Thursday, 2 April 2015

Peter's tears

And he (Peter) went outside and wept bitterly.  Matthew 26:75

Have you ever felt yourself to be a total, abject, utter, miserable, wretched failure? You've got something badly wrong - about as wrong as it could possibly be. You have, as they say, "messed up big time".

That was how Peter felt that day, just hours before Jesus went to his death on the cross. A little earlier he had declared, quite indignantly, his undying loyalty to him: "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!" (Matthew 26:35). 

But while Jesus was on trial, he had been challenged by a servant girl in the courtyard outside: "You're one of this man's followers, aren't you? I can tell by your accent!" And Peter had denied all knowledge of him - not just once or twice, but three times - using angry and violent language. At that moment came the sound of a cock crowing - the sound Jesus had said would signal his failure. No wonder Peter broke down. No wonder he wept.

Well, I imagine we can all identify with Peter the failure.

Here are two lessons to take from this episode. 

First, big talk is easy, but what counts is doing what is right. I have no doubt at all that when Peter promised his loyalty he meant exactly what he said. But when it came to the crunch he couldn't follow it through.

Do you ever "promise more than you can deliver"? How often does the alcoholic loudly declare "I'll never touch another drop!" Or the adulterer, "That's it! from now on I'll always be true to you." 

On a lesser scale, how often does the habitual late-comer promise to be more organised, or the overweight person to really cut back, or the gossip to guard their tongue, or the spendthrift  to stop wasting money, or the angry person to stop losing their temper...? But next time the situation arises...

In one of his letters Paul writes, "If you think you are standing, watch out that you don’t fall" (1 Corinthians10:12). Wise words! It's better not to make a promise at all than to make it and then break it.

The second lesson from the story of Peter’s collapse is that we never know how our own faith and loyalty would stand up if we were tested. This is the thing I find most challenging. 

We often - too often! - hear reports of Christians being imprisoned, tortured, even killed, for their faith in Jesus. And I find myself thinking "Mmm, suppose that was me? Would I stand up as bravely as that? Or would I cave in and renounce my faith?" I know what I would like to think is the answer, but in all honesty I have my doubts... 

A tree may look strong and deeply rooted. But you don't know until it has withstood a hurricane. A bridge may look completely immovable; but suppose there was an earthquake or a flood...?

How easy we have it in this country, we who profess to follow Jesus! But let’s never be arrogant or complacent. Do any of us really know our true selves?

The story of Peter has a wonderful sequel. Here he is, this no-hoper, this big-mouth, this failure, sobbing his heart out in public. But where do we find him in literally a matter of weeks? Answer: preaching Jesus in the centre of Jerusalem with amazing courage (Acts 2). He has become, humanly speaking, the head of the church.

God doesn't cast us off! - not if we are truly sorry. I suspect there aren't many of us for whom that is not good news. Are you hating yourself today for some failure, perhaps from many years ago? Well, remember please the story of Peter!

Lord, please help me, when I fail, to be honest about it and not to make excuses. But help me too never to despair. Thank you that your grace and forgiveness are still there for me, so that I can turn my failure into future strength and success. And please give peace, hope and courage today to all those whose faith is being tested in ways I can barely imagine. Amen.

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