The Faith of Peter

This morning I want to talk a little bit about failures and shortcomings.  My wife tells me that I have a lot of these.  As a matter of fact, when I sat down to start this sermon and needed an intro, she said that I have lots of stories of my own failures that would be humorous and entertaining.  I chose to not start off that way.  Today we are going to read through Matthew 26:31-35.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

Today we are going to talk about Peter and his ultimate failure.  Peter denied that he knew Christ during the crucifixion.  That’s pretty bad.  On a scale of 1-10, Peter scored a 12.  The thing that makes this even more difficult to understand and take is that Peter was so very close to Jesus during his ministry.  We are going to look at this denial and failure today and how we can learn from it in our own lives today. 

Quick background on Peter, for those that need it.  Peter was a fisherman named Simon when he was called by Jesus to leave his life behind and follow him into ministry.  Peter was a part of the three closest disciples to Jesus, with the brothers James and John.  Peter was witness to the transfiguration; when Jesus showed himself to be the Christ.  He was also present for numerous miracles and was easily the most outspoken disciple there was in the group.  Jesus tells Peter that he would be the foundation of the new church.  Peter was the unofficial leader of the twelve. 

However Peter wasn’t without his flaws.  He believed that Jesus’ methods weren’t the most effective.  He believed that Jesus would overthrow the Romans and often encouraged him to do so.  Peter often times questioned Jesus’ teachings and prophecies about his upcoming crucifixion.  However, despite these flaws, Jesus still kept him close.  Jesus knew how important Peter was and loved him despite his flaws.

The passage I read comes from the end of Jesus’ ministry.  They have all taken the Last Supper and are on their way to Gethsemane.  Peter has literally spent more time with Jesus than just about anyone at this point, yet he still hasn’t gotten it. 

I’ve shared with you all that we own several rental properties in Bluffton and have for many years.  My grandmother owned several properties when I was little and I basically grew up working on houses.  My mom and grandma would drag me along before I was in school and during the summers while they worked on these places.  During that time I learned quite a bit about home repairs.  There’s a small window in time when a person is still small in size, but smart enough to follow directions and help with things.  That was the time they sent me to crawl under houses a lot.  During these times as a kid, I learned how to do plumbing, construction, destruction, drywall, painting, window repair, and a bunch of other skills.  Just being in those situations and helping people with jobs taught me quite a bit of the skills that I have today.

The point is that when you grow up or spend a lot of time in a situation, one can’t help but pick up on some of the knowledge.  Here’s another example: I’ve never owned a pig in my life, but many of my friends and family have raised hogs, so I have learned a basic knowledge of pigs.  I don’t know a lot, but I know more than a person that hasn’t ever been around them.  I know that there are quite a few people here that worked their lives doing particular skills that you may not think is anything special, but because I wasn’t ever in that environment, I don’t know anything about it.  This is all quite obvious, I know.

Here’s where things get complicated for us.  A person can spend their lives growing up in a church.  They can never miss a Sunday and be able to quote scripture for any situation.  However that does not mean that they have a relationship with God.  Salvation isn’t something that comes by punching a church timecard or achieving a new level of Christianity.  Having a life centered on God comes to people at different times, with different backgrounds, and with different experiences. 

Peter is the perfect example of this.  He has walked beside Jesus, walked beside God on Earth, for three years, yet his faith was so shallow that he denied even knowing him when things got tough.  People, you will not get more churched than walking for three years with Christ!  However, Peter fell short.  It wasn’t until Jesus’ resurrection that Peter’s faith began to actually grow.  Jesus tells them all in this passage about their faith.  He tells them that despite what they think, they were all about to scatter and flee from Jesus.  Peter tries to argue and Jesus tells him otherwise.  All of the disciples deny the accusations that Jesus puts on them but it is exactly what happened.  They all ran from the mob.  They hid in the crowd.  They kept quiet to save themselves.

So what did Peter do different after Jesus was gone to actually grow his Faith into something substantial?  He started taking that time seriously.  It wasn’t until after Jesus had ascended back to heaven that Peter began to preach and teach to the crowds gathered.  He started healing and caring for the poor.  He started to put the lessons that Jesus had taught him into practical practice.  Before, when Peter had been a disciple, he spent his time learning and questioning Jesus’ lessons.  He asked questions, sometimes good, sometimes stupid ones, but he learned.  However, learning didn’t grow his faith.  When I graduated from college, I had spent 5 years working toward a degree in Bible and Religion, and when I left that time of study, I had never felt farther from God.  Study of the Bible doesn’t equate to Faith.  Putting the Bible into practice creates Faith.

So we can learn some things from Peter’s faith.  We can be the most knowledgeable person in any room when it comes to matters of scripture.  We can also be the newest, more gleefully ignorant Christian.  Time and Study do not make for Faith.  Peter spent 3 years with Jesus and didn’t have Faith.  He studied at the foot of the Master and knew more about Jesus’ teachings than just about anyone in the world at that time, but he didn’t have Faith.  It wasn’t until he took those lessons out into the world that his Faith grew and, out of that Faith, the Church was born.

We cannot believe that our Faith is something quietly personal that doesn’t leave our homes or our buildings.  We have to take the knowledge that we get about God and spread it into the world for others to hear.  We have to care for the sick, needy, and helpless just as Jesus commanded us to do.  We cannot just count the hours we spend in the church; we have to make the hours we spend here count!  If you believe that you have done your duty to God this week by showing up here today and dropping your check in the offering plate, you have seriously missed the point of Jesu.  Faith is more than attendance.  Faith is more than knowledge.  Faith is taking that time and knowledge and actually doing something with it.  What are you doing with your Faith?  What have you done to grow yourself and therefore the Kingdom of God?  I cannot answer these questions for you.  These are things you have to think about and figure out for yourself. 

Here’s the last lesson Peter has to teach us; It’s never too late.  Peter’s lowest point came while Jesus hung on the cross.  He had denied his master and his faith.  However, after this moment, Peter’s Faith grew to the point that the Church was built on it.  He led the apostles and grew Jesus’ teachings to all edges of the known world.  He is remembered as the disciple with the greatest faith of all.  If you asked yourself those questions from a moment ago and you don’t have the kind of answers you like, its not too late to do something about it.  Make your time count.  Make your studies count.  Make the improvement that you seek to achieve in your own life count.  Make it all count by making it about God and others.  That is what Jesus taught us and that is what will make your Faith something substantial.