Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Hidden Meaning Behind Peter’s Denial of Jesus

I've been reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and have found it incredibly inspiring.  Watching how God convicted this man of the belief that being a disciple of Jesus is about so much more than following a list of rules for your own personal life, but about actively loving those who are despised and seen as unworthy of love has been affecting my own thinking about the central message of the Bible.  I was so inspired by reading his story that I went to Google and started looking up quotes from things Bonhoeffer has written, and one quote started a train of thought that I wanted to share with you.  First I’ll share my train of thought and then the quote.

I was thinking about Peter’s denial of Jesus.  Now we have to remember that Peter was very close to Jesus – he watched his whole ministry and was considered one of Jesus’ closest friends.  But nevertheless, on the night Jesus was betrayed Jesus told Peter he would deny knowing Jesus 3 times.  Now, I don’t think modern Christians have a healthy respect for this situation.  We did not walk with Jesus, and we did not live through His earthly ministry.  We didn’t watch him give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, heal the sick, and raise the dead.  And yet we think somehow that we will have the strength of character that we will not deny Him.  And this is pride, and the Bible has some warnings about that.  Well, I want to share what I think is a hidden meaning behind the denial, and how modern Christians deny Christ every day.

You see, after Jesus’ resurrection, I think He revealed this hidden meaning behind the denial.  In the book of John, chapter 21, starting at verse 15, Jesus asks Peter three times: “do you love me?”  Each time Peter answers “you know I love you.”  And Jesus’ reply?  “Then feed my lambs.”  I think there is a powerful, convicting message here.  Jesus is telling us here what the opposite of Peter’s denial is.  You see, Jesus left another clue as to how we can follow him in the form of a story he once told.  This story is in Matthew 25:31-46, and is known as the story of the sheep and the goats.  And in this story, the dividing line between the sheep and the goats is not how they keep themselves pure from sin, or how often they attend church, what they wear to their church, or the kind of songs they sing in that church.  The dividing line between the sheep and the goats is how they treated others.  The sheep fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, invited the stranger in, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner.  And in Jesus’ story, He says that the King said to the sheep that whenever they did these things “unto the least of these” they did it unto Him.  I believe that what Jesus is doing here is expounding upon the two great commandments: love God, and love people.  (Matthew 22:37-40)  Victor Hugo seized upon this idea in his Magnum Opus, “Les Miserables”, when he said “to love another person is to see the face of God.”  So if we want to show love to God, we need to seek out ways to show love to the despised, the rejected, the least, the lost, and the lonely.  And to not do these things is to deny Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, in his book “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).

Now if you would indulge me a bit longer, I believe there is a powerful, and very convicting message here that I would like to share in a bit more of a direct way.  Because I believe that this quote points out something I think we have missed: if your idea of Jesus/God takes away the active love of his character that sought out those who were despised, rejected, lost, lonely, and regarded as the least, and if your idea takes away from the how He served and showed love to them and commanded us to do the same, then you are not worshipping Jesus/God – you are worshiping an idol.  You see, I think there is a prevailing lie that has been portrayed that the Christian life is about what you don’t do.  People who believe this lie believe that they are righteous because they are sexually pure (and because they don’t hang out with people who aren’t), and because they don’t listen to rock music (or hang out with people who do), and because they don’t cuss (or hang out with people who do).  But that’s a lie – don’t believe it.  Because following the law is worthless.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the Apostle Paul:

But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law."

No, following the law is not the goal of life, nor is it what we should strive for.  The goal of life, for a follower of Jesus, is to love.  And when we love with the love of Jesus – the love that seeks out ways to serve those who are despised, those who are rejected, the least, the lost, and the lonely – everything else will fall into place.  Because when you truly love one another, anything that presents an obstacle to that love will be broken down.  Now if you’ll indulge me a bit longer, I’d like to apply some more of Paul’s words to our modern day and age in a paraphrased version of I Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I avoided all forms of secular music and only listened to “Christian” music, and if I played in a “Christian” band, and filled the sanctuary of my church with beautiful worship music that brought the members to tears every Sunday, people might say I was a great witness to Christ; but if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I lived a life of sexual purity, avoiding all forms of sexual sin including pornography and any form of lust, and if I studied theology in a Christian school and even went on to seminary and earned a master’s degree and even a doctorate, and if I went on from there to become a respected theologian who pastored a church of thousands, people might say I was a great witness to Christ; but if I didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  And even if I gave everything I had to the poor and sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Is this beginning to make you feel a little worried?  I hope it is, because there’s more.  In my childhood I had the impression that the age of prophecy is done – any prophecy that occurred was in the past, and there is no prophecy for today.  But lately I have come to the belief that God does, in fact, speak to us in ways that can be prophetic.  It may not be in the way we imagine it, but He does.  And I believe that God can speak through people – even people like me – if they would but step out in faith, take the risk and speak.  So I am taking a big risk, because I believe there is a word of prophecy for the church in America.

The Word of the Lord to the American Church
Hear, O America: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  (Deut. 6:4)  A new commandment I have given you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  (John 13:34)  Whoever does not love does not know me, because I am love.  (I John 4:8)  But you have turned your backs on me and have refused to return.  Even though I diligently taught you, you would not receive instruction or obey.  You have set up your abominable idols right in my own Church, defiling it.  (Jeremiah32:33-34) 

Though I have repeatedly shown you that I wish for you to care for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-11, Deuteronomy 15:11, Psalm 82:3-4, Proverbs14:31, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Proverbs 29:7, Proverbs 31:8, Isaiah1:17, Isaiah 1:23, Isaiah 10:1-2, Jeremiah 22:13-17, Ezekiel 16:49, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:20-26, Luke 6:38), and though I have told you that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10), and though I have told you that you cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), you have worshiped at the altar of the idol of wealth, offering up unto it sacrifices in the form of special tax breaks, exemptions, and stimulus packages, praying that this idol would trickle down blessings upon you.

Though I have told you that it is better to take refuge in me than in humans (Psalm 118:8); though I have told you not to put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3); and though I have told you that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), you have worshiped at the altar of violence, trusting in your own strength to protect you.

I have repeatedly told you not to judge (Matthew7:1-5, Luke 6:37, John 7:24, James 4:11-12, Romans 2:1-3, Ephesians 4:29, Romans 14:1-3, John 8:7, Luke 6:31) but to love one another (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, Hebrews 13:1, Romans 13:10, I John 4:11, I Peter 4:8), even to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), and even to the point of laying down your own life (John 15:13), and I've even said unto you (in case this message was not clear enough):
"If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (I John 3:15)

And though I have said all these things, you have worshiped at the altar of self-righteousness and judged your brother, who is my beloved, and you’ve even caused little ones who believe in me to stumble in this (Mark 9:42).

Therefore, since you have not taken my invitation, I will send my servants to the street corners to invite to the banquet anyone they find, and my wedding hall will be filled with guests.  (Matthew 22:9-10)  I will exalt the humble and humble the exalted.  (Matthew 23:13, Luke 14:11, 1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10)  I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you stark naked.  (Ezekiel16:39)  So the last will be first and the first will be last.  (Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31)

To those who have felt despised and rejected; to the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely: I see how the world has hated you, but know that it has hated me before it hated you.  (John 15:18)  I know what it’s like to be despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces.  (Isaiah 53:3)  But I hear my people when they call to me for help.  I will rescue you from all your troubles.  I am close to the brokenhearted; I rescue those whose spirits are crushed.  (Psalms 34:17-18)  Be patient, because I am not slow in keeping my promise, as some understand slowness.  (2 Peter 3:9)  And know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)  You are my beloved – abide in me and I will abide in you.  (John 15:4)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (I Peter 3:8-12)

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