|Series Theme: God's Love for You|
Title: 5. Being Secure in God's Love (2)
series that considers some of the basic things that the Bible
is the fifth of a series of pages on how much God loves you.
On this page we go on to examine Peter's interactions with Jesus, what Peter must have felt about Jesus BEFORE he spoke with him in each case. The truth is that, for Peter, he felt comfortable with Jesus (even though he was often led out into the deep in faith) because of what he had learnt of Jesus while he was with him.
As a result he could speak out as we'll soon see. Most of these illustrations come from Matthew's Gospel.
Do you know the story? The disciples have been sent by Jesus across the lake in the boat. It's night and there is a strong wind blowing, so much so that the disciples are in trouble. Suddenly Jesus appears and is seen walking on the water. The disciples are terrified. Jesus calls out to encourage them. Now we observe Peter's response, “ Lord, if it's you tell me to come to you on the water.”
Have you ever had one of those times when it seems the Lord leads you into making crazy statements? You know the sort of thing, “Lord, I'll do anything for you. Lord, I'll go anywhere for you.” Afterwards you think, “Whatever was I saying????”
But why did you say it? Why did Peter say it? Because at that moment you felt secure in God's love for you, at that moment His love for you, the sense of His presence with you, generated what we simply call faith !
Something about Jesus stirred something in Peter that made him feel secure, and that security made him feel, “If that's what you want Lord, I can do it!”.
Then came that fateful word, “Come!”. That was all it took. There was no questioning, no wondering, Peter just got out of the boat and started doing the impossible. That's what security does for you!
Have you ever watched children in a loving family? The children say things and ask things that no grown up would dream of asking. The things may be childish, they may be selfish, but they don't think about it, they are just secure in the knowledge of the love of mum and dad.
They tell dad he looks silly with a piece of sticking plaster over a shaving cut. They tell mum she looks lovely first thing in the morning. They dare to disagree. They say things that would be considered presumptuous by anyone else.
Why? They feel secure in the love they know. Perhaps you didn't come from that sort of family. Many today come from so-called ‘one-parent-families' or families with a first or second stepfather, and very often that secure love is missing.
Watch the dialogue or absence of it. What is said, or what is not said, is highly revealing about the true state of things.
Peter stepped out into the unknown because he felt secure in Jesus' presence. Yes, he soon took his eyes off Jesus, wondered about what he was doing, realised it was impossible and started to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus, but that only goes to emphasise the wonder of his actions to start with.
There can be no other answer. Peter felt secure in Jesus' presence.
Pharisees and teachers of the law critically approached Jesus (15:1,2) so Jesus challenged their actions and motives (v.3-9). There are people standing around and listening to what is going on so he draws them in and teaches them (v.10,11). The disciples realise that what Jesus is saying upsets the Pharisees (v.12) and Jesus answers them with two simple parables (v.13,14).
The problem for many of us at this point is that we've been around for a long time and we've learned about parables and it's been explained to us what Jesus meant, and so we miss the strength of what next happened.
Well consider it another way. Have you ever had someone trying to explain something new to you, something you've never heard before, something that appears complicated to you?
How many times, I wonder, do we have groups in church where people keep quiet because they're afraid to appear silly if they ask what is meant.
It takes courage to be the one who speaks out and says, “I don't understand” and that courage comes when you feel secure.
Now the interesting thing here in these verses is that Jesus obviously felt they ought to have understood by now, hence his response in v.16, “Are you still without understanding?”
Now it may be your version of that verse renders it, “Are you still so dull”. The majority of versions don't put it like that and I have to admit I don't like that rendering. It sounds demeaning and the only time that Jesus says anything that seems to put people down is when they are wilfully sinning and rejecting God.
Many of us have been put down in our childhood by harsh or cruel words that demean and scar us. Jesus doesn't do that. Yes, he does confront us with our slowness to believe and yes, he does discipline us, but it is always to build us and not put us down.
Do you remember how Paul defines the work of personal prophecy in 1 Cor 14:3 ? It is speaking “ to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort ”. That is personal prophecy, that is what God always does when He speaks to His children today.
So is Jesus going to demean Peter? Certainly not! Yes, he will challenge him, but it's not to put him down.
But remember the main point of this illustration; it is that Peter felt secure enough in Jesus' presence to be able to ask for an explanation, even if he was going to be mildly rebuked!
If Jesus has to correct us, it is always with great gentleness, and probably with firmness. Again, remember Paul's words to the Galatians, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal 6:1).
What is Jesus' attitude when you've blown it? He knows your heart, he knows that with a bit of encouragement you'll see the error of your ways and get back on the right track again (you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't that sort of person!). The apostle John explained it well, “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1).
When we, his children, fail him, what is Jesus' reaction? “Oh, not again! Why did I ever bother to save them!” Definitely not!
Jesus speaks in your defence to the Father, “Father I died for this very reason. Father forgive them, Father send the Spirit to call them back and restore them”. Jesus is more concerned to restore you, or that person you know about.
No, Peter is secure in Jesus' presence and knows he can ask questions, and if he gets a mild telling off, he can handle that because he's beginning to understand that Jesus loves him!
This is very similar to what we've just considered. Jesus has been teaching and Peter isn't sure about what he's hearing. Again it's difficult to know exactly what is behind Peter's question. It may be a simple desiring for clarification or it may have had a little ‘trying to be smart' touch about it, i.e. “That's right Lord, I understand, not just once or twice, perhaps up to seven times?”
Whatever the motivation behind the question, Peter feels sufficiently secure that he can ask the question.
Again Jesus doesn't accept his question and answer but pushes his understanding even further.
Have you ever thought about how the world's master-teacher spoke to Peter? Jesus knew Peter sufficiently well that he knew that Peter could take the level of correction Jesus brought him.
Different people can handle different levels of correction. Jesus knows us so well he knows what each of us can take. To the lady who has such low self esteem or is full of grief, he speaks with words of such tenderness and acts with such gentleness (consider Mary in Jn 11:28-33).
To the one who is seeking and strong he provokes (e.g. the Canaanite woman in Mt 15:22 -28). The best correction comes in the form that the Holy Spirit gives. It's not the same for every person.
Jesus provokes the disciples by asking who people say he is. Rather cautiously they give general answers. So Jesus asks them what they think. It is Peter who speaks out the revelation that he's suddenly given.
Would we have automatically spoken out like this? I doubt it. Many of us have been in the situation when the speaker asks a question and we answered out only to find it was a catch question and we were led into a wrong answer. Perhaps as a result we're not so keen on answering ‘clever' questions!
Let's face it, we've already seen examples of Peter speaking out of turn and getting it wrong. If there was one thing that characterised the disciples, it was that they kept getting it wrong. I hope you find that comforting.
The other side of that coin was that getting it wrong once didn't put them off trying again. Apart from the ones we've already considered, or are about to, you'll find them making mistakes of misunderstanding in Matthew's Gospel, 8:25,26 / 14:30,31 / 17:16,17 / 18:1-4 / 20:22-24.
In the present illustration Peter is not afraid to step out and boldly declare who he thinks Jesus is. Yes, we know it was by revelation from heaven (v.17) but it still shows that Peter felt secure enough to make this statement of faith.
Peter could have got it badly wrong, but he risked it, he was secure in Jesus' presence.
If we belong to a church that encourages participation, learning to be willing to risk speaking out with a ‘revelation' is something we need to do. Whether it be at the Bible Study where comments are asked for, or whether it be in the matter of personal prophecy, it takes courage to speak out and dare risk suggesting you have revelation from God. Yet if we are to be the ‘body' of Christ it is something we need to be able to do.
6. Peter Rebukes Jesus ( Mt 16:22 )
Now this is staggering. Peter is so confident in Jesus' company that he's quite happy to take Jesus aside and tell him how much he disagrees with what he's just said about his future!
A little while earlier Peter had been the recipient of revelation from heaven, now he's the recipient of unbelief from hell! Yet the central truth is still there: he feels sufficiently at ease with Jesus that he's able to express his disagreement volubly!
We may have a problem with people who pour out their disagreement but which is better, a church where no one dares to express disagreement with what is happening? Our answer to that will probably depend on how secure we feel ourselves. The church that allows disagreement is also one that progresses in maturity of grace, that learns how to handle disagreement with wisdom.
As we've said earlier, there are often two sides to many of us. There is the outward we pretend to be, and the inward that we really are. Many of us don't understand why things are happening to us and so we complain - on the inside!
The problem with leaving it on the inside is that as it gets bottled up, so it also builds up, until eventually you explode with it.
Whenever we disagree with God, know in your heart that He's right, but he doesn't mind you expressing your disagreement with what you see through your limited understanding. Sometimes it's only when we speak it out to God that we see how limited our view is and how wrong we are.
Peter wasn't afraid to disagree with Jesus (as wrong as he was), and neither should we (as wrong as we are!). Just get ready though, when you do speak it out, for Jesus to speak back!
7. Peter looks for Permanence ( Mt 17:4 )
Jesus has taken the three main disciples up on to the mountain where he is transfigured. Moses & Elijah appear, talking to Jesus. Now Peter interrupts with an offer to build three shelters for them. Mark's Gospel (with a greater input from Peter, we believe) records that “ He did not know what to say, they were so frightened ” (Mk 9:6).
Now that is interesting! Peter is frightened by what is happening yet he is still able to speak out. Even in the midst of fear this man feels he is able to speak out. Others of us might have felt we dare not say a word, but not so Peter.
Now this raises an interesting question: did Peter speak out because he was secure or did he speak out because he was an insensitive, self-centred individual?
I would suggest it was the former reason, for one simple reason: we have plenty of accounts of Jesus dialoguing with Peter and in some cases he corrects Peter's wrong understanding but in no case does Jesus give any indication that he was wanting to shut Peter up.
In Mt 20:25-28 we find Jesus correcting the self-centred attitude prevailing among the disciples, so Jesus isn't averse to correcting wrong attitudes among his followers, but he never chides Peter for speaking out.
If he saw a self-centred attitude in Peter I'm sure he would have dealt with it. Instead he patiently accepts all of Peter's interruptions, declarations and misguided comments.
It is as if Jesus says to us through these passages, “I'm pleased that Peter felt sufficiently secure with me that he felt he could say all these things.”
Jesus has just been talking about how difficult it is to get into the kingdom. The disciples start dialoguing with Jesus about this but it is Peter who comes in with a question that perhaps many of them had thought but so far none had dared ask, “What's in this for me?”
We can't help being self aware, that is how God has made us. Being sinners living in a sinful world has taught us to look out for number one, ourselves. Don't deny it, it's in each one of us.
The wonder of Christian sanctification is that God is in the business of making self-centred people into God-centred people, and even other-people centred people. Left to ourselves it's natural to be concerned about yourself.
So, Peter dares to express what the rest of us wonder but dare not ask. Let's not spend any more time, for the moment at least, considering the rights and wrongs of this statement of Peter's, but let's just observe the main point we've been making all along about Peter.
Here is another classic example of a man who felt sufficiently secure with Jesus that he could bring out the inner question that most feel cannot be asked.
Peter tells us that a secure church can be one where people are not afraid to bring out into the open the questions that most concern them. Yes, they may be totally self-centred but they still need an answer and Jesus isn't afraid of them and is willing to answer them
9. Peter's Refusal to be Washed (Jn 13:6-9)
It's the Last Supper. Jesus goes round washing the feet of his disciples, as an example of the attitude he wants them to have in the future. Peter has trouble coping with this. This is the Master, the Rabbi, the Lord, he shouldn't be doing this!
So he questions Jesus, “ Lord are you going to wash my feet?” He's not afraid, as we've seen earlier to express his concerns to Jesus. He feels sufficiently secure in Jesus' presence that he can voice his worries.
Jesus simply tells him that although he may not understand what's happening at the moment, he will understand in the future, but that's not good enough for Peter! He completely ignores what Jesus has just said and declares, “ NO, you shall NEVER wash my feet ”.
I have to confess I really identify with Peter at this point. I used to be so certain, so sure of what was right or wrong that I also used the language of over-emphasis. You know the sort of thing: “That's TOTALLY wrong…. you ALWAYS say that”. Yet the fact is that Jesus was not put off by it, and he still isn't.
Peter, you need this washing, is what he goes on to say. Peter ploughs in for the third time, “ Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well ”.
The key issue here is that three times in this brief incident Peter felt sufficiently secure with Jesus that he could speak out what he was feeling. That is a confidence Jesus wants us to emulate! So many of us have feelings that we bottle up because we feel Christians shouldn't have them.
Jesus knows them, so feel confident with him and tell him what you honestly feel.
10. Peter's Over Confidence ( Mt 26:33 )
We are now later on in the Last Supper and Jesus has been predicting his death and the scattering of the disciples. Peter is not happy about this and objects that “ even if all fall away on account of you, I never will ”.
Now we may say that Peter never learns or that Peter is brash and over confident but the same thing is still there: Peter has been made to feel so secure by Jesus that he can carry on being himself .
Yes, all these negatives may be true about Peter but he still feels sufficiently secure with Jesus that he carries on being himself , putting both feet in his mouth!
No, don't make excuses about this! Jesus was a sufficiently strong character himself that if he wanted to he could have easily put Peter down. He could have told Peter to shut up, he could have told him to think before he spoke, he could have told him, “Grow up!”, he could have said a whole variety of these sorts of things, but he didn't!
Jesus put up with Peter, and more than that, he didn't just put up with him he persevered with him and eventually promoted him!
Jesus knew Peter's potential, he knew that he would become the “Big Fisherman”, he knew that he would eventually give his own life for his Lord and also die on a Cross (according to tradition).
11. And So?
Do I feel secure with Jesus in the same way that Peter appears to be? Am I so sure of his love for me that I can risk being the real me before him?
Can I be free with Jesus, secure in his love to be loud, brash, forthright and often dogmatic, and know he still loves me? Can I be free to constantly question?
Can I be free to face the real me?