(crucifixion of St. Peter - Caravaggio 1600)
“But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-35).
Peter sometimes gets it and sometimes he doesn’t. When Jesus tells him he will be a fisher of men he drops his net and follows. He walks on water but his faith fails and he sinks. Peter is the first to confess with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ but then immediately afterward in our reading this morning he tries desperately to persuade Jesus not to suffer and die as the Christ. Jesus actually calls Peter the devil himself, because of his sinister plan to have Jesus avoid going to the cross.
When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter is the only one to unsheathe his sword, ready to defend Jesus and take on the whole roman army, but several hours later, when Jesus is being mocked and beaten in Pilates dungeon, a peasant girl recognizes Peter while warming himself at the fire. Scared and feeling his life in danger he denies Jesus three times. The rooster crows and Peter realizes what he has done. After Jesus resurrection Peter is restored to faith in the gospel through the forgiveness of sins.
Today in our first reading, in the book of Acts, we see Peter preaching a magnificent sermon. Preaching and confessing and believing that Jesus is the only thing that matters. Peter is on fire for the Gospel – he takes the message of Christ out into the whole world.
So we see that Peter is either hot or cold. He is either believing or unbelieving or believing again. Sometimes he is going forward, other times he is going backward. In terms of his faith, he oscillates. He goes back and forth. He falters as a disciple of Christ.
But what kind of disciple have you been? You look and sound great Sunday mornings but when was the last time you talked to your own friends or coworkers about what Jesus has done for you? Like Peter, at times you can be zealous for the Gospel. Other times you have fallen off the wagon.
Like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane, on your confirmation day you stood tall and proud in your white robe. You unsheathed your sword, held unto your bible, and promised before God and whole congregation that you would be present every Sunday at the Divine Service. And where is that Bible?
What happened? Like Peter, warming himself around the fire, you too have a tendency to get too cozy in the comforts of this passing world, rather than finding true and lasting security in the eternal love of God. By our own words, thoughts, and deeds we have denied Jesus far more than a mere three times. We’ve said ridiculous things like all denominations are basically the same or all religions are just different ways to the same destination. What nonsense! The things we say to fit in with a crowd.
Like Peter, you’re intentions are good. You wish you could walk on water to meet Him, but your faith falters. Your flesh is corrupt. You sink. You fail. You sin.
Being a disciple is a lot like Peter. It’s a mixed bag. It’s a struggle between faith and unbelief. A fight between the desires of the spirit and the desires of your sinful flesh. Being a disciple is a constant conflict between making a home here in this fleeting world, and preparing for your eternal home in the Kingdom of God. Peter too knew this conflict.
Jesus knew Peter would betray him and deny him – Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses. Jesus knows your weaknesses too. He’s even seen your denials. He sees your hesitancy to confess him before others. He has seen you give into temptation too easily – not with a fight and barely with a whimper. It’s no secret we can all be fairweather disciples.
But God be praised Jesus lays down his life for fair-weather disciples. Jesus nevertheless loved Peter and Jesus loves you too. He even tells Peter this morning in our Gospel text precisely how he will love his disciples. Jesus taught them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
And there you have it! Jesus dies for shifty disciples, and fair-weather friends! He gives his life for all of us. Peter is not the rock. You are not the rock. Jesus is the rock. And our church is built upon Him alone.
Unlike us, Jesus is not a fair-weather friend. He is not shifty, He does not falter, He does not waver in his love and commitment. He has proved this by his life, completed it by his death, verified it by his resurrection, and now, gives you rock solid evidence that your sins are forgiven – your denials – your betrayals – and your fair-weather trust in him – all forgiven – by His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
Jesus says to Peter “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
When Peter found out that he was to be crucified, he begged his own executioners that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. So they mockingly crucified him upside down, and Peter, through the most bitter suffering entered into glory.
Jesus speaks to you too this morning. You too have a heavy cross to bear. Your health is more than a little shakey. Work is exhausting and people are too critical of you. Being a kid in school and enduring cliques, cruelty, and bullying is as painful as anything in the whole world. Just old age, aches, new pains, and loneliness takes a tremendous amount of courage to withstand and press on.
But this morning, it’s enough that you are simply a Christian. It’s enough that you listen to the voice of Jesus, and give your loud amen during the service. It’s enough that you, like Peter, believe in your heart that Jesus is the Christ.
This simply means that you are a disciple. You bear the name, Christian. You follow Jesus. And your strengths are made perfect in weakness. So humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares and anxieties upon him.
Like Peter, even if you find yourself rejected by the whole world, don’t be discouraged. You are accepted and approved of by God, welcomed by angels, and carried by the cross of Christ into everlasting life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.