Sunday, November 14, 2010

Intro to Peter

Ah, Peter. The comedic relief of the Gospel, master of both the sword and the non-sequitor (see my previous note on Peter). First, a quick recap. Peter was one of the first two disciples called (the other was his brother Andrew). He, along with Peter, James, and John, formed an inner group among the 12 disciples (see the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane, Matt. 17:1, 26:37). He was married (something I had missed, see Matt. 8:14, "mother-in-law," and 1 Cor. 9:5). He held a position of some importance in the church after Pentecost (possibly the de-facto head of the earthly church, but that's not important right now). The Bible doesn't tell us how he died, but according to tradition he was crucified upside down under Nero, around the same time as Paul's death.

Now let's get into specifics. Peter is without a doubt the disciple most often singled out as doing or saying something important in the Gospels, and often these events demonstrate a particular closeness or intimacy with Christ. For instance, when the disciples see Christ walking on water, it is Peter who says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."(Matt. 14:28). And then, in the middle of a stormy sea, he leaves the boat and starts walking towards Jesus (we'll address his failure a little later). He wants to get to Jesus, even if he has to walk on water. A little later, when Christ asks his disciples "Who do you say that I am," it is Peter who responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:16, and Jesus' response is important enough for its own post, which will hopefully be soon) Later, as mentioned before, he is one of the three apostles to witness the transfiguration (Matt.17:4) and becomes so excited/terrified that he says something completely nonsensical (again, see my previous note). Again, he, James and John are the ones who accompany him into the garden of Gethsemane to pray, and he is the one who tries to defend Jesus by cutting off the ear of a servant (easily the most ill-advised and poorly-executed feat of swordsmanship recorded in the Bible). Then there's all the stuff that he does after the Resurrection and Pentecost (we might get to those in later notes). He may not have been "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John has that honor) but he was without a doubt the disciple that loved Jesus.

Now let's remember his failures--and trust me, they are almost as numerous as his successes. He tries to walk on water--and sinks, because he had little faith and doubted (Matt. 14:31). He rebukes Christ for saying that he will be killed, and is in turn completely and utterly smacked down by Jesus (Matt.16:22-23). He, along with James and John, are hand-picked by Jesus to watch and pray with him in Gethsemane--and they fall asleep (the fact that Jesus particularly calls out Peter is interesting, to say the least). Then, of course, there is Peter's triple-denial of Christ after everyone else had already abandoned him. And there are even more failures after Christ's ascension: Paul is forced to call him out on his favoritism and hypocrisy in his interactions with the Gentile Christians in Galatians 2:11-14.

Paul says in Galatians 5:24 that "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." However, he says in Romans 7:14, "I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." Nowhere is the struggle between these two verses better demonstrated than in the life of Peter. In no one else do we see these moments of great faith followed so soon by great faithlessness. He steps out into the water--and sinks. He acknowledged Jesus as the Christ--and rebuked him for speaking what he (Peter) thought was nonsense. He fought for Christ, however briefly, in the face of armed and armored Roman soldiers--and denied three times so much as knowing him, mere hours before his crucifixion. Peter is not the "perfect" Christian, despite his intimacy with Christ--in that he is a perfect example of what we all are. But he truly loved Christ, and he always tried to do better (see this note). In that, I think he is a different kind of example--one we should all strive for.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, my book Simon, Who Is Called Peter was published by Wipf & Stock Publishers. Check it out!

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