Moving from Failure to Action

 

Week of October 28, 2012

 

Bible Verses:  John 18:15-18,25-27; 21:15-19; Acts 4:13,18-20.

 

Lesson Focus:  Many of us have good intentions to do the right thing, but we falter when the time comes. Jesus forgives, restores, and desires to use us. Like Peter, we can learn to rely on God’s power and boldly serve Him.

 

Do You Deny Christ?:  John 18:15-18,25-27.

 

[15]  Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, [16]  but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. [17]  The servant girl at the door said to Peter, "You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." [18]  Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. [25]  Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, "You also are not one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." [26]  One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" [27]  Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

 

[15-18]  The reason that Peter followed Jesus is not given. It is clear, though, that neither the incident with Malchus nor the subsequent flight of the disciples had completely shaken Peter. It is probably that he simply wished to see what the outcome of the arrest would be, and in any case it is natural in such a man to wish to be near the Lord. Another disciple is now introduced, but not named. He is simply described as being known to the high priest. There is really no way of identifying him. But his acquaintance with the high priest was such that he was readily admitted to the courtyard, whereas Peter was not. It has often been suggested that this unnamed disciple was John. In favor of this is the fact that if so it would explain some of the peculiar knowledge of this Evangelist. It would mean that he had a close connection with Jerusalem, and access to sources not normally open to the Christians. But against it is urged the improbability that a son of Zebedee would occupy a position of such eminence. Other names have been suggested, such as Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus. Such men would have the entrée to the high priest’s house and one of them may well have known Peter. Peter stood outside the door but the unnamed disciple has sufficient influence to secure his admission. He spoke to the servant girl watching the door and this was enough to ensure that Peter came in. But the servant girl clearly had some reservations. She proceeded to resolve her doubts by asking whether Peter were not one of Jesus’ disciples. All four Gospels agree that this challenge came from a slave girl. It may be that this is part of the reason for Peter’s fall. He may well have been nerving himself to face some stiff challenge. But instead he was asked a simple question from a slave girl. Her question incidentally was asked in such a way as implying a negative answer. And Peter went along with this by providing a negative, I am not. The question suggested a line of escape. Peter gratefully took it up. Almost certainly he did not reflect where it would lead him. Once committed, he must have found it hard to go back on his denial. Verse 18 gives a little more detail about the circumstances. It was evidently a cold night, and the slaves and officers of the high priest had made a charcoal fire in the courtyard. They were standing round it warming themselves and Peter joined them. There was possibly danger in this, but then there would probably have been danger in not doing it. It would have been conspicuous to stay in the courtyard, but away from the group. And in any case Peter was cold so he warmed himself with the others.

 

[25-27]  As Peter was warming himself another approach was made. A group of servants were talking informally round a fire in the courtyard when they asked whether Peter were a disciple. John’s they points to several people taking up the question from one to another. Again the form of question expects the answer, “No”. This was the last place where one might expect to find one of Jesus’ followers. This may explain why no attempt was made to hold Peter for questioning, though he was asked a number of times whether he followed Jesus. The question was indeed put but the questioners did not treat the possibility seriously. And now, as before, they received a prompt emphatic denial. The last questioner was different, and his question looks for an affirmative answer. He was related to Malchus, and therefore would have had a peculiar interest in the man who had struck out with a sword. But it had been done in an uncertain light, and the relative could not be absolutely sure that it was Peter that he had seen. All the more would this have been the case in that he was now seeing Peter in a very dim light indeed. A charcoal fire glows red, but does not emit bright flames. But he was more confident than the earlier questioners, as his words show. He refers to the incident, and asks whether he did not see Peter in the garden. For the third time Peter denies any connection with Jesus. John does not give his exact words this time, but simply says that Peter again denied it. He records the fact that a cock crowed at that moment but he says nothing of its effect on Peter.

 

Do You Really Love Christ?:  John 21:15-19.

 

[15]  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." [16]  He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." [17]  He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. [18]  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." [19]  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me."  [ESV]

 

[15-19]  There is an element of déjà vu in the following scene: a charcoal fire and three questions regarding Peter’s stance toward Jesus. The setting matches rather closely that of Peter’s previous denials of Jesus, though this time the outcome will be markedly different. It surely is significant that the one thing about which Jesus questions Peter prior to commissioning him for service is love, specifically supreme love for Jesus Himself. Paradoxically, one who loves Jesus supremely will love those entrusted into his charge more, not less. In this call to love, Jesus does not treat Peter differently from other individuals whom He called to follow Him in discipleship. The fact that there are two different verbs for love used in the present passage has led some to believe that agape and phileo are distinct in meaning, but this is doubtful for at least two reasons: (1) the fact that the word agape, said to convey the notion of divine love, is used with reference to human love – and evil humans at that – in texts such as 3:19 and 12:43, and that phileo, said to connote human love, is used for God the Father in 5:20 (where He is said to love the Son) and 16:27 (where He is said to love the disciples); (2) the presence of other close synonyms in the same section, such as the use of two words for “know”, and stylistic variants of “tend/shepherd” and “my sheep/lambs.” But we must discern the thrust of the question Do you love me more than these? Is Jesus’ question whether Peter loves Him more than he loves these men? Is it whether Peter loves Him more than these men do? Or is Jesus asking whether Peter loves Him more than he loves these fish – that is, his profession? On one level, all three are true: Peter must love Jesus more than he loves other people, or his natural profession, and he is called to love Jesus more than these other men do and to be willing to render extraordinary sacrifice on behalf of his master. Indeed, Peter earlier had claimed a devotion to Jesus exceeding that of the other disciples. Hence, in context, the second alternative seems most likely here: Jesus challenges Peter to love Him more than the other disciples do. Notably, the love required of Peter is primarily for Jesus rather than for the flock. Those who want to be used significantly in God’s service must be willing to make greater sacrifices for the Lord they serve. Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep. Shepherd imagery abounds in the Old Testament, which is pervaded by a yearning for shepherds who are devoted to God, care for His sheep, and carry out His will. The term tend regularly occurs in the Old Testament for feeding sheep. The two verbs, tend and feed, jointly span the fullness of the task given to Peter. Three decades later, Peter wrote similar words to the churches entrusted to his care [1 Peter 5:1-3]. Jesus’ threefold repetition of His question may reflect the Near Eastern custom of reiterating a matter three times before witnesses in order to convey a solemn obligation, especially with regard to contracts conferring rights or legal dispositions. Peter’s response to Jesus’ third question points to Jesus’ knowledge of Peter rather than to any actions of his own that might prove his loyalty. Perhaps at long last Peter has learned that he cannot follow Jesus in his own strength and has realized the hollowness of affirming his own loyalty in a way that relies more on his own power of will than on Jesus’ enablement. Likewise, we should soundly distrust self-serving pledges of loyalty today that betray self-reliance rather than a humble awareness of one’s own limitations in acting on one’s best intentions. Jesus now makes clear what prompted His questioning in 21:15-17. Jesus has sought not so much Peter’s triple retraction of his denial, and even less to embarrass him again before the other disciples; it is rather what awaits Peter in the future that prompts Jesus to reinforce His ties with him as never before. In the ancient world, the expression stretch out your hands was widely taken to refer to crucifixion. Hence, Jesus almost certainly refers not merely to an unspecified martyr’s death on the part of Peter in the future but more specifically to martyrdom by crucifixion – the same kind of death that He Himself had suffered. In light of Jesus’ words in 21:18-19, His call to Peter to follow Him now takes on a new and deeper meaning. The rest of Peter’s life must be lived in the shadow of the cross, just as Jesus’ was. As such a man, who has renounced all earthly ties and who has declared his supreme loyalty to Jesus, Peter is commissioned to serve as shepherd of Jesus’ flock as the Great Shepherd takes His leave.

 

Do You Stand Up for Christ?:  Acts 4:13,18-20.

 

[13]  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. [18]  So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. [19]  But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, [20]  for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."  [ESV]

 

[18-20]  The Council was in a real quandary. On the one hand, an outstanding miracle had been performed, as everyone in Jerusalem knew; so they could not deny it. On the other hand, they must stop this thing from spreading any further among the people. So what could they do? All they could think of was to warn them, as a legal admonition before witnesses, to speak no longer to anyone in the name of Jesus, the powerful name by which the cripple had been healed, which Peter had preached, and which they were reluctant even to pronounce. So they called the apostles in again to carry out their plan. They command them not to speak or teach at all in this name. The effort is both to silence and control the apostles and to bring any form of testimony about God’s work through Jesus to a complete halt. This is damage control. It also sets up the apostles for further punishment if they refuse what is in effect an initial warning that can lead to contempt-of-court charges later. The apostles reply that, despite the warnings and threats, they will not stop preaching Jesus. They are called by God to give such a testimony, and they must obey God rather than the leadership. The leaders are to judge, that is, understand, that the apostles must follow God rather than a human ruling. The apostles cannot do anything other than speak of what they have seen and heard. An implication of the reply is that the leadership no longer represents the expression of God’s will and way. Their responsibility for Jesus’ death, already noted by the apostles [10], is the reason. With the opportunity to respond still available, the leadership is rejecting the chance to come back into God’s will. So the apostles will follow God’s call over the divergent will of the council. The reason the apostles give for their refusal is that they cannot but proclaim what they have seen and heard. The remark here is broad. The apostles testify to Jesus, His healing, and the teaching and resurrection to which these events point. Here we see an affirmation of the limits of the power of human institutions. The council is not to be obeyed when it asks the people to do something against God’s will. Of course, the council would be shocked by such a distinction, but this is the crux of the dispute. Who better represents God? For Luke, the apostles have the healing on their side, as well as God’s activity in raising Jesus.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Describe Peter’s actions on this last night in the life of Jesus [Matt. 26:36-46; John 13:36-38; 18:10-11,15-18,25-27]? Note the complexity of Peter’s character as he fluctuates between strength and weakness. What can we learn from Peter about our own character struggles?

 

2.         Describe the events in John 21:15-19. What do we learn about Jesus; about Peter? Why does Jesus focus in on love? What strength and encouragement can we draw from these verses for those times when we deny our Lord, either through our words or through our silence?

 

3.         Describe the quandary the Jewish Council found themselves in Acts 4:1-22. Peter and John’s answer to the Council in 4:19-20 sets forth a very important biblical principle. Throughout Scripture believers are instructed to submit to the established authorities over them [see e.g., Rom. 13:1-3; 1 Peter 2:13-17], with one exception [see e.g., Matt. 22:21; Acts 5:29]. Anytime the established authority requires a believer to do what God forbids or forbids them to do what God commands, then the believer must disobey the established authority. Pray for the wisdom and courage to put this important principle into practice in your life.

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, ECNT, Baker.

The Gospel According to John, D.A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Acts, Darrell Bock, ECNT, Baker.