Sunday, November 8, 2015

Grace in an Awkward Situation

Grace in an Awkward Situation

I knew something changed between us, all the talk we made was small, but what do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it all.  It’s an awkward conversation in a most peculiar way.  How did we get from saying I love you to I’ll see you around some day?

I remember when I first heard that song when Great Big Sea released it late in the last century.  I thought, Peter must have felt like that.  What a day he had.  I’m sure that he could identify with our friend Murphy.   He argued with the other disciples over who would be greatest, wouldn’t let Christ wash his feet and boasted that he would die for Christ.  In Gethsemane he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying then he freaked out in the garden with a sword and cut a dude’s ear off, and then vehemently denied Christ, not once not twice but three times.  Ever have one of those days? Hey stuff happens. Does it ever.  

But who would have thought Peter?  He was the leader of the apostles, one of Christ’s closest friends, do you remember the old hymn that said “He walks with me and he talks with me”?  Peter could have written that. Like how much more spiritual can you get.  But so often that is the very type of person who is subject to Satan’s greatest attack.  The person in the highest position is the one with the farthest to fall. 

But who was Peter?  Well his birth name was Simon and he was the son of Jonas, he was the first apostle, brought to Christ by his brother Andrew, and was renamed Peter by Jesus.  He was part of the inner circle with John and James the “Son’s of Thunder”. It was John and Peter who went ahead to arrange the upper room for the last supper.  It was Peter who walked on the water, a man wholly devoted to Christ and yet he was still just a man. 

It was Peter who said, “We know you are the Holy One of God.” And “you are the messiah sent from God.”

And when Jesus told the 12 that they would all desert him in His hour of need it was Peter who said  Mark 14:29  Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

The phrase that is translated  deserts you is actually one word in the Greek and that is σκανδαλίζω  skandalizō  (scan da lid zo), it’s where we get our word scandalize, and it means to trip up, stumble, entice to sin or to offend.  And so Peter is saying, “Jesus I would never sin against you.” 

Let’s remember that whenever we use the word never we’d better watch out, it’s an awfully big word, and an awfully long time. About the time we use that word Satan pulls out all the stops.   “I don’t know how they could do that; I would never commit adultery.”  “I would never cuss” “I would never lose my temper like that.”  

Never is a long time.  The very word stumble is indicative of the kind of mistake it is.  This isn’t “Well I think I’ll go out and murder 17 people today.”  This is a slip of the tongue that hurts a fellow Christian, this is a flash of anger, and this is a careless thought or action. 

The second part of Peter’s boast comes two verses later in Mark 14:31  “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”

How often have we heard such a boast, for that matter how often have we made such a boast?  “O Lord I would never do anything to bring reproach on your name, even if I have to die for you.”  I’m sure that Christ would concur, the problem isn’t getting people to die for you, it’s getting people to live for you.

This is week five our moments of Grace series, and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in an unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and last week we saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table and he invited his 12 closest friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him. 

And we referenced this story last week, that even though Jesus knew that Peter would deny him before the night was over, he still extended his grace to him at the Last Supper. 

Now let’s recognize that Peter didn’t plunge from saint to sinner overnight. How often we think that Peter got up and said, “Well this is the day.”  It may appear that way but if the truth was known it just don’t happen that way.  Usually a lot happens before the actual fall takes place.  Satan knows that, he doesn’t open up with the heavy stuff right off, he gradually wears down the defenses and then zap he’s done it to you again. 

They tell us, although I don’t know from actual experience, that if you put a frog in a cool pot of water and slowly bring it to a boil that said frog will stay in the pot until it is cooked, because the gradual rise in temperature doesn’t give him adequate warning about the danger, but if you were to toss the same frog in a boiling kettle there would be all kinds of activity as he tried to get out. 

Now I want to know how did they find this out, and what other critters did they use first?  A cat?  A dog?  You never hear about the horse in the kettle theory do you?

Friends, Peter was walking a well-trod path.  A path that others had walked before him and that plenty have walked since.

If we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper and before the arrest of Jesus we hear him tell his apostles: Mark 14:38  Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

And then in Mark 14:39-40  Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before.  When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

The first downward step for Peter was when He Stopped Praying. Christ has gone to the garden to await the troops that Judas was bringing.  And Jesus gathers the inner circle to him, John, James and Peter and in verse 40 he asks them to watch and pray.   

Now the one essential ingredient in any relationship is communication.  You cannot sustain a relationship without talking. In work, sports, love, and God the common denominator for success is communication.  Nowhere in the bible are we commanded to preach always, or sing always, or teach always.  But we are told in Luke 18:1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.

And Paul commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Never stop praying. 

The first downward step for Peter was when his prayer life went on the skids.  The best relationship in the world cannot stand up to silence. 

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote  “Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.”

When we stop talking to God we lose the strength that he offers.  I realize that some people think that their prayers have to be in King James English with all the thees and thous in the right places.  And that is perfectly alright if that is what you are comfortable with. 

Other folks just can’t get into that, like they don’t talk to others like that, how many people come up to me following the service and say, “thou hast preached a fine message my sovereign preacher, I shalst endeavour to followest thy words in my daily endeavors.”  Wow wouldn’t that freak me out.   Bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter how you talk to God, as long as you talk to him. 

Mark 14:53-54  They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire.

That second sentence in that passage is the second step in Peter’s downward trek. The scriptures tell us that Peter followed at a distance.  He Stopped Following.  I mean sure he followed, where were the other eleven?  But he followed at a distance, not up close where you’d expect to see the leader of the twelve. After all he was Christ’s friend and companion for three years.  Like he wasn’t just an acquaintance.  I can just hear Peter now, “don’t worry Jesus I’m behind you, way behind you.”   Love made Peter ashamed to run, fear made him ashamed to get too close.  The disciples chose the left side of the road and ran; Jesus chose the right side of the road and obeyed.  But Peter chose the middle of the road; you know where you find yellow stripes and dead skunks.

Once you stop communicating with someone, then you no longer know where they are and where they are going.  And it isn’t long before your paths usually diverge.  In 1982 twenty-eight of us from bible college in New Brunswick headed for the world headquarters of the Wesleyan church which was located in Marion Indiana at the time (kind of like going to Mecca), something like a thirty-hour trip. 

The problem was that we were driving six cars and only the driver of the lead car knew how to get to Marion.  Along the way we somehow managed to lose the last car and as he was struggling to keep up, he was pulled over by a Vermont state trooper for exceeding the speed limit by a mere 48 kmh.  When he explained the State Trooper told him that it didn’t matter how fast he drove he wouldn’t catch up, how come? Because he had missed the right exit about thirty miles back.  It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if’n you’re going in the wrong direction. 

It doesn’t take long for you to start following Christ from a distance once you have stopped talking to him on a regular basis. 

Peter’s third step downward is at the end of the passage we read a couple of minutes ago Mark 14:53-54  They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire.

Seriously Peter, you are sitting with the guards?   These weren’t guards from an armoured truck, or guards from the local prison, these were temple police, the very ones who arrested Christ, these are those who eventually and ultimately were responsible for the crucifixion. 

The path away from Christ eventually leads into the path of the ungodly. He Stopped Fellowshipping  Fellowshipping is just a churchy word for hanging out with God’s people.  Peter would have been better off hiding in the shadows with the disciples or standing in the courtyard with his master but instead he was warming his hands over the devil’s fire. 

And David told us a long time ago in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.

The converse of that is also true, the man who does follow the advice of the wicked, and stands around with sinners and joins in with mockers, is not blessed and that is right where our old buddy Peter found himself.  Now that does not mean that we isolate ourselves.  Christ never intended us to live in monasteries.  Remember one of the chief complaints against him is that he was a friend of sinners.  But they weren’t his primary social contact, most of the time he was in the company of his disciples. 

And remember that Christ was intent on winning those sinners into the kingdom and not simply having a good time with them.  Church is for fellowship as well as for worship.  When we go into the New Testament we discover that the entire lives of the early believers were interwoven with the church. 

And that’s why we have coffee after the service, and why we have the Great I Hate Winter Beach Party, and weekly Life Groups and why the ladies are planning a Christmas event next month, it’s so we can sit around and talk to people who aren’t using the Lord’s name in vain and cussing and telling smutty stories.  Because like it or not you are different then the world. Or at least you are supposed to be. 

The bible reminds us in Hebrews 10:25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Church isn’t just some place you go, it is something you do. 

And then you know the rest of the story, if you don’t Peter goes on to do exactly what Jesus said he would do, he denies Christ, not once, not twice but three times.

When Peter assured Jesus that he would never deny him I’m sure he was sincere.  But it kind of comes back to Yogi Berra’s words.  “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”  In theory Peter was convinced that he would never deny Jesus, but in practice. . .

Peter’s first two denials were simple, when people commented that Peter looked like one of Jesus’s disciples, and he said “ Not sure what you are talking about, but you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

But listen to what happens when he’s given one more opportunity

Mark 14:71-72  Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!”  And immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.

And that should have been the end of the story.  Peter had done exactly what Jesus said he would do and exactly what Peter said he wouldn’t do.  This wasn’t like Peter hadn’t been warned, he just didn’t pay attention. 

Now remember that justice is getting what you deserve.  So what did Peter deserve?  Good question and a question that Peter knew the answer to, because it was spelled out earlier in the story. 

Back in the book of Matthew Jesus has appointed the 12 and is preparing to send them out.  After Matthew lists the 12 by name, a list that includes Peter, we read Matthew 10:5  Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: And then Jesus tells them a whole bunch of things that he expects of them.  And part of that list is recorded in  Matthew 10:32-33  “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.”

Sounds simple enough, acknowledge me publicly here on earth, I will acknowledge you in heaven.  Deny me here on earth, I will also deny you in heaven.”   

I wonder when the rooster crowed and Peter wept if he wept because of his actions, was he weeping because he had denied Christ, or did he weep because he suddenly realized the consequences of his behaviour.  That justice dictated that just as he had denied Jesus that Jesus could justly deny him.

Luke’s account contains a detail that is missing from Mark’s account.  We read in Luke 22:60-61  But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered that the Lord had said, “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Wow, talk about an awkward situation.  What do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it all. 

But that isn’t what happened.  Maybe you know the rest of the story, maybe you don’t.  That day ends with Jesus being crucified.  And we are told that he was buried in a borrowed tomb and that the eleven remaining disciples went back to the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover feast less than 24 hours before. 

And we don’t know what happened there as they grieved the loss of their friend.  I would suspect that there was guilt, that there were recriminations, that the words “if only” were spoken more than a few times. 

But we do know that on the third day that things changed.  Because on the third day when Mary Magdalene and her friends went to the tomb to finish preparing the body of Jesus they found the tomb empty, guarded by an angel.   And listen to what the angel told the women that day Mark 16:6-7  The angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body.  Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

Did you catch that?  Not just his disciples, but make sure you tell Peter. 

If you know the story it wasn’t long after the resurrection that Jesus met Peter on the beach at the sea of Galilee, back where it had all begun three years earlier.  And three times, the same number of times that Peter denied Jesus, Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?”

If you go back to the song that the team sang for us earlier, the question asked was: “But what do you say to someone when they've heard you say it all?”  Apparently the answer, at least in this case is “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Remember Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  And that is exactly what Peter got, what he didn’t deserve.  Christ forgave him for his past and entrusted him with his future.  Peter would go on to become the leader of the New Testament Church.  Many years later Peter would write to the early church, he began by telling them in 1 Peter 1:2  . . . May God give you more and more grace and peace.  And he finished his letter with these words.   1 Peter 5:12  My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.

And so in conclusion, my prayer for you today is: May God give you more and more grace and peace. 

And my purpose for preaching this message today is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.


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