The Bible is not just the living, inerrant word of God, but it’s also historic and full of complex individuals who have incredible strengths and glaring weaknesses just as we do. I think there are people in the Bible I would probably like if I met them in the present day, for example Daniel. He must be a fascinating personality with incredible political insight and wisdom; obviously he survived many regime changes and served each succeeding king without managing to hack them off enough to receive a death sentence. On the other hand, I suspect I might not be a big ‘fan’ of Paul because he seems so harsh and intense, so ‘black and white,’ and so darn opinionated. Of course, perhaps the reason I feel like I’d want to kick him in the shins is because of his statements about not permitting a woman to teach and all of that ‘blather’ about quietness and submission…which really informs you more about me and less about Paul. [1 Timothy 2:11-15] After all, Paul MET Jesus in person and what was Paul’s response? To submit to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Even in the worst of times, Paul never turned aside from the mission that Christ gave him even unto his own death. I’ve never met Jesus face to face although I have felt His direct provision in so many ways and at so many times in my life. And what is my response to reading the message God sent me through Paul? I feel pricked and annoyed! Although I’m guessing an aspect of this response is due to the use of this scripture as a club to subjugate some members of the church by people less interested in applying other portions of divine mandate to themselves, I can safely say my sin nature is intact. I don’t really care to sit and be quiet…ever…anywhere and not just in church. Truthfully though, my impulses and desires are not of importance in God’s divine plan, amen? At any rate, suffice it to say that when I read the Bible, some of the people really affect me on a personal level and one of those people is Peter.
I really like Peter, because he’s ALL IN and he seems to wear his heart on his sleeve. There’s very little delay between thought and word when it comes to Peter and I SO relate to this. Peter isn’t sophisticated, he’s not particularly educated, but he is a man of intense emotion. I also like that he’s feisty! He might have been sleeping when Jesus was sweating blood (idiot) (I totally would have been that person too) but when armed soldiers come to take Jesus, he whips out his sword and chops off some dude’s ear. [John 18:10] He’s a man of action! I also suspect he’s clumsy and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball. Otherwise, he’d have done some real damage and all he managed was to start the trend of gauges and piercings. I’d have loved to hear them busting his chops later around the campfire about his ineptitude with knives, because that’s pretty darn pathetic. I, too, am terribly clumsy and this makes me like Peter all the more.
By the way, a little public service announcement here: I hope you are laughing! Some of these words are written tongue in cheek, so don’t get all serious on me. Oh and while you’re at it, don’t take yourself so seriously either because life is too short. But DO take Jesus seriously; He’s the one who matters.
Peter is bold but he’s kind of boneheaded and so he learns things the hard way over and over again. When he fails, he fails miserably and in public, humiliating fashion. We all know that he swore he would never deny Jesus [Matthew 26:35] only to do so three times at a critical moment during Jesus’ torture and abuse. [Mark 14:66] Jesus embarrassingly admonishes him in public too, over and over again; in the Garden of Gethsemane when he heals the man’s ear; when he tells Peter that he’s a stumbling block and to “get behind me Satan” [Matt 16:23], and most memorably in John 21 when he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times in a row. Peter keeps saying, “Yes Jesus I love you!” But Jesus’ point was deeper than Peter’s immediate perception and so he asks him three times with three different commands and finishes by telling Peter how he was going to die. Then Jesus tells Peter, “Follow me!”
Jesus has just asked Peter three times if he loved him, Peter has just learned he’s going to die a miserable death, but Peter is all of a sudden worried about the fate of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” In this text we discover another notable characteristic about ‘the rock.’ He’s nosy too! ‘Okay Jesus, yes I love you. Yes I’m going to die, but what about John?’ And Jesus basically told him to ‘mind yer business!’ Oh readers, can I ever relate to this! When life gets hard and I get a big ol’ double serving of that special Hilly pie, I want to compare my situation with that of others. I want to find commonality because perhaps I’ve been picked for a special kind of struggle that no one else seems to experience or understand. That kind of isolation is isolating and scary; I grapple with how and why a God who loves me has designated me for this trial.
Over the last number of years, I have struggled with not knowing what will happen next but strongly desiring constancy. Military life offers an extra dose of upheaval by uprooting families every couple of years, but I suppose that everyone’s lives are unpredictable. My problem is that I want to control all of the variables and I detest upheaval. As my favorite TV character Adrianne Monk said in an episode, “I don’t have a problem with change as long as I’m not there when it happens.” This sums me up perfectly! But guess what? Life is going to change and I’m going to have to suck it up and accept that. And here is where I hear Jesus continuing to press me.
In the last year, our family has experienced some changes that, while mostly good, sting a bit. We’ve experienced lots of separation, moved, shipped a kiddo off to college, and experienced some of those pesky health problems that occur as our bodies age and our minds refuse to recognize the fact. I’ve been frantic about trying to maintain external order and predictability so that I’m calm on the inside. And no amount of effort on my part is enough to give my mind peace that only God can supply but I’ve been expending vast amounts of emotional energy trying anyway. Time and time again, I keep hearing these Echoes of Peter in my life. You see, Peter was trying to be strong enough, brave enough, loving enough, loyal enough from his own fragile human power. He took giant leaps of boldness only to fall flat on his face with a crowd watching. And I’ve been doing those same things and let me tell you, it is exhausting.
What I keep hearing Jesus asking me is, “Deborah, do you trust me?” And I say, “Yes Lord I trust you,” because I’m supposed to trust him and the Bible tells me that I can. Jesus asks, “Deborah do you trust me?” and I say, “Yes Lord I trust you.” but really, I’m filled with panic and doubts about whether I can, in fact, trust him. And I know that even if I choose to trust him in each moment as it arrives, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going feel pain and experience brokenheartedness in the process. Jesus asks, “Deborah do you trust me?” And I say yes, because I have to trust him because there isn’t anyone else I can trust, but I trust knowing that God both gives and takes away and it hurts so much!
God, being a loving God, has His ends in mind and I cannot conceive of them. My little terrestrial blip on this side of eternity is inconsequential from the human perspective. As the Psalmist said, “Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Your ways are not my ways.” Inexplicably, Jesus takes a divine ‘gamble’ on Peter despite his history of leading with his chin. Out of all the disciples, Jesus selects Peter for an unlikely part of church history. In Matthew 16:18 he says “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Imagine what the other disciples were thinking when those words came out of Jesus’ mouth! The very idea makes me want to laugh hysterically.
So Peter, the big hearted, boneheaded disciple is deeply loved and used in a way that no one could have imagined. His life, which was dragged back by the tides of life and crashed upon the shores in a pulverizing action becomes the very foundation for Christians across time and history. I find hope and consolation in Jesus’ restoration of Peter. If Jesus was willing to keep pressing Peter, to communicate with him after such profound betrayal, and then to plan to use a man like him in his divine plan, then Jesus can use me too. The beauty of such an idea brings me to tears. No matter how hard it is for me to trust and to believe, Jesus can use even those elements in my life for his greater glory. What question is Jesus asking you in your life?