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THE CYCLE THAT DOESN'T NEED TO BE A BI-CYCLE!
THE SAME GAME, SAME SHAME, SHAME NAME
1st and 21st century A.D.
The time had come. It always does, in the end. What is confidently expected, comes; what is a confused mess of miasmic incertitudes, in its clarified form, that too comes. The gaunt possibility, either fearlessly horrendous, or much ameliorated, that too comes.
So it is as anyone gains glimpses of the word of God, without paying too much attention. When however one listens and heeds and believes without the envious eyes of self-advantage, group advantage, but rather instilled with truth, in empathetic sympathy with the ways and the will of God as the heavenly Father, then there is less impact in one respect. What is said, this happens. It does not vary. It may come in a way unexpected, but it comes just as directed. It is far less impactive when it does not come in the midst of futile argumentation, but of acceptance. It may prove painful to understand it; but it is far more profitable to do so, than to relish hope that it is not going to happen.
The disciples had heard over and over again what was to happen. Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29) was to be killed, betrayed, mocked by soldiers, rejected by elders, a taunting object, a spittoon in flesh (cf. Matthew 12:40, Mark 8:31-33). In the latter case, it was very open, very detailed and not long after the people had actually sought to make Him King, following the feeding of the 5000. The stark realism of the sacrificial spirituality of Christ's physical life plan was thus in explicit and marked contrast to the glorious miracles and gifts of grace.
That is the way of it: it does not need to be synthesised with this or that human thought, merely received! Much of 'theology' is an effort to dwarf the gigantic to the ordinary by ignoring God and trying to make things that deal with Him, to resemble those that do not. In this it is always inert and inept, and sometimes deadly. Foci for such foolish philosophic flirtations abound, as in the creation, the atonement, the resurrection, the miracles, the simple realities that the source of script in man's make-up physically is likewise the source of Scripture for man's performance, the whole verifying itself continually. It is in this way that the myths predicted by Paul in II Timothy 4, come into force, though their intellectual credentials are more than minimal, even non-existent (cf. Message ..., and SMR pp. 857-877, 377ff., Deity and Design ... Ch. 9 as marked).
When Christ, as seen in Mark 8, rebuked Peter for trying to dissuade Him from the Cross, there was no quarter giving. Satan himself was explicitly addressed by Christ, as one present in the endeavour, as indeed he would be, as in any which seeks to downgrade the realism of the commandments, the atonement or the resurrection. In all proceeding from above to below, from God to or through man, the latter two in Christ, God AS man, the devil loves to seek to bring them further, from down to earth to the very gates of hell, in a work both inane and profane, leaden in spirit and aflame in a vitiating heart. He cannot rest, being restless because of resistance to the truth, which never tires, dies or is derelict, though mercy thrust home like a garden in the deserts of time; and with his own, he descends lower and lower, forgetful of the ascension back to heaven from which Christ came, which was the point of the lowering of Christ to the form of man in the first place.
It is much the same on the topic of separation from what, like Peter at that MOMENT, is bent on arguing against what God has to say. Far be it from you to die! says Peter. All the disciples will scatter, you say ? Not at all, says brave Peter. Arguing with God was a flaw in Peter, but it was overcome in costly fashion. With some, however it begins to become a lifetime performance; and failure is guaranteed. In this Age of Decline, then, separation from those petering out, and contrary to the teaching of the apostles, what of this ? AVOID them, is what Paul requires (Romans 16:17). Some may say, But those who deviate from the apostolic teaching are not as bad as Romans 16:18ff. indicates.
Really ? Did then Christ say to Peter when he deviated from the doctrine of Christ, Come now my man, this will never do. Come and let us have a drink of something soothing, and eat a friendly bread or two together, and see if we cannot work something out.
I think not. Nor did He even say, Peter, you know, I CANNOT agree with you; but I will not separate from you, and you just continue as you must. I will just have to live with you and call it Christian love or solidarity or something nice, and I can only hope you will learn. Mind you, I will rather limit contact with you, as far as conveniently may be after this.
That too, it was not the way of Christ.
No, neither of these was the way of that Lord who is our example in purity. "GET BEHIND ME SATAN!" cried Christ. That was what actually happened. It was decisive, immediate and profound, elemental and accurate, effectual and involved the direct of power of God against Satan.
Nor did Christ fail to REBUKE PETER in the process, nor to characterise the nature of this 'divergence'. Having apostrophised Satan, He went on in His rebuke to Peter who had yielded to the Satan's evil ideas, to say this:
"For you do not savour the things that are of God, but the things that are of men."
The fear of God and the correlative horror at departing from what He has been kind enough to say (cf. I Corinthians 2:9-13, I Peter 1:10ff., II Peter 1:19-21, Matthew 5:17-20) has made many obtuse. They imagine you can argue with what God has in the clearest manner laid claim to as His own over the millenia, contend with the words of that Book which pointed to the Christ who fulfilled what concerned to Him to the letter (cf. Matthew 26:53-56, Luke 22:35-38). This is unclean. God neither put theology, nor the Cross, nor the resurrection nor the miracles nor the healings nor His words into the hand of men; and when men began to try to take HIM into THEIR OWN hands, even the incarnate Word of God into their 'things of men' style hands and power and precepts, they did indeed kill Him, their own Mercy; but they did not preclude His resurrection.
The Lord will laugh! we read in Psalm 2, where it predicts this unholy alliance of flesh and lust for the overthrow of the Lord and His Messiah; and He consigns all those specious efforts to oblivion. Not only, says the Psalm, will their efforts be unsuccessful, but IN OVERTHROWING those endeavours, the Lord in heaven will LAUGH at their futile antics and satanic puss, imagining it could ever be more than pathetically diseased and impotent endeavour, like a facial tic. The Messiah, He indicates, will arise, born from the death imposed as more elaborately and explicitly indicated in Psalm 16. His flesh so far from rotting will bound back into life, and in it He will address the brethren. So it happened. Nothing could stop it, even with a millenium of notice of God's intentions to resurrect; and nothing did.
Death as a womb could not hold Him, as He exploded from it, rupturing the womb of death and becoming alive from the dead (cf. I Corinthians 15:54ff., Colossians 1:18, Acts 13:33, 2:23-24).
But let us return from this contemporary challenge not to SUFFER contradiction of biblical teaching but to rebuke it, and leave it, being separate from it as from Satan. Before however we do so, let us note and underline this point: Peter did not CONTINUE his false teaching. He continued with Christ as Master. Yet it was this necessity of letting God be God, Christ be Lord that had to be realised to the full by Peter. After all, he DID also contradict Christ in claiming that HE (whatever anyone else might do) would NEVER forsake Christ, be 'offended' by Him, but if need be, die with Him. That, however kindly the intention, was a flat contradiction of what Christ had just said (Matthew 26:31,33). Christ did not delay. He flatly contradicted the contradiction, and went even further.
Peter, he said, this night you will DENY Me! Then He gave further detail on the coming episode. GOD KNOWS what He is dong; but also what WE are doing!
It is necessary to learn this, and live it. Peter learned through various vicissitudes and rebukes. He was not left to smoulder or rot in his make-believe ideas, but was at once corrected. It is one thing to be a slow learner; but quite another to contradict God, in person or in His word, which comes from the MOUTH of His Person (cf. Acts 4:25).
So it is necessary to separate where men separate from His word and contradict Him.
You see the same sort of thing in II Corinthians 5 and 6 and Ephesians 5, and on this topic, it is well to contemplate the rugged realism and utter desolatory exposure by Jude of what is not according to the faith once for all delivered, the future and past results of such theological and personal pathology being stretched out in the hot sun of his exposure in that epistle (cf. Message ... Ch. 3). You may be able to SNATCH one of the already burning faggots of what departs from the faith already delivered once for all to the saints, he declares, but you have to do EVEN THAT (from its own burning ground brought with extinguished flames to where you safely are), with more than compassion. You have to do it with loathing for the spiritual cancer, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh"! (Jude 23).
You might as well jump off a cliff and expect a helicopter at hand, as ignore this often repeated biblical teaching on accepting the Lord and His words, including what to do when others simply refuse to honour them as His, as true, as backed by Him.
We are in essence discussing the failure of Peter to HEED and inwardly digest just what Christ was saying ABOUT His impending death and the manner of it. The comparison with present day tendency either to contradict the word of God or ignore its commands, trying like Peter to escape their clear impact, is simply a contemporary application of the same phenomenon, concerning relationship with God and those who name Him, and HIS WORDS, commands, and their execution.
Is it so very hard, indeed to execute His commands, when He, in performing His own mission, was and knew He would be, executed! Moreover, it was to be done, and was done, amidst the utmost humiliation, even to the sacrilegious summit of making it appear that He lacked POWER, or was not PLEASING to His Father, because He did not come down from the Cross! What exquisite irony was this, when in fact it was because He as God, was faithful, that He not only did but had to remain there till death!
That, the approaching physical death of Jesus Christ, was the basic concept shown in such sites as that of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:9-10), when any 'literal' meaning, that is, any thought that so glorious a figure as Christ was there shown to be, seemed perhaps to some scarcely able to be held together with this. People also often hope: SURELY He does not mean this. It is best to take it as it comes. If in the glory of the moment or day of power in feeding the 5000 or the transfiguration, or near to it, He makes this contrasting prediction concerning His impending suffering and its reason, would it not be better to mediate and ponder the contrast, rather than ignore it!
It is indeed, though the mist often drifts here, nothing to do with being literal or not, when people are told by One whom the authorities manifestly seek to obliterate either in force or life, that this leader's life is subject not only to threat, but to a series of actions designed to make it the site for what at the physical level, would be a memorably miserable exit from this world. Further, such an exit would be, as it was, far worse at the spiritual level, since He had to bear sin, which makes the claws of a grizzly bear seem pleasant by comparison.
The only interpretation, here as so often, in the absence of any constraint to the contrary in the announcement, is that, believe it or not, consider it inept or unjust or whatever your philosophy may please, this is what is going to be. We read on one occasion, quite explicitly, just this after such a statement of death coming, from Christ: Luke 9:44-45. They "did not understand this saying. Its meaning was hidden from them ..."
However not only was His preceding statement eminently clear, He had even asked them to study and meditate on it, making it the more noteworthy that they continued NOT to grasp it. Was it a fine point of theology ? Not at all, it was the butcher's chop. "Let these words sink down into your ears; for the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men."
The concept was hardly new: after all, when Christ on one occasion wanted to go to Judah, for Lazarus, it was Thomas, who seeing the implications, agreed saying that yes, it was something to do, for then they could all die with Him! In other words, the extreme peril of the place was not a matter for a sixth sense! Death at their hands was all too likely an outcome. The antipathy and deathly intent of the authorities was not hard to find (cf. Luke 11:53ff.). Indeed, in John 11:8, we find quite explicit, the statement of the disciples, "Master, lately the Jews have sought to stone You, and are you going there again ?"
It seems that there is, in the human body, a chemical family which tends to suppress pain (endorphins are in this category); and so in the mind, there is often a tendency to render fuzzy or strange, outlandish or worthy of at least partial dismissal, anything which impinges negatively on one's personal preferences/presuppositions/expectations. This is of course a form of mental pathology; but it happens. In fact, there is here a provision for non-stupefaction by actuality, to a point; but this is merely misused when it is made into non-reception of clear fact. The lull, artificially induced, only makes the storm seem the greater when it hits.
Nor was this all. There was, in addition to the reluctance to face aspects of the truth on the part of the disciples, a difficulty of taking Christ (whatever He said) out of the context they saw, that of the powerful, pitiful, gracious, prevailingly prayerful, entirely authoritative Lord, into a very different picture. It was that of a victim of vicious criminals dressed in civic garb: something else. Christ Himself essentialised the two aspects, found and bound abundantly in the prophetic scriptures, as shown in Luke 24:26,46-49. "Ought not Christ," He asked, "to have suffered these things and to have entered into His glory!"
There were unexpected elements which came in a rush, making it doubly difficult to realise the essence of things in the calamitous onset of events. To be sure, some at least of this should also have been realised; but one's purpose here is not to be critical of the disciples, but to bring forcibly to our own attention how easy it is to do SOMETHING ALL TOO SIMILAR! Thus the deliverance of Christ into the hands of elders, a social setting of spitting, of death as an emblem of regard, albeit negative, this had to MEAN that the Shepherd (John 10), for that He was, would be smitten! What else ? Beyond the predictions are the practicalities, and in them there is anti-hubris, indeed the sense of urgency of evil and deadly dynamic, to be resisted, understood and overcome in spirit as eventually, altogether when the terminus to test comes to its own time.
However, when on the actual night (as if they had failed to homework for some time, and had at once to catch up and could not do so in time for the next day, or event!), Christ indicated this, that the scripture which stated that the Shepherd must be smitten, and the sheep scattered (Matthew 26:31), must be fulfilled, and that this was imminent: there was still no ready realisation. It was indeed just after this that Peter made his so famous denial of the assertion of Christ that all would be scattered!
It was in one analogical sense, like the strike in a baseball game, and instead of hitting a homer, Peter managed to miss the ball.
Amidst these boiling events, in which the sacred and sublime - as at the Last Supper - and the ruthless and the renegade from different parties, were to be mingled, a further anomalous seeming episode colluded to make the crisis even worse for the disciples in general, and for Peter in particular. Thus when Judas APPEARED, not in their midst, but in that of soldiers from the priestly quarters, where a double betrayal effected itself, a disciple with the enemy, and the heirs to the temple's working, the priests, sending out armed force to give a quietus to the Messiah, in no mean style of torment: there was a further dynamic.
That ? It was unexpected affront, unexpected treachery. To be sure, once more, this betrayal had been predicted for quite some time, and clearly as in John 6:70. Indeed, it was in the Book of the Lord for some 1000 years before the occurrence (cf. Psalm 41, 55, 69, 109*1). Yet its REALITY, like the sudden realisation that a car is about to HIT yours, not in a dream or vision, a day dream or a possible affront, but NOW and in fact, this seemed to stun the disciples. Peter - never let him be called a coward for one second - drew his sword and with astonishingly enterprise and accuracy (or good fortune) did not cleave the head of one of the treacherous followers of godless men in two, but by a few centimetres' margin, merely excised an ear from its site on the head.
It was again a species of stunning that hit Peter himself, when he was ordered by Christ not to use force in His defence (a thing long lost on the machines and machinations of Romanism, as in the so long and drawn-out persecutions of the Inquisition - cf. Ch. 14 of Ancient Deeds and Modern Events). Force in affairs of faith is always a contradiction in terms. Faith is from and through the heart; force is on the body. You do not create a heart relationship by force, except it be a negativity or a negation of personality itself. ALL such religions as seek to use force in terms of faith are self-contradictory, and delusive. NO! no Peter came the word of Christ. Put up your sword.
To Pilate (cf. John 18:36), He went on later to say that His kingdom was NOT of this world; and that (obviously) if it were, then His servants would fight. In fact, He indicated, this was emphatically not the case, as anyone could see. Pilate had no excuse for any pretence, and it seems he had a decreasing desire for any. Christ was no possible threat to the imperial passion of Rome. He was however, because of the incendiary crowd-stirring of the priests in mock loyalty to Rome and its Emperor, a threat to Pilate!
Peter, having acted with the weapon he understood, stood prohibited by Christ. Who knows what a determined skirmish might have wrought; but it was forbidden. With God, truth rules, and where love is absent, it is not His kingdom which is in view. Such things hit like a cyclone at the prelude to the derisive and treacherous mortal proceedings of those who turned their spiritual King and actual God, into an immolation, a perverse demonstration of the power of religion to be as sick as irreligion. This is the comfort in Christ, that there is nothing at all devious or difficult: you believe, you receive, a servant is not greater than his master, you suffer, you obey, you inherit the very fury that He met, and if need be, you too die. If not, you are really a living sacrifice (as Paul was - Romans 12:1-2). This world is a test, a prelude and an exposure, indeed an expose of spiritual things, and in it, one is on pilgrimage (I Peter 2:11), both in and for the one who calls, who created, who has redeemed for Himself a special people.
The kind of kingdom that Christ presented brought comfort in truth, in logical consistency and spiritual transparency in all matters of conduct, since there is there neither need nor occasion to prevaricate or be devious. You simply pay up, live up, take up your cross and follow Him. It is certainly war; but not on God. There is the pleasant part; and in God, there is a clarity as of heaven, as Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 1 ).
As we glance back, of course, we see the sharp and instructive contrast between the swagger ? the self-assurance ? the devoted simplicity of the heart of Peter ? as he proclaimed his undying loyalty to Christ, and the thwarted sword-wielder who now had to put up his sword, and ... ? That was the question: now do what ? He ran off, as did the others (Matthew 26:56).
That is the trouble with self-assurance, even if it unaffected and heartfelt. It rests in what is fundamentally feeble, and what is needed is the glorious effectuality, the unremitting presence and inspiration of God Himself. If you want to serve God, you need GOD Himself in your heart, not only inspiring your mind, but tempering your tongue and activating your members. It is a wonderful thing to walk and work with the Lord, and when one does, there is a consummate beauty of companionship which makes pleasure a pantomime and excitement a pall-bearer by comparison. It is life!
These are practical realities in the kingdom of Christ, and they do not do evil to others, but show them the way ON the way!
No Reproof from Comrades
As we now survey Luke, Mark, Matthew and John concerning the events following the scattering of the 'sheep', we find the following. Peter goes into the outer courtyard of the High Priest's place. Another disciple who, in view of a fairly consistent type of reference in John's gospel, seems to be John - is also there. (See John 13:23, 18:15, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20,23-24: in the last of these verses we find that it is John, who wrote this Gospel as the Lord led him who uses this form of identification.)
It seems clear therefore that John was known not merely to the servants of the High Priest, but to that dignitary himself (John 18:15); and having brought Peter in through his good offices, through the outer gate, we hear no more of him. It would appear, in view of the seemingly solitary performances of Peter, sitting thus outside the inner places of action (Matthew 26:69), that the other disciple, John, may have gone further within the building, while Peter became subject of investigation by young women, who had a fairly sure recollection that he was "one of them". They may have spoken concerning this Peter, with some degree of asperity and tartness as he warmed himself by the fire. You were with Jesus of Nazareth, said one of the maids: This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth, says another. Others affirmed the same, and Peter began to curse and swear.
It appears from weaving all the Gospels on this together, that the first and third query addressed to Peter, or indeed on occasion, direct statement of recognition, occurred while he was in the courtyard, where a fire was lit to ameliorate this outer place. The second one may have been at, possibly outside, or near the gate. Peter was very much left to his own devices, and devices they were!
"I do not know the man," he twice declared. Indeed, in fast-grown warmth at the sudden peril, he vociferated, "I do not know what you are talking about!" The subject of Jesus of Nazareth and being with Him, one of His followers indeed, seemed not only to require a flat negative, but a statement here that it was all puzzling to Peter, the very idea seemed incapable of incomprehension. What had he to do with Jesus of Nazareth!
Again, this is precisely how many modern people slink off from obedience to the commandments. It is in context the opposite of what it says, they state without ground. If a text without a context is sometimes called a pretext (it is always good to see in what setting a thing is said), then a context at war with the text requires cross-examination. Contortions are often engaged in, that remind one of Peter, but this is not how one must affiliate to the word of God.
Indeed, unless the context MUST negate, say in irony, what is stated as to the meaning, it remains. Only fancy dealings of one kind or another can raise such questions. Man can be fanciful and ironic; but assumptions to this effect must be demonstrated before allowable, and indeed, one has yet to find a scripture which leaves one in any doubt on such topics. As Proverbs 8:8 declares, it is all clear to the one who understand. As always, it is sympathy with the speaker which helps one to find what he means; and when one seeks the truth, it is not strange, for God is alive.
While therefore one must always be ready to hear, one must be ready to answer (cf. Luke 21:15), and while one may miss a point, it is what is written that will clarify the matter, just as Jesus 'clarified' several points of difference with Peter. In each such instance, Christ meant just what He said, and the disparaging or alternative 'view' of Peter was corrected with a clarity that had the strength of the mid-day sun. The mist of irrelevant presuppositions departed, leaving only the rock of truth.
God knows what He means, wants and requires. It is not too burdensome to find it out! Commandments are not given in a mist.
Peter then, appears to have had no comrades of spirit to support, reprove, whisper, exhort him in this unsublime episode of three denials, the acme that of denigrating any IDEA that he even so much as KNEW Christ. That negative pearl was the indication that he did not even know what they were talking about.
This was the maxi-incomprehension of what does not desire the truth. In this of course there is encouragement to all who fail, but also exhortation and warning to us all: NEVER let emotion, will, desire, prior thought or any other thing stand between you and the word and the will of God. Examine yourselves, says Paul to the internally bickering and sinning Corinthians (II Corinthians 12:20-13:5), that you be firm and sure in the faith! This is the best antidote to wandering presuppositions which people often seek to import into the word of God, bringing now this and now that unheavenly composition as a result.
Christ is Uninspected by Peter
Peter is not Watched with Earthly Eyes by Peter
A fascinating further fact relating to Peter's actions on that crucial night is this. When he had been corrected by Christ, in earlier times, Peter not only had the eye and word of the Creator, who had come as Jesus the Christ, but the watchful eyes of his comrades. Now, in that fateful night, Christ was hidden from him: being taken away as part of the striking of the Shepherd, as Christ had cited it from the prophecies of the Old Testament. In that nocturnal blow, the prophecy of Zechariah had at once been fulfilled, and it was on the way to the most total fulfilment within hours.
Moreover, Peter was, as far as the human eyes of Christ were concerned, hidden from Him.
There was an exclusion by force. This is encouraging, yes comforting to those who suffer in prison or deprivation. Peter too had no one with him while the murderers used their panache to rob truth and peace from Israel, by abstracting first the presence and then the body of the Prince of Peace, long predicted, from the appalled land. Thus was delayed the blessedness to come. Peter too had to come through humiliation of a very different kind from that of Christ; for the Saviour bore sin vicariously, but Peter manufactured it on the spot!
Guilt does not make it easier, especially when a thing is wrought unintentionally in the fury of the moment, and is contrary both to the tenor of one's thought and the custom of one's ways. Yet it had to be faced. He had erred, and had kept the falsity of his speech up to the number of three, and added curses with it, in a perfect flurrying and scurrying of indignity and moral demise.
Thus did the situation mount like vast rolling breakers in the surf, when suddenly some thundering despot of oceanic disturbance, comes frothing its way in fearful power to the rocks. Thus can the trial come, and we need to be prepared in spirit and in heart.
THE COUNTER-CLAIMS OF ASSOCIATION
This leads us to an important facet of the development. Christ made His declaration under trial, of who He was (and is). He did not bandy this sort of thing about, since casting pearls before swine is not an advised action! Nevertheless, often it was revealed without fanfare, in the texture of events, as in John 5:19ff., 8:58, Matthew 11:28ff., 22:41ff.. In the frank challenge, the answer echoed and has continued to do so for two millenia (two 'days' in terms of II Peter 3:19, who given these words, foresaw most clearly that some might think the delay before Jesus' return to be long: for he even showed the reason for it, in these terms, and in those of compassion, before it so much as existed!)
"Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed ?
and henceforth you will see the Son of Man
sitting on the right hand of power,
and coming in the clouds of heaven"
(cf. Daniel 7).
That is the aspect we find in Mark. The words speak and they echo! The I AM speaks in terms of Himself, as indeed in John 8:58. The acme of power to be shown in the end of patience as judgment approaches is immediately turned to, and the prophetic place of the God who become man, would then judge mankind was affirmed with all simplicity, boldness and directness.
Contrast this with the testimony of Peter. For boldness and directness, Peter's words, too, had little denied to them in strength. They hit the heights! It was just that they were in opposition to truth, to Christ, to honesty, integrity and need.
There are thus counter-claims of association. Peter is denying association with Jesus, Jesus is affirming divine, sublime association with His Father, and Peter's dissociation is on the brink of being both from the Father and the Son! It was however predicted, and not only so, Peter's RECOVERY from this flurry was likewise foretold. Nor was even that all that was done. Christ further spoke of Peter, when he had been turned back from this precipitate rush to the very precipice of eternity, as one who would be used to "strengthen" the brethren. Thus this loose cannon firing fumes would not only be enabled to stop, but it would merge into mist and never be missed; in fact, yielding to the image of a courageous man of God who would again and again be enabled to say and do the RIGHT thing, so bringing help to the brethren.
It was assuredly NOT in himself that this was to be found. Nor was it in any commission as in Matthew 16, for even at that very event, he was pushing satanic doctrine at Christ; he was even trying to PERSUADE HIM of its rightness! It was not in general, either, since not only did he commit this vast, all but engulfing lapse, but required rebuke at the mouth of Paul in a further weakness much later on (Galatians 2:12-14).
For all that, Peter was a doughty soul, a lively witness, used to write two epistles, read with relish and profit by millions, a prophet and one rescued from the brink of ruin. He was no criterion; but he was gifted to act aright in various crucial episodes, such as the bringing of the Gospel to Samaria (Acts 8), to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and the notation of Paul's epistles as Scripture (II Peter 3:16).
By no means would he tolerate any veneration (Acts 10:25ff., I Peter 5), who was "also an elder" who detested lordliness except in the Lord as is required by that same Lord (Matthew 23:8-10) of ALL Christians. He did not die and rise to be lord over all in order to have effulgences anointing themselves in His very presence!
It is the very humanness of Peter, His correctible quality, his essential meekness allied with courage, his slowness at times to grasp a point and his corresponding depth at other times in both seeing and applying it aptly, which encourages one's love of the apostles. The pathos of weakness at times, allied to the bathos of any attempt to glorify him, combine to make a lovable character and an example to us all. With therefore the disrelish which accompanies our thoughts if as Christians in some point, we fail, let there be the relish of remembering that the much used apostle Peter knew all about that; and yet prevailed in his task and completed his race beautifully.
This too is a further aspect of the kingdom: while there is no nonsense permitted to virtual hypocrisy, a life in word at fundamental variance with a life in deed (cf. Amos 4, Isaiah 1), yet there is an everlasting tenderness which does not fail to understand, to edify, to restore; for though a righteous man fall 7 times, yet does the Lord lift him up. When arrogance is replaced by meekness, then boldness for the Lord can safely proceed; and how bold was this same Peter in dealing repeatedly with the soldier-equipped power of the renegade priesthood of Jerusalem, which had, after all, contrived the death of One who is omnipotent. Even if, as is the case, the religious authorities who charged in like bulls to extradite Him from His earth, in this were made to be fools, since this was what God intended and was part of the plan for vicarious sacrifice.
They followed the script, though their payment for treachery is not in the normal sense of service-rendered! God not only knows what is coming, but what He will do to meet it for all His people (cf. Ephesians 1:11, Isaiah 46:8ff.), and in this aspect of the kingdom of heaven there is not only ground for comfort, but room for rejoicing. God has everything covered both in principle and in practice.
THE NEW ASSOCIATION
The Word and the Look
How then did Peter come to his spiritual senses ?
The entire change occurred
without a word being said. Nor was it an incommunicado situation.
The Lord, active in giving a counter-testimony to Peter's, one of truth, and Himself much despised and assaulted, came near enough to Peter as He passed on His way to more treatment, to look at Him. In that look, infinity passed its message and eternity set at liberty its love. Peter was crushed without a bullet, subdued without a word, transformed without a couch, let free by a look (Luke 22:61). And the Lord looked on Peter ...
What sort of a look ? was it one of deep concentrating analysis ? It was a look such as the victorious victim of facial and verbal abuse might have time to bestow on one passing, as hustled to His death.
Time is no obstacle, then. If you are suffering for Christ, He can abstract beyond time and act in ways not thought of. Again, if you are afraid because of a failure, do not require time, for God can act in an instant. Never be downcast, but arise, repent and take fresh joy with the oil of anointing with David, who sinned enough! as seen in Psalm 51.
THE RENEWED ASSOCIATION
The Self-Trust and the Shame
This then is what was wrought first in word and then in a look by the Lord. First Peter says he would never be offended, whatever others might do and be. Then he wept bitterly (Matthew 26:35,75). The phase is complete in the internal aspect. Self-trust has led to shame, and bitter crying.
Better than that were the piercing cries of Christ as He sought His Father at Gethsemane, and the mighty quietus which followed, "Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done!"
From this we learn to face the lachrymose, to meet the coming events beforehand with solemn intensity before the Lord; for better the searching cries of realisation towards what is to come, than the bitter ones for what one would rather have undone.
THE COMMISSIONED ASSOCIATION
Tapping into the Truth
I Corinthians 15:5, John 21
The Lord, we read in I Corinthians, appeared to Peter. If Mary Magdalene was the first person to meet with the resurrected body of Christ, and to receive solace from His Spirit, then it seems Peter was the first man. In a sequence of events, at all events, in I Corinthians 15, he is first mentioned, giving the appearance that Christ was concerned enough at the exceedingly guilty conscience of Peter, to give priority not to grandeur or any sense of goodness, but to spiritual need!
This is that kingdom of heaven, of which Christ spoke, where greatness is not in the clamour of glamour or the artificial sweeteners of seeming attainments, but to serve well for Christ, and even that at His instance, and not in 'being first' ; for indeed, many who are first will be not merely downgraded, but LAST, while the last will yield contingents of first! (cf. Matthew 19:30, 20:16). This world's thumb is numb in its endeavours to find values! (cf. I John 2:16, I Corinthians 7:31, James 4:4); and many are those churches which yield, so that the world is in the church, yes even to the point that we ask: If the world is in so many churches, and so many churches are ensconed in the world, where in the world is the Church!
But it is there, not self-proclamatory, but doing its duty in small groups, in large enterprises of endeavour, without panache but with functionality. The flesh indeed profits nothing, but just as His words are spirit and are life, which concern the atonement, wrought in the body but accomplished in the everlasting domains of spiritual truth, so is the spirit of man crucial in all his undertakings. Who is the friend of the Lord as in Proverbs (22:11)? the one with grace on the lips and purity of heart! All attainment without spiritual orientation and disposition, which is an essential part of humility and indeed even realism, is as a warm dregs in the tea cup, reminiscent certainly of the tea, but of no value at all.
Thus not only was the dissociation wrought by Peter caught by Christ with a look, so that he became dissociated from his dissociation, but Christ came personally to deal with him after the resurrection, before the wound had time to suppurate, or the spirit to be crushed, like flowers left in Summer too long in the back of a dusty truck on the torrid backroads of a dismal land. When later, then, He appeared to them, in practical mode, telling them once again where the fish were to be caught, being practical with practical men, transcending their professional wisdom with divine knowledge, a part of the testimony to the truth of His divine identity, and had for them a breakfast fire for the fish to be eaten, there was a comradeship to add to the restoration (John 21).
In John 21:13 we find that Jesus took bread, and adding it to the fish, gave it to them. It was in another form, reminiscent of the feeding of the 5000, but what this lacked in numbers, it had in intimacy. This cosy companionship led on to a new commission for Peter, recorded by John. The threefold denial is followed by a threefold question. As the former led to curses, this to blessing; and as the former was in the heat of fear, so this was in the morning of the day, where warmth would permeate from the fire, as if to bring a new form of energy from coldness of heart.
Do you love Me more than these ? Christ asked Peter. The preposition governs the genitive which here appears, so that it means just what it says. Is your love for me more in quality, in quantity, in kind, in disposition, in heart, in reality ... more than the love of these others ? In what respect ? more than these do, or more than you love these ? Not the latter, for it is not in the accusative, which would make it grammatically, thus the object of love. It seems therefore that Christ is harking back to Peter's bold assertion that though all might be offended by Christ, yet he, Peter was prepared to DIE with Christ. It is well not to judge this in Peter a word of egocentricity, for it savours of an intense devotion which, though it fell in the first tests, rose from the depths thereafter. For all that, it did scant justice to the others, and it seems that Christ is deploying a delicate irony in asking this of Peter.
In view of your past performance, Peter, do you think it fair to say that you love Me more than the others, in line with your assertions ? Is that really the case ? That is the issue raised by the Lord. The question is left hanging in the air! How could Peter really know the answer to what he had earlier propounded, concerning the hearts of all! It was a delicate reminder, a tender rebuke, a searching question, designed it seems to put things back into perspective; but that ... it was not all.
Whatever Peter did NOT know of the others, there was need for him to have considerable knowledge concerning his own devotion, now that he knew the depths of searching test to which a man could be exposed in spiritual things! DO you have a spiritual love for Me ? Christ was asking in the word that meant that. Yes Lord, Peter replied, you know that I have friendly affection for You. In this, hanging once more on the air is the new reticence of Peter, anguish past, spirit not dimmed but chastened and so more chaste. Leaving sincerity to find its mark, Christ then commissioned Peter to "feed My lambs".
If Peter had grown much in that short time, this was evocative of concern for others who would have to grow both physically, mentally and spiritually, yes morally too; and so the lambs were made a field for the love of which he spoke. A second time He asked, as if to give opportunity in quantity for the positive attestations, a reflection as in the water, of the negative ones before. Using the same word for spiritual love, Christ asked Peter the same question, and Peter, using the same word for friendly affection, affirmed that yes, he did love Him. Feed my sheep, Christ added. Then a third time Christ interrogated Peter, but this time He used Peter's own word. After all, You are My friends if you do whatsoever I command you, had a term of this kind used, and Christ had in effect asked this of them (John 15:14).
In other words, Christ not merely was asking concerning the real, religious devotion of Peter, but whether he were indeed a friend, for what friend makes a practice of denying his friend, if it comes to that, violating the professed love with a mess of disregard! Peter, we read, this third time is grieved at the persistence and adds this, that as the Lord knows all things, He knows this, that such is indeed the disposition of Peter's heart to Him. Feed My sheep comes the inexorable testimony of duty.
This was a message to Peter and is one also to us who love Him, and to all who wish to understand His kingdom. If it grieved Peter to have this third interrogation on a delicate seeming subject, how much more did it grieve the Lord to have this denial of so deep and intimate a thing in such a public display and arena, as had occurred! Love for Christ can indeed be spoken of, and has wheels with which it runs, and like the eyes in the vision of Ezekiel, love sees. The interview with Peter does not seem particularly private, nor was the denial. There is a private side to religion, but as with all friendship, there is no less a public side; and if one is offside in the public side, what right is there to talk even of friendship!
Indeed, to acknowledge Christ publicly is the least one can do, and to be ashamed of Him publicly is an inordinate offence. It breaches the texture of love, like a dog tearing a precious garment with its teeth. Love not merely is unafraid to be devoted and loyal, and at test, to show itself, but it does not betray and denial the object of its affection. It is not a name for self-esteem but for regard towards another in feeling, in mouth, in spirit, in speech, in restraint or in declaration as the case may require. Love is loyal, not tedious; is patient, not superficial; is reliable, not merely excitable; is longsuffering, not readily breached, stands and does not fall, acts and does not mumble, is humble and while it does not boast, does act out what is in the heart.
As Peter fell only to be raised to sincere realism, so Mark had failed in the first missionary journey, only to be raised to the position of special helper to Peter, loved as a son, used in the very construction of a Gospel, one amongst four. The argument between Paul and Barnabus about the young man, following his failure to persevere in the early missionary work was an exhibit of the need for purity of heart and consistency of devotion on the one hand, and for pardon and enablement to grow on the other, and love found a way through Barnabus, just as Paul saw the value of the result at length also (II Timothy 4:11).
So is the kingdom of heaven in its beauty of holiness: it does not force, but it does not leave issues up in the air. They come down like rain, not like harsh sun that has no regard. Love to God is not less but more. Whatever one's 'estimate' of other people's love to God, love gets on with its own devotion, implacable in earnestness, dutiful in regard, fearless in favour; for with God, there is no blemish on the other side even to serve as an excuse for hypocrisy. Love to God is its perfect illustration, for God is both pure and love itself, its original and foundation, exemplar and exhibit. There is love, not that we loved Him but that He loved us; and in that love, love is nurtured as by nutrients from heaven itself.
Force can have its ways; it is a brutal, irrelevant, irresponsible thing in the domain of faith and love, of God and truth, a childish substitute for reality, a superficial outrage against spiritual things and outage from God.
*1 See Joyful Jottings 25. The total and eternal unblessedness of the traitor, as seen in Psalm 109 for example, comes from the very fact that in his case, it was mercy whom he betrayer, its source and centre, the Saviour whose body would become a sacrifice for sin; and in betraying the Saviour, he evaded the plan, and so after three years of association with the Lord, who is God, he went his way as the Psalm indicates, in line with John 3:36.