Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. – No. 20
RESTORED TO SERVICE
The restoration of Simon Peter to the service of the King he had denied is one of the tenderest and most beautiful stories in the New Testament. When someone has done us bitter wrong we are prone to insist upon a humiliating apology from them before we will even treat them with courtesy. Even if we decided to adopt a Christian attitude toward them it is apt to be a far cry from the attitude of Christ himself. We are usually quite careful to point out the praiseworthy nature of our own Christian charity. “I will forgive you in order to be a great soul, but, of course, you don’t deserve it and if it were not for my devout nature I would never have anything more to do with you. I forgive you in order to demonstrate my Christian love and I hope you appreciate the great condescension I am making.” We may not actually say this but we usually feel it and we find a way to convey the attitude whether we put it into words or not.
Contrast this with the amazing approach of Jesus to Peter. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He actually turns to the man that had denied him with bitter oaths and humbly asks for his love. Imagine the humility of anyone so wronged who can go to the man who has wronged him and with no word of the wrong can plead for the wrongdoer’s love. And when Simon professes his love we are again amazed by the words, “Feed my sheep.” Imagine begging for his love and then adding a statement of need! “Simon do you love me? I need you Simon. I need you to feed my sheep.” I do not believe this paraphrase misses the content of Jesus’ words very far.
When we learn to forgive and accept one another like this then ninety-nine per cent of our problems in human relationships and church fellowship will be settled. Not only this but we will also reclaim souls for the Lord that seemed lost for good. Paul, in Galatians 6:1, gives another reason why we should restore a faulty brother in the spirit of meekness. We should consider our own frailty and take care against the day when we too may be in desperate need of mercy.
The Great Commission
The commission that Jesus gave to Peter that day to feed his sheep was a great and glorious one, but it had its darker side. Jesus knew what he had done for Peter that day. He knew that this man who had denied him in fear would be fearless in his service from that day forth. In the next verse he predicted the manner of Peter’s future martyrdom with no fear that such a dire prophecy would shake the new found courage of his disciple. Then twice, within four verses, he gave Peter the formula for all successful discipleship. It was the same admonition with which he had called him three years before. It remains the most vital thing that Jesus has to say to any of us. “Follow me.” But now the disciple could understand its meaning so much better than he could three years before. Jesus might have told him to follow truth, or to follow the way of righteousness, or to follow a godly life. Instead he simply said “Follow me.” And now Peter knew to follow Christ was to follow all those things, for Christ was the truth, and the way, and the life. Now Peter knew the meaning of the Word made flesh. Now Peter understood the deep significance of the incarnation. Jesus had not come with a set of rules or a hoard of maxims. He had simply come himself. More than anything else the Gospel is the fact of Jesus Christ. At the center of the Gospel is a person. It is based more on actual events than it is on obscure ideas.
Even yet Peter was not fully prepared for the huge responsibility that lay ahead of him. This becomes clear when, with the other disciples, he comes asking about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus tells them that they are yet to receive a visitation of power that will enable them to be effective in his service. After the ascension, they return to Jerusalem and obedient to the Lord’s instruction, tarry in Jerusalem waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.
Gift of the Spirit
The question about restoring the kingdom to Israel indicated that Simon was not yet ready. He was still thinking in terms of his own nation alone. He had as yet no grasp of the “whosoever” of John 3:16. He was not yet ready to turn the world upside down because there were still some things in him that were wrong side up. “Tarry in Jerusalem until—” he had to wait until he had reached the end of himself. It took him ten days. Pentecost was a day of offering the first fruits of the harvest. The Apostles were the first fruits of the Christian converts. On Pentecost Peter gave his all to God and God’s all met his all and flooded him with light and power. He went out of the room with the assurance that ultimate reality was backing him. He didn’t have to be told that God approved of him for God was inside him, controlling him by His Spirit. Jesus had said, “Henceforth I call you not servants but friends.” Peter was no longer a servant governed from without but a friend governed from within. Jesus had said, “All power is given unto me.” Peter had surrendered to that power and become a manifestation of that power. From that day on Peter proclaimed the glad news, smiled at poverty, rejoiced under persecution, and turned the world upside down. The Holy Spirit made the difference. Before the Spirit came he knew about God. After the Spirit came he knew God. Before he had admired the Spirit he saw in Jesus. Now he had that Spirit himself.
We still live in the Gospel age ushered in with the coming of the Spirit. There was a patriarchal age and an age of law. Now the last days have come. This is the day of grace and of God’s revelation through Christ. It is the age of Christ’s redemption through the cross and of the victory of the cross by the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit in Acts was not just a matter of a few people gathering to practice spiritual gifts and to congratulate one another on the measure of their blessedness. It was a radical change in the lives of men that created such an impact on civilization as to turn the world upside down. I pray God that he will impress these words upon your heart and give you no peace until you know the joy of an unquenched Spirit in your life.