What qualities propel a good story into becoming a great story? The answer is subjective, of course, but if one can find a book, movie, or storyteller to share a tale filled with intrigue, love, betrayal, unfaithfulness, mystery, the underdog winning, war, peace, etc, I think most of us would cling to the story, wanting more! These descriptors fairly well summarize the contents of the stories found in the Christian Bible. Oh … maybe you didn’t see that coming. Many of us, me included until recent years, fail to relate to the stories of the Bible for what they truly are, i.e. tales of a people struggling to find their place in this world in relation to their God. While not necessarily a history book, the Bible chronicles the accounts of struggle and triumph recounting the deep and heartfelt emotions of those involved.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Holy Week is a spiritual time for me filled with much emotion. Put yourself in the shoes of those apostles who are following Jesus. They gave up their livelihood and families to follow a guy whom they hoped was their longed-for messiah; savior of the Jewish people. After spending about three years with Him, they experience the awesome high of walking into Jerusalem with the crowds praising the man they are following. Imagine what they are feeling, knowing that they are with an important person, and they are one of only 12 selected personally by Him! Think of how this would make you feel. But then come the events at the end of the week that will change their lives forever.
Peter, a fisherman by trade, is placed by Jesus at the head of the other apostles. Peter is noted as an ever faithful friend, defending Jesus and pledging to never leave Him. But the night of Passover (what Christians now celebrate as Holy Thursday), as Jesus dines for the last time with his apostles we learn that one of the selected twelve, Judas, will betray and hand over Jesus to the authorities, and Peter will deny, not once but three times, that he knows Jesus. The rest of the apostles, the closest friends of Jesus, flee and hide. Think about this … one of Jesus’ closest companions turns Him over to be arrested; His selected leader, Peter, will deny ever knowing Him; the rest of the friends run away, all at a time when Jesus needed friends and support the most!
Let’s put this, briefly, into context. At this time in history, around the year 33AD, the Roman Empire rules the known world including Jerusalem and the Jewish people. The Jewish people have been promised by God that they will receive a savior. They long for the Son of God to come in power and free them from Roman rule. Over time, as the apostles slowly come to an understanding of who Jesus really is, they long for the day that He will save them from the Romans. This was part of the reason for Judas’ betrayal, to force Jesus’ hand into fighting the Romans to whom he turned over Jesus. Neither Peter nor Judas understood that Jesus was a Savior of souls and people, not a conqueror of the Romans. The freedom Jesus brings is an inner freedom, not a physical freedom. Therefore, when Jesus is arrested and He nor the angels come to save Him, the apostles become scared and confused. Maybe He isn’t the Savior? Were we wrong? As His closest followers will the Romans now come after us?
Put in the historical context it is a bit easier to understand why Peter, although not fleeing the scene like the rest, denies knowing Jesus. It is not necessarily to betray his friend, but out of a sense of fear and confusion. Peter doesn’t want to be arrested, too. Plus, I’m sure he’s confused about who he thought Jesus is.
Jumping way ahead in the story, after the resurrection of Jesus, He finds Peter to reconcile with him. He allows Peter the opportunity of forgiveness, but not just a simple “I’m sorry”, but a deeper reconciliation based on love and compassion. Jesus approaches Peter not to reproach him for his denial, but to simply ask Peter if he loves Him. Peter responds with “yes, you know that I love you.” Can you imagine the emotions Peter is experiencing?
A song from the early 1990’s by the rock band Savatage sums up the emotional exchange of Jesus and Peter during their reconciliation. The song, “Believe” (video is below), was not written for this purpose, but it speaks to me in a way of framing the depth of what was happening. Here is the verse I attribute to Peter’s words to Jesus. As you read it, place yourself in the scene of Peter, confused and afraid, ashamed and embarrassed, standing before the risen Jesus:
I never wanted to know; Never wanted to see; I wasted my time Till Time wasted me. I never wanted to go; I always wanted to stay; ‘Cause the person I am are the parts that I play.
So I plot and I plan and I hope and I scheme to the lure of a night filled with unfinished dreams. And I’m holding on tight
To a world gone astray; As they charge me for years
I can no longer pay.
The refrain of the song, which I attribute to Jesus responding to Peter, is both powerful and comforting:
I am the way
I am the light
I am the dark
Inside the night
I hear your hopes
I feel your dreams
And in the dark
I hear your screams.
Don’t turn away
Just take my hand
And when you make your final stand
I’ll be right there
I’ll never leave
And all I ask of you… Believe…
What are the lessons we can take from this encounter?
- Trust. How can I trust even when I don’t fully know the person or the situation? What can I do to get a better understanding when events happen of which I am unfamiliar?
- Forgiveness. Holding onto resentments and anger led both Peter and Judas to depression and despair. To Judas losing his life. How can I learn to forgive others, and truly move on. How can I learn to forgive myself………
- Love. How can I truly love another even when they disappoint me? How can I try to more fully understand their context and what is happening in their life. Can I embrace them as Jesus embraced Peter?
Life is not easy, obviously. But placing ourselves into the drama of the apostles and Jesus during this critical week in their lives can give us guidance and lessons for us to learn and follow.