Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Polar Opposites, Part 1

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31

In spite of the title, these next couple of posts are not a geography lesson about the differences in the North and South Poles. For the next two weeks we will look at two men who failed the Lord when He needed them the most. Peter and Judas were hand-picked to be part of Jesus' twelve disciples and lived what most Christians consider the ultimate dream. For three years they lived with Jesus up close and personal. Both saw signs and wonders, worked miracles themselves and within a few hours of each other, disowned the Lord. This week's focus in Peter, the man who denied Jesus.

The sound of the cock’s crow jolted Peter back into reality. It was too late, impossible to retract his words. A few short hours ago, what he had demonstratively refused to acknowledge as possible, just happened. He denied the Lord. The look on Jesus’ face caused Peter’s actions to hit him like the proverbial “ton of bricks”. The air reeked with the smell of burning sulfur and a hideous voice sneered, “Some friend you are.”

From dinner in the upper room to Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s emotional state was a wild roller coaster ride. The Lord’s decision to wash feet was offensive, but Peter quickly reversed his objections to avoid exclusion. Horrified with the others to learn that there was a traitor in the group; relived to learn it was not he. Upset by the Lord’s declaration that all would desert Him and that he, Peter, would deny Jesus not once but three times was preposterous. Peter declared he would die for the Lord. Jesus did not bother to argue the point. He knew time would shortly prove Him right.

When they reached the garden Jesus asked His followers to pray. Peter and the others were drained, “exhausted  from sorrow”LUKE 22:45 NIV and fell asleep. With the arrival of the arresting party, Peter sprung into action. Sword in hand, he struck the servant of the high priest, Malchus, and cut off his ear. Jesus quickly stepped in, defused the situation, healed the man, and told Peter to stand down. Jesus’ willingness to surrender peacefully on the condition His followers were free to leave safely kept Peter from arrest, prosecution and possible conviction of assault and even attempted murder.

Not willing to desert the Master, Peter and another disciple followed the soldiers and the mob to the house of the high priest. Peter remained outside while the other disciple, known by high priest, gained admittance. Through his intervention Peter also entered, but only after assuring the maid at the gate he was not a follower of Jesus. He joined the officials and servants warming themselves by the fire. It is hard to imagine the evening’s events were not hot topics of discussion. Jesus and His arrest was the subject of headline news: “Popular Preacher Arrested in Night Time Garden Raid”; “Soldiers Immobilized When Preacher Say, “I Am He!”; “High Priest Servant’s Miraculous Recovery from Brutal Attack”. 

The courtyard buzzed with versions of the events, some more fabricated than others. The one man who knew the whole truth grew more uneasy and agitated as time passed. The last thing Peter needed was recognition. Quizzed a second time about his association with Jesus, he denied that he knew Him. Surrounded by friends, co-workers and even a relative of the man he assaulted, Peter realized the crowd could turn hostile and violent if they learned who he was. I believe that Peter’s actions were not rejections of Jesus based on his convictions, but a desperate attempt to avoid either arrest and prosecution or a beating at the hands of an angry mob. Finally a relative of Malchus challenged Peter, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?”JOHN 18:26 NIV Peter’s angry, profanity laced denial fooled almost everyone. While still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. At that instant Peter remembered the Lord’s earlier words. He did it…he denied the Lord three times, just the way Jesus said he would. Devastated, he went outside and wept bitterly.

Looking back over the events in Peter’s life that night, there are lessons we can learn.
First, even someone in a very intimate relationship with the Lord is not immune from serious spiritual opposition and attack. In Peter’s case, Satan himself singled Peter out for a personal assault. The enemy is a skilled and accomplished liar and deceiver; however, he is only an angel and a fallen one at that. His status is a class of created being lower than any human ever born. He is the Big Kahuna of his kingdom but in the pecking order of spiritual beings, he is a pipsqueak. Still we need to be on guard. He will attempt to strike at the most inopportune times in our lives. We must stay vigilant and remember we have the upper hand in any fight.

Second, Jesus is in our corner, cheering us on and ever interceding on our behalf.
Jesus warned Peter of an imminent, serious attack. The process of sifting wheat is not gentle. Wheat is thrown on a hard surface and trampled, tossed in the air and finally forced into a sieve and shaken violently. After all this the good grain emerges from the chaff. I believe the pivotal point in Peter’s life occurred when he left the courtyard. He could go one way or the other. Jesus told Peter earlier He had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail and, when at this juncture, Peter would choose to go and “strengthen his brothers”. The choice was Peter’s to make. The Lord could only pray he chose wisely.

Third, with God there is always another chance, a new beginning. He not only forgives and restores us, but also takes our failures and uses them to benefit others. Because of his experience, Peter could counsel downhearted and discouraged souls in a way the other disciples, with the possible exception of Paul, could not. He failed the Master on a level they never did and became a living testimony to the power of God’s grace and mercy.

The Agrusa translation of I Cor. 2:8 says “the rulers of this age were clueless. If they possessed one ounce of smarts, they would have picked on someone their own size and not messed with the Lord of Glory.” You get the point, Satan is not omniscient. What he did not know hurt him…big time. We can say the same thing about his decision to single Peter out for attack. Rather than crumble and fall apart, Peter bounced back with a vengeance. He became unstoppable in advancing the kingdom; a real force to be reckoned with.

We get knocked down but we don’t have to stay knocked out. We have in our own way denied the Lord but our failures do not disqualify us to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. HEB 4:16 NIV Jesus, our intercessor, prays our faith does not fail and that we too will turn and strengthen our brothers. The choice is ours.

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