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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 78 – John 18:27
Peter’s failure – individual effects


“One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a cock began to crow.”

We looked last time at the effect Peter’s denials should have had on the corporate identity of the church. We turn now to the effect it must have had on his personal life.

He was tripped up in such a silly way. Presumably he wanted to go into the high priest’s courtyard so that he could speak in defence of Jesus. That would probably have meant that there would have been 4 crosses on the hill and little would have been accomplished, but Peter would have demonstrated his bravery. He must have had some idea what he would say in the court to the officials but the rather casual comment of the servant-girl at the entrance caught him out and he just tried to turn her aside – a mistake which led him into the sequence of three apparently small lies.

But we must not lose sight of the consequences of what he did. Had he died then who would have led the apostolic band through those first few weeks? Who would have spoken at the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost? Who would have received the visions that led to the acceptance of non-Jews into full membership of the infant church? Of course, in the plan and purpose of the Lord God somebody else could have done so but if we think and say that it is also necessary to admit that what did happen was in the plan and purpose of God and Peter was his chosen one for these tasks.

There has often in the history of the church been a choice like this, between a complete open expression of faith in Christ and an attempt to so fit into the surrounding culture that we live for another day. We might call these the straight and the crooked positions respectively. In those early days of the church they were sometimes faced with a demand to say ‘Caesar is Lord’ rather than ‘Jesus is Lord’, with death as the penalty for not doing so. It is now more than 300 years since there was any equivalent in this country when some Scots had to say ‘God save the king’ which implied king James was head of the church and not ‘king Jesus’, as they believed. If they said the wrong thing they died on the spot.

Our world divides into two parts. In most of the Western world it is accepted that people may choose who they worship and serve, or nobody. But there are other large parts of the world where they are not supposed to make such choices. Some of you are in the same privileged position that we are. Others are faced when challenged with the very difficult choice between a statement that may lead to martyrdom or one that is a less than completely honest reply.

One thing is for sure: those of us not facing this sort of dilemma should never criticise those who are, whichever decision they take. There has always been a strong tendency for those who have had the choice and have taken the straight position – the ones that survived anyway – (and those who have not had to choose and assume they would have taken the straight position) to criticise and totally reject those who did not. Yet those who were not straight are probably the ones that have sustained the church most over the centuries.

Let us all be careful and not be the ones to judge – leave that to the Lord.

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