A Tale of Two Peters – Learning to Suffer with Faith

Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (9/20/15)

Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19

Theme: A Tale of Two Peters – Learning to Suffer with Faith

              We have before us today a tale of two Peters.

I’d like to introduce y’all to Peter #1. This is the Peter we heard about in the Gospel I just read from Mark. Let me tell you a little bit about this Peter.

Peter #1 is a fascinating guy. He’s passionate, he’s excitable, he’s loyal (almost to a fault). The more you read about this Peter, the more you get the sense that he’s the kind of guy that is just exhausting to be around because everything he does, he does to the extreme.

Peter #1 seems to be rather extroverted – meaning one thing you should know about Peter #1 is that he tends to think by speaking, rather than thinking before speaking.

Peter being an extrovert means sometimes he says and does things that are just plain inspirational. This is the Peter that when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water toward their boat in the middle of a storm, he shouts out above the squall, “Look if you are Jesus let me walk out on the water with you” – he’s the only one of the 12 bold enough to do that, to take that first step of faith out of the boat to walk on water. Peter is the one who speaks up when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” He bursts forth with this beautiful, inspirational confession of faith, “You are the Christ, you are the Messiah (Christ & Messiah, same title, different language, both pointing to Jesus as the promised Savior from sin)!”

But for all of those extroverted moments when Peter #1 steps out and says or does something inspirational there are just as many moments when this “thinking by speaking Peter” takes one foot out of his mouth just long enough to stick the other one in…

Mark 8 gives us a beautiful snapshot at this juxtaposition of Peter. One moment he is beautifully confessing Jesus as the Messiah – the Savior of the world – and the next, after another outburst of thinking by talking, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

And really, that last sentence by Jesus encapsulates who Peter #1 is. He’s a man who genuinely loves Jesus. He’s honored to be following Jesus. He honestly believes that Jesus is the Messiah – only, it’s still Peter’s version of the Messiah. It’s a Messiah whose job description has been written by men instead of by God.

So, Jesus starts telling his disciples that God’s version of the Messiah “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” and impetuous Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.

“No Jesus, you got it all wrong. The Messiah is supposed to come to relieve suffering, not increase it! You know all those miracles you’ve been doing, how you’ve been taking away other people’s suffering? That’s what you are supposed to be doing as the Messiah. No more of this business about suffering and dying!”

Peter #1 is a guy who believed in Jesus, but deep down inside he still wanted Jesus to be a Savior on his terms – which meant “no suffering for you Jesus, and no suffering for me either. I’ll follow you, and I’ll give up some stuff to follow you, but there is a line Jesus, don’t expect me to suffer too much.”

So this Peter, who will follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t involve too much suffering, rebukes Jesus. And we see this same Peter in action a little later, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. This passionate, excitable, loyal, extroverted Peter pulls out his sword and cuts a man’s ear off: “Let’s fight this Jesus! Let’s run Jesus! I will not have you suffering and dying tonight!”

And just a couple hours after that, we see Peter #1 on display again. While Jesus is on trial before the High Priest, Peter gets in to the court yard to be near his Jesus, and that servant girl recognizes him as one of Jesus’ followers; and Peter #1 who still is clinging to a Messiah on his terms (one that doesn’t include too much suffering) swears up and down three times that he has nothing to do with this Jesus – so quick to disavow his Messiah if his Messiah required suffering.

And that, my friends, is Peter #1 – a man who genuinely loves Jesus but doesn’t want to suffer too much because of his love for Jesus. He’ll follow Jesus, but this whole business of taking up a cross and following Jesus – that he’s not too sure about.

Now I’d like to introduce y’all to Peter #2. We read a portion of one of this Peter’s letters in 1 Peter 4. Let me tell you a little bit about this Peter.

Peter #2 is also a fascinating guy. He’s passionate, excitable, loyal. It turns out, he’s an awful lot like Peter #1, but there is one huge, enormous thing that differentiates Peter #2 from Peter #1…

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ… If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed… If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

Could Peter #2 be any different?

Peter #2 sees suffering for Christ as a blessing. He hears Jesus tell his followers, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” and Peter #2 says, “Bring it on.”

Peter #2 understands that Jesus suffered, that Jesus promised we would suffer (so it shouldn’t surprise us when we do), but he also understands that Jesus promised to come back and end our suffering (not on our timeframe but on his). He understands that Jesus is not a man-made Messiah. He understands that Jesus came to save us not on our terms, but on his terms. He understands that Jesus didn’t come to make this temporary, earthly life a breeze, but to give us eternal life without suffering after this life.

Peter #2 understands that yeah, some of the suffering in this world is extremely painful (a fiery ordeal), but he also understands that the suffering of this earth is nothing compared to the suffering of hell. So if following Jesus in this world means suffering now, it is infinitely better than the alternative.

Peter #2 understands that the solution to suffering isn’t running from Jesus or denying Jesus. It’s “committing yourself to your faithful Creator” – trusting in God…

It’s a tale of two Peters, and could they be any different?

Now, maybe you have caught on already, but Peter #1 and Peter #2 are the same person – this is that disciple of Jesus, Simon Peter. Peter #1 is in his 20’s or 30’s, following Jesus around in Israel. Peter #2, the author of 1 Peter is the same Peter in his 50’s or 60’s, with somewhere around 30 more years of life and experience under his belt.

Clearly, something has changed. Peter #1 wants nothing to do with suffering. Peter #2 is calling suffering a blessing. Peter #1 wants a Messiah, a Savior on his own terms. Peter #2 has beautiful, complete trust in God’s version of the Messiah – Jesus, and the suffering that comes with it.

We’ll get to exactly what changed Peter in just a minute, but first let me ask you this: Which Peter are you? Which of these Peters do you identify with?

Are you a person who proudly and willingly accepts suffering in this world because you love Jesus and trust in God above all things? Or are you a person who loves Jesus and is willing to follow him as long as the prerequisite cross that Jesus talked about in Mark doesn’t get too heavy? You’ll follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t become too inconvenient for you, as long as it doesn’t cause too much suffering and self-sacrifice from you.

Which Peter are you?

So, you are at work and a co-worker takes the name of God in vain (they use the name of your God as a cuss-word substitute). Which Peter are you? Do you speak up and defend the name of your God (“I’m uncomfortable with you using God’s name that way, would you please not do that?”) and willing accept the fact that it will be uncomfortable, that you will get dirty looks, that you will be talked about behind your back as that “self-righteous, uppity Christian”? Or do you pull a Peter #1 in the High Priest’s courtyard and turn your back on Jesus because that cross looks a little too heavy, a little too inconvenient?

So, you are hanging out with a group of friends and they start badmouthing the truths of God’s Word, they pick up on some modern day issue and starts pointing out how ridiculous, preposterous, and hateful it is when some churches believe in a six 24-hour day creation, that women should submit, or that homosexual love is an illegitimate form of love. Which Peter are you? Do you speak up even though we all know how that conversation is going to go (they aren’t going to listen to what you have to say, they’re not going to care, but they probably will judge you for what you believe)? Or do you pull a Peter #1 and keep your mouth shut because will follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t involve needless persecution.

It happens all the time, in so many different ways – we are faced with opportunities to follow one of the two Peters; to willingly accept that fact that being a Christian means carrying a cross or run from that cross. Which one describes you?

I think we all recognize that Peter #2 is the right option. We all recognize that it is right to deny my inner selfishness and pick up a cross that is uncomfortable and heavy. We all would love to be in that category of people who welcome suffering in the name of Jesus – see it as a true blessing, a gift from God, our chance to suffer like Jesus did. But the unfortunate truth is that Peter #1 is all too often the more accurate description of who we are as Christians. We believe in Jesus, we do! We love him… as long as he doesn’t ask too much from us…

And that needs to change. You and I have no right to turn Jesus into a Messiah of our creation – a Jesus we will follow as long as it is convenient to us. You know it. I know it. God knows it – this needs to change.

But how? This is one of those temptations, one of those sins that just hits home for all of us – at least it should. I know exactly the fears that coursed through Peter’s heart that lead him to deny knowing Jesus. Intellectually I know that Peter #2 is the correct option, but actually doing it – that is something I am not doing on an even remotely consistent basis.

How are we supposed to do this?

Well, let’s look at Peter again. What took Peter #1 and turned him into Peter #2?

Do you know when the Peter #2 shows up in the Bible? After Easter…

Peter #1 was on full display right before Jesus died the death he predicted in Mark 8. But the suffering and death that Jesus went through was all a part of God’s plan for the Messiah. This was God’s plan to save a world full of Peter #1s.

Peter watched his Jesus die and then he saw his Jesus come back to life three days later, and everything changed. Yeah, this was still the same Peter and we do see him slip up and sin after Jesus’ resurrection, but everything had changed, not because of who Peter was, but because of Jesus.

Jesus, who looked at a world full of Peters and said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Yes, taking up a cross and following me is hard work – impossible for sinners like you. Yes, your suffering for me will be fiery at times. But come to me and you will find rest for your souls. Rest in who I am – a Savior who took all of your sins on my shoulders as the cross I bore in this world. Rest in what I have given you – the promise and the guarantee of a life free from suffering forever in heaven. “

This Jesus is the one who took Peter and changed him. He took Peter and he changed him into a Christian – someone who had been forgiven and saved by the blood of Christ – a Christian who was willing to take up his cross and follow, a Christian who had faith in the face of suffering.