Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 19, Peter Speaks Of His Impending Death

On the day that the risen Lord reinstated Peter publicly in front of the other disciples, He said to him, "'Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch our your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God." (John 21:18-19a) Peter has always known he would give his life for the gospel of Christ, and today he tells his readers that the time is near.

In our day the words "you will stretch out your hands" isn't as clear to us as it was to the people of Peter's day. Crucifixion was a familiar form of capital punishment all over the Roman Empire. These executions were carried out as publicly as possible, which means that everyone Peter is writing to is familiar with the sight of both men and women nailed with widespread hands on crosses beside public roadways and on prominent hilltops. The agony of crucifixion and the public display of it was intended as a deterrent to criminals. It was a clear message from the Roman government, "This is what we do to enemies of the state". So when the Lord told Peter "you will stretch out your hands", Peter and the other disciples knew exactly what He meant. This is why John said that Jesus' words indicated the type of death Peter would die.

The letter we are studying is Peter's farewell letter to the church. He's using it to repeat to remind them of things like he said yesterday, such as to grow in love and in the knowledge of the Lord. In yesterday's passage he urged them to make certain they are really in Christ and not just going through the motions, having joined the growing Christian movement for reasons other than believing on Christ as Lord. This is where we pick up today, with Peter stating that he feels it's important to remind them of these things before he gives his life for the faith.

"So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things." (2 Peter 1:12-15) I love the way Peter describes his impending death. He refers to his body as a tent, a temporary dwelling he has inhabited and out of which he will soon move. He calls his death a "departure" because that's what it is: leaving one place and moving to another. He speaks of it as if he is going to step aboard a ship and disembark at another location, which is a beautiful way of describing the physical death of the Christian. The instant our souls leave the temporary tents of our bodies they are immediately present with the Lord. Death is not really death. It is only a departure from one place and an arrival at another.

Why is Peter able to so bravely face the coming torture of the cross? Because he knows that the gospel he proclaims is the truth. It's the truest truth there is. He can't deny it. He won't deny it. He is willing to die for it. "For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain." (2 Peter 1:16-18) He speaks here of the incident known as the Transfiguration when he and James and John caught a glimpse of the glory of Christ which no man had ever before seen, and when they heard the testimony of God the Father from heaven. Peter knows what he knows. There isn't even a smidgen of doubt in the most remote corners of his mind. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and the only hope of redemption is through Him, and Peter is going to hold to this truth no matter what. He wouldn't die for a lie. He wouldn't die for a gospel he doubts. He's going to die for what he knows to be a fact.

On the day Jesus informed Peter what his death would be like, He also asked him three times, "Do you love Me?" Peter answered in the affirmative each time, but I think at the end of his life he loved Jesus far more than he did on that morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. On that morning I don't know whether he would have been willing to go to the cross for the truth, but as the years went by and as Peter's faith grew and as his relationship with Christ grew deeper, he became willing. By the seashore Christ was asking something like, "Do you really love Me? Do you love Me enough to die for Me? You are going to need to love Me that much. I told you during my ministry to count the cost of being My disciple. It's going to cost you your life. Do I mean that much to you?" Having so recently denied that he had ever laid eyes on Jesus, I can just imagine the turmoil in Peter's mind. He knows how weak his flesh is. He knows he lied about Jesus to save his own skin. He didn't love Jesus enough to claim friendship with Him on the night of His arrest. Will he love Jesus enough to die for Him many years down the road? I think Peter spent the rest of his days on earth learning, through the power of the Holy Spirit, how to love Christ enough to die for Him. When the Roman soldiers nail Peter to a cross, he will ask to be hung upside down because he does not feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. As he breathes his last breath I think he will remember the question the Lord asked him three times on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and I believe he will whisper with what strength he has left, "Yes, Lord. I love you."

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