The tears of a broken disciple

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Had you asked Simon Peter 40 days before Pentecost if he could see himself as a bold public evangelist for Jesus Christ, I suspect he would have answered ‘No way!’ Peter’s usefulness for Jesus’ ministry was questionable with his old character. Jesus required radical change, painful change, which Peter would initially resist until broken for Jesus.

Peter could never have dreamed possible the events of his life with Jesus. Well, not until his self-will had died. The 24 hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion were just the beginning; they were crushing. Who would have thought that Judas would take “a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, …and weapons” (John 18:3) to betray Jesus with a kiss? “Then Simon Peter, having a sword (Lk 22:38), drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear… (John 18:10-11).

It’s no wonder Peter followed the arrested Jesus from “a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end” (Matthew 26:58). Feeling numb with defeat, Peter then did what was unimaginable for him; he publicly denied knowing Jesus, even resorting to bad language. “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept(Mark 14:72; Luke 22:31-34). Peter snapped!

Tears of brokenness often precede fruitful service for Jesus. It’s the surrender that makes the difference. And Peter’s tears meant that he was ready for the spiritual reconstruction required for faithful service.

It soon began with Peter and “the other disciple (John), …going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple (John) …reached the tomb first. …Then Simon Peter came …and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple (John), …also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:3-9).

Resurrected Jesus even rebuked them (the 11 disciples) for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14). Doubting Thomas was invited to touch Jesus resurrection scars while being instructed; “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). But it was Jesus’ 3rd repeated question which struck home for Peter. “Simon, …do you love me?” Peter was grieved… and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17). Within Peter’s heart of hearts, he was now sealed for a life of loving, sacrificial service for Jesus as Lord.

Jump forward to the day of Pentecost, and we find a differently charactered Peter, one empowered by the transforming Holy Spirit. Now, Peter was publicly “standing with the eleven, he lifted up his voice and addressed” the crowd boldly and with clarity proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. With many words he called them to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:14-40). Jesus’ earlier words of affirmation for Peter (Luke 22:32) had become reality; he would never be the same again.

I encourage you to accept the pains of life as training for a more Christ-like character. Yield to the Saviour’s corrections. Bow under the loving will of your God, so that He can reconstruct you for greater fruitfulness; resulting in His pleasure and His glory.

The Passover that was not good enough

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Doctor Luke records the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion; His last Passover with the 12 disciples. Simon Peter, like the others failed to understand the significance of this last dinner with Jesus. But Judas, he understood perfectly. The 11 were focused on the happenings of the here and now, instead of listening to Jesus words about the bigger picture.

The Passover that was not good enoughPeter’s head must have been spinning that evening. A week earlier a “large crowd …heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13). The thing is, Jesus’ “disciples did not understand these things” (John 12:16). Then, sometime during the week following, Satan “entered into Judas called Iscariot… He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Jesus to them” (Luke 22:3-4).

This had been some week! And now the disciples, including Judas, were reclining while eating roast lamb of the Passover with Jesus.  Then, Jesus drops the first bombshell; “behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. …but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this” (Luke 22:21-23). All except Judas were in shock at such an absurd thought; betray Jesus? No, none of us Lord!

Incredibly, while squabbling over their loyalty to Jesus; “a dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Sin has this terrible ability of placing self at the centre of everything. Peter, with the others, was caught in this downward spiralling Passover celebration. Then Jesus dropped the big one which would expose Peter’s own deceptive heart.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail(Luke 22:31-32a). The enemy of God was also focusing his evil intent on Peter that evening. But Satan cannot operate outside of God’s knowledge or boundaries.

Jesus could have prayed for Peter’s deliverance, release, success, or any other tangible blessing, but no! Jesus didn’t even pray for Satan to be bound (whatever that means?). No, faithfulness was Jesus primary interest for Simon Peter. What a challenge this is for us. We want all sorts of self-centred things from the Lord when under attack; but the Lord simply wants faithfulness!

Jesus then affirmed the Father had already answered His prayer. Jesus strengthens Peter’s faith in advance by informing him that “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32b). Peter, thinking he had this faith thing sorted, tells Jesus not to worry; “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33).

So, Jesus clarifies what’s about to happen; “Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34). WOW! Sin was looking for a breach in Peter’s self-confident faith, and it would find it.

As we shall continue to learn from Peter, the Lord’s grace is amazing. Jesus’ love is secure just as Paul says; “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Despite Peter, Jesus would ensure his faith survived, would be more resilient, and he would be a faith strengthener of others. This is precisely our trust in Jesus today. I encourage you to surrender to Jesus sufficiency during your most painful times. (To be continued).

When enough is enough

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There comes a time for some believers, when enough is enough. For them, the spiritual battle of life becomes overwhelming. While there are many reasons for this exasperation, I wish to consider just one today.

When enough is enoughAs I read the New Testament, I relate well with the apostle Peter. Peter seemed to learn best through painfully extreme events in life, such as the one recorded in Matthew chapter 16. Matthew tells of Peter receiving a crushing blow, and what’s more, Peter took it from Jesus. The events unfolded only days before the Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion.

Jesus had begun ’to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’ (Matthew 16:21). Now, this would have been difficult for the disciples to understand. They had lived and served with Jesus for three years. There expectation was for Him to liberate Israel from Roman rule. This deflating news of losing Jesus to crucifixion was incomprehensible. Let alone the idea of Jesus rising to life again on the third day would have sounded absurd.

So; ‘Peter took him (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you”’ (Matthew 16:22). It’s difficult to determine Peter’s attitude here; was he being obstinate or was he simply naive and forgetting who he was speaking to. After all, Peter had seen and heard more than enough evidence of Jesus deity. Yet, he dared to give Jesus a telling off. Bold or stupid, I’m not sure, but Peter was at least brave. Correcting God face to face. Not a good idea Peter!

Jesus being God, and knowing everything, including Peter’s heart; ‘turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”’ (Matthew 16:23). Poor Peter, he would not have seen that coming. Peter probably thought that he was simply shooting his mouth off, but Jesus recognised that which Peter could not see within himself. Jesus spoke of Satan’s influence within Peter’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and attitudes toward Jesus.

Jesus cut to the core issue; Peter was obstructing Jesus’ work by imposing fleshing thinking upon God’s Son and His predetermined death and resurrection. Peter was totally on the wrong page and Jesus informed him so. Peter would have thought of himself as sincere, as outspoken with concern; but Jesus corrected every spec of Peter’s human error in one sentence. How easy it is to have sincerely shallow, self-centred thinking which is vulnerable to Satan’s influence.

Now, here’s the wonder of Jesus grace which surpasses our human reasoning. Six days later “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). Included in the trio of witnesses for Jesus peeling back His humanity to reveal His divinity, was Peter. Less than a week earlier Peter was in disgrace, yet Jesus included Peter. Only these three men, plus the apostle Paul (Ac 9:3-5), have seen Jesus in His divinely natural state of glorification. What an undeserved privilege was theirs.

Next week we shall continue towards learning, as Peter did; “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Ephesians 1:19). But for today, remember the grace which allows us, like Peter, to know Jesus Christ as Lord.

Abide in Jesus Word and enjoy the blessing

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To abide in Jesus and His Word is not always as easy as we make it out to be. There exists a constant spiritual undercurrent in the believer’s life trying to drag us away from an intimate walk with Christ. Sometimes the negative spiritual tide is undetectable, while other times it seems overpowering. Exhaustion is inevitable in this war. Acknowledging his own struggle, Paul praised God; “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord…” (1 Timothy 1:12).

Abide in Jesus Word and enjoy the blessingThe strength needed is not some mysterious force which carries the believer along in a trance. No, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1Ti 1:14). Christ strengthened Paul through “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” One of the keys to understanding how Paul translated faith and love to strength is found back in verse 12; “appointing me to his service.” At every step of Paul’s spiritual walk, he translated belief into acts of service for Christ. Paul was acutely aware of God’s call upon his life; to “display his (Christ’s) perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1Ti 1:16).

Paul had focus on Christ

As he daily experienced Christ’s faith and love, he displayed it in patient acts of service for the unbelievers who surrounded him. Paul didn’t know which of those unbelievers were later to put faith in Christ, so he displayed the reality of Jesus to everyone. Paul simply lived Christ and waited to see who Christ would bring to salvation through His Christ centred, servant living. Jesus Christ was the reason for every breath Paul inhaled.

Being confronted as an unbeliever with the life changing gospel of Jesus through Paul’s faith and love was normal. It was unavoidable; Paul meant what he said; For to me, to live is Christ” (Php 1:21). Faith and love in Jesus was all of his life, every relationship, every activity, every value and motivation was energized by Christ for Christ.

A false focus on Religion

By contrast, Jesus, speaking straight-up to a group of would-be Jewish believers, exhorted them; “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). These Jews who had believed in Jesus (:31a), were the same people who were ready to kill Jesus in verse 37. Did you notice the difference between Paul’s belief and the belief of these Jews?

It turns out, this group were more interested in their religious heritage than in Jesus. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (John 8:33). Jesus wanted them to realise their enslavement to the sin of religious dependency, and only He could set them free from that enslavement (Jn 8:36). Jesus confronted them with the liberating power of truth found in God’s Word. Unlike Paul, they wanted to kill Jesus instead of accepting His freedom.

Paul knew how to abide in the Word of Christ. Scripture was His storehouse of strength which activated upon application. Paul’s religious heritage or connections were of no use to him but abiding in Christ Jesus as Lord strengthened him. He was energized, Jesus was glorified, and unbelievers were testified to of the power of the gospel.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Persistence in sticking to the task

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Persistence is put to the test when starting any new project, because without it we lose interest and don’t complete the task. Keeping the original core desire and values is what makes persistence possible.

Persistence in sticking to the taskExplaining to the relentless crowd who had followed Him to Capernaum, Jesus said; “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus clearly understood why He was here, to fulfil His Father’s will. We see this most clearly throughout His prayers in the garden of Gethsemane with sleepy Peter, James, and John.

Jesus heart wrenching dialogue with His Heavenly Father touches again on the possibility of avoiding the cross of Calvary the next day. However, this time there’s a change in the tone of prayer; “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42 NIV). The absence of an alternative way for the Father’s justice to be satisfied sealed the inevitability of His crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus prioritised doing His Father’s will over self-preservation.

Focus is primary

Jesus focus on His primary motive for coming to earth was immovable. As He considered the cost of the cross, “being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus understood fully the extreme cost of persisting to fulfil the Fathers will. There is an enormous lesson here which every believer needs to learn well.

While we live in an age of comfort and self-fulfilment, that is not the primary focus of those who follow Jesus as Lord. Doing the will of God is where true joy and fulfilment is found. Satisfaction comes as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It’s incredible! Just think of it. God Almighty has chosen you to bring Him pleasure by living according to His will. So profound and yet so simply.

Anyway, back to Gethsemane. Jesus returns to find His three disciples sleeping again, despite the previous exhortation to Peter, “could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). The drowsy disciples obviously failed to sense the seriousness of the occasion and Jesus words. Isn’t this so often just like us?

Focus repeats itself

“So, leaving them again, he (Jesus) went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again (Mt 26:44). Preparing for the horrific task of bearing the sin of the world (Jn 1:29; Heb 9:26), Jesus needed to have unquestionable clarity. So, He prays “the same words again.” There are times when knowing the definitive will of our Heavenly Father calls for such repeated prayers. Not that God needs to hear them again, but we need to hear ourselves affirm the deepest convictions of our faith as we live our lives for Him.

God’s not a kill-joy! He really does want His people to experience pleasure in life, but not through sin and rebellion against Him. To achieve this, Christians need to persist at sticking to the task; “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Fellow Christian, we “have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). Together, let’s encourage one-another to persist in living for the glory of the Saviour.

 

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