The Rock Gets Rocked

John 18.15-18, 25-27. Peter’s denial. Two disciples follow Jesus and the crowd from the Mount of Olives. We know that one of them is Peter…John tells us that. The other is most likely John himself. We’re not sure about John’s relationship to the high priest, but apparently he has enough pull to get Peter in. From the response of the slave-girl when she asks, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”, John’s relationship to Jesus as one of His disciples, seems to be well-known, at least to the help. Now it’s difficult to know what the slave-girl’s opinion was of Jesus…but we can take a guess. The way the question is framed, a negative response is assumed. In other words, she expects Peter to say “no”. Maybe because she assumes Jesus is a criminal based on the soldiers accompanying Him, or maybe she has bought into the negative propaganda of the religious elite. Either way, she doesn’t expect Peter to claim allegiance to Jesus…and Peter does not disappoint.

In stark contrast to the “I AM” of Jesus, Peter simply answers, “I am not.” But that one simple phrase speaks volumes. Peter, the first of the disciples to identify Jesus as the Christ of God, arguably the chief disciple, the one who was willing to take on a cohort of Roman soldiers with little more than a pocketknife, the Rock who would become a pillar of the church…gets rocked, and is seemingly cowed by a servant-girl.

As the scene continues to unfold, Peter is warming himself by the fire with a group of slaves and soldiers, when the question comes up for the second time, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” Again, a negative response is assumed. And Peter again responds, “I am not.” Starting to see a pattern here?

And before Peter can make a break for it, one of Malchus’ relatives, Peter’s victim in the garden, recognizes him. “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” For the third time, Peter denies knowing Jesus, and immediately a rooster crows. And Jesus’ prediction in the upper room becomes a shocking and painful reality.

So the obvious question is, “Why does Peter deny Jesus?” And although, “Because Jesus said he would” is technically a correct answer, let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can identify what brings Peter to this disastrous outcome.

First off, it’s been a hard day for Peter…first Jesus informs him that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat, then he’s told that he would deny his Master, he’s rebuked for trying to “save” Jesus from washing his feet, he’s told that Jesus is going to betrayed and murdered and then told that he is to follow Jesus’ example, and then he’s rebuked again when he attempts to defend Jesus in the garden… his expectations have not only been unmet, they’ve been utterly destroyed. You see, Peter was looking for Messiah. But he was expecting a Warrior-King who would overthrow the power of Rome and establish the messianic kingdom. He wasn’t looking for the Suffering Servant coming to die; he was looking for the White Horse Rider of Revelation 19 riding out to crush His enemies. And although Jesus has worked to correct Peter’s expectations, he has simply refused to let go of his version of Messiah – footwashing, talk of “laying down His life”, allowing Himself to be arrested and coming to the defense of those who were taking Him… Peter was ready to fight for Him. He was willing to die for Him. If Peter were asked, “Whom do you seek?” The answer would have been clear… “The bloody Warrior-King of Psalm 2 and 110 who would demolish His enemies and crush the head of the serpent!” He was looking for a Messiah who acted, well, more like him. And this Jesus wasn’t it.

So I’m not sure that Peter’s denials are based purely on his fear of death. First of all, last week Peter was ready to give his life for the cause. Even though Jesus flattened His enemies with a Word, 200 to 1 is still pretty long odds, so when he draws his sword (maybe dagger), he was prepared to die. And secondly, John goes into the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus and he sends for Peter. John isn’t “captured”, so Peter could see that John, a known associate of Jesus, is safe. It doesn’t appear that at this point he has any reason to fear for his life.

But if it isn’t fear of death, what is it? A couple of options come to mind…maybe Peter thinks he is on the wrong side, maybe he’s beginning to doubt, maybe it’s the pain of unmet expectations. The rules have changed. Winning now looks like losing. How conflicted he must have been. A Jew who grew up believing that winning looks like winning. No one told him that the rules changed. He could very well be embarrassed and ashamed of his association with this “Criminal”, this “Want-to-be-Messiah”. Maybe it comes down to the fact that it’s easier to pick a side and go all-in, knowing that the consequence is imminent death than it is to say “Yes” hour after hour, day after day, year after year…the grueling task of “laying down your life”.

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John includes this episode with Peter. Peter had to be one of his closest friends, his brother-in-arms, his travelling buddy, a fellow disciple of Jesus…and yet John calls him out. And it couldn’t have been easy for John. How does this fit with John’s purpose of writing so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing we may have life in His name? Simply put: We all need Jesus. Peter needed a Savior…not the Jesus he wanted, but he needed Jesus because only Jesus can save.

We are all deniers. Since the garden, it’s been hardwired into our DNA. But Jesus came to bring restoration and healing. He came to make all things new, but even in that process we are prone to lash out when our expectations are unmet, when Jesus doesn’t conform to our image of Him.

Peter was looking for the Jesus whom he thought could save him…but that Jesus couldn’t. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, the I AM, the Word made flesh could truly save. And He’s the only One who can truly save us today. Granted that salvation doesn’t always look like we may want it to, but we must trust that we have a loving and benevolent Creator and Savior who is in the process of reconciling the world to Himself and conforming us to His image. That is often a painful process, but well worth it in the end.

We see Peter’s response to his expectations, but what about you? Think about an expectation, a hope, a desire in your life that currently isn’t being met. What’s your response? What does your denial look like? Anger? Frustration? Depression? Escape? Apathy? My prayer for all of us is that in the face of unmet expectations, we would be able to die to them, lay down our lives, and embrace Jesus for who He is an not who we want him to be.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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“Whom Do You Seek?”

John 18.1-11. Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of Roman soldiers (200-600) to arrest Jesus. The soldiers are in for more than they bargained for as Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” The soldiers respond, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus comes back with, “I AM.” With that the soldiers fall back to the ground. I AM is the divine name with which God identified Himself to Moses in the burning bush way back in Exodus 3. You are probably more familiar with the Hebrew pronunciation, “Yahweh”. John has used I AM statements throughout his Gospel to reinforce both Jesus’ Messianic and Divine roles (7 I AM’s: Bread of Life; Light of World; Gate; Good Shepherd; Resurrection and Life, Way, Truth and Life; and Vine; not to mention John 8.58). And I believe he’s doing the same thing here. This is confirmed by the soldiers’ reaction: they draw back and fall to the ground. The Word made flesh, the One who spoke creation into existence, and the One from whom the sharp sword will come out of His mouth to slay His enemies at His return, now speaks a word and the bravest of men fall back. Now we see the crux of the difference between John’s account of the betrayal and the Synoptics: the Synoptics highlight Jesus’ humanity and focus on the betrayal, whereas John highlights Jesus’ deity and focuses on the Betrayed. It shouldn’t surprise us because John’s Gospel is the most theological of the four Gospel narratives. In the early church, when controversy swirled around the question of Jesus, the early church fathers looked to the Gospel of John for support for their argument that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. The purpose statement of John’s Gospel is: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Everything John includes and excludes goes to that purpose. The soldiers had come out looking for a man, an insurrectionist, a rogue, want-to-be king, but they came face-to-face with the Son of God. Jesus is constantly challenging folks’ perceptions and expectations of who He is. Belief is used over 90 times in the book of John, but there is an evolution of belief as the book progresses as Jesus reveals more of who He is. At one point, He even asks the 12 if they also wanted to leave…constantly challenging and expanding their category of who and what Messiah would be. 

As I reflected on the passage, I was struck by Jesus’ question: “Whom do you seek?” And I began to think about how different folks viewed Jesus in John’s Gospel. Peter’s view of/response to Jesus was one of action. This final scene where he cuts off Malchus’ ear is a great illustration. He’s constantly looking for Jesus to lead His followers into battle and establish the kingdom. He’s not a fan of the Lamb-before-the-Lion approach to the kingdom. Some of us are like Peter and can’t understand why God doesn’t act sooner or in some cases doesn’t seem to act at all, especially with the injustices in the world that threaten to overwhelm us.

Judas’ view of/response to Jesus was: what’s in it for me? Judas always seemed to be working an angle and was willing to follow Jesus as long as there was a perceived benefit for himself. A good example is his rebuke of the woman who poured costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, not because he cared about the poor (as John tells us), but because he was a thief. And if we are honest with our selves, some of us are like Judas. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as there is a perceived immediate benefit for ourselves…better life (job, marriage, kids, etc.). But should that perceived benefit fail to materialize and actual suffering become the reality of life, we are quick to fall away.

The Pharisees’ view of/response to Jesus was: what about us? We are told that the Pharisees wanted to silence Jesus because they were afraid that they would lose their status in the community. Some of us are like the Pharisees and are more concerned about status and appearances and the favor of men, so following Jesus will only work if it doesn’t cost me social capital with my peers.

The crowd’s view of/response to Jesus was: show us something new. The crowd who followed Jesus was extremely fickle. At one point they seemingly hang on every word, and then suddenly are abandoning Him when the miracles cease to amaze or the teaching becomes too hard. Some of us are like the crowd. We follow Jesus when it’s popular to do so, but when the tides of public opinion change, we are quick to abandon Him.

Reflecting on these responses, I realized that each of them was not so different than that of the soldiers response to Jesus…you see Jesus the Nazarene is the prototypical Jesus of our imagination. He’s who we have made Jesus out to be based on our own expectations and desires. And when He doesn’t live up to our expectations, we walk away. We want to come to Jesus on our terms and to make Him in our image. But Jesus’ answer is irrefutable: I AM. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and the Rescuer of our souls. And He bids us come and follow Him…not the Jesus we have made up in our own minds, not Jesus the Nazarene, but the I AM. He wants us to follow Him, but we must come to Him on His terms and not ours. We must be conformed to His image, and not He to ours.

So how do we work on our view of Jesus? How do we go about seeing Him as He really is? How do we conform? How do we submit? How do we walk in His footsteps? I really believe that happens best in the context of community. God is in the process of redeeming a people…sure He calls us individually, but He calls us into a body…into the body of Christ. And it’s to the people of God, to a body of believers that the Scriptures are written. There is no effective lone ranger Christianity. “It’s not about you, your Bible, and a cup of coffee” – but it’s about discovering and living out the truths of the Bible with other believers. That’s what discipleship is all about. It’s easy for me to become self-deceived, but when my life is bumping up against others who are also looking to follow Jesus, it’s harder to hide my sin and thereby deceive myself. The truth of the Scriptures are then able to penetrate at a deep level, so that when you are asked, “Whom do you seek?” you can confidently say, “I’m seeking Jesus.”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Black and white

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Receive the mark of the beast and life continues seemingly undisturbed – buy, sell, trade, etc. Refuse the mark and life becomes increasingly more difficult. If life is viewed from a purely earthly perspective, then the choice seems pretty clear. Viewed from a heavenly perspective the choice is likewise obvious. But gaining that celestial perspective while rooted on terra firma is a challenging task.

Revelation 14. We’re reminded that while things appear bleak for the followers of God on earth, it is the pursuers of the beast who are in real danger. They will experience God’s divine wrath poured out in full strength. Follow the beast or follow God. Those who trail the beast will live today, only to die eternally. Those who chase after God may die today, but will live eternally. Two reapings. One to eternal life. The other to eternal torment.

But what about the third group? Those who have signed up to follow God, they’ve trusted in Jesus, but are unwillingly to lay down their lives. They live in-between kind of lives. They want to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful life promised by the beast here on planet earth, while still anticipating a future home in heaven…they long for the best of both worlds. However, John doesn’t seem to have a category for the inbetweeners, believers who are unwilling to persevere (who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus). So what does that mean for us today? The church today seems to subsist in compromise, especially the American church. And that can’t make God very happy. It should be one or the other. You are for Him, or against Him. Being for Him doesn’t mean that you won’t still make bad choices at times, but it means that you are making the conscious decision to follow Him no matter the cost. That takes courage and a great deal of trust. May God give us a greater ability to see life from His perspective and courage to follow Him.

Until next time…stay salty.