"What Can We Say About Peter?"

LUKE 22:31-34, 54-62

Maundy Thursday

APR 17, 2014

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           One of the three commentaries I have been using for our walk through Luke's Gospel is written by Fred Craddock, a New Testament professor at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.  Craddock is also a master storyteller and one of the stories he tells is about an incident that took place many years ago while he was driving crosscountry.  He had stopped at a small diner in the South for an early breakfast and some coffee.  As he waited for his breakfast order to come, Craddock spied an African American man who had just come in and had sat down on a stool up by the lunch counter.  The diners manager then began to treat the black man with a contempt that was clearly borne of deepseated racism.  The manager was rude, insulting, demeaning toward his black guest.  As he sat in his booth a little ways away from the counter, Craddock wrestled with whether to say something to this manager for his shameful, racist conduct.

            Meanwhile the black man quickly slurped down some coffee and fled into the darkness. Craddock remained silent.  I didnt say anything, he confessed.  I quietly paid my bill, left the diner, and headed back to my car.  But as I walked through the parking lot, somewhere in the distance, I heard a rooster crow.

            Let's fast forward a few Sundays.  A few Sundays later Fred Craddock was a guest preacher at a church and he preached a sermon and told the story of his experience in the diner.  After the service, a man came up to him in the narthex, shook Craddocks hand vigorously, and said, Thank you, pastor, for that powerful sermon.  That really hit home!  Oh, but, what was that business with the rooster?

            You and I know about that business with the rooster, dont we?  It's one of Holy Week's most famous stories.  Listen to Luke's version of it.

 

            "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.  And he said to him, Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!  Jesus said, I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.

 

            Then skipping to verse 54.

 

            Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priests house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant- girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, This man also was with him. But he denied it, saying, Woman, I do not know him. A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, You also are one of them. But Peter said, Man, I am not! Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean. But Peter said, Man, I do not know what you are talking about! At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

            What can we say about Peter?  Can we say that he was overconfident?  Yes, we can.  After Jesus said that he was praying for him, that Satan was out to get him, Peter said, Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!   

            Maxie Dunham, pastor and one time editor of the devotional publication The Upper Room," aptly captured the danger of overconfidence by quoting a little gem of wisdom.  He said, "Never play leap frog with a unicorn."  I don't know a more graphic, dare I say "sharper," reminder of the danger of overconfidence.  Stricken with overconfidence Peter played leap frog with a unicorn, in this case Satan, and he lost.

            But would we have done any better in that courtyard?  I seriously doubt it.  Sometimes we hear Christians say, "Oh, I wish I could have been in Jerusalem in those days and walked with Jesus, heard him speak, watched him heal.  I would have remained true."  Really, you would have remained true?  No offense, but I think that's nonsense.  The disciples had been with him night and day for three years, yet read the accounts of Holy Week.  The Twelve were guilty that final week of jealousy, and ambition, and defection and in this case, denial.  Modern day followers of Jesus are still guilty of the same things.  Being with Jesus for those three years had not changed them that much.  And being with Jesus all these years has not changed the majority of us as much as it should have changed us. If we had been there, if our name was included in the Twelve, I doubt if we would have done any better than Peter.

            What can we say about Peter?  Can we say that he was brave?  Yes, I think we can.  In all fairness we need to remember that Peter was one of the two disciples, John being the other, who had the courage to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest's house.  The other disciples had bailed, had taken off.  Yes, he blew it, he denied Jesus as Jesus had predicted he would, but I still think it's better to fail in a gallant enterprise than to run away and not even attempt it. 

            And what can we say about Peter?  We can say he was blessed to have a Savior who believed in him.  Jesus believed in him at the beginning, nicknaming him "The Rock," and saying he would build the church on his faith, and here at the end, Jesus sees beyond Peter's denial and says a very lovely thing to him.  Jesus says to him, "Once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

            Maybe you heard the story of Jonathan Meigs who sought to win the hand of the girl he loved.  This was back in the 18th century.  Her father, a stern Quaker, coldly rejected Jonathan.  He told Jonathan that he was entirely unsuitable for his daughter.  He told Jonathan that he was unworthy and did not meet his expectations of a husband for his daughter.  Jonathan, his heart shattered, mounted his horse and left.  Before he got far he heard his love's voice.  "Return!  Jonathan!  Return!" Jonathan never forgot that day, the day the simple word "return" overcame an awful sense of rejection.  So sweet was the sound that he named their firstborn son, "Return Jonathan."  The very same Return Jonathan Meigs served his country valiantly as a Colonel under General George Washington.

            Return.  What a refreshing word. What an invigorating word.  Peter would eventually cherish those two sweet syllables of grace, in this case "turned back," and he would spend the rest of his life telling others about his friend Jesus who does not give up on people.

            One more thing we can say about Peter ... he was fundamentally loyal.  H.G. Wells said, "A person may be a bad musician, and yet be passionately in love with music."  We may not be very good at this following Jesus stuff, but hopefully we are passionately in love with him.  If so, he says, to us tonight, "Return.  Come join me at this table.  No matter what you have done, no matter how you have failed, how miserable a human being you can be at times, return.  Return."

            Amen.