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Friday, October 26, 2012

Peter the Apostle

The Stuff of Scars

"And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" John 1:42 NIV (which, when translated, is Peter).

Both Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) mean "rock" or "stone".

I have always found it immeasurably comforting that Jesus gave Simon the name "Cephas," or Peter, before Cephas had done much of anything. Before Peter had even determined to follow Jesus, let alone serve him and love him as the Christ, before Peter had muttered his denials of knowing Jesus or had one of his moments of blurted insight, before Jesus had reason to call Peter "Satan," Jesus called him the "rock" (John 1:42).

What does this say?

First, I believe it shouts of God's sovereignty. God knows who we are before we know ourselves. God can use us in spite of ourselves. God is sovereign over our failures and our successes. But secondly, it reminds us that we are more than the sum of our blunders and failings, as well as our victories and our bright spots. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Before we had a chance to prove ourselves, before we had a chance to fall on our faces or say something smart, God knew that He would need to die for us, and did.

Peter is the disciple that makes many of us feel okay. He is a loud statement to the hopeless, to the skeptic, and to the guilt-ridden that the Father can take our doubt, our regret, the hopelessness of our past or our present, and create in us something solid by giving us Himself. In Peter we also find that pains of regret and faithlessness may leave scars, but that scars can be powerful reminders of the living hope we profess: the Word that will not wither (See 1 Peter 24-25). Through Peter, God encourages the weary. Through our scars, Christ heartens us to see a God very much in control.

Even so, when we look at our own moments of faithlessness or foolishness, our scars of humiliation, or the bitter sting of missed and lost opportunities, it is hard to see much beyond regret and remorse, even if we know Christ has forgiven us. Can there be more to see in the weight of our past, the pains of childhood and the wounds of life, the glimpses of guilty motives and poor behavior? The testimony of Scripture is that yes, very definitely, there is.

For arguably, Peter's passion for Christ was largely shaped by that which the pain and humiliation of denying Jesus rightly reminded him: "If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for God cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). Our scars are similar. Some of my own scars simply remind me that I am alive, living within a fallen world, participating in this fragile thing called life. Some remind me that I am not an island, that I need people, that I desperately need a savior, that I need God in all that I face. Still others remind me that I am healed and being healed. But all of my scars can remind me, as they did Peter, of the sovereignty of God and the weight and responsibility of the hope which I profess. "Do you love me?" asks Jesus. "Yes, Lord," responds Peter. "Then feed my sheep."

When Jesus appeared to the gathered, frightened disciples after his resurrection, he said to them, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see" (Luke 24:39). The frightened disciples had gathered together to discuss the rumors some had heard that Christ was alive and out of the grave, risen from the cruel death they witnessed days ago. They were disoriented and afraid, and Jesus said to them, "Look at my hands and my feet." And to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side" (John 20:27). To his closest friends, Jesus said, "Look at my scars, see that it is me. Recognize me by my scars; they will point you to God."

Christ was recognized by the scars that marked his body, and shouted of his love. As the powerful lyrics of musician Michael Card exclaim, "The marks of death that God chose never to erase/ The wounds of love's eternal war/ When the kingdom comes with its perfected sons/ He will be known by the scars."

Like our own, but far beyond this, the scars of Christ point us to a sovereign God who goes great lengths to touch our disfigured world and scarred souls with his holy hands. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed long ago, "He was crushed for our iniquities. By his stripes we are healed." No doubt, it was this piercing reality of Christ bearing the scars of our sin, carrying our pain, and taking our shame, that Peter bore in mind as he dynamically instructed, "Throw all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7). For Peter, of all people, knew.

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