible to them, it is a hard blow to his Face. You and I are no better than Peter, for we are all perfectly imperfect. Peter spent the rest of his life trying to make good his promise to his Christ and friend. Peter never abandoned Christ again but that does not mean he did not fail. We chronically give up on Jesus and all it takes is a few problems hitting us at the same time. Car breaks down, deep freeze thaws unexpectedly and now on top of everything you are nursing the flu. You begin bemoaning your life, your home, your situation—Christ’s cross appears to be too heavy for you to bear so you put it down. You see in his face that you are breaking his heart…again.
Walking steadily in one’s faith is not easy and everyone will falter now and again but the key is to have others walking a similar path as you so that you can catch either other when you stumble. Satan is not going to stop trying to destroy you but Jesus will never abandon you even if you come to the conclusion that you cannot follow him everywhere he must go. He will never stop you from stepping off the path…pesky ‘free will’. His heart will break as your eyes meet one another’s countenance as you stray.
We are Peter; we are worse than Peter as he failed a couple millennia ago but we are failing every day, knowingly. A FaithWalk never ends, the hardships do not get simpler but our ability to handle the hardships and pain grows exponentially. Jesus never asked us to traverse this Faith Walk alone; conversely, he provides helpers for us at every turn if only we will open our eyes. We must climb out of our premature grave and practice perspective; stop comparing our lives/ailments/sorrows to all around us. God asks each of his children to carry a unique burden, for which he has woven into our being the skill, talent, or gift to overcome the hardship. He promises that the cost of following him will pale in the brilliance of the reward. Do not see Peter as a long dead man who has no relevance to your life. Peter did not have super powers, he was not divine but his faith failure launched his resulting level of new faith into an epic foundation.
Before sharpening your sword of judgment, hammer of woe-is-me, and dust out your pit of despair…pray for strength, wisdom, direction and healing. Pursue your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Look towards Peter’s incredible strength of Faith when he decided to get up and take that next step toward the Kingdom of God. He could have wallowed in his failure, pain, and heartache but he did not. He remembered Jesus’ instructions for him turned back to the path that led him to Christ…strengthen his brothers in the faith.
I understand that your suffering may be so dire and so prolonged that it has been allowed to create a guarded heart in you. A heart and mind filled with fear, anger, cynicism and judgment upon all others is one that is cold…one that is dying. Our lives are perishable, our bodies have an expiration date, people we love are going to get sick or get in an accident and we are going to lose those we cannot think we can live without. There is going to be pain. Do not waste your suffering and do not stay stuck.
I pray God blesses each of you with the strength and overwhelming desire to pursue him whole-heartedly.