Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 8
TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?
We have said that we, like Simon in Matthew 16, need to learn to savor the things that be of God. But how does one understand the things that be of God? How do we know for sure what God’s will for us is? It is possible for us to err, of course, but I am convinced that most of us pretty well know when we are really surrendered to his will and not trying to read our own will into it. Peter should have known that the way of empire he dreamed of was suspect. It was too much what he wanted. It asked for no sacrifice. It would make for him a great reputation, but not a great character. Peter could, no doubt, think of a hundred reasons why what he wanted ought to be the will of God. He could convince himself that his own way was right and best. Two thousand years later it isn’t hard for us to see why it wouldn’t have worked. We can see now why the way of the cross is the best way, the only way two thousand years ago. But it is just as hard as ever to see why it is the best way now.
Thus we find Simon still self-willed in Matthew 16. He has changed to some extent his faith since first meeting Jesus, but that faith has not yet changed him. He has given up much for Jesus. He has given up his business, his security, happy hours at home, and the good will of many Jewish brethren. He had “left all to follow Christ.” He had given up almost everything else but he had not yet given up himself. He had not given up his own self will. He still wanted his own way. He was willing to pay for it, but he still wanted it. The proud man was still proud. The unstable man was still unstable. Yet already the seed was sown that would transform him. Already the plant that grows the fruit of righteousness was stirring in his soul. Peter the rock must still struggle with Simon the proud unstable fisherman, but the point is that Peter was at last alive and growing.
As we look at ourselves today we can recognize the proud, weak, self-willed Simon in us all. We look into our hearts and we see rebellion and pride and sin there. But we see something else as well. There is in each of us, pray God, a will to struggle. There is an earnest desire to see the last of this carnal man we have been. There is an eagerness to see God at last bring to fruition the great work he has started in us that at last we may understand and give ourselves utterly to the “things that be of God.”
One of Peter’s Finest Thoughts
It was this new and growing life in Peter that breaks out in John 6:49-69. Here we see him again in one of his better moments. The scene is the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus is preaching on the bread of life. They are strange words about eating flesh and drinking blood. The disciples cannot understand them. Jesus charges them with the same thing that had been his charge against Peter. They were earth‑minded. They were thinking in terms of a carnal Messiah and a carnal kingdom. He tried to turn their thoughts to spiritual things. The disciples who were interested in nothing but a carnal kingdom turned from him and left. Jesus watches the dwindling group. Finally only the twelve are left. From the next question we gather that they too were undecided. Jesus asks the question, “Will ye also go away?” It was a crucial moment. Simon Peter has been doing some hard thinking. Jesus has disappointed him since that big moment when he had admitted he was the Messiah. He has been emphasizing suffering and a spirituality that sounds a little vague to men looking for a conqueror. Simon must decide. Suddenly the thought comes to him that makes up his mind. When he speaks, he evidently convinces the rest of the twelve. It was one of Peter’s finest thoughts. We don’t hear much about it in pulpits today, but it was a great hour for Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68, 69). It was a good point. If they left Christ where would they go to find something better? To Herod, or the scribes, or Pharisees? What did they have to offer? Peter decided to stick with Jesus because he could find nothing better. It was a good reason.
Where to Go?
I have known moments like this. There have been times when, to my shame, I have felt discouragement. I think the church doesn’t grow as it should. The brethren don’t always do to suit me. I get critical of the congregations of Christ. Shall I throw up my hands and go? This thought always stops me. Go where? Go to some richer, bigger brotherhood? Why? Are they truer to the New Testament pattern? Do they offer any holier opportunity of freedom under God? Or shall I go to some high sounding school of philosophy? Why? Does it offer any better hope? Is it any closer to absolute truth? Or shall I go into the world to live for frivolity? The thought sickens me. Where then? I find no place to go. Whenever I hear brethren criticizing the church for backwardness, or hypocrisy, or indifference, or stinginess, I am made to wonder. I want to ask them, “All right, what have you found that is better? Where will you go?” I have known men to go back to the world. When I run across them now, I discover that they are miserable. I have known other men to become disgusted and go off to some other group. When I talk to those men now, there is a spark missing that they formerly had. A light has gone out. If I can expect no more from greener pastures than they seem to have received, I will stay where I am.
But Peter’s question has a broader application. Space denies that we discuss it in this chapter. We shall defer it to the next.