Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peter, the baddest man in all the land.

I think one of the most awe inspiring aspects of the bible are the apostles, who they were, and why they were chosen. Jesus didn't simply pick twelve people at random. He put thought into His decision. He prayed to His Father for guidance when making this choice. I believe He also prayed for those he would choose, knowing exactly what would face them once that choice had been made.

Not much is known about The Twelve. less than half of them had no listed occupations (four fishers, one tax collector). Only one was known to have been married (Peter, who's mother-in-law was healed by Jesus). But the things we do know about them lead me to wonder if modern churches would even allow the very leaders of the first churches into the building on Sunday morning.

Think of the first four. Peter, his brother Andrew, and their childhood friends and business partners, also brothers, James and John. These four grew up as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, working for Peter and Andrew's father, Jonah (no, not of whale fame)

Commercial fishing has changed a great deal in the past 2,000 years. The boats have become larger, the nets have become stronger, lighting and gps have allowed night fishing to be much less dangerous; lots of changes have occurred. One thing that has not changed though are the type of people who work on these boats in the middle of the sea. Men with skin like leather; scarred from countless scraps with hooks, nets, and fish; the toughest of the tough; willing to take on the sea at it's worst. These men had guts.

It's those very guts Jesus needed. He wasn't sending these men out to preach love and peace in a safe world. Jesus no doubt knew the violent end that awaited most of His Apostles before He even chose them. Of the 12, ten died violent deaths at the hands of the enemies of Christianity. Some were murdered, some were jailed and executed by Rome, some by other Jewish leaders.

What the church needed, what Jesus needed, were men who could stand up in the face of danger. Needed were men who wouldn't back down when confronted by the enemies of the Church. Nobody can lead a church by running from confrontation.

Simon-bar-Jonah, later renamed Peter (or "Petras" in Jesus's native Aramaic which meant "the rock" as he was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church) became the head disciple of Jesus. We know this for a few reasons. Not only is Peter listed first in all of the lists of apostles in the bible, but we are told directly that Jesus wished Peter to be the base of His church after His death. What a responsibility that was!

Just as I constantly preach that Jesus wasn't a quiet, polite, nice guy; neither was Peter. Peter was just as crass and headstrong as Jesus. Maybe more. He was always the first to question Jesus's motives, always the first one to try to answer questions, and always the first to run off and do something without thinking. (see previous post about jumping out of the boat) One of the most shocking stories of Peter comes at the end of Jesus's life in the garden the night of Jesus's capture.

When Jesus went to the garden to pray that night, He knew what would happen over the next few hours. I personally believe that He withdrew from the others to spare them from capture. The one man who refused to leave His side though was Peter. Even later that night when he would deny knowing Jesus over and over, he was still right there beside Him. After all the others had scattered, it was Peter who was there at the end.

Imagine the scene in the garden. It's dark, there are probably a few torches around, maybe the moon is out, but there isn't much light either way. Peter is alone with Jesus. He is tired. He has been up all night watching over Jesus, protecting Him from the fate he only thinks he can stop. Suddenly though, they aren't alone. Up walks Judas and the local priests. Behind them, Roman Centurians, the special forces of their day.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Here's where men can sit up and start to get a real glimpse at the type of man Jesus chose to lead His Church. What was Peter's reaction to Jesus's betrayal at the hand of one of his friends? Well, he pulled his sword and started swinging. Obviously, he hadn't thought this through. Did he expect to take on the Roman soldiers? Did he expect to live through this attack? I don't know. The few things I do know, though, are just shocking. First off, Jesus's closest friend carried a sword! Even more shocking though was that even after attempting to behead the servant of one of the leaders of Jerusalem, he lived.

Think about it. Standing in front of dozens of well armed soldiers who had doubtlessly been warned that they were going to be capturing a man widely believed to be the son of God and were therefore on edge like never before, an accomplice of the target pulled a weapon and attacked a member of the arrest team. We hear about this all the time actually. It still happens today. Only now when we hear about it the headline reads "armed suspect killed by police during early raid." It almost never reads "violent attacker allowed to walk by police after attempted murder during early morning raid." And yet that is exactly what happened here. For one reason or another these soldiers held their weapons back and allowed Peter to live. Was this because Jesus preformed a miracle by healing the man Peter had attacked? Was this because Peter had been stopped by Jesus already? Was it because Peter was filled with Holy Fury and was unstoppable by man? Personally I think it's some of all three. Peter was pissed! But he knew his place. Also, if I saw a man just stick a man's ear back on, the last thing I would do is mess with his sword wielding friend. I like my ears...

That's the story we're given about Peter. He's impulsive. He reacts without thinking. When he's pushed into a corner, hurt by the betrayal of a friend, he's violent; willing to stand up to dozens of armed soldiers to protect his friend. This is the man we have to thank for the churches we fill each Sunday. My question to you: Would your church welcome this man? Would you want him sitting beside your family? Would you greet him with a smile, invite him to lunch, and treat him as nicely as you treat the others you meet in church?

I can't say that I would. I hope I would. I hope I could see past his mouth. I hope I wouldn't be turned off by the scars, tattoos, or lack of wealth. I hope I would treat him as a brother no matter how he appeared. After all, if he's good enough for Jesus, isn't he good enough for me?

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