I want you to step into your imagination for a moment. Imagine you’ve never heard about the Bible; you know nothing about it at all. You and I are talking, and I explain that this is a magnificent book that contains incredible stories. It’s filled with violence, sex, hate, greed, and much, much more! But when you step back and take it in as a whole, you’ll discover it’s really a love story about reconciliation. In our conversation, I give you just enough information to whet your appetite, and then I hand you a copy of this amazing manuscript for your very own. In your eagerness to discover the treasure, you open the Bible to Acts 2, and here’s what you read:
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!… Acts 2:14-15
Right off the bat, you get the idea that there’s something exciting happening. This character, Peter, addresses a large group of people that must have been at some huge party. You continue to read.
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Acts 2:23-24, 32
Now, this is really getting interesting! Apparently, a bunch of people brutally killed someone that somehow escaped death. Fascinating!
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41
In just a few minutes, you’re hooked! The description you heard about this book is beyond comprehension. This guy, Peter, must be one of the main characters, someone who is amazing. After his speech, thousands of people are converted. Peter is incredible, right?
The very same man you admire here was afraid to admit he even knew Jesus just a few months before the event you’re reading about now. Take a moment and think about what you were doing 10 weeks ago. Here’s an example of Peter about that same timeframe:
And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. Luke 22:55-57
A servant girl called him out. Peter would go on to deny Jesus two more times before sunrise. You probably know the story.
It gets worse. Sometime earlier, Jesus was trying to explain to the disciples that he would have to die on the cross for all the world when Peter objects:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:22-23
Peter rebuking Jesus. Yep, this is the same Peter in Acts 2. Well, it is the same person, but something has dramatically changed.
Frankly, I’m surprised that Jesus didn’t eliminate Peter from the select group of disciples at this point. He is unworthy to be on the shortlist of leaders from all accounts, let alone the primary preacher we are currently reading about.
Take a look at moments before that last quote from Matthew:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:15-18
Which is it? Peter, the Rock, or Peter possessed by Satan? Crazy, isn’t it?
Through all of the ups and downs we watch Peter go through, we get a glimpse of our own shortcomings. I’m most certainly not trying to compare myself to the Apostle Peter, but the stories presented in the Bible give me hope. If someone as hot-headed as Peter can become the pastor we see in Acts, there is hope for each of us.
Here’s the challenge, the main purpose of this post. While we’re quick to write ourselves into the story and show gratitude for God’s grace and mercy, my goal here is to help us see the Imago Dei (image of God) in every person we meet.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to men and women from various helping agencies from Anderson, South Carolina, who do this very thing. Those they serve daily may not look like Peter today, but they are served with respect, love, and kindness, for each has been created in the image of God. And what God creates is not just good; it is very good indeed. If time would have permitted, I could have gone around the room and shared an example of those who were transformed, who probably looked like Peter in his early days. Myself included. The sin that held me in its grasp has been forgiven, but more than that, the man I am today is no longer tainted by my past failures. Jesus has forgiven me. He stands ready to forgive you and anyone else who repents and receives the gift so freely given.
The outward appearance of many we meet might not look like a powerful disciple of Christ, but let’s learn to look beyond current circumstances and see the potential that exists in each person through the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray we can see the potential future that resides in every person we meet, a story that looks very different than the one that defines them today.
Jesus could have easily dismissed Peter from the disciples, but our Lord is gracious, abounding in love. He was able to see what Peter would become. I believe we have the privilege of reading about Peter throughout the Gospel accounts (and Acts) to inspire us to disciple others.
May we look at those we meet, wealthy or poor, in the mistaken eyes of our society and see who they can become, who they really are in Christ Jesus. Let us be a people that help people find their identity in Christ for his sake and God’s glory through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31