Open Mouth, Insert Foot

21Jul10

To provide some context, like most American Christians, I’ve had more hands-on experience with the New Testament than the Old one… I mean, I’ve read almost the entire NT if not all of it, but my knowledge of the OT is mostly second hand. As far as the OT goes, I’ve always had a jist of the storyline, which was the only thing I thought was important–understanding the events that happened. Then I read a good chunk of it. 1 Samuel through Job and a good portion of Proverbs to be more accurate–I did this over the last few months.

The real value in the OT (to me, right now, at least) is in understanding the Holiness of God. Understanding that He is sovereign above everything and everyone and he is deserving of respect and reverence and fear. It seems strange, but you start to fear God–and rightfully so.

I spent sooooo much time in the OT that I more-or-less forgot about Jesus and his teachings and his death and resurrection. I didn’t literally forget it, but I stopped believing in Him in how I lived my life. I began to have the same fear as people in the OT: I’m not righteous enough. God’s expectations are too high. I can’t live up. I freaked out and for a few weeks, didn’t touch my Bible.

Then I recently picked it back up. I read some of Paul’s Epistles. I read some of the Gospels and one of Peter’s letters. Repeatedly.

To be honest, reading Paul right after the OT didn’t do much to quell my fears. Paul only needed to be told once (albeit audibly) to change his life and he did. And then he was pretty much perfect and didn’t mess up or require rebuking (I’m sure this isn’t entirely true, but it is my impression based on the Bible’s evidence). Eff. I can’t do that. I haven’t done that. I biff it all the time. I get scared and hide. I suck at trials.

Then I read the Gospels and one of Peter’s letters. (this is where the context ends and the point begins):

I identify with Peter. In the Gospels (and even a few times in Acts) Peter thinks he has everything all figured out and that he’s good to go. And then Jesus (or Paul, in Acts) rebukes him and probably makes him feel a little foolish. Humbled for sure. Here are a few tales about Peter (from memory, may not be exact):

  • 70 times 7: in Jewish tradition, a man has to forgive his brother who sins against him 3 or 5 times (somewhere in there). Peter thinks he’ll impress Jesus by raising the bar and asks him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus says, “Not 7 but 70 times 7.”
  • Peter rebukes Jesus: Jesus is preaching that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and killed, and Peter rebukes Jesus. Then Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” in front of the disciples.
  • Peter jumps out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus and almost drowns (to his credit, he succeeded for a brief period of time).
  • Peter cuts off the ear of one of the men who come to arrest Jesus and Jesus rebukes him saying, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
  • When Jesus is resurrected and the disciples see him from the boat, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore even though the boat wasn’t very far from shore. The rest of the disciples just rowed to shore.
  • In Acts, Peter is starving and falls into a trance/vision in which God sends a sheet down from heaven with all sorts of “unclean” animals (unclean according to Jewish tradition) and God tells him to “kill and eat” but Peter tells God no, because he thinks himself too devout to eat something “unclean”. God rebukes Peter and tells him not to call anything unclean that God has made clean.
  • Again in Acts, Peter becomes afraid of the judgement and condemnation of the Jewish Christians (he’s afraid that they’ll dislike him if they see him hanging out with the Gentile believers) and so he removes himself from the Gentiles and Paul rebukes him in the name of the Gospel.
  • Most importantly though, Peter swears before Jesus that he won’t forsake him, and then that very night, denies Jesus 3 times even after Jesus predicted it.

To summarize, Peter is a man of rash action and little thought. He fails to count the cost all the time. He is full of passion but lacks finesse. If Life in the Spirit is like navigating a maze, he exerts a lot of force trying to run through the walls rather than navigate around them. And consequentially falls down a lot. His pride gets bruised frequently. He tries to succeed by his own power. He succumbs to fear. But then he comes back to Jesus’ love for him and does great things. Here is the contrast:

  • After receiving the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter preaches Jesus to the crowds and with unwaivering faith and confidence in God, heals a crippled beggar without needing Jesus’ bodily supervision.
  • He leads the Jewish Church.
  • He writes two letters and his style changes from that of a foot-in-mouth fool to a man of humility and undeniable love for Christ Jesus, which manifests itself in authority to give spiritual advice.
  • After Jesus rises, he asks Peter 3 times if he loves Jesus. 3 times Peter says “Yes” and by the third time, the Bible says Peter is hurt that Jesus asks him 3 times. That Jesus questions Peter’s love for Him 3 times. Jesus tells him to take care of the Church. The heading says “Jesus reinstates Peter” and Jesus asking 3 times if Peter loved Jesus was (more or less) Peter’s redemption for denying Jesus 3 times.
  • Ultimately, Peter is crucified upside down (if memory serves) at Peter’s own request, because he says he is unworthy to die the same death as Jesus. At the end of John, Jesus predicts this and the author (presumably John) says, “Jesus said these things to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”

After all of Peter’s mistakes, Jesus still loves him, reinstates him, and continues to use him to spread His name. This is encouraging to me. I am definitely more Peter than Paul. I need to be constantly reminded of God’s love and forgiveness. I need to know that Jesus is mighty to forgive a wretch like me.

As an anecdote, in all of the Gospels no personality is given so much detail as Peter (except Jesus, obviously). I don’t think Jesus interacts with anyone by name more than Peter. Peter is a real person to me. His erroneous nature is what gives him credibility to me. Other authors write and I forget that they aren’t just personality-less narrators, but I know Peter–I relate to him. In Peter’s letters, I know He is the one writing. If he says something about Jesus or God, it’s legit to me. He’s been in my shoes in many senses.

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