In his third and final denial, Peter replied in the negative to the question: “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Peter declared that the very man whose brother’s ear he had only just cut off, couldn’t have seen him, Peter, there in that garden with Jesus.
Now, Jesus had healed the man’s ear that Peter had cut off. The Messiah had healed the very man who came to take him away to die. And all the while, Peter had continued to believe with his human faculties that Jesus could never have come into this world, call a multitude unto Himself, only to be led away to die.
Now, this very man before Peter reminded Peter of the events that were threatening to break not only Peter’s heart, but also the box he had put Jesus into and the box he had put himself into. A box of “suffering no more” for Jesus and His followers, that he was still unwilling to let go of, as he vehemently denied being there in that garden of blood-sweated tears. And a box of self-righteous goodness for himself, as he vehemently denied having any part in the ear-cutting. Peter’s idols stood tall. Coping-mechanisms refused to bow, as the world around him began to crumble. Peter clung to lies to try to silence the truth of his own fallibility, not understanding the gift of Christ’s mercy and completion for Him.
Interestingly, we know that Peter had fallen asleep on his watch, just as the other disciples had. He was present in that garden and yet not, because ultimately his own strength had left him in the lurch. In his last ditch effort to “save” Jesus upon awaking, Peter’s passion (led by his flesh) was exposed: his weakness of wearing his heart on his sleeve. A heart that at this point was still beating to the tune of fleshly desires – desires leading Peter into imprudent and rash behavior.
When we reflect on these events, it’s interesting to remember that when God made a covenant with His people in the Old Testament, He did so as Abraham lay in a deep sleep (Genesis 15). The covenant was never ratified by Abraham, only by God. The responsibility for its fulfillment thus lay fully in God’s hands. Likewise, the new covenant of grace, sealed by the blood of Christ, could not be earnt by man, it was and still is a free and unmerited gift from God to us all.
What if Peter’s weaknesses – his lack of physical strength to stay awake and wearing his heart on his sleeve – were in fact weaknesses given unto Peter as gifts. Gifts destined to lean him into the Cross and be given back to Him as strengths. What if the pointed question: “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” was purposed to reveal the true state of Peter’s divided heart, his weakness and inability to stand firm in his own strength?
What if this uncovering was destined to unveil the hidden heart of Jesus in Peter? For it is in being forced to confess his weakness and imperfection that Peter’s heart is opened to receive (and give away) the mercy and grace of God.
This mercy and grace was poured out in abundant measure, through a baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit. It is then the Holy Spirit took over, leading Peter daily into Christ’s death and resurrection and transforming him to look more and more like Jesus. And led by this Spirit of God, Peter’s life would reveal the Son of God’s united heart of perfect love.
Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new! 2 Corinthians (2 Co) 5:17 CJB
When I now look at Peter in that courtyard facing his accuser, I see Jesus standing beside Peter saying: just watch how I am going to redeem this very moment for good to reveal My Spirit’s power in and for you. Jesus always knew Peter’s weakness and how He could harness it for good. For, as Christ raises Peter to his irrevocable calling, it is precisely these two weaknesses that become his greatest assets.
As Peter’s strength is dashed to smithereens, Christ’s power takes over to heal bodies, hearts and minds through the very shadow of Peter’s body. For, Peter’s heart is now filled with the Living Word of God, as the Holy Spirit teaches him to beat in tune to the heart of Jesus. Now, wearing his new heart of pure gold – Jesus – more and more on his sleeve, Christ’s love and peace becomes palpably present everywhere Peter walks. God transforms imprudence into prudence and anger into humble mercy and compassion. And even today, everywhere Peter’s testimony to Jesus is shared we are abundantly blessed, which literally means we are strengthened in the Lord.
Likewise, I am now watching God harness my weaknesses for good. Like Peter once did, I tried to be “strong” and “good” for Jesus. As a little girl I quickly met my weakness and imperfection, and like Peter chose to deny Jesus in my fear of man and unwillingness to admit my sin and my need. Until, as a teenager, I couldn’t take the hypocrisy anymore and fled “God” – only to discover years later, when God opened my eyes, that I had in fact been fleeing the idol I had created of him.
Since God opened my eyes to see, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and my heart condition have been smashing my physical, mental and emotional strength to smithereens. God is continually reminding me that He alone is the strength of my heart and the only goodness in me.
He has purposely been lifting away the burdens of human “strength” and human “goodness” from my shoulders. In their place, He is revealing His power, goodness, mercy and grace for me and through me. He is burning away all in my life and heart that is not built upon the foundation of His blood and rebuilding me in the light of His glory and grace.
He is showing me daily that my lack of human strength and my inability to be good in and of myself is what leads me to the Cross, that Christ’s compassion, mercy and goodness might come alive in me. As the worldly and hypocritical self-righteous foundation I have built for myself (and even my family) over the years, is now being stripped away piece by piece, God is revealing the firm foundation of Jesus and His Word in my heart and beneath my feet. By His mercy and grace, God is hearkening His ear inside of me to listen for and obey the promptings of the Father through the Holy Spirit, day by day and moment by moment.
The second weakness God has been harnessing for good, just as He did for Peter, is wearing my heart on my sleeve. What I failed to see, as did Peter in cutting off the soldier’s ear, was the hidden affliction of my opposition. Unlike Jesus, Peter and I did not (at first) weep for the numbed and hardened hearts of those who opposed Jesus in us, nor the heartbreaking consequences they would face for their sinful actions and their dire need for the compassion and mercy of Jesus.
Ironically, as I began to soak in my accuser’s lies, I worshipped my idols of self and man, belittling and cutting down the beauty and purity of my God’s heart speaking so boldly in and through me and forsook the call to prayer. In my sin, my own heart became numb and hardened to the Word of God – both as a child and later as a returned Prodigal too. But Jesus has since even turned this into good, using it all to help me better identify with those who reject Jesus in me.
After Christ’s Words of restoration and redemption, Peter too returned to sit amongst the religious leaders, just as I did at first, as a returned Prodigal. These leaders rejected the Word of God. Yet even knowing all we did, Peter and I at first let go of Christ’s command to speak up, separate ourselves from the yeast and lift away the heavy burden of restrictive traditions and cleansing ceremonies from our suffering brethren in doing so. We denied the Living Word that declared:
John 15:3 (ESV) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Why? In my case, it was my idolatry of religious leaders, as I struggled to believe God’s Word to me, above the word of those in religious authority over me. And it was my unwillingness to face the pain of rejection and loss all over again. But praise God, Christ harnessed my weakness of wearing my heart on my sleeve for good.
Again, just as a child, I couldn’t help but speak up. This time God used the triggers of trauma and my previous experience of His mercy to me, to compel me to pray. As I cried out to God, again and again, God gave me the wisdom, discernment and strength I needed to change my mind, confess my sins and weakness openly and to walk into and rest in His will for me.
Through this repeated experience of opposition and my weakness and need, God has freed and is freeing me still to wear my heart on my sleeve before Him also. He is causing me to come boldly before the throne of grace in my time of need to receive His mercy and grace. In my weakness, Jesus is drawing me deeper and deeper into His love for me, hearkening His ear in me to hear and obey the Father.
A very wise, 28-year-old, summed up so beautifully what both Peter and I learnt as God exposed our weaknesses through suffering. Stephen Wright, the son of my dear friend Gayl, suffered so much through debilitating physical and mental affliction. Now he is in heaven, but his living testimony to the mercy of Jesus still speaks to us today. Stephen reminds us:
“The beast inside us screams for justice. It can’t take humiliation, it can’t take being falsely accused, or misjudged. Above all, it can’t admit its own weaknesses. But when the beast is let loose, and you fight tooth and claw for your own dignity, you lose what dignity you had. If the beast loses the fight you are humiliated tenfold. If the beast wins the fight you become nothing more than the monster you believed your accusers to be, feeding the endless cycle of crushing and being crushed. When the beast is loosed, someone will always have to suffer.
Leave it be … Suffer the humiliation, admit to yourself your own shortcomings. Then recall the words of Jesus,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Peter and Stephen learnt, and I am still learning daily, that in the dying of our flesh, Jesus arises in power in us, for us and through us. Now, Stephen Wright and the apostle Peter are glorying fully in that resurrection power – fully healed and whole. Thank You, Jesus!
Clothed in Christ’s blessed and pure humility, I am now daily entering into His death and His resurrection. For, I am seated, even now, in heavenly places on that blessed mercy seat, where Christ’s pure and holy works of faith, His resurrection power and His mercy and grace are being unveiled in me daily. For, my faithful God is arising with healing in His wings, overshadowing me in His mercy. He is shedding the old me to reveal the new – Christ in me – as He perfects His power right here in my weakness.
Alleluia: Christ be glorified:
For His love is better than life!