(Matthew 26:69-75; Acts 4:5-13)
Facebook can be a blessing and a curse. It is a great way to keep in touch with family and friends. My 92 year old mother is constantly trolling Facebook just to see what her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and now great, great grandchildren are doing. However, it is also a depository for a lot of junk and misinformation. In response to last week’s Supreme Court decisions, there has been a lot of activity on Facebook. And one thing I noticed is that many people are expressing angst over the direction of our nation. Now, in my opinion, there is certainly reason to be concerned. It does appear to me that we are rapidly drifting away from the Judeo/Christian heritage which was at the very foundation of our nation. I do see storm clouds gathering of intolerance toward traditional Christian beliefs. And that growing intolerance is going to make it increasingly more difficult for Christians in our culture. And the angst I saw in many Facebook posts about that did not bother me. However, what did bother me was the fear I saw in some of those posts. As our culture becomes increasingly secular and even hostile toward Christianity, we need not fear. As a matter of fact, in a strange way, that is a reason to rejoice. That’s because the church, the true church, seems to do better in a culture that is hostile toward it that in a culture that is accommodating toward it. So while we should be concerned and do all we can to stem the slide of our culture away from God, we do not need to be afraid.
As I thought about that this week, I decided it would be good to look at a biblical character who knew what it was to be afraid and who in a remarkable way overcome his fear. I am referring to Simon Peter.
I suspect that Simon Peter was one of those people you would either immediately like or dislike. He had one of those strong, dominating personalities which either instantly attracted people to him or repelled people from him. He was such a strong person, that I doubt many people remained neutral about him.
To me Peter is one of most interesting characters in the Bible...certainly was man of extremes...
--sometimes extremely right as he was that day at Caesarea Philippi when he proclaimed that Jesus was “...the Christ, the Son of the living God...”...and in response Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.16:16-17)...
--and sometimes he was extremely wrong as he was later that same day when he insisted that Jesus did not need to go to the cross...and in response Jesus said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matt.16:23)
(The following summary of Peter’s life is copied verbatim from Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2:
The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series)
Peter, the Man
A. Peter’s family lived in Galilee of the Gentiles in the city of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias cf. John 1:44), but apparently moved to Capernaum at some point (cf. Mark 1:21, 29).
B. Peter’s father’s name was Jonah (cf. Matt. 16:17) or John (cf. John 1:42; 21:15–17).
C. His given name was Simon (cf. Mark 1:16, 29, 30, 36), which was common in Palestine of the first century. It was the Jewish form of Symeon (cf. Acts 15:14; II Pet. 1:1).
Jesus renamed him Peter (Petros, which means “rock,” meant to describe his eventual strength and stability) in Matt. 16:18; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; and John 1:42. The Aramaic form is Cephas (cf. John 1:42; I Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal. 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). Often in the NT these two names are given together (cf. Matt. 16:16; Luke 5:8; John 1:40; 6:8, 68; 13:6, 9, 24, 36; 18:10, 15, 25; 20:2, 6; 21:2–3, 7, 11, 15).
D. Peter’s brother’s name was Andrew (cf. Mark 1:16). He was a disciple of John the Baptist (cf. John 1:35, 40) and later a believer and follower of Jesus (cf. John 1:36–37). He brought Simon to Jesus (cf. John 1:41). Several months later Jesus confronted them by the Sea of Galilee and called them to be His official full-time disciples (cf. Matt. 4:18–20; Mark 1:16–18; and Luke 5:1–11).
E. He was married (cf. Mark 1:30; I Cor. 9:5), but there is no mention of children.
A. Peter’s family owned several fishing boats and even hired servants.
B. Peter’s family may have been partners with James, John, and their father, Zebedee (cf. Luke 5:10).
C. Peter briefly returned to fishing after Jesus’ death (cf. John 21).
A. Peter’s strengths
1. He was a dedicated follower, but quite impulsive (cf. Mark 9:5; John 13:4–11).
2. He attempted acts of faith, but often failed (e.g. walking on water, cf. Matt. 14:28–31).
3. He was brave and willing to die (cf. Matt. 26:51–52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49–51; John 18:10–11).
4. After His resurrection, Jesus addressed him personally as the discredited leader of the Twelve in John 21 and provided an opportunity for repentance and restoration to leadership.
B. Peter’s weaknesses
1. He had initial tendencies toward Jewish legalism
a. eating with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11–21)
b. food laws (Acts 10:9–16)
2. He, like all the Apostles, did not fully understand Jesus’ radical new teachings and their implications
a. Mark 9:5–6
b. John 13:6–11; 18:10–11
3. He was personally and severely chastised by Jesus (Mark 8:33; Matt. 16:23)
4. He was found sleeping instead of praying in Jesus’ great hour of need in Gethsemane (Mark. 14:32–42; Matt. 26:36–46; Luke 22:40–60)
5. He repeatedly denied knowing Jesus (Mark 14:66–72; Matt. 26:69–75; Luke 22:56–62; John 18:16–18, 25–27)
HIS LEADERSHIP OF THE APOSTOLIC GROUP
A. There are four lists of the Apostles (cf. Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13). Peter is always listed first. The Twelve were divided into three groups of four. I believe this allowed them to rotate home to check on their families.
B. Peter often serves as the spokesman for the Apostolic group (cf. Matt. 16:13–20; Mark 8:27–30; Luke 9:18–21). These passages have also been used to assert Peter’s authority within the group (cf. Matt. 16:18). However, within this very context he is chided by Jesus as a tool of Satan (cf. Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33).
Also, when the disciples are arguing over who is greatest, Peter is not assumed to take that position (cf. Matt. 20:20–28, especially v. 24; Mark 9:33–37; 10:35–45).
C. Peter was not the leader of the Jerusalem church. This fell to James, Jesus’ half-brother (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; I Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12).
HIS MINISTRY AFTER JESUS’ RESURRECTION
A. Peter’s leadership role is clearly seen in the early chapters of Acts
1. He led in the election of Judas’ replacement (cf. Acts 1:15–26).
2. He preached the first sermon on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2).
3. He healed a lame man and preached the second recorded sermon (cf. Acts 3:1–10; 3:11–26).
4. He spoke boldly to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4.
5. He presided over the church discipline of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
6. He spoke at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:7–11.
7. Several other events and miracles are attributed to him in Acts.
B. Peter, however, did not always embody the gospel’s implications
1. He retained an OT mind-set (cf. Gal. 2:11–14).
2. He had to have a special revelation to include Cornelius (cf. Acts 10) and other Gentiles.
THE SILENT YEARS
A. There is little or no information about Peter after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15
1. Galatians 1:18
2. Galatians 2:7–21
3. I Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5
B. Early church tradition
1. Peter’s being martyred in Rome is mentioned in Clement of Rome’s letter to the church at Corinth in a.d. 95.
2. Tertullian (a.d. 150–222) also notes Peter’s martyrdom in Rome under Nero (a.d. 54–68).
3. Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 200) says Peter was killed in Rome.
4. Origen (a.d. 252) says Peter was martyred by crucifixion, head down, in Rome.
Want to direct your attention today to two events in life of this extraordinary man...two snapshots...the worst day/best day of Peter’s life...
· First event occurred night before Jesus was crucified...earlier that night Jesus and disciples shared Passover meal in an upper room in Jerusalem...Jesus told disciples they all were going to forsake Him!... Peter immediately declared that no matter what the others did, he would never forsake Jesus...Jesus told Peter that before rooster crowed would deny Him three times that night...left upper room, went to Garden of Gethsemane where arrested...taken to home of Caiaphas, the high priest, for questioning and Peter followed into the courtyard...here’s what happened...(Matthew 26:69-75)...
· Second event occurred approximately fifty days later...Jesus had been crucified, was resurrected, and ascended back into heaven...the Day of Pentecost had come and the disciples of Jesus, filled with God’s Spirit, were preaching in the streets of Jerusalem...Peter and John had been arrested for healing a lame man and preaching about Jesus...taken before the same court which had sentenced Jesus to death...listen to what happened...(Acts 4:5-13)...
If didn’t know better, be tempted to conclude that the person named Peter read about in Matthew not the same person read about in Acts...what a difference!...in Matthew trembles in fear at question of a servant girl...in Acts stands before Israel’s most wealthy and powerful people without fear proclaiming the good news of Jesus...he was obviously a man who overcome fear...how did he do it?...what was his secret?...as I studied Peter’s life again this week, began jot down some things that played a role in moving him from fear to courage...but more I thought about those things more realized they really point to a single thought...
The key to overcoming fear -- whether it is fear of failure, rejection, failing health, financial ruin, losing a loved one, death or whatever -- is maintaining a right relationship with God.
When you strip everything else away, the main difference in Peter in Matthew 26 and in Acts 4 was his relationship with God...on the night of Peter’s denial of Jesus, he was obviously out of step with the Lord...when you look at Peter’s actions that night, it is obvious that he was consistently choosing his way over God’s way...at least four times that night Jesus had to correct Peter...have to look at all four gospel accounts to get complete picture of what happened:
· According John’s gospel evening began with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and Peter initially refusing to allow Jesus to wash His feet...Jesus rebuked Peter for that....
· Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe Peter’s vow never to stand by Jesus to the death even if all the others ran away...again Jesus rebuked Peter by saying would deny Him three times that night...
· In the Garden of Gethsemane later that evening Jesus asked Peter, along with James and John, to watch and pray with him...all of them fell asleep and Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus directed his rebuke of them toward Peter...
· When the mob came to arrest Jesus all four gospels tells us that one of the disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest...John identifies that disciple as Peter... and for the fourth time that evening, Jesus rebuked Peter...
Four times that night Jesus had to say to Peter, “Peter, you’ve got it wrong!”...that’s a picture of a person who was obviously out of step with God...
But on the day Peter stood without fear before the powerful authorities in Jerusalem and boldly proclaimed Jesus, his relationship with God had been restored... what happened in Peter’s life in that brief period between these two events is a case study in how to renew your relationship with God... want point out three things Peter did to renew that relationship:
He received and accepted God’s forgiveness...after denials was devastated...Matthew 26:75 says “...he went out and wept bitterly...”...no doubt asked over and over for forgiveness for what he had done...after resurrection God sent special word to Peter... Mark’s gospel tells us that the angel who announced the resurrection to the women who went to the tomb resurrection morning said, “...go, tell His disciples and Peter...”...what a relief must have been for Peter to be single out and included in the message...first step on road to restoring broken relationship with God is confessing our sin and accepting God’s forgiveness...
He was filled with (controlled by) God’s Spirit...think it’s significant that between events of Matthew 26 and Acts 4 was the day of Pentecost when God poured out His Spirit on the disciples...Acts 4:8 speaks of Peter being “...filled with the Holy Spirit...”...before Peter tried to do it in his own strength, resources, abilities...when he gave up on that and trusted God’s strength, resources, and abilities...we cannot be right with God if we insist on trusting ourselves more than we trust Him...
He gave himself away in service to others...became chief speaker on Day of Pentecost...led early church in reaching out to people and in caring for people’s needs...took focus off self and put it on others...as we care for others and give ourselves to others, in the process our relationship with God is enhanced...
And the big thing we can learn from Peter’s experience is that the way to overcome fear is to maintain a right relationship with God... nothing is an adequate substitute for that...not—
· --power...Joseph Stalin was one of the most powerful men who ever lived...but despite his power, he was afraid to go to bed at night for fear that someone would assassinate him...he never slept in the same bed two nights in a row...
· --wealth...Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived...but despite his wealth, he was so afraid of contact with people that he died a hermit with a belly-length beard and grotesque corkscrew fingernails...
· --fame...John Lenin, one of the Beatles was known and loved by millions of people...but despite his fame, he was so afraid that he was unwilling to sleep with the lights off and was afraid to touch anything because of potential germs...[Brian’s Lines, V.19, No.l, p.26]
If power nor wealth nor fame can free us from fear, what can? The message of the Bible is that freedom from fear is found only in relationship with God. As the Psalmist said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee ... In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.”
1. Some years ago the late, great Norman Vincent Peale visited Europe. In Belgium he went to what used to be a Nazi prison camp, between Antwerp and Brussels. His guide that day told him that he remembered the morning when the Nazis arrested his own father. They brought him to this very camp and shot him. Dr. Peale asked the guide, "How did those prisoners stand up against the awesome fear that must have haunted this place day and night?" The guide replied, "They had a secret." The guide took Dr. Peale to a small cell far back in a corner where there was just a little slit in a stone wall. "Now," said the guide, "reach inside there and tell me what you feel." Dr. Peale reached inside and said, "I feel a stone statue, the facial features of a statue." The guide said, "What you are feeling is the face of a statue of our Savior Jesus Christ. Those men and women in the darkest hours of their hopelessness would come here and put their hands on His holy and loving face. It was this that sustained them and gave them victory over their fears." [Overcoming Fear, sermon by Dr. Bill Bouknight, ChristianGlobe Networks, 2002]
2. Do you want to overcome your fears? Reach your hands out to God. Restore your relationship with Him. It worked for Peter and it will work for you.