How can the incident of Peter denying that he knew Jesus help us be better Christ-followers today?
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." -- 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
"Whenever I get too sure of myself in whatever I do -- whether it is preaching or teaching or something else -- I usually fall flat on my face . . . in the mud . . . and get trampled by horses." -- Sarah Dupray, Nazarene Bible College student
It was the night before the crucifixion of our Lord. Jesus and His disciples celebrated their last Passover together. In what should have been a sacred moment, the disciples fell to boasting about their individual service and piety. Their voices may have even risen in intensity as they argued over which of them was the greatest.
Jesus reprimanded those who were arguing and then turned His attention to Peter. In a voice choked with emotion, Peter declares his readiness to go to prison and even to die for Jesus' sake.
As I read this narrative in Luke 22 and the bitter story of Peter's denials of His Lord that follows, I'm reminded of testimonies I heard years ago in youth camps. Most of these testimonies sounded about the same: "I love the Lord with all my heart, and I'm going all the way with Him."
Our voices had a convincing ring to them as, no doubt, did Peter's. We were sure we were all going to be strong Christians. The trouble was, once we'd gone home from youth camp, we didn't stand the pressures of the world much better than Peter did around that courtyard fire.
Peter's error -- and ours as well -- was not in the intention to be faithful. No one could fault us for that. The error lay in our being too sure of our own strength and resources rather than relying on Jesus.
We failed to understand (as did Peter) that you cannot follow Jesus on the basis of human strength and human wisdom. We teenagers, like Peter, had not yet fully understood the meaning of Jesus' mission and its implications for our relationship with Christ. Jesus calls us to be servants like himself, empowered by His spirit. He does not call us to argue over who is the greatest.
We can, of course, take comfort in what this passage shows us about Jesus' love and compassion toward His followers, even when they fail to comprehend important spiritual truth. Jesus knew, for example, that Peter would deny Him within a few hours. Yet we see only love and compassion in what Jesus has said to Peter.
The fact that our Lord is like this should spur us on to guard against any presumption of selfish ambition in our spiritual lives, against our being too sure of ourselves.
On our first home assignment time back in the USA from Italy I spent a few days with my long-time friend, Glen Jones, who was then the district superintendent of the East Tennessee District.
Glen Jones was gifted as an evangelist. So, he spent some time each year preaching at local church evangelistic events and district camp meetings. While I was with him during that home assignment, he told me about an encounter with a young evangelist. The young man seemed quite confident that he was a good preacher, equally as good (if not better) than Dr. Jones. The young man wanted to know from Dr. Jones: How does one get invited to preach in the "big" camp meetings?
Of course, it's not only brash young preachers and pre-Pentecost disciples who are guilty of selfish ambition or presumption. The devil can trip up any of us to the point of becoming too sure of ourselves.
In the process, we risk missing significant spiritual growth opportunities. Remember the disciples? They squandered their last few precious moments with Jesus in boasting about themselves.
Truly great Christians will take the path of service. When they do, they'll discover the divine footprints of the Master there before them.
-- Howard Culbertson,
I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It was published in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.