Coming down from the mountain
This is a written version of the talk I gave on the last night of YXL Glorieta 2009. YXL is often described as a â€œmountaintopâ€ experience, and I wanted to help us think about what it means to come down from the mountain. We spent the whole week with Pastor Stu Kerns teaching us out of the Apostle Peterâ€™s first letter. Peter himself was no stranger to mountaintop experiences, so we looked at two mountaintops in Peterâ€™s life and the difference between them.
Youâ€™ve had a mountaintop experience this week.
Youâ€™ve had a taste of what the church is intended to be. Brothers and sisters together, beholding the glory of Jesus, praying together, worshipping, eating, playing and carrying one anotherâ€™s burdens. A lot of Christian kids graduate high school and disappear from church. Maybe because theyâ€™ve never had freedom before, or because church isnâ€™t like youth group.
This week isnâ€™t meant to be youth group. We want you to have a vision for the church â€“ Christâ€™s bride. We want you to see how essential you are to it, and how essential it is to you.
Some of the greater movements of the church have been led by the youth. When you get home, donâ€™t wait to make a difference. The body of Christ needs you now, not 5 or 10 years from now. Stu challenged you to do something as simple as greeting people by name on Sunday.
The impact you have as leaders will depend very much on how you come down from this mountain.
I want to look at two mountaintop experiences in Peterâ€™s life, and see the differences in Peter at both places in his life.
Remember the story of how Jesus first calls Peter in Luke 5. Jesus is teaching a crowd of people by the lake. Simon (that was his name before Jesus named him Peter) has been out fishing with his partners James and John all night and is washing his nets. Heâ€™s probably grumpy from having come up empty. The crowd is so big that Jesus asks Simon to take him out in his boat so that people can see and hear better.
After Jesus finishes speaking, he tells Simon to go further to deep water and let down the nets for a catch. Peter grumbles but he obeys. The nets come up so full he has to call James and John over to help.
What is Peterâ€™s response? He falls at Jesusâ€™ knees and says â€œDepart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.â€ Jesus answers, â€œDo not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.â€
Why does Peter respond this way? In this moment Peter recognizes Jesusâ€™ righteousness and his own sinfulness. Itâ€™s the first step of a newborn heart.
Now letâ€™s jump forward to Matthew 16. Peter has been walking with Jesus for a while, heâ€™s part of the inner circle.
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Peter makes a bold profession of faith, and Jesus responds by declaring the meaning of Simonâ€™s new name â€œthe Rock.â€ How do you think Peter felt after that?
Now keep reading…
Matthew 16: 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
These are tough words for Peter. But hold on to this picture of Peter, weâ€™ll come back to it.
Just a few days later Jesus took Peter, James and John with him on a hike.
Mark 9: 2(D) And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
I canâ€™t imagine having an experience like this. The three fishing partners get to see Jesus in his glory, standing with two of the greatest forefathers of their faith. It seems like you would never again have trouble believing and following Jesus.
Not long after this the disciples get into an argument in Capernaum (Peterâ€™s hometown) about who is the greatest. Peter isnâ€™t mentioned by name, but he was undoubtedly part of the debate. Peter, James and John are the inner circle within the inner circle. It would be no stretch for them to consider themselves the greatest.
Fast forward to the last supper.
Mark 14:22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
OK, letâ€™s stop for a second. What does Peter have at this point?
- Heâ€™s seen his sin and repented.
- He has a relationship with (faith in) Jesus. He believes Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.
- He has a calling from Jesus.
Matthew 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
- Heâ€™s been taught by Jesus.
- He has passion and zeal for Jesus.
- Heâ€™s had a vision of Jesusâ€™ glory.
- He has natural leadership gifts.
- Heâ€™s part of a team.
It seems like Peter has everything he needs to be a sold-out soldier for Jesus.
But whose agenda is Peter focused on? Jesusâ€™ or his own?
Itâ€™s not a black-and-white answer. Clearly Peter is willing to follow Jesus, but he has his own ideas about what Jesusâ€™ kingdom is supposed to be. Remember Jesusâ€™ rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16? Peter has his mind on the things of man. He expects Jesus to re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel, and bring in a new era of righteousness, justice and peace. And guess who will be at his right hand?
One more question: Who is Peter exalting when he claims loyalty to Jesus in Mark 14:29?
We all know what happens next.
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed.[i] 69And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Even with everything Peter had in his favor, he denies Christ when the pressure is on. Peter goes from the mountaintop to the valley bottom in a night.
Fast-forward again, itâ€™s after the resurrection and Peter has already seen Jesus. Heâ€™s starting to realize that Jesus is doing something completely different than what Peter had in mind.
Peter and his former fishing partners James and John, along with four other disciples, are out fishing on the sea of Tiberias. They fish all night and catch nothing.
In the morning someone calls to them from the shore â€“Â â€œChildren, do you have any fish?â€ They donâ€™t recognize Jesus. When they answer â€œNo,â€ Jesus tells them to â€œCast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.â€
Straining with the loaded nets John turns to Peter: â€œIt is the Lord!â€
Peter canâ€™t wait for the boat. He puts on his outer garment and throws himself into the sea. He strides out of the water to find breakfast already prepared.
John 21:15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him,Â “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Three times Jesus asks Peter to profess his love for him. The first time he asks â€œdo you love me more than these?â€ Jesus is challenging Peterâ€™s former claim that he would stick with Jesus even if all the other disciples fell away. Peter doesnâ€™t answer â€œYes Lord, I love you,â€ instead he says â€œYes, Lord; you know that I love you.â€
What change do you see in Peter here? No more bold claims to superiority over the other disciples. He declares his love, but it is under submission to Jesusâ€™ sovereign knowledge of him. He knows he is fallible, that his love for Jesus is limited by his own sinfulness. But it is love nonetheless.
Do you notice how John 21 bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesusâ€™ original calling of Peter, James and John in Luke 5? Two nights out fishing with no results. Two times they are told to cast their net in a different place and it comes up full. The first time the nets tear, the second time they do not. The first time Peter is convicted of his own sin and tells Jesus to stay away from him, the second time he knows his sin and runs to Jesus anyway.
John clearly intends for us to see the parallel between these two episodes in Peterâ€™s life. What does he intend us to learn from the similarities and differences?
These are the things that seem obvious to me but this list is by no means exhaustive:
- Both marked a turning point for Peter, a time in his life when he had to leave something behind as he received a call from Jesus. The first time it was his vocation of fishing. The second time? Perhaps his self reliance? His own agenda that he had been pursuing apart from Christâ€™s?
- We can do nothing (not even the things we think weâ€™re naturally good at) apart from Christ.
- The nets donâ€™t break the second time. Why? Perhaps to show that now, through faith in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we â€œcan do all things through him who strengthens me.â€ (Phil 4:13)
- Both times he receives a call. The first time it is to â€œfollow me, and I will make you fishers of men.â€ This seems to imply more of an evangelistic mission, proclaiming the news of the kingdom of God. Peter carried this out during the time of Jesusâ€™ ministry on earth, and he continues it afterwards. The second time it is to â€œfeed my sheepâ€ and â€œfollow me,â€ implying more of a pastoral mission to lead and care for the church. Now that Jesus is returning to the Father, he extends Peterâ€™s calling as he passes on the responsibility for pastoring Jesusâ€™ sheep.
After Jesusâ€™ ascension Peter returns to Jerusalem with the disciples and waits, just as he was commanded. Fifty days after the resurrection itâ€™s the feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the wheat harvest and the commemoration of Mosesâ€™ giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Only this Pentecost God gives the Holy Spirit, to put his law in our minds and write it on our hearts in fulfillment of the covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:33.
After receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches to the crowds at Pentecost and about 3,000 people are added to the believers in one day.
Letâ€™s take a look at Peter shortly afterwards, when he and John are walking up to the temple and heal a man in the name of Jesus who had been lame from birth. The people are astounded and Peter responds by saying:
â€œMen of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And his nameâ€”by faith in his nameâ€”has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
17And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
Consider this Peter after Pentecost and compare him with the Peter we saw after the mount of transfiguration. What is the difference?
- He has a deeper understanding of his sin and his need for a savior.
- His faith has been tested.
- He knows he canâ€™t do anything apart from Christ.
- Heâ€™s focused on Jesusâ€™ agenda, not his own.
- He has a deeper understanding of his calling.
- Heâ€™s willing to wait for God to guide and act.
- Heâ€™s filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Heâ€™s prepared to give an answer for the hope he has.
Hear Peterâ€™s own words in his first letter, and think about his response to the crowds after healing the lame man:
1 Peter 3:15-17
â€œbut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and(Y) respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Godâ€™s will, than for doing evil.â€
As you come down the mountain from YXL, which Peter will you be?
- On whose agenda are you focused?
- On whose strength are you relying?
In some ways itâ€™s not even fair to ask these questions, because all of us would answer â€œJesusâ€™ agenda,â€ and â€œJesusâ€™ strengthâ€ or â€œthe Holy Spiritâ€™s strength.â€ The true answer is shown when weâ€™re tested, like Peter was.
So what makes us Peter after Pentecost?
In Peterâ€™s first letter he gives an answer from his own experience.
1 Peter 5:6-11
6(M) Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7(N) casting all your anxieties on him, because(O) he cares for you. 8(P) Be sober-minded;(Q) be watchful. Your(R) adversary the devil(S) prowls around(T) like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9(U) Resist him,(V) firm in your faith, knowing that(W) the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And(X) after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,(Y) who has called you to his(Z) eternal glory in Christ, will himself(AA) restore,(AB) confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11(AC) To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Peter could not possibly have written those words without thinking of his own story. Remember what Jesus said to Peter just before predicting his denial?
31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you[a] as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. Did it?
No, his faith did not fail. Jesusâ€™ prayer was effective. The devil sought to devour Peter. Peter stumbled, he denied Christ. He suffered under the guilt of his own sin. Afterwards Jesus restored him, confirmed him, strengthened him, and established him. Jesus, the â€œauthor and perfecterâ€ of Peterâ€™s faith, made him the Peter that we see after Pentecost.
Thereâ€™s hope for you no matter which Peter you are as you come down from the mountain.
Jesus is praying for you that your faith will not fail.
Hear that again: Jesus is praying for you that your faith will not fail. He is the author and perfecter of your faith.
1 John 2:1
1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin,(A) we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
I have one last thought Iâ€™d like to leave you with this week.
Have you been fed this week as weâ€™ve studied 1st Peter?
Think about this: Peter fed you. Just as Jesus commanded him to do in John 21. By Godâ€™s power Peterâ€™s calling has continued for 2,000 years â€“ heâ€™s still feeding Jesusâ€™ sheep. Youâ€™re part of his story.
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