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Tuesday
Mar202018

Two Words

Carl Heinrich Bloch’s painting Denial of Peter from the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace in Copenhagen.

By Tim Perry

TWO WORDS sum up the Christian Gospel. Two words boil it down to its barest essentials and its deepest truth. Two words are the bedrock on which all the rest are built.

They are not “God loves.” We know those words are true. We read those words when we read the story of Nicodemus come to Jesus at night. “This is how God loves the world . . . .” said Jesus.

They are not “God gives.” We read in the same story, in the very same sentence that the manner of God’s love is expressed in God’s gift. “This is how God loves the world: God gave his only Son. . . .”

But they are not “God gives,” either.

Neither are they “Jesus saves,” or “God accepts.” They do not include the words “grace” or “faith” or “sin” or “salvation.” They don’t include God or invoke two of the three persons of the Trinity. They aren’t found in any Creed or Confession. They aren’t particularly religious words at all.

In fact, the words don’t even comprise a sentence.

These are the words: “And Peter.”

Why?

Do you remember Peter’s last words to Jesus?

“Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” A powerful declaration of loyalty. We are going to die together, Jesus. I will be with you to the end.

Words that must have been hard to say. After all, they come right after Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him. “Before the rooster crows twice,” Jesus had just said, “you will deny me three times.”

Imagine how those words slammed into Peter. Peter – the spokesperson for the disciples. Peter – who though he often got it wrong, was always there. Peter – who with James and John formed the core of the core of Jesus’ confidantes.

Jesus’ words must have cut him deeply. They could not but have wounded. “I know you Peter. Better than you know yourself. You will deny me.”

And Peter’s response “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.,” Well, they sum up Peter don’t they? Impulsive. Passionate. Brash and bold. I am going with you to the end, Jesus. All the way to the death.

There is no reason given in Mark’s text to doubt Peter’s truthfulness here. No reason given to allow suspicion of whether he really is genuine. Peter believes and feels the depth of these words.

And he means them. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

Not only does he mean them. He backs them up. Even if he does not stride with Jesus into the council’s chamber, even if he does not stand with his Lord as he is falsely accused by the religious elite, he goes a fair bit further than the rest.

Mark tells us that at the point of his arrest, “all of them forsook him and fled.” The three in the inner circle of Gethsemane – Peter, James and John. The three who had seen Jesus transfigured in his glory, seen him talking to Elijah and Moses. They ran. The rest – the remaining eight, the other anonymous disciples – they all ran too. Everybody fled.

One anonymous disciple – and tradition suggests it may have been Mark himself – ran so quickly, he ran right out of his clothes. “He left his linen cloth and ran off naked,” so the Scriptures say.

All of them cowards. All of them deniers. All of them betrayers.

All except Peter.

Peter only goes so far. And then he remembers his promise: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And as those words echo in his memory, his flight away from Gethsemane slows. First to a jog. Then to a walk. Then he stops.

Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.

And he turns. And he walks, and then he jogs, and then he runs. Peter alone runs to the courtyard of the high priest. Peter alone follows.

Only Peter.

Quietly. Surreptitiously. Scared out of his wits, Peter enters the courtyard and finds a fire. He strains to hear the goings on in the great room above the courtyard.

And then, he is recognized.

A serving girl takes note of him: “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

And Peter replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But of course he knows. He knows that he has been found out. And he moves away from the fire to a darker, more secluded part of the courtyard.

But the girl won’t leave him alone. She follows after and begins to shout to the rest, “This man is one of them!” And Peter denies it a second time.

By now, however, the secret is out in the open. One of the bystanders recognizes Peter’s accent. “Certainly, you’re one of them. You are a Galilean.”

And now, every bit as impulsive, every bit as passionate, every bit as brash as he was before.

But now, his words are these: “I swear to God, I do not know this man!”

 “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

 “I swear to God, I do not know this man!”

Peter made two declarations that night.  The latter gave the lie to the former. And he wept.

That’s all. He wept. He did not repent. He did not undo his lie. He did not, in the end, own up to his allegiance and follow his Lord. He did not deny himself. He did not take up his cross.

He wept.

Tears. Fear. Remorse. Crushing guilt. But no change of behaviour. No indication of repentance.

And so it is that the last words Peter speaks in the Gospel of Mark are these: “I do not know this man you are talking about.”

But Jesus knew Peter.

As Thursday gave way to Friday, Jesus knew Peter.

As he stood before the religious elite, Jesus knew Peter. As he stood before Pilate, Jesus knew Peter.  As the soldiers mocked him, Jesus knew Peter. As he was being nailed and lashed to his cross, Jesus knew Peter. As he hung on that cross, suspended between heaven and earth, bearing in his body the sins of the world, Jesus knew Peter.

In the silence of Holy Saturday, Jesus knew Peter.

When the women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus knew Peter.

The angel seated in the empty tomb told the women, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter.”

And now you know why “And Peter” sums up the good news of Easter, the good news of the Gospel.

Now you know why there are no better words than “And Peter” in the entire Bible.

Jesus knew and never stopped knowing Peter.

The crucified one kept faith with Peter when Peter’s faith failed. The Risen One would not release Peter from his loyalty, now.

And Peter – Peter who boasted.

And Peter – Peter who fled.

And Peter – Peter who denied.

And Peter – Peter who did not repent.

Go and tell his disciples and Peter. And all of us who, on our own, are beyond hope.

Every name of every disciple, every denier, every last unrepentant one of us is kept and known and bound up in that name. Each of us is Peter.

And the Easter message of the angel is as true for us as it was for Peter.

 “Go and tell his disciples.” And Peter. And Tim. And Anne. And Lee. And Marta. And Yasmin. And Hannah. And Jacob. And Jorge. And Rachel.

He has gone ahead of us. And he will meet us soon.

Amen.   TAP

Dr. Tim Perry is Co-Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship, in Shawville, QC. He is the author of  Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord and is Associate Editor of this paper.

 

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