by Max Lucado
The Sun was in the water before Peter noticed it—a wavy circle of gold on the surface of the sea. A fisherman is usually the first to spot the sun rising over the crest of the hills. It means his night of labor is finally over.
But not for this fisherman. Though the light reflected on the lake, the darkness lingered in Peter's heart. The wind chilled, but he didn't feel it. His friends slept soundly, but he didn't care. The nets at his feet were empty, the sea had been a miser, but Peter wasn't thinking about that.
His thoughts were far from the Sea of Galilee. His mind was in Jerusalem, reliving an anguished night. As the boat rocked, his memories raced:
"What was I thinking?" Peter mumbled to himself as he stared at the bottom of the boat. Why did I run?
Peter had run; he had turned his back on his dearest friend and run. We don't know where. Peter may not have known where. He found a hole, a hut, an abandoned shed—he found a place to hide and he hid. He had bragged, "Everyone else may stumble … but I will not" (Matt. 26:33). Yet he did. Peter did what he swore he wouldn't do. He had tumbled face first into the pit of his own fears. And there he sat. All he could hear was his hollow promise. Everyone else may stumble … but I will not. Everyone else … I will not. I will not. I will not. A war raged within the fisherman.
At that moment the instinct to survive collided with his allegiance to Christ, and for just a moment allegiance won. Peter stood and stepped out of hiding and followed the noise till he saw the torch-lit jury in the courtyard of Caiaphas.
He stopped near a fire and warmed his hands. The fire sparked with irony. The night had been cold. The fire was hot. But Peter was neither. He was lukewarm. "Peter followed at a distance," Luke described (22:54 NIV).
He was loyal … from a distance. That night he went close enough to see, but not close enough to be seen. The problem was, Peter was seen. Other people near the fire recognized him. "You were with him," they had challenged. "You were with the Nazarene." Three times people said it, and each time Peter denied it. And each time Jesus heard it Please understand that the main character in this drama of denial is not Peter, but Jesus. Jesus, who knows the hearts of all people, knew the denial of his friend. Three times the salt of Peter's betrayal stung the wounds of the Messiah.
How do I know Jesus knew? Because of what he did. Then "the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter" (Luke 22:61 NIV). When the rooster crowed, Jesus turned. His eyes searched for Peter and they found him. At that moment there were no soldiers, no accusers, no priests. At that predawn moment in Jerusalem there were only two people—Jesus and Peter.
Peter would never forget that look. Though Jesus' face was already bloody and bruised, his eyes were firm and focused. They were a scalpel, laying bare Peter's heart. Though the look had lasted only a moment, it lasted forever.
And now, days later on the Sea of Galilee, the look still seared. It wasn't the resurrection that occupied his thoughts. It wasn't the empty tomb. It wasn't the defeat of death. It was the eyes of Jesus seeing his failure. Peter knew them well. He'd seen them before. In fact he'd seen them on this very lake.
(Continued next week)
It was a typical day while on vacation, when one phone call changed everything. The wife of a great friend of mine, called to tell me Mike was in the hospital suffering with an aggressive form of cancer, and was being moved to hospice- two days later, Mike passed. It felt as though I had been hit in the chest by a sledgehammer - I felt empty and began searching for something to hold on to that would enable me to grasp the situation. Immediately, I thought of the disciples the night Jesus was crucified. I imagined what it must have been like for them after all the dust had settled, and they were safely huddled in one place, trying to absorb what they had just witnessed. How do you put something like that into words? Thoughts of what they would do now that Jesus was gone, must have dominated their thinking and conversation. He had told them a lot about this night- but now, it is all just a blur. He was their teacher, their protector. They followed him day and night for three years, going where he led them, eating what he ate. The conversations he had with them. The special moments, as they listened to him talk to others- especially the religious leaders. They lost more than a teacher; they lost a great friend. Sure, he said he would return, but what if he didn’t. Fast forward and imagine how they felt the day Jesus appeared among them. Imagine the joy and jubilation in their hearts as once again their friend and teacher was among them. After this, I began to reflect on the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth in chapter 15, as he explains to them the resurrection. It’s there in the resurrection where the power of God overcomes death. It’s there that makes all the difference. It’s there what was broken is fixed. Even though we hurt today, as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Don’t grieve like others who are without hope.” Did you catch it? There is more. That’s just the end of a chapter, not the end of the book. As we turn the page, we read of this great reunion of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, in that place where there will be no pain, no crying, no mourning, no sickness, none of those things. I’m confident one day we will see those who have died in Christ. That’s the point. God has fixed it all. For now it’s just a short separation, followed by a reunion that will last throughout eternity. Father we thank you for loving us so completely to forgive our sins against you. We thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of his resurrection that will one day raise us! We praise you and thank you for this wonderful grace. So therefore, let us continue to march on, until victory is won!
One thing taught throughout the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, is that the Christian life is a progression, a journey of the redeemed soul toward God.
Another is that Satan stands to resist every step and to hinder the journey in every way possible. To advance against his shrewd and powerful opposition requires faith and steadfast courage. The epistles call it “confidence.”
In his Philippian epistle, Paul declares his own determination to advance against all obstacles. He says in effect that while he is not yet perfect and has not yet attained unto the goal set before him, he is putting the past behind him psychologically as well as chronologically that he may go on to find in Christ his all in all. “I press on toward the goal,” he says, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Then with a fine disregard for apparent self-contradiction he urges, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (3:15).
(Borrowed from A. W. Tozer)
We are concluding our series on “Finishing Strong.” If you recall, Paul admonishes us to run the race to get the prize. That is a very important phrase, because it not only encourages us to run, but to finish - well. My final thought on the subject comes from another statement of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Did you catch it right at the end of his statement? He is concerned about being “disqualified.” When we consider who Paul is, and how much he has done for the kingdom, how can a person like that even think of being disqualified? Paul has had (personal) conversation with Jesus, instrumental in planting churches everywhere, wrote almost one half of the New Testament, and lastly considering all Paul has done, how can he have something in HIS life that would/could disqualify him? Because he is human and frail like the rest of us- that’s how. Paul is well aware that his life is an example to those he instructs, and if his life is out of control - it voids his message.
I contemplated the thought of being “disqualified.” Can you imagine the joy of finishing a grueling marathon race only to be officially disqualified because you were caught cheating? What about us? Can we be disqualified once we reach our spiritual finish line? I believe so. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus uttered these stinging words, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Imagine happily going to church every Sunday only to find out in the end, your lifestyle has disqualified you, and heaven will not be your eternal home. Perhaps these words of Paul should serve as more than a mere admonishment, but strongly considered as a warning. Sound advice says that we should be willing to do all we can to make it to heaven, even if it means beating our bodies. Better to show up battered and bruised than not at all.