Friday, July 26, 2013

A Contrast in Perceptions ...

12 men had followed Christ for nearly three years, right up till now, the night of His doom.  We don’t know where all of them were, with what was to transpire, because it is not explicitly documented in the gospels.  Perhaps they blended into the various crowd scenes that took place, perhaps they ran and re-grouped in the upper room they had just had dinner in.  Perhaps they simply remained at a distance away from prying eyes and probing questions, close enough to see, but not close enough to be dragged into it.  When on that great day, we join them in the heavenly courts, perhaps we can ask them; though it may be a great while before our curiosity of what took place overwhelms our senses with what heaven will have to offer us.  In any case, while we do not know the story of all of his followers, we have a pretty good idea about the story of some of them during this time.  We imagine Mary and Martha, seeking out Mary Jesus’ mother to bring her and comfort her with what was happening.  Not much is said of Lazarus from this point forward, but the conspiracy to kill Christ, had added Lazarus as well; for the priests could not abide leaving one alive who was raised from the dead.  Lazarus was living proof of the divinity of Christ, should he be called as a witness at the trial of Christ, things might go badly for the religious leadership.  But again we do not know exactly what happened to Lazarus, or where he was at this point in time.
John however, who is reluctant to refer to himself directly by name in his own gospel, does state where he was, and where Peter was when these events began to unfold.  In chapter 18 of his gospel, John records in verse 15 … “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.”  It was John who was known to the high priest.  And as the high priest recognized John, he let him inside.  This, to me, represents such a dichotomy in perceptions between one true follower of Christ and another.  John followed Christ right into the place where men intent on killing Him had what looked like full power over Him.  John went there without representing a threat to these men (or they would not have let him in).  And He went there knowing he was likely risking his own life in doing so.  He had seen Christ submit.  He now must have truly feared that the mission of the Messiah was going to be one of sacrifice, not of liberation from Rome.  Yet John goes right in seemingly without thinking about it.  He continues in verse 16 … “But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.” 
Peter however, hangs out at the outer door.  It seems while John was recognized and allowed entrance, Peter was not.  So John has to go back and tell the door maid, Peter is with him, and to let him in.  She complies.  And then John records in verse 17 … “Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man's disciples? He saith, I am not.”  What a difference in perceptions between John and Peter.  John is openly known by the enemies of Christ and is allowed entrance, he further has to vouch for Peter to get him in.  Now Peter is asked about being a disciple of Christ, by merely a door maid, and his first thought is to deny it.  It makes little sense.  John just vouched for Peter with that same door maid.  John is clearly a disciple and is not trying to hide that fact.  Peter is guilty by association with John.  Yet Peter decides it is better to keep his allegiance to Christ a secret, rather than allow it to be made public.
And we modern Christians sit in judgment of Peter on this topic, believing ourselves to be above this kind of denial and shenanigans.  If “we” had been asked by the door maid, surely “we” would have acted like John, NOT like Peter.  But how many of us are so open with our peers, our work associates, or creditors, or our customers about our own relationship with Christ?  Do we bow our heads in prayers of thanks over our meals in expensive restaurants or do we tend to “forget”, offering rather silent prayers so as not to “offend” others nearby.  Do we mirror the language spoken around us, when others swear, so do we, in order that we keep everyone comfortable and not offend them by restraining from words our Lord would not use?  Do we often choose to mirror the world around us, rather than allow ourselves to be marked as different because of who we believe in?  And in electing to keep our relationship secret with Christ, do we not simply mimic the behavior of Peter in the very same situation?
And these situations present themselves to us every day, in our everyday lives.  What about those Christians who dare to take the good news of love of the gospel into hostile lands; when these brothers are asked if they are Christian it is often at the point of a gun, where the “yes” answer is not the one the questioner is looking to hear.  Peter knew the stakes and may well have believed the door maid was an active agent or spy for the high priest looking to get Peter to confess to his earlier impetuous actions with the sword.  If nothing else, being associated with Christ right at that moment might end his own life early, and never allow him to carry the awesome ministry he had planned.  Or is that more of our own logic, than the thoughts of Peter?  Better to lie to those who intend us harm, and live to witness another day, than to openly declare for our Savior, and lose our earthly lives and ministries as a result.  Peter believed himself under the gun, and so elected to deny Christ openly, and keep his love a secret.  Do we really do anything different?
The interesting dichotomy in this situation is with John.  John makes no effort to hide his relationship with Christ at all, and further seems to have no fear for himself throughout the very same events.  Peter fears discovery and with it, a horrible death.  John seems perfectly oblivious to the threats all around him, it seems John is completely focused on what is happening to Christ, and that has become so important to him, he does not even perceive a danger to himself.  How interesting that what we focus on can so completely consume us.  Peter was focused on himself.  Like the time when he briefly walked on water, and lost sight of Christ in order to show off to his friends.  Now he had lost sight of Christ, and was focused on his own self-preservation.  John was looking to stay as close to Christ as he could get.  As such he was fully focused on Christ, and the horror which Christ was permitting Himself to endure.  John had no thought for himself, because Jesus was the sole focus of His mind.  It was the same event.  It was the same followers of Christ, with similar experiences with their Lord.  But it was a remarkably different perception between one and the other.
John continues the events in verse 18 … “And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.”  Peter now thinks to himself, perhaps it is better to just hang out with these guys by the fire.  He does not have to get too close to Christ.  He can view Christ at a distance, where it is safer, where it is warmer, where it is more convenient.  Sound familiar?  How often do we choose to view Christ from a safer distance?  Were we to submit all of ourselves to Christ, He might take away the one thing we value most (our cherished sins).  Better to view Christ at a safer distance, give Him some of us, but not all of us.  Better to offer Christ the parts of our lives we are not happy with, and keep the parts of our lives we like.  But what we do not realize; is that the danger is from the distance with Christ, not the closeness.  The danger is what we hold on to, and it is that which makes us unhappy.  The things we give to Him, are the things with which He brings us happiness, transforming us from our addictions to pain, into freedom from pain.  Peter was putting himself more at risk, by moving away from Christ.  He would have been safer nearer to Him.  The same is true for us today.
Now John turns his attention away from Peter and back towards the sham of a trial that Christ has found Himself in.  In verse 19 the high priest begins … “The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. [verse 20] Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. [verse 21] Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.”  Jesus offers a striking contrast to the heart of the high priest who has conspired to kill Christ and Lazarus in private.  Murder is now the official policy of the Pharisees when counter ideas cannot be defeated on merit.  Jesus contrasts the secrecy required for hypocrisy with the open ability to speak words of truth that do not differ by day or by night.  Truth needs no cover of darkness, rather truth brings light into darkness.  Christ is happy to have his “doctrines” repeated by those He has taught.
Even now, the High Priest is wondering if there is some deep secret Christ has to manipulate power and miracles; that He might be willing to share with them.  The High Priest seems almost willing to accept rituals and witchery rather than love that marks the will of God the Father.  If Christ had been a devil, he might have been able to open up a new church right then and there.  The priest was looking for the secrets to power.  He had no interest in humble love or submission.  But Christ tells him, there are no dark secrets that are the key to His power.  There are no secret words, or rituals that give one control, there is only submission that allows the will of the Father to be seen in our lives.  The teachings He has offered can be recited by those who have heard Him.  The love He has brought to the world, is His only mantra, His only secret, His only key to success, His only reflection of His Father.  And so John records the response of evil in verse 22 … “And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?”  The officer was offended that the simple truth of Christ showed no deference to the office of the High Priest.  It was un-nerving to hear such an authoritative response to the question of the High Priest.
Jesus answered him in verse 23 … “Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? [verse 24] Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.”  Notice Love does not respond to hatred with more hatred, Christ makes no attempt to hit the officer back in return.  Further notice, Christ does not condemn the man who just struck Him unjustly.  He does not “judge” this man and condemn him, dooming him to eternal punishment and second death from which there is no escape.  Revenge is not the goal or offspring of love.  Redemption is.  So instead Jesus asks the man who has just struck Him, to examine “why” he has done what he has done.  Instead Jesus asks him to carefully look at His words, and see, if they are truly worthy of being hit for, or perhaps invite more investigation towards redemption, light, life and truth.  So often we Christians believe there is a “limit” to our patience, a “limit” to the grace and love of God, and once someone crosses that line, they are forever doomed.  But the life and example of Christ shows us that love was here to reach EVERYONE, there was no-one beyond redemption, and no act that would forever doom us to separation from God, short our daily refusal to be reconciled.  Christ was living proof that there are no limits to His love.
John then returns his attention to Peter still warming himself by the fire and continues in verse 25 … “And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.”  This is now the second inquiry into the loyalty of Peter.  He is past the door maid, and while he perceives a threat from association to Christ by being one of his disciples this is really only a perception.  John after all, is right there, close enough to hear what is going on, recognized by the high priest and allowed entry, and close enough to Christ to hear his conversation as well.  John is not hiding his discipleship and appears to be in no immediate danger.  But Peter is focusing more and more on himself, and his own self-preservation.  As he does so, he feels the need to affirm his earlier lie with yet another one.  John continues in verse 26 … “One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? [verse 27] Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.”
It is now much worse for Peter.  He has lied twice, but at this point the brother of the servant whose ear he cut off was a witness to the event and is asking him the same question.  He might have gotten away with his lies to the first two folks, but this questioner had a basis for his beliefs.  Peter’s denials now could only be empty.  Peter had boasted to Christ that his loyalty would be true to the point of death.  Now his loyalty had failed 3 tests of mere association.  When we trust in our own spiritual strength instead of depending on all our strength coming from Christ, we too find ourselves failing.  Our victories are NOT our own.  They belong to Christ.  The only thing we own is our failures.  We deny the strength of Christ, trusting to ourselves, and finding only failure.  When it is Christ alone in whom we trust, we can make no boasts, for we realize how little we do.  If we boast at all, it is only directed at the true source of love, victory, wisdom, truth and life.  In ourselves, in our own spiritual understanding, in our own scriptural interpretations we find only error, weakness, failure and loss.  But when we follow Christ, and find ourselves wholly consumed with what He is doing, what He is saying, how He is loving, we find ourselves undeterred by selfish perceptions and fears that have no basis.
Our perceptions are colored by the intensity with which we look at Christ.  Our realities reflect the failures of self-trust, or the victories He alone can bring.  Our similarities to Peter’s failing choices are stunning when our priorities have not been altered through submission to Christ.  But having submitted, only Christ becomes important to us, only love reflected and redemption revealed are the things that matter …