From Cephas to Satan and Back Again

Lately, I've been really interested in getting to know the personality of Jesus better, so I've been reading the gospel of John in hopes of catching glimpses of his character traits.  But in doing so, I've been getting to know his crew a little better, too.  And I gotta tell you, I'm really starting to like this Simon Peter guy.  I think if he lived in modern times, Peter would totally be a Christian Studies major at OBU.  (And I can say that because I was one.)

First, I'll have to unfold the scenario a little:  Its the last time that Jesus is having dinner with his best friends.  He knows his time is coming, and must feel a sense of sadness because he is moved to do something really tender and symbolic before he dies.  The Bible says "He loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the very end."

In other words, true bromance.

So, he gets up from the dinner table.  And as he begins to remove his outer garments, tie a towel around his waist, and pour water into a large basin, the disciples must have been completely dumbfounded.  Especially when he drops to his knees and begins cleaning their dirty feet. In anybody spoke a word during all of this, the Bible doesn't mention it.  It seems like it must have been complete silence. That is, of course, until Jesus gets to Simon Peter...

Oh dear, sweet, zealous, fool-headed Peter. Always so hungry to make a bold profession, to live life on the edge and take dangerous risks, to walk on water for Christ, and yet still so shaky in his faith and understanding.  I can relate to this guy, especially in my pre-marriage/family days, so its especially comforting how Jesus is (usually) so patient with him.

Its typically Peter who has the guts, or ignorance, to prod Jesus about his mysterious riddles.  Like when Jesus implies at dinner that night that one of the men are going to betray him, its Peter who motions across the table for John to ask Jesus who it will be.  (I laugh to think of all these grown men at the dinner table in the middle of a tense moment, and there's Peter trying to catch John's attention, making hand gestures and mouthing silent words, hoping Jesus doesn't see it all.)  And later Jesus says that he is leaving them and Peter asks, "but where are you going?"  Jesus tells Peter he is going somewhere that he cannot be followed, but of course Peter won't give up that easy.  "But Lord, why can I not follow you? I will die for you!!"  And Jesus cocks his head and basically says, "Oh really, Peter? You think so? Actually, buddy, you're going to deny even knowing me."

But back to scene of the feet washing.  Jesus gets to Peter and Peter just can't help himself.  He has to butt in.

"Lord, do you really wash my feet?"
Jesus, in his patience, replies, "Peter, you don't understand what I'm doing right now, but you will later."
And what does Peter say?  "No, Lord, you shall never wash my feet."

Now, here's where I really have to laugh.  It makes me think of when Annika says she's not going to the store with me, or she's never going potty.  I wonder if Jesus looked at Peter the way I look at my child... one eyebrow raised, looking straight in the eye for a moment while the ridiculousness of the words hang in the air between us. Jesus simply says, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."  That's good enough for Peter. He cries out, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

Maybe Peter wore Jesus out with his extremism sometimes, but Jesus liked him anyways.

In fact, he really liked him.  Earlier in their friendship, Jesus was doing a little questioning of his own.  He had asked Peter about what the locals believed about him, and then straight-up asked Peter, "And you?  What do you believe about me?"  Peter's reply was firm: "You are the Christ, the Son of Living God."  Jesus is more than pleased, he practically showers Peter with encouragement and honor.  But very soon after this, Jesus begins to speak about his future suffering and death and Peter (possibly with an inflated ego about his awesomeness) feels the need to pull Jesus aside and rebuke him for speaking that way.  Here Jesus has no patience for Peter.  He speaks more harshly to Peter than he did to any disciple, ever.  "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me."

Ouch, right?  I bet that silenced Peter well enough.  But seriously, poor Jesus, because its not like he was thrilled about suffering and dying a horrible death.  The last thing he needed was a voice in his ear, of a dear friend even, saying that he was meant for better things than death.  But even if Peter was silent, he still couldn't submit to the idea that Jesus must suffer and die.  On the night of his betrayal, when the priests and soldiers and Pharisees come into the garden with torches and weapons to arrest Jesus, Peter grabs his sword and swings it at face of the high priest, and actually cuts off his ear. Jesus heals the ear and Peter gets rebuked again.

And of course, just as Jesus predicted, Peter is overcome with fear and confusion when Jesus is actually murdered and denies having ever known him.  Lets just say the guy was having a really rough time.  But honestly, why wouldn't he? He was following a man who he believed would be King, who performed miracles with the power of God, who could answer all questions and knew all things, who could calm storms and walk on water.  Of course Peter could believe in that.  Of course he would live for it, even die for it.  

And so many Christians live in this place of confident victory, of dangerous passion and zealous theology.  We are extreme in our beliefs and our boldness, but have so little maturity or life experience to really know what we are even talking about.  I've so been there.  And I've known so many others.

But even if it is an immature, undeveloped understanding, Peter's passion came from something real.  His love for Jesus was real, and Jesus knew it especially.  When many were turning their backs on Jesus, Jesus turns to his twelve friends and says, "Do you want to leave, too?"  And it is Peter that says, "Lord, where would we even go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and now know that you are the Holy One of God."  Jesus looks proudly at his friends and says, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve?"  I think Jesus knew Peter loved him, and I think Jesus loved Peter right back.

Those days following Jesus's death were probably the darkest of Peter's life.  He had given everything to follow Jesus, so fervently believed in the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of building.  When Jesus died, all of Peter's hopes and dreams and purpose probably felt pretty dead, too. So when Mary Magdalene rushed to him with the news that someone had stolen the body of Jesus, he is one of the first to literally race to the tomb.  John gets there first, but stops.  He can see the empty linen cloths lying on the ground, but cannot bring himself to go inside.  But our Peter has no such hesitation.  He gets to where John is standing and runs right past him and into the tomb.  They see Jesus is gone, but still do not understand that he has risen.  The Bible simply says, "they went back to their homes."

As if things weren't bad enough already, now the body of Jesus is missing, possibly destroyed or stolen by Roman officers for who-knows-what purpose. That night, with their doors locked for fear of what the heck was going on, Jesus appeared to the disciples for the first time.  He stood among them, showed them his wounds, and "breathed" the Holy Spirit on them.  The Bible doesn't say much about this first meeting, maybe it was just short and sweet, maybe they thought they saw a ghost, maybe they thought they were all losing their minds.  (Thomas, who isn't there that night, won't even believe the story when they tell him.)

But, I suppose Peter thought that was the end of it.  He probably didn't ever expect to see Jesus again, and he tries to live somewhat of a normal life again by returning to his old profession, fishing.  The Bible says that he Peter said to his friends, "I am going fishing." And they said to him, 'We will go with you.'" None of them probably knew what to do with themselves. At daybreak they see a man on the shore who speaks to them and for a while they don't realize it is Jesus.  But when John looks at Peter and says, "It is the Lord!" Peter threw himself into the sea and swam out to Jesus.  Together they haul the fish onto shore and have breakfast together.

The gospel says, "None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' They just knew it was the Lord."

Peter has learned his lesson about speaking too soon, he doesn't dare say a word.  But sweet Jesus, he must know that Peter's heart is hurting.  He must feel that something needs to be redeemed between them. When they finish breakfast, he turns to Peter and asks him, "Do you love me?" and Peter says, "Yes Lord, You know that I love you."  But Jesus asks Peter this same question three times, and Peter's feelings are a little hurt, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that Peter had denied Jesus three times.  Who knows.  But after saying these things, Jesus says simply to Peter, "follow me."  Whether it was a command or an invitation, Peter at least knew for sure that Jesus still wanted him.

In fact, when the Holy Spirit first comes to believers at Pentecost and the crowds are intrigued and questioning, it is Peter who stands before them and gives one of the most powerful sermons in history.  Full of wisdom and insight, he explains their own Jewish prophecies in the new light of Christ's death and "they were cut to the heart."  And those who heard Peter's words were baptized and "there were added that day about three thousand souls."  (Not very unlike when Jesus spoke to Peter for the first time, after miraculously hauling thousands of fish onto his fishing boat, and promised that he would be a fisher of men.)

Peter's impulsiveness and zeal no longer were the source of foolish questions and exaggerated promises.  He was one of the most significant disciples in the history of the Church.  I'm so thankful that God is patient with our foolishness at all stages of life, and always so ready to redeem us into something useful and fruitful for his kingdom.

And like almost all of the disciples, Peter ends up being martyred for his faith.  So I guess "I will die for you" wasn't such an exaggerated promise after all.  Most historians even say that Peter requested to be crucified upside-down, because he was not worthy of a death equal to his Master's.

I just really like that Peter guy.

"Here I come, Jesus!"


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