January 28, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 1 - Peter, the Spokesman

Run-of-the-mill. Rag-tag. Bumbling. Sinful. Faithful. Brave. Great. All of these are words that could be used to describe the twelve disciples of Jesus. Commercial fishermen from the backwater towns. IRS workers. These were the kinds of “ordinary men” (as John MacArthur calls them) whom Jesus selected to be His first and most significant followers. In many ways they were a lot like us. Normal Joe’s who, indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus, had the potential to become great in God’s kingdom. If they were alive today, their names would probably be Tom, Dick, and Harry. Jesus seemed to pick them almost indiscriminately. That is, He chose them, not because of any innate potential in themselves … but to demonstrate His power to change and use any life – no matter how normal or sinful.

Do you want Jesus to change and use your run-of-the-mill life? If so, there is a great deal to learn from the ordinary Joe’s whom we call the Apostles. My hope, for the next dozen or so weeks is to present them to you, in miniature. Twelve thumbnail sketches of twelve mediocre, sinful, great men … beginning this morning with, perhaps, the greatest (and most obviously sinful) of them all – Peter, the Spokesman.

If you know anything about Peter, you probably know that he was a fisherman … and that he was a bit impulsive, too – diving into the water, for instance, when he saw Jesus on the shoreline, while the other disciples rowed calmly to shore (John 21.7-8). His impulsiveness was especially evident in his speech, wasn’t it? It was Peter who rebuked Jesus (God’s own Son!) when He prophesied His death at the hands of the religious leaders (Mark 8.31-34). It was Peter who, on the mount of Transfiguration, began blurting out architectural plans instead of worshipping the glorified Jesus (Mark 9.1-6). It was Peter who boldly proclaimed that he would never deny Jesus (Luke 22.33). And it was those same bold lips that, just a few hours later, could be found cursing and playing dumb about the Christ.

It was Peter’s tongue that made him so peculiarly bumbling, wasn’t it? It was Peter’s tongue with which he seemed most prone to outward sin. And yet it was also Peter’s tongue that wooed three thousand people to the feet of Jesus in a single sermon (Acts 2). And it was Peter’s tongue that first took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 10). What happened? Peter’s tongue came under the Lordship of Jesus! Slowly the impulsiveness was washed away … and gave way to a more holy boldness. Jesus did not give Peter a whole new human personality. But He did redirect the focus of Peter’s confidence in a totally new, Godward direction. He took Peter’s quickness to speak his own mind, and turned it into a readiness to preach the gospel! And He took Peter’s audacity and made it courage.

This last point comes into stark relief when we read the accounts of what happened to Peter after the close of the New Testament. Ancient historians report that Peter went right on preaching … not only in the territories of Galilee and Judea, but also as far away as Rome … where he was martyred. And in his newfound holy boldness, Peter ventured to speak one last time … not another rebuke or set of denials. But a simple, bold appeal: ‘Crucify me upside down. I am not worthy to die in the same manner as my Lord.’

May it also be so in us! May the Lord mercifully cleanse and redirect our sinful defects … and make our lives and lips beautiful for Jesus!

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