18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal region) shall not overpower it [or be strong to its detriment or hold out against it]. (Matthew 16:18, AMP)
“You are Peter,” Jesus says, “and on this rock I will build My church.”
But wait a minute. Isn’t this the same “rock” that, later, denies Jesus? Three times?
Isn’t this the same “rock” that believed in Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk on water? But then doubted anyway and proceeded to take a storm bath?
Isn’t this the same “rock” that Paul called out as a hypocrite?
11 But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11-13, ESV)
Denial? Doubt? Hypocrisy? Three things I know I struggle with on a daily basis. How about you?
Though as you read through, did you notice the common theme weaving its way through all three? I didn’t either at first. Yet within each example of Peter’s shortcomings in faith and confidence is one prevalent, underlying premise: Self preservation!
Worry; about his safety, about his protection.
Worry; that he would be overwhelmed, either with crashing waves or a thrashing mob.
Worry; that he would be exposed as one of “them” to the wrong crowd, or that he wasn’t keeping up proper appearances to the right crowd.
Instead of living outwardly in his faith and beliefs, he chose to hoard them inwardly, stuffing them inside, covering them, rebuffing them; worried more about what the world would do and think than what Jesus was doing, or what he, Peter, would or could reflect of his Savior. To me, it brings to mind this verse:
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19, NIV)
Again, to me though, this is a dual-edged sword. The moment we identify ourselves as Christians, the world unfurls this laundry list of preconceived notions about who we are, our beliefs, our intentions, and so on. Right, wrong, or indifferent.
But have you ever gotten into a discussion on beliefs with a fellow Christian? Yeah, me too. Often with not much different results, am I right? Now you know how Peter felt on the arrival of the “certain men [that] came from James…”
Do you have certain beliefs and certain understandings of Scripture that may differ from some of your fellow believers? Have you been called out for it (or as they like to put it “speaking the truth in love”)? Do your beliefs follow on your understanding of Scripture?
Have you prayed about it?
Through all of that, do these beliefs still seem right to you?
If your answer is a resounding “yes” to all of these, I have a word of advice for you:
Stand tall! Stand strong! Go ahead and eat with the Gentiles. You may be exactly where God wants you to be at this very moment in your walk of faith.
And if you still have questions, if you still doubt, if there’s that nagging little ‘something’ in the back of your mind that goes, “wweeeelllllllllll”, when you think about certain beliefs or understandings, stand strong in those as well. God’s not done with you, or any of us for that matter.
Don’t Worry; The Holy Spirit will form those up within your mind at His good time.
In fact, I don’t think I could put it any better than Mr. Peterson does in his Message version of the Bible as he completes the story in Galatians 2:
14 But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
15-16 We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.
17-18 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.