Two men who through different means (and yet the one same method) became the two of the most influential people in the Christian faith (up there with Mary in my book!) and they bring us great encouragement.
In Matthew 4 (Simon) Peter was fishing with his brother Andrew and Jesus calls them to follow Him - offering them the chance to become 'fishers of men'.
In Mark 14 we find him outside the High Priest's House (in the courtyard). When identified as a follower of Jesus he denies it - Three Times!
In John 21, after the resurrection, we find Simon and Jesus together again:
'When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time,
“Do you love me?”
He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 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 out 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. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” '
Here is a man who had been in close relationship with Jesus and yet, when challenged, denied him three times. Here is a man who is asked three times by the risen Christ whether he loves Him. Peter is affronted and yet with each response his previous denials are erased and his commission (and the way he will die) is confirmed. And boy - does he do it well.
Paul is a man who appears in Acts. First (chapter 7) standing by as Stephen is stoned to death and later (Acts 9) as one who is set upon putting followers of 'The Way' to death. This is a man who encounters the Risen (and Ascended) Jesus as he journeys and the result is dramatic and life-changing. First he loses his sight and then (through the actions of an obedient follower of the Christ) regains it and become one of the most amazing leaders of the Church. First he kills followers and later he has to escape people who would wish to kill him because he is a follower - poacher turned gamekeeper or what?
Today we can take comfort that from denial, oppression and rejection we find acceptance, calling and ministry. That from disobedience comes forgiveness and from seeking to protect self comes the ability to seek first God's kingdom and all that that means - including the knowledge that this taking up of their own crosses will mean hardship and even death itself. And yet within all this is great blessing and eternal life. Today we can take comfort from the fact that these two great Christians did not always sit comfortably together - there were places where they rubbed and clashed against each other. Just like every family :-)
So today - wherever and whoever you are the good news is that:
'Nothing you've seen - nothing you've been.
Neither height, nor depth, nor power or principality,
Nothing in heaven or earth,
Can separate you from the love of God'
(Romans 8 - RVV*)
So take heart in the fact that God is there for you - forgiving and seeking to have not just a relationship but to have a working relationship with you.
Please pray for those men and women who have, and will be, ordained or priested during Petertide that they will preach the word in and out of season without fear, corruption or error.
Please pray for the whole Church that it will also act with courage and compassion without error or fear.
Pray for yourself, and others, who might be unable to make it to church that the blessing of God might be upon you, and them, and that His healing and enabling might be ours!
The angel who talked with me came again, and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ Then the angel who talked with me answered me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.
‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’ Then I said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ And a second time I said to him, ‘What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?’ He said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.’
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever. As the hills stand about Jerusalem, so the Lord stands round about his people, from this time forth for evermore. The sceptre of wickedness shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous turn their hands to evil.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are true of heart. Those who turn aside to crooked ways the Lord shall take away with the evildoers; but let there be peace upon Israel.
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.
The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, ‘Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ Peter went out and followed him; he did not realise that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church, inspired by their teaching and example, and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
who on the day of Pentecost sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame, filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit strengthen us to witness to your truth and to draw everyone to the fire of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
*RVV - Revises Vic Version
ps.The three questions: Do you love me have greater import in that the 'love' response from Peter is a different word (and type) each time - this is an encounter that seeks total commitment and love, something Peter struggles his way towards with his responses. Just like us - he doesn't come easily!