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Life of Peter

Friday Night Fright

Various Scripture

Lesson audio

Washing the Feet

John 13:1-17 NASB  Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.  (2)  During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,  (3)  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,  (4)  *got up from supper, and *laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  (5)  Then He *poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  (6)  So He *came to Simon Peter. He *said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?"  (7)  Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter."  (8)  Peter *said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."  (9)  Simon Peter *said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head."  (10)  Jesus *said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."  (11)  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, "Not all of you are clean."  (12)  So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?  (13)  "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  (14)  "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  (15)  "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.  (16)  "Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.  (17)  "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.



It is useful for us to review the customs of the time. Indoor plumbing as we know it did not yet exist, though the Romans did develop a fairly extensive system based on lead pipes. In this time you took a bath at a public bathhouse; you walked home and then the lowest servant in the house would wash the dust from your feet. Similarly, if you arrived at a house after a long walk it was courteous to have the slave wash your feet. The task was always assigned to the lowest ranking slave.

In this, Christ exhibits the Christian characteristic of servant leadership. The paradigm is relatively simple: he who is ruler of all is servant of all. For in the kingdom authority only comes with responsibility, and responsibility implies service. Americans who are old enough can remember a time when those employed by the government were referred to as "public servants."

In so doing, Christ teaches servant leadership by example. He also teaches, symbolically, the concept of repentance after baptism.

Peter's Reaction

Peter's reaction is instructive. We may begin by noting that he addresses Jesus as, "Lord." The key to having a successful personal relationship with anyone starts with understanding who they really are. As Christ says, he is teacher and Lord. Peter acknowledges this.

The core of Peter's reaction, however, is that of surprise. We may take this in one of two ways:

·         Peter is surprised that Christ washes his feet. It would have been more ordinary to have one of the lower ranking disciples do this.

·         He is also surprised that Christ washes his feet.

Just before this episode takes place, the disciples have been arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I think this explains Peter's surprise; he was expecting Christ to establish some sort of hierarchy among the disciples. But once he sees what Christ is doing he reacts typically: with misplaced enthusiasm. There are two reasons for this:

·         First, Peter is a man who reacts with his heart, not with his head. If there is a thinker amongst the disciples, it is the apostle John.

·         Like many of us, Peter does not see the symbolism. He is open to understanding the literal meaning of any action, but any greater significance seems to take him a bit of time. He is not ready to see the symbolic side of Christ.

That last thought may be disturbing to you. It is a common thing in the church in America today to insist that symbolic communication does not exist inside the confines of the church building. This is absurd; think about communion. But I can remember one worship leader telling us that there were no rituals in our church – as she was preparing us for communion. We seem to be rather prejudiced against the idea that anything in the church could have something other than literal meaning. Christ, however, was very comfortable with symbolic meaning as a means of teaching. Sometimes, it's the only way we can actually understand everything we need to know.


We may take away some lessons from this little episode:

·         First, there is the concept of Lordship. If you are Christian, you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Savior we understand; Lord takes a little more work. It means we are to obey his commands. As he said, if you love him you will keep his commandments. The rule is simple: obey, even when you don't understand.

·         From the fact that this is the first time, evidently, that Jesus has done this we may conclude that there is virtue in waiting upon the Lord's timing. The lesson needed to be taught; but it was best taught at this particular time. We are in a hurry; we want everything now. Sometimes, our Lord knows that's the wrong answer.

·         Finally, the servant is not above the master. His authority is complete; ours is partial. That explains why our responsibilities are partial and our service is likewise. But if our Lord stooped to the position of the lowest servant, then it should be clear to all Christians that any service for Christ is a privilege. No matter how low it goes, we are still not greater than him.

In the Garden

Matthew 26:36-46 NASB  Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."  (37)  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  (38)  Then He *said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."  (39)  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will."  (40)  And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  (41)  "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  (42)  He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done."  (43)  Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  (44)  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.  (45)  Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  (46)  "Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"


What Does Christ Ask?

Make we begin with the simplest of points: just exactly what is it that Christ asked his disciples to do?

·         First, he asked them to "keep watch." Those who have been in the military will understand the concept of "standing a watch" or being on guard duty. The requirements are relatively simple: stay awake, be alert and look out for trouble. Raise the alarm if you see any. It doesn't sound like too much to ask, but until the invention of the electric light bulb it was very, the soldier on guard duty to go to sleep because he had always slept when the sun went down.

·         Next, he asked them to pray – to avoid temptation. Some of us treat  temptation like a thrill ride; it's really more along the lines of unexploded ordnance. Apparently, the disciples fell asleep before this could be done.

Their failure to do this doesn't seem to be one of intention; the spirit is willing. Sometimes the bodily discipline simply isn't there; even the strongest bodies can get weary. Night owls may not understand this, but some of us would asleep when it gets dark — even if there are explosions going off.

Why Does Peter Fail?

The root of failure for the Christian starts with self reliance. We trust in our own vision; we make promises based on what we think we can do without consulting the truth. It's normal for the human being to make promises — particularly in moments of great emotion. But those promises are made on the basis of emotion, not on the basis of facts. We seldom have the dispassionate nature to look at the sour reality of life and say, "you know, I'm not sure I can do that." We much rather be optimistic; we go to seminars where people tell us that if we can imagine it, we can do it. That may work very well for meeting sales quotas. But it doesn't work very well for dealing with God.

As mentioned above, the root of a personal relationship is in knowing who the other person is. But the branch must be the knowledge of who you, yourself, are. Knowing your own limitations and failures keeps you from making promises you can't fulfill — and also guide you in prayer to ask for those faults and failures to be remedied. Most of us don't like to do that.

The Sword Incident

John 18:10-11 NASB  Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus.  (11)  So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"


We may examine this incident only briefly. In fact, we need only two words: anger, and fear. That's what's driving Peter; what drives Christ is love. It completely explains the difference in their reaction.


We can walk away from this night in the garden with some lessons too:

·         There is a difference between promises and commitment. A promise guarantees that you're going to do something; the commitment guarantees that you're going to do it or die trying. In our society the two seem to have become disconnected. Particularly in matters sexual, we make promises rather lightly. Commitment seems extraordinarily rare. It appears that we understand the difference quite well — we just want the sex without commitment. It's the same in the rest of your life as well; an empty promise is just that: empty.

·         There are two well-known reactions to fear. The first one is to say, "perfect love casts out fear." The second is to say, "perfect fear casts out cowardice." It all depends on what's driving you. If your main concern is your love for others, there is no room for fear. If your main concern is for your own reputation, then fear is a great motivator to keep your reputation intact.

·         Sometimes, you are not in control. Sometimes you're not in control of yourself; sometimes you are not in control of the situation; often enough, you are not in control of the results. All these things are amenable to prayer — beforehand.

Three Denials

Mark 14:66-72 NASB  As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest *came,  (67)  and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and *said, "You also were with Jesus the Nazarene."  (68)  But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are talking about." And he went out onto the porch.  (69)  The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, "This is one of them!"  (70)  But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too."  (71)  But he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this man you are talking about!"  (72)  Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, "Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And he began to weep.



Of course, the question to be answered is always, "why?" Why is it that Peter denies his Lord just to get entry into the courtyard? The denial serves to getting into the courtyard and thus overcomes a hurdle. There are, I suggest, two possible reasons:

·         The first is curiosity. Things have been happening at a rapid pace, and Peter probably has not had the chance to take it all in yet. We know that the disciples did not understand about the crucifixion and resurrection to come. Peter simply wants to know what's going on. He probably rationalized it to himself that this was a little white lie, hurting no one, which would getting closer to Jesus.

·         The second reason is quite simple also: everybody wants to be one of the guys. We don't want to be the oddball, the strange person, or the nerd, the geek, the weirdo. It's a part of human behavior that sometimes we must overcome.


If you, the reader, have never spent part of a night in the Western Desert of the United States, this may come as a surprise. Deserts are supposed to be hot, and when the sun is up they usually are. But when the sun goes down they get cold in a hurry. That scene that you always see of the cowboys huddled around the fire is not just one in the Romantic imagination of the artist. Your hands are freezing in the desert at night.

This does not excuse the denial, of course. But perhaps it explains it. Peter has a choice: he could deny himself, or he can deny Christ (play on words intended.) The attitude here is that he must do everything himself, he cannot rely on God – and therefore another little white lie will get him near the fire.

There is a sense in which we all seek for this: we all seek security. When the times are tough, and the emotions are high, it really helps to have God with skin on. Do you notice that Peter is alone here? Evidently the apostle John was admitted to the household as being familiar, probably from selling them fish from the Sea of Galilee. Would have done the same thing if the rest of the disciples were there? Perhaps this is an example for us, an injunction against leaving someone alone to wrestle with doubt and fear.

Pain and Suffering

There are two really good ways to induce pain and suffering of an emotional type:

·         One is to exclude the person from the group.

·         The other is to humiliate the person in the group.

Peter at this point has denied his Lord twice; a third denial seems like a small thing. He is alone and about to be excluded — or he can be humiliated in the group. Peter is a social animal, he is not a loner. This failure is one of the reasons why Christ has provided the church for us. He knows our weaknesses, and he knows that sometimes when our weaknesses are combined we can strengthen one another.


May I suggest to you three simple lessons from Peter's denials:

·         First, think what the word "social" means to most of us. We don't suffer alone very well; we don't face the unknown when were alone if we can help it. May I suggest that we air on the side of reaching out and including people rather than worrying about whether or not they will feel offended at the invitation?

·         Think first. Most of us can get in any amount of trouble we want to just by not thinking. Be prepared for the situation should know are coming; think about how you're going to handle them.

·         When you see a fellow Christian suffering, reach out and support them.

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