In last month’s Priority, I addressed the need for leaders to develop courage in order to lead well. In this month’s article, I’d like for us to drill down into the transformational change in Peter’s character which made him fit to be the Apostle to the Jews.
There comes a time in each Christian’s life when the Lord in His kindness reaches deep into the soul of His servant and does a healing work that no one else could do. In the case of Jacob, for example (who spent his life getting in trouble and then fleeing the situation rather than facing it), there came a day when the Lord wrestled with Jacob all night. Jacob said, “I won’t let You go until You bless me!” And so the Lord wrenched his hip out of joint. As the sun came up, Jacob limped toward the confrontation with his brother Esau. Jacob’s running days were over. And God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (wrestler).
The nation of Israel understood this deep lesson. From then on they would not eat meat from near the hip joint because that was where the Lord touched Jacob.
The Lord reached deep into Jacob’s soul and did a work.
Peter had his own night of heart surgery.
It began in a way that must have seemed surreal. First, Jesus told the disciples that the time had now come when they would need to buy swords (Luke 22:36).
Later that night, Peter felt a sudden need to use one. The scene is described in John 18:10 during the arrest of Jesus. Peter drew a sword and tried to split the skull of the high priest’s servant — a man named Malchus — but he only succeeded in slicing off his ear. Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath, and then He touched the ear of Malchus and healed him.
Now this Malchus was the high priest’s servant … no doubt on the scene to represent the high priest’s interests in the arrest of Jesus.
Here’s where it gets interesting! John 18:15 tells us something that we usually overlook: It tells us that TWO disciples trailed the mob as they took Jesus to the home of the high priest for His midnight trial. Notice this: Peter was specifically identified as one of the two, and most scholars think that John was the other disciple. Here’s what happened next: Because the OTHER disciple (probably John) was “known to the high priest (!),”he was permitted to accompany Jesus right into the high priest’s courtyard! But that left Peter stuck outside.
Got the picture? John is with Jesus inside because the high priest knew him personally. Peter is literally left outside because he was an unknown outsider.
John was apparently enough of a big shot that he could not only walk right into the high priest’s place, but he could go back out and bring Peter in. This is very significant!
A servant girl was watching the door to the courtyard, and as Peter was walking through the doorway into the courtyard (WITH JOHN), she asked Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples TOO, are you?” WHY DID SHE SAY “TOO?” Because the man Peter was accompanying into the courtyard was ALREADY KNOWN TO BE A DISCIPLE OF JESUS! “Too” indicates that Peter is ANOTHER disciple … like John!
When she asked Peter if he was ALSO a follower of Jesus (John 18:17), he said, “I am not.”
(I wonder how fast John’s head whipped around to stare, if he heard Peter’s response. We are not told if he did or not, but it IS the Gospel of John that includes this story.)
While this was just a servant girl who asked him the first time (and could hardly have seemed too threatening), the second time was a different story; the stakes were raised!
SERVANTS AND OFFICIALS (18:18) WERE STANDING AROUND A FIRE WARMING THEMSELVES, AND PETER ENTERED THE CIRCLE AROUND THE FIRE. (If you have ever stood by a campfire on a cold night to get warm, you are not standing 20 feet out from it in a circle. You are standing in a tight circle, crowded in close to the fire!)
In John 18:25, THEY asked Peter (not having heard the first exchange with the girl-servant), “You aren’t one of His disciples ALSO, are you?”
Again, why “also?” Because a follower of Jesus, well known to the high priest and presumably his household, had gone right in to hear the questioning of Jesus in the hall of the high priest.
Once again Peter’s failure of courage was notable. “I am not,” He said.
THE THIRD TIME WAS THE WORST. THE PERSON WHO ASKED PETER THE THIRD TIME RAISED THE STAKES BEYOND BEARABLE.
HE DIDN’T JUST ASK IF PETER WAS A DISCIPLE OF JESUS. HE CHALLENGED PETER, ACCUSING HIM OF BEING WITH JESUS IN THE GARDEN WHEN JESUS WAS ARRESTED!
“I was there!” the guy was saying. “I SAW you, didn’t I?”
And here comes the worst terror of them all.
John tells us (John 18:26) that the guy leveling this FINAL accusation at Peter was one of the high priest’s servants, and A RELATIVE OF THE MAN MALCHUS, WHOSE EAR PETER HAD SLICED OFF!
In a full-blown panic, Peter denies it again; and in fact, Matthew tells us that he began to call down curses and SWORE to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Then the rooster crowed, and the truth of what he had done dawned on Peter; and he fled sobbing in his complete shame.
Then comes the crucifixion. Then comes the resurrection. Then comes the ascension.
NOW FAST FORWARD TO ACTS 4.
ALL of the apostles had been teaching the people (4:2), but the authorities seized only PETER AND JOHN (4:30) —THE SAME TWO WHO WERE AT THE HIGH PRIEST’S HOUSE ON THAT TERRIBLE NIGHT!
The next morning, the high priest and his team interrogate Peter and John.
I want you to realize the enormous importance of this: THE HIGH PRIEST KNEW THIS GUY JOHN!
AND PETER WAS THE ONE WHO HAD CUT OFF THE EAR OF THE HIGH PRIEST’S SERVANT!
The Sanhedrin are not interrogating STRANGERS here.
They KNOW THESE GUYS!!
But when they last had seen Peter, he had been a cowering denier.
And NOW look at him!!
ABSOLUTELY FEARLESS! He thunders (Acts 4:10), “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom GOD raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed!”
Now here comes a personal opinion of mine: I believe that it is VERY POSSIBLE that when they “took note that these men had been with Jesus,” they meant that they took note that these men had been with Jesus “AFTER HIS RESURRECTION!”
“We have heard the terrifying news that the man we killed has become UN-killed, and now we find ourselves in the presence of His followers who have a NEW AND TERRIFYING FEARLESSNESS!
There is only one explanation. They HAVE been spending time with Him!!”
Man, alarm bells would have been going off in the heads of the high priest and his fellow leaders of Israel, and their hearts would have been pounding like a bass drum!!
HERE’S WHAT THEY NEVER KNEW.
IT WAS WORSE THAN THEY HAD EVEN IMAGINED. RIGHT BEFORE THEIR VERY EYES, IF THEY ONLY HAD EYES TO SEE, JESUS HIMSELF HAD RE-ENTERED THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRESENCE, INVISIBLE TO THEM … UNSEEN.
Peter was audacious, confident, and courageous BECAUSE the Spirit of Jesus was looking out through Peter’s eyes and speaking to the Sanhedrin through Peter’s mouth!
I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but CHRIST lives IN me (Galatians 2:20).
WHAT ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN COULD EVER CAUSE A GREATER COURAGE AND CONFIDENCE IN PETER THAN THAT??
The take-away for us is this: Our deepest fears and failures are not neutralized until we have started spending consistent, prolonged time with “He who was dead and is alive again forevermore.”
When people who have known you well in the past (like the high priest had known John) meet you again after all these years, are they STARTLED by the bold change in you, and do they notice that you have been spending time with Jesus?
Nothing creates the kind of boldness that transforms a man, a woman, a church or a community like time spent alone with Him Who is known as “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7).
May you spend so much time in consistent (even constant) intimacy with the Holy Spirit that your world takes note that whether they like it or not, you have DEFINITELY been with the resurrected Jesus!
THAT is the soul surgery that makes you a genuinely new person. May the Lord accomplish that in you!