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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week, Maundy Thursday: When Is Failure Final?

There was a man on a crowded city street who, while distracted, stepped right in front of a moving truck. Another man grabbed his arm and pulled him back to the sidewalk. Shaken, the first man thanked the other profusely. The rescuer accepted the thanks and disappeared into the crowd. The man who had been pulled to safety, however, had been on his way to rob a convenience store. Now safe, he saw no reason not to continue. He did, but within hours, he was apprehended by the police and taken into court. As he faced the bench, he was surprised to see that the judge was the man who had saved his life earlier in the day. When the judge asked him if he had anything to say, the man said, “Your Honor, you know me. You saved my life this morning. Can’t you help me now?” The judge responded, “This morning I was your savior. Now I am your judge.” – Parish publishing.

As you can see from the above illustration, the judge saved the would-be criminal from accidental death. But the rescued man failed to abandon the path of destruction that doomed him. Keep this in mind as you meditate the story of Peter and. Judas

Do you see the difference between Judas’s and Peter’s methods of denial and regret? Why is their end different? Why did Peter deny his loving and trusting Friend and Savior? Can we find hints in the Gospels?

Why didn’t Peter pay attention to Jesus’ warning about Satan? Luke 22:31-32 says, “Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” Peter said, "Master, I'm ready for anything with you. I'd go to jail for you. I'd die for you!" Jesus said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me." (from The Message Bible)

Jesus modeled a life of prayer and his disciples saw its effectiveness in his ministry. That’s why they asked him to teach them how to pray. Now we all use the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ instruction on prayer included this phrase, “Leads us not into temptation, but delivers us from evil” (or as some versions translate, “deliver us from the evil one.”). It doesn’t seem they prayed as they were instructed. If they had, perhaps they wouldn’t have abandoned Jesus. Jesus wants us to repeat this prayer often, if we want to stand against the assaults of our enemy.

Peter learned from his failure and warned us how to resist the Devil in 1st Peter 5:6-9, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering.”

Was Peter overconfident when he said, “I will not fail, and I’m willing to die?” Mark 14:27-31 says: “‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’ But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.” Good intentions from all the disciples, but they lacked courage when Jesus needed them to stand with him. They were all afraid. Peter was no exception.

Was Peter cowardly? Look at his acts – When he was asked by a servant girl if he knew Jesus, he denied that he knew Jesus. Aren’t his words in Matthew27:74, shocking? “I don’t know that Man.” Even though he was the instrument of the greatest revelation when he answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am? with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?”

Peter denied Him three times. Luke 22:54-60: “… when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with Him.’ But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ ‘Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.”

The rooster reminded Peter that his overconfidence was tested and found lacking. But there was a look that came from Jesus straight to Peter’s heart – was that his saving grace? Did he see Jesus’ love and compassion in His penetrating look?

Was that an invitation for Peter to seek God’s mercy on bended knees and tears of repentance, unlike Judas’ regret and shame and death? That’s the question at hand. Pay attention to the clues in the scripture below.

What saved Peter? The answer is in Luke 22:61-62: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Peter took three steps to find God’s mercy in his failure: (1) He remembered, (2) he repented, and (3) he returned to the Lord’s mercy. Unlike Judas, Peter lived to be restored.

Now we know no failure is final for those who repent and turn to God. God’s assurance for us is in 1 John 1:8-9: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

How does this apply to us? If we have failed, this should give us hope. No failure is final in God’s love and grace. Peter found that out, but Judas did not understand either God’s grace or love. Is that why he committed suicide? Seek God’s grace and live.

Pastor Shim Habte, 1st United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St. Willows, CA 95988 ----- (530-934-3190)
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