I want you to remember a time you were publicly humiliated by someone. Maybe somebody insulted you in front of others, or pointed out what you were doing wrong in a condescending manner. Maybe they made fun of you for wearing something that didn’t match (all my fellow color-blind people, unite!), or maybe it was a teacher who embarrassed you in front of the class.
Got it? Is your blood starting to boil as you picture that person? Ok. Take a deep breath. Lay that aside for a moment. We will come back to it.
My biblical doppelganger is Peter, the perfectly flawed disciple of Jesus. One of my favorite pastors, Mark Beebe, has been doing a teaching series on Peter during our Thursday night recovery services. He reminds us that throughout the gospels, Peter’s shortcomings are not scrubbed out. We see him have some great moments, such as when he answered rightly Jesus’ question, “Who do you think I am?” and we see him have some bloopers, such as 7 verses later where Jesus rebuked him, calling him Satan (Matthew 16). We get to watch Peter full of faith walk on water and then moments later get overwhelmed and drop like a rock. We read about him declaring he’d never leave his Master’s side only to disown Him not once, not twice, but three times that same night.
Peter is every one of us who vowed to go to Africa for the sake of the gospel during the 11am altar call only to remember an hour later how much we love Olive Garden.
I love Peter, and I suspect you do as well, because we can identify so easily with him. But there’s a story about Peter that isn’t found in the gospels and is little known. It’s my favorite one. I’d like to share it with you.
It begins in Galatians, a letter written by Paul, a Jewish religious leader turned Jesus freak who is credited with taking the message of Jesus to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. During this time period, Christians were still getting used to the radical idea that Jesus broke down all the barriers between people, setting aside the purity regulations faithful Jews had observed for centuries (like abstaining from unclean food or not eating with Gentiles). Paul was fighting an uphill battle trying to convince Jews who had converted to Christianity that it was perfectly acceptable to eat with Gentiles. Heck, they could even host a pork BBQ if they so desired.
Enter Peter. In Galatians 2, Paul writes that he found Peter in Antioch. Before Peter’s Jewish friends arrived on the scene, Peter was known to eat with Gentiles. But when these guys from Jerusalem showed up, Peter drew back. He didn’t want to get in trouble with his Jewish friends. Paul writes that he “opposed Peter in public because he was clearly wrong…the other Jewish believers also started acting like cowards along with Peter” (Gal. 2:11-14).
Paul publicly humiliated Peter, calling him a coward in front of all his friends. I imagine Peter felt a lot like you and I feel when the same thing happens to us. Galatians was written around 40 A.D., a decade after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ten years later Peter still had moments where he wasn’t at the top of his game. Once again, Peter is just like us.
But the story isn’t over.
Nearly 2 decades after being embarrassed in Antioch, Peter would write his own letters to churches which would be added to our New Testament. In his second letter, the aging disciple writes one sentence that convinces me the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work, and God isn’t done with any of us yet. He writes,
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with wisdom that God gave him (2 Peter 3:15).
Isn’t that astounding?! Do you see how Peter writes so affectionately about a man who called him a coward in front of all his friends? Do you catch how he publicly praises the one who publicly humiliated him? Over the years Peter made spiritual progress, and along his journey he chose humility over bitterness, reconciliation over retaliation. Peter continued to grow, to change, to be conformed into the image of Jesus.
This insight into Peter’s life, a man who lived 2000 years ago and whom I only know through letters, is enough to convince me that a life pursuing Jesus is worth it, if for nothing else than to achieve the sort of serene disposition the aged Peter has for Paul when none of us, who are just like Peter, would fault him if he had held a grudge to the grave.
Now, recall the image of the person who made your blood boil a moment ago. See them? It’s one thing for us to take comfort in knowing someone like Peter, a disciple of Jesus, is just like us when he falls on his face. But if he’s just like us in our low moments, can we believe together that we can be just like him in his best moments? Can we believe for a moment that the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work in you and I, and that God isn’t done with any of us? Then can we dare to imagine that one day – maybe not today, this month or even this year – but one day our hearts might be so changed that we would write affectionately about the person we can’t stomach today?
If the words of a dead man from two millennia ago can inspire us to imagine Jesus isn’t done with any of us yet, imagine what might happen if the world saw living examples of Peter today. After all, he’s just like us. Or even better, maybe we are just like him.
By God’s grace, may it be so.