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Peter Disowns Jesus October 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:69-75.

Summary: In this passage, one of Caiaphas’ maids mockingly states that Peter has been with Jesus. Peter denies her assertion.

This assertion is repeated twice by others outside Caiaphas’ house; each time, Peter denies it. He also:

  • makes a personal pledge of truthfulness before God
  • pronounces death upon himself at the hand of God in the event that he is lying.

After his third denial, a rooster crows, causing him to recall Jesus’ prediction of his denials and weep audibly.

Thoughts: Here, Peter emphatically disowns Jesus. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We see a man who had followed Christ for three years, and been forward in professing faith and love towards him – a man who had received boundless mercies and loving kindness and had been treated by Christ as a familiar friend. We see this man denying three times that he knows Jesus! This was bad.

This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Peter reveals his unrighteousness. Indeed, he – along with James and John – was especially close to Jesus, possibly viewing himself as the leader of the Twelve. In light of this fact, his denial of Jesus was egregious. We see that none – not even His closest disciples – were willing to take a stand for Him as He endured unjust suffering and punishment. This shows that even His closest disciples were in need of a Savior; even they needed His complete righteousness to cancel out their complete unrighteousness.

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Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial October 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:31-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that His disciples will be trapped because of Him – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 13:7. In particular, Peter will even deny that he knows Him.

His disciples – led by Peter – respond by asserting that they will die before allowing themselves to be trapped in this manner.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus’ disciples – who have just celebrated the Lord’s Supper with Him – affirm their loyalty to Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It shows us plainly that we must not make great knowledge and great strength of grace an indispensable qualification for communicants. People may know but little, and be no better than children in spiritual strength, but they are not on that account to be excluded from the Lord’s table…Doubtless we must do all we can to exclude unworthy communicants: no graceless person ought to come to the Lord’s Supper.

While Ryle’s latter suggestion is sound, I am unsure as to how a church would actually implement it. As a longtime churchgoer, my impression is that churches are generally more liberal – not conservative – when observing the Lord’s Supper. Some presiders will note that one should be a baptized believer in order to receive Communion – yet I have never seen a Communion server prevent an attendee from receiving the Communion elements. It seems that churches trust that the recipients of the Communion elements have already assessed their own spiritual state. This raises the following questions:

  • if a Communion server actually prevented an attendee from receiving the Communion elements, how would that attendee respond?
  • if that attendee were to raise a ruckus, would that affect the other recipients of the Communion elements?
  • should churches continue to trust that God will judge those who receive the Communion elements in an unworthy manner?

The Temple Tax June 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:24-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Capernaum. Some tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus pays the Jewish tax relating to the temple, and Peter responds in the affirmative.

Later, Jesus asks Peter if a king would collect taxes from his family or from strangers. Peter acknowledges that the latter is correct; thus, since Jesus is the Son of God, God would not collect taxes from Him. Yet He chooses not to offend the Jewish tax collectors.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is willing to pay the Jewish tax relating to the temple, even though He is not obligated to do so. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us remember this passage as citizens and subjects. We may not like all the political measures of our rulers; we may disapprove of some of the taxes they impose. But the big question after all is, Will it do any good to the cause of religion to resist the powers that be? Are their measures really injuring our souls? If not, let us hold our peace, “so that we may not offend them.”

I should note that after I registered to vote about ten years ago, I began to think more seriously about politics and the impact of my vote on an arbitrary election. Since I would like to optimize the allocation of my financial resources for God’s glory, I often wrestle with the following questions as a voter with a Christian worldview:

  • should we combat fraud and waste by our lawmakers?
  • when faced with a tax hike, should we support it?
  • does God call us to oppose certain ballot measures and/or political candidates?

Regarding the third question, I posit that there is general agreement on certain issues (e.g. opposing child sex trafficking), but other issues open up a can of worms (e.g. assisted suicide). I still believe that voting is consistent with God’s desire that believers fulfill their civic duties, though it’s often difficult to know if God is pleased with my final ballot.

Jesus Predicts His Death June 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:21-28.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins to privately instruct His disciples, stating that He will obey a divine imperative to:

  • go to Jerusalem
  • be tried by the orthodox religious leaders of Israel
  • be murdered
  • be raised up in three days.

Peter responds by vehemently asserting that this divine imperative is incompatible with his conception of the Messiah.

Jesus is cognizant of Satan’s attempt to work through Peter to ensnare Him; thus, He rebukes Satan.

He then asserts that those who come to Him must:

  • deny that they have the capacity to save themselves
  • be willing to endure persecution for His sake.

Indeed, those who live only to save their physical lives will lose their spiritual souls, but those who are willing to lose their physical lives will save their spiritual souls. This stems from the fact that He is about to reward – and judge – all men according to their deeds.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus stresses the centrality of suffering in the Christian life. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It is good for us all to see this point clearly. We must not conceal from ourselves that true Christianity brings with it a daily cross in this life, while it offers us a crown of glory in the life to come. The self must be crucified daily; the devil must be resisted daily; the world must be overcome daily. There is a war to be waged, and a battle to be fought.

This raises the following question: as believers, can we actually crucify ourselves on a daily basis? We occasionally deny ourselves, e.g. by making a decision to forgo a diversion of some sort. Yet it is difficult – if not impossible – to consistently forgo such diversions. How can we resolve this tension in our relationship with God? One thought is that we should not expect to live perfectly on a daily basis. Another thought is that at the end of each day, we should ask: what have I thought, spoken and/or done today to please God? Instead of focusing on the negative – denial of self – perhaps we should focus on the positive – indulgence of God.

Peter’s Confession of Christ May 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:13-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples travel to Caesarea Philippi. He asks them for the general opinions of men regarding His identity; apparently the public has not come to a consensus on this point.

Then Jesus asks them for their opinion on this point. Peter responds by asserting that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus approves of this assertion and responds by asserting that:

  • Peter will receive all of the divine blessings that His Father can provide
  • He will continue to build His redeemed people on the truth concerning His identity
  • death cannot hold His redeemed people
  • His redeemed people have the authority to declare His Father’s assessment of the actions of others.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter asserts the divinity of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

People forget that it is a widely different thing to believe in Christ’s divine mission when we dwell amid professing Christians, and to believe in it when we dwell amid hardened and unbelieving Jews. The glory of Peter’s confession lies in this, that he made it when few were with Christ and many against him. He made it when the rulers of his own nation, the scribes, priests and Pharisees, were all opposed to his Master…

This passage reminds us that Peter, for all his faults, said – and did – many things to advance the kingdom of God. Now we know that we express our faith among other believers with alacrity; for example, we passionately express our trust in Christ when we sing praise songs during our worship services. Yet this raises the following question: should we passionately express our trust in Christ when we interact with nonbelievers? On a related note, if (or when) we are plagued with doubts about honoring Christ in a secular setting, can we still advance His kingdom in such instances? Many of us are averse to conflict; moreover, even if we welcome it, we can sin in the midst of it by attempting to elevate ourselves above others. Truly we need His grace to live wisely among those who do not share our trust in Him.

Jesus Walks on the Water May 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:22-36.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus displays His sovereign authority by thwarting the attempt of the crowd that He has just fed to enthrone Him. He also commands His disciples to leave Him and cross the Sea of Galilee, where they are caught in a violent storm.

He then appears between 3 and 6 a.m., walking on the water. This miracle throws them into a state of panic. Peter seeks His protection from the violent storm and begins to walk to Him – yet he, overcome by fear, begins to sink. Jesus rescues him; the disciples worship Him as one with God.

He and the disciples finally arrive in the land of Gennesaret. All who are ill in the countryside come to Him. Upon touching Him, they are instantly made totally well.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter began to sink when he was overcome by fear. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

What a lively picture we have here of the experience of many believers! How many there are who have enough faith to take the first step in following Christ, but not enough faith to go on as they began. They take fright at the trials and dangers which seem to be in their way. They look at the enemies that surround them, and the difficulties that seem likely to beset their path…

My experiences indicate that Christians occasionally derive amusement from Peter’s tendency to speak and act rashly. One thought is that as Christians, we should be more humble when we encounter his words and deeds in our studies of the Gospels. Indeed, we often declare our willingness to follow Christ when we sing praise songs – but are we willing to act on this declaration when confronted by trials and temptations? Can our deeds match our words when we are plagued with doubt? Instead of elevating ourselves above Peter, we should continue to ask God for His grace so that we can make progress in our walk with Him.

We also see that Jesus miraculously walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a violent storm. It is tempting to read this passage, hastily acknowledge that this miracle occurred, and dismiss it from our thoughts. Yet this miracle compels us to consider the following dichotomy:

  • the universe is a closed system that is based on immutable laws
  • Christ is willing and able to circumvent the laws of the universe.

Our finite, earthly minds struggle to resolve this dichotomy. Perhaps this miracle should also spur us to ask the following questions:

  • if God is omnipotent and unchanging, how does He exercise His power in our modern context?
  • if God continues to exercise His power, does He choose to work through us in that regard?
  • how can we allow Him to exercise His power through us?

The Calling of the First Disciples November 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus calls the following pairs of brothers as His first disciples:

  • Peter and Andrew
  • the sons of Zebedee – James and John.

These fishermen willingly abandon their livelihoods and follow Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter, Andrew, James and John all obey Jesus when He calls them to follow Him. This spurred me to consider how God calls modern-day believers to follow Him. Note that Scripture does provide general guidance along these lines, including:

  • Ephesians 4:1, which states that God has (generally) called all believers
  • Matthew 22:37-40, which states that believers should love God and love others
  • Matthew 28:19-20, which states that believers should spread the Gospel message.

Yet believers throughout the ages have had difficulty discerning their specific calling from God. While we sense that we have certain gifts and inclinations, if we are unaware of our specific calling, we may not know how to put them to good use. Now I should note that some of my friends have received a specific calling from God and responded by changing their careers and/or moving overseas. In general, they did not hear an audible voice from God; instead, they sensed that God was drawing them in a particular direction. For example, they saw Him at work when they:

  • were laid off from a cherished position
  • engaged in a deep conversation with a missionary on home assignment.

Over a period of several months – or even years – they prayed and sought the counsel of others before gradually arriving at the point where they could take a dramatic step in the direction of fulfilling a specific calling. Their experiences remind me that I should continue to pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment. I pray that if/when He calls me in a new direction, I would be able to sense His calling and respond appropriately.

The Council at Jerusalem September 2, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 15:1-21.

Summary: In this passage, several Jewish believers came to Antioch and asserted that if the Gentile believers did not obey the Mosaic law, then they were not truly saved. That assertion aroused the ire of Paul and Barnabas, who went to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with the apostles and elders. At that meeting, Peter supported the position of Paul and Barnabas by citing his recent experience with Cornelius and his relatives in Caesarea. James also supported the position of Paul and Barnabas, quoting from Amos 9:11-12 – where God asserts that He will include the Gentiles in His new spiritual kingdom. James was also keen to avoid offending the sensibilities of Jewish believers, though, and so he recommended that the Gentile believers abstain from certain practices.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that the believers in Phoenicia and Samaria rejoiced when they learned that many Gentiles had accepted the Gospel message. This caused me to ponder a disappointing fact: I am rarely joyful when I hear that someone has accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is due – at least in part – to skepticism, as I have heard various accounts of new believers drifting away from Christianity. I sense that God is calling me to be mindful of the following truths:

  • we are not assured of our salvation until we see Him face to face
  • we should praise Him whenever the Gospel message is preached, even if those who initially accept it eventually reject it.

This passage highlights a watershed moment in the history of the early church, where it was determined that a Christian did not need to observe the Mosaic law in order to be saved. Calvin offers some thoughts on this momentous gathering in Jerusalem in his commentary on verse 12:

This is a living image of a lawful council; as soon as the truth of God comes to light, it stops all controversy. And when the Spirit presides, he is effectual enough to put an end to all disagreement, because he is able to direct the tongues of those who should be leading others, as well as to keep the rest obedient so that they are not too wedded to their own wills, but will lay aside their stubbornness and obey God.

The idea that one needed to obey the Mosaic law in order to be a genuine Christian is one of the earliest – if not the earliest – heresies in the church; Gentile believers through the ages should be grateful to God and His good work through the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in this instance. Indeed, when we ponder the entirety of the Mosaic law – especially the two greatest commandments, which concern the heart – it is evident that even attempting to obey it would be onerous.

In verse 20, we see that James recommends that the Gentile believers abstain from four practices, including sexual immorality. Calvin offers some thoughts on James’ inclusion of sexual immorality in his recommendations:

There is a harder question here, because James seems to be counting this among things that do not matter, which they must be careful about simply in order to avoid giving offense…Moreover, I think he was not talking about fornication in general but about concubinage, which was so common as to be the rule among the Gentiles.

Interestingly, the ESV and the NASB versions of this verse reference sexual immorality and fornication, respectively. Now I think that it should have been obvious to the Gentile believers before the events of this passage that they needed to abstain from sexual immorality. In fact, I assume that Paul and Barnabas warned the believers in Antioch accordingly during their extensive stay at that church. Thus, I am eager to meet James in the next life and determine the precise meaning of this verse.

Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison July 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 12:1-19a.

Summary: In this passage, King Herod began to persecute the church in Jerusalem; in particular, he executed James – the brother of John. He also imprisoned Peter, planning to execute him after the Passover feast; this spurred the church to pray earnestly for Peter. On the night before his execution, God sent an angel to free him from prison. He then went to the house of Mary – the mother of John Mark – and recounted this miracle to the astonished believers who had gathered there to pray for him. In the morning, King Herod executed the prison guards for their ostensible negligence regarding Peter.

Thoughts: In verse 5, we see that believers prayed fervently for Peter. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

When we see our brothers persecuted by the wicked for preaching the Gospel, we must not be lazy and unmoved by their danger, or we shall be cheating them of the love we owe them and treacherously abandoning the confession of our faith. If we have common cause with them and especially if they are fighting for our safety, we forsake not only them but also Christ and ourselves.

While this passage demonstrates that God will overcome all of the obstacles that sinful men place in His path, it also demonstrates that earnest prayer plays some role in this regard. It is clear that when believers are persecuted, God calls their brethren to pray earnestly for them – as that action will bring more glory to Him when He defeats the persecutors. As a believer in a First World country, this passage is a helpful reminder for me to pray for my brethren in nations where religious freedom is not protected by laws.

I certainly hope to meet the servant girl Rhoda in the next life and learn more about her. If she was a believer before the events described in this passage, then how did she hear the Gospel message? Was she confident that God would perform a miracle and free Peter from his impending execution? Did she join the believers at Mary’s house in praying fervently for Peter? How did she respond to Peter’s account of the miracle that God performed? Did she help spread the Gospel message in Jerusalem and bring others to faith after the events described in this passage?

Peter Explains His Actions July 22, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 11:1-18.

Summary: In this passage, Peter went to Jerusalem – where he was criticized by several Jewish believers for associating with Gentiles in Caesarea. He responded by:

  • furnishing a precise account of his experiences in Joppa and Caesarea – including the fact that the angel who appeared to Cornelius stated that Peter would preach a message of salvation to his family
  • citing the authority of God in giving the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his family – just as He had given the Holy Spirit to the Jewish believers.

The Jewish believers responded by withdrawing their accusations and praising God for His work among the Gentiles.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the angel who initially appeared to Cornelius stated that Peter would bring a message of salvation to his family. I wonder when Peter learned this fact. This verse implies that Peter first heard it when he met Cornelius; if so, why did Cornelius not tell his messengers to relay it to Peter? Did God – in His infinite sovereignty and wisdom – determine that it was best to keep it from Peter until he arrived in Caesarea? I hope to probe Peter and Cornelius on this point in the next life.

In verse 18, we see that the Jewish believers withdrew their objections to Peter’s conduct in Caesarea. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The outcome shows that Peter’s opponents were not moved by malice. Their example teaches us not to despise people who criticize wrongly because of misguided zeal; their conscience must be pacified by the Word of God – they are being tested to see if they are teachable.

This spurred me to consider my willingness to admit ignorance – especially in the workplace. I am fairly confident in my knowledge in certain areas; occasionally this confidence morphs into arrogance. Thus, it is difficult for me to admit weakness when it turns out that my understanding is flawed. I have heard that an admission of ignorance is a sign of humility and maturity, and so I need to be less concerned with asserting my intellectual superiority over others. I pray that God would continue to guide me in that regard so that I can be a better witness of His superiority in all things.