Peter’s conundrum: living between the mount of transfiguration and the empty tomb

 

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If you’ve ever had that moment of confusion and disillusionment like Peter Pan’s kids in the Disney movie “Hook”, where someone you love and trust is given the opportunity to rescue both you and themselves, and they can’t (or won’t), then you understand the apostle Peter very well.  If you’ve ever cried, “Why not here God?” or “Why not now?” or “For me?” or “This time?” then you understand the apostle Peter’s deep struggle within the story of Easter.

Speaking out of the unshakable assurance he has now in the strength of Christ, and seeking to corroborate that truth, Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18 of his eyewitness experience of Jesus’ transfiguration. This was where Jesus, for all intents and purposes, ripped open His robe to reveal a big red “S” (or maybe a “J”) underneath, showing His inner circle of disciples that He was, in fact, God in the flesh.  This experience followed shortly after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ; the Messiah, and it must have confirmed in his mind, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus truly was who Peter had said He was.

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But all of this probably only heightened and intensified what must have felt like a hard sucker-punch to the stomach not many days afterwards, as Peter stared into the eyes of armed men and guards led by Judas Iscariot in the garden of Gethsemane.  When we read in John 18 that Peter – likely recalling that very moment on the mount of transfiguration – boldly steps forward and attacks one of the guards, cutting off his ear, only to watch in shock and amazement the all powerful God-man Jesus, whose glory he had witnessed … do nothing; to tell him to put away his sword; to look now so … so, weak and helpless.

This alone must have utterly shattered all of Peter’s confidence and trust in what he thought he knew about Jesus.  But still we see, only a few verses later, Peter huddled by a fire of coals in the high priest’s courtyard, clinging to the vestiges of hope in what he had seen on the mountain, as well as all that he had seen Jesus do before this; surely hoping against hope that now Jesus will finally burst once again from his fleshly shell and blow outta that place.  But once again Peter’s hopes are disappointed.  And more than that, now people begin to press in on him; circling around him like sharks with blood in the water … and Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

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Peter is now swirling in a whirlwind of questions and doubts; fully mind-jacked and devastated at Jesus unwillingness to show His power now and rescue both of them, or worse … unable to save them?  The fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy about Peter’s three denials only throws more wood on the fire burning inside Peter’s heart and mind, and in bitter distress and consternation, Peter runs full out into the black of night; he’s already in pitch black internally, so he may as well be there externally as well.

And then we hear, or see, nothing of Peter until after Jesus’ death; huddling in a locked room and trying to figure out where they all are supposed to go now from here.  He is not present at Jesus’ crucifixion; the sight of this would likely send him into madness.

In sermons and counselling sessions and hard conversations, we always jump quickly to say how renewed and joyous Peter was at the news that Jesus was alive; that all his dashed hopes and dreams were still very much intact; that he had been right after all about who Jesus was, and he hand’t needed to be so afraid or so full of doubt.

But what we lose in getting too quickly to that good news is that, for many many people today, this side of eternity or Christ’s return, we still – like Peter in this moment – are living between the mount of transfiguration and the empty tomb.  And we can’t see the end.  And we can’t discern God’s hand.  And our fingers are slipping from the last branch of hope.

For of course, Peter was right about Jesus.  Peter was utterly safe in this moment of his disorientation and this winter of his discontent … but, he didn’t know that he was.

And whether it’s you, or someone you’re ministering to, we must always deal with people where they are, not where they should be.  In this place where Romans 8:22-23 piercingly reminds us,

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only creation, but we ourselves, groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.”

(I love how honest the Scriptures are about suffering and pain in this life!)

But then, in that difficult place, the hope we find, or offer, in this “middle-earth” is found in the very next verses of Romans.  In vss. 24-26 we read this,

“Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

and then

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

Hebrews 11:1 adds that,

“faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Jesus tells Thomas as his own doubts are overcome,

“Have you believed because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

The most telling words, as it relates to all of this, are what Jesus tells Peter in John 13:7, before any of this confusion begins, and He surprises/offends Peter’s ideas of “what should be” again by the washing of his feet, and saying,

“What I do now you do not understand, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

The hope we can cling to, or extend to others, in the groaning; the doubts, and the pitch black, we can learn here from Peter: Jesus was no less in control of, or caring for, Peter in this moment, than He was before, or after, this crisis fell upon him.  But the experience of that hope is only found as a child, holding all the more tightly to the hand of their Father in the darkness, trusting that He will be faithful – even there – to lead them through.  The hope to be found (or offered) is in trusting His sovereign control of all things, even in the groaning, hard places.  For He is no less in control there, then He is when the path is smooth and easy.

“When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my Anchor holds within the veil.”

 

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