Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Falling from the Spiritual Mountain Top . . . a lesson from the apostle Peter


Have you ever had a mountain top experience, a moment in time, where you felt God’s presence? One in which you sensed you’d never be the same. But no sooner did you roll off the mountain of euphoria; your God moment became swallowed by life and the new revised you slowly disappeared. Maybe disappointment or confusion set in. Don't lose hope—you might find connection with a disciple named, Simon Peter.

THE MOUNTAIN TOP
Peter, an acclaimed apostle of Jesus Christ, had a mountain top experience. He, and two other disciples, accompanied Jesus up a mountain not knowing what was going to happen (Matthew 17:11). 

On that mountain Jesus’ face, “ . . . shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light,” (Matthew 17:2). Can you imagine witnessing Christ’s transfiguration but also the sudden appearance of two great patriarchs—Moses and Elijah? Moses, the man called by God to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh (Exodus 3-4), and beside him, Elijah, the prophet who was whisked up by “a chariot of fire and horses . . . in a whirlwind,” to heaven—without experiencing death, (2 Kings 2:11). 

Imagine being an eyewitness that moment heaven and earth converged, like a science fiction movie, where a portal opens into a different dimension? Not only that but in the middle of Peter speaking, (he wanted to erect three shelters for them), the audible voice of God interrupts, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17: 5). This experience would revolutionize a person? An electric charge from holy paradise deepening one’s belief—don’t you think?

PETER IN THE HUB OF KINGDOM EXPLOITS
Previous to Peter’s encounter, Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was. The disciples answered, some say you’re a prophet, John the Baptist, or Elijah (Matthew 16:14). I can see Jesus pausing as he gazes intently into their eyes, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter soars right in, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matthew 16:15-16).

Another interesting fact about Peter is Jesus told him and the other disciples “ . . . at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” (Matthew 19:28). 

Peter is in the hub of great kingdom exploits. He walks, sees, touches, and converses with the Son of Man, who is God in the flesh. However, soon after Peter’s declaration, affirmation of eternal life, and his mountain top experience, he denies he’s associated with Jesus—not once but three times. Let me say that again . . .  he denies his association with Jesus THREE TIMES! Jesus predicted Peter would do this (Mark 14:30). Isn’t Peter a lot like us walking closely with Jesus and then making blunders we regret? Or are we a lot like Peter making declarations, like we have the power within ourselves to see them through? Jesus, I'd never deny you!
  
THE POTENTIAL REASON FOR PETER'S DENIAL
I love that God recorded the lives of these men, the good, bad, and ugly, in the Bible. I don’t feel so alone. Just as Jesus knew Peter’s denial, he knows our frailty too. We can declare our faith is fervent; therefore, the denial of Jesus, who purchased our freedom with his life, is out of question. But would we? Do we?

What caused Peter to deny he was a disciple of Christ in the first place? Here are my suggestions: Fear and self-centeredness. Both of these have to do with “What’s going to happen to me? How will my life change? What will people think?”

Fear translates punishment, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love,” (1 John 4:18). Perhaps Peter feared punishment or death from the same authorities that questioned Jesus. Or maybe he feared his reputation because Jesus was being charged as a hieratic. He forgot the audible voice of God declaring "This is my Son, whom I love . . ."

IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY
Here’s a sobering verse, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .” (2 Timothy 3:12-13). Hey wait, I didn't sign up for that? Did you?

What will we do in that kind of adversity? Will we cower and deny? Or will we stand firm and unmovable? If Peter was in the “know,” and denied Jesus, how will we respond when the very core of our faith is interrogated? Or our moral convictions ridiculed? How are we responding today?

Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge . . . But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in Heaven,” (Matthew 10:32-33). Yet Jesus gives Peter opportunity to redeem himself, three times (John 21:15-19). Jesus knew what Peter was made of—he knew Peter’s heart up close and personal. And he knows ours. Believers today are gifted with the Holy Spirit, which means Christ is living in us and through us.

Jesus did not alter Peter’s standing in him neither did he change his love toward him. When we are faithless, God remains faithful. The most important aspect to the Christian faith is always seeking to know God—that strengthens our inner man as we grasp the depth of his grace.

2 Timothy provides some answers; when we are faced with adversity, which I think is helpful when our mountaintop experience fades. We should:
  • Continue in what we’ve learned and have been convinced of
  • Be prepared in season and out of season to give an answer to why we believe
  • Keep our head in all situations—don’t become quarrelsome
  • Endure hardship because we know in whom we believe

“You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near,” (James 5:8).