Monday, July 6, 2015

Helping Peter

As you grow in Christ, you come to know His voice. If you hear God as angry and condemning, I am writing this blog entry for you. Romans 8:1 says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The word "therefore" means "pay attention to what comes before this." At the end of chapter 7, Paul talks about his struggle with sin, how he doesn't always behave how he wants.

Do you struggle with your behavior? There is no condemnation for you if you are in Christ Jesus. It is one thing to read this verse; it is something else to see it worked out. I want to look at Jesus, to see what it means to have no condemnation.

The group of people that Jesus criticized most sharply, over and over, were the Pharisees. These were religious leaders who, honestly, had very good answers to all the important questions of the day. Jesus criticized their hearts, saying "Woe! Woe!" to them, calling them blind guides, hypocrites, and snakes. That's condemnation: Jesus did not approve of their right thinking and hard hearts. We know that Jesus does indeed condemn.

Then there's Peter. Peter betrays Jesus. Now, Jesus may have tweeted, "Peter, SMH," that day, but the Lord and Savior doesn't actually condemn him. Jesus was always helping his disciples with important bits of information, like, "Hey, dudes, I'm going to die in Jerusalem. One of you will betray me." It was compassion and leadership that caused Jesus to share this information with them: not going to be a party in the capitol. Be prepared.

That kind of news, however, is shocking. Jesus said it over and over, so it would slowly sink in, but it really was appalling. What if your mom said at breakfast, several times over a few weeks, "Hey, kids, I'm going to die of a heart attack in early August. Don't worry, though, I have things covered. You'll be okay."

"Hey, Mom, that's a real downer with my Fruit Loops. Can Aaron and I have money for the water park?" We hear the words, but they don't register; something deep within us might now be more prepared, but our surface reaction is often odd.

When Jesus says, in Matthew 26:23, that one of the disciples will betray him, they one by one ask, "Is it me?" This reminds me of the Old Testament king who heard a prophet say the kingdom would be destroyed, but not until after he died. "Whew, not my problem," the king thought with relief.

The disciples want to personally escape from Jesus' really sad news about betrayal. "Not me, right?" But later in the evening, Jesus tells them that they will all abandon him. And Peter, who is a leader, says, "No! Even if everyone else runs away, I never will."

Every sermon you have ever heard wants to lead you to Peter's enthusiastic declaration of loyalty: "I will always follow! I will be the good one!" And you've resolved in your heart, you will this time, you will indeed have a good week, not cuss, not be tempted, not skip your devotionals, blah blah blah.

Jesus looks at Peter and says, "This very night, you will disown me three times." I don't hear these words in the same tone as "Woe to you, blind guides!" or "You have made my house a den of thieves!" It is the gentle tones of a shepherd: dear child, you will mess up.

And Romans 8:1 says, don't worry, I got this. Signed, God.

Peter is not a slacker. When Jesus is arrested, he draws his sword and attacks. When the disciples flee the arresting mob, Peter makes his way to the house where Jesus is held. He does not abandon Jesus. Do you see his resolve? He said he would follow Christ, and he is staying close, he is persisting. Points for Peter.

But through the window, Peter can see the religious leaders slapping and punching Christ. The chief priest has torn his robe and declared Jesus a blasphemer. Things are going very badly. If Jesus himself wept in the garden and begged God not to make him walk this path, you can bet that Peter had reason to be afraid. *slap* "Who hit you?" *slap* "Prophecy to us!"

And then the servants, huddled with Peter around the fire, say, "Hey, guy, aren't you one of Jesus' followers?" Peter is just protecting himself; he, of all the disciples, is right there within ear shot of Christ, but he doesn't want to join in as a punching bag. When the rooster crows, he realizes what Jesus said has come to pass: he has indeed denied his Lord.

And Peter, like all of us who did not keep our enthusiastic Sunday morning/church camp resolve, beats himself up. He decides to go back to fishing; he's no good at this Jesus thing. He's failed. And the risen, triumphant Christ restores him: don't worry, Peter. I got this.

When Jesus says to Peter, to all his closest disciples, "You will mess up," maybe he is also speaking to us. You are not going to be as good at this as you think. Even the best of you will verbally curse and walk away from me.

But that is why Jesus died. Not to condemn us for being weak and failing--to rescue us when we do. We know the law; we know we do not measure up. But he did, and he has made a way for us to be clean and whole before God.

The way is not our good behavior; it is him. He is the way to God.

So today, you are going to mess up. I am not telling you this to condemn you; it is a fact. When you do, look at your heart: are you trusting your own goodness, or are you trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to redeem you?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

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