I remember hearing a well-known author speak about how he asks God every year for a word… and that word becomes his compass heading for the year. I liked that. I chose a word this year. The word was perspective. I am asking God to let me see things from His perspective. Some of my musings this year have been on that subject. I find it interesting how God sees stuff. Some of the conversations I have had, the people I have met, the books I have read have all been around seeing things from a different perspective. I have said before and often, “I want to learn to be suspicious of myself,” meaning that perhaps my perspective is not always right. Therefore, God’s promise to me is to provide principles that give me new perspectives, His perspectives.
The last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life were quite emotional for those close to Jesus. Jesus knows that his followers are about to have their whole world turned upside down. They will need to see things from a new perspective; though they will have to experience complete failure of their own paradigm in order to see what God sees.
Jesus’ best friend was probably Peter. Some could argue that, but there was such a wonderful relationship between Peter and Jesus. Peter was the only follower of Jesus that openly argued, asked the question everyone was thinking but too scared to ask, or simply said, “no,” to Jesus. However, Jesus picked him to lead the early church. Though Peter was probably the most outspoken and bravest of all the Jesus followers, his perspective was tainted by his own expectations, fears and ego. Peter was very much about Peter. Peter reminds me of me. Jesus loved Peter too much to let him live in this state, and He gently worked on him.
Jesus takes a risk by demonstrating the principle of truth in love. Peter, during the same dinner we call the “last supper” boldly and publicly says he will follow Jesus wherever He is going and is willing to even die for Him. I would say that Peter is hitting it out of the park. Wow, what a bold testimony… isn’t this what we want to be able to say to Jesus ourselves? Peter ought to be getting a round of applause and a fist bump from Jesus. However, Jesus rebukes him and makes a prophetic statement about Peter’s forthcoming public denial just a few short hours away. Jesus confronts Peter’s misguided sense of strength and plants the seeds for Peter’s new perspective. Peter was pridefully stating something he was completely incapable of fulfilling, an empty promise based solely on his own willpower and perceived ability, which is at best weak. Peter believed that his sheer loyalty, willpower and devotion was capable of following Jesus, though Jesus had clearly stated that no one was able to go where He was going. Jesus is God and Peter is not. Jesus loved Peter too much to let him get away with that. Sometimes I think that I can serve God, my family, my work, my community with my abilities, my discipline, my willpower, my loyalty… a lot of “my” in that thinking. The principle of truth in love can sting a little as God confronts and realigns us. However, God’s draining of our ego is always replaced with the filling of His presence, a full life.
The evening continues to progress with a very disruptive scene that occurs after dinner where the disciples go to hang out in their “happy place,” the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is not acting himself and appears to be under incredible stress. I can only imagine what Peter is thinking about His Jesus… His savior, His leader. What is going on, is he cracking up? Out of the still night a gang of soldiers and guards, some estimate as many as two hundred, burst into the scene to arrest Jesus. Peter wakes up from a dead sleep and pulls out his sword and attempts to defend Jesus… he doesn’t just talk about it; he takes action, Bravo Peter. He lunges for the nearest person and successfully slices off the earlobe of a man (meaning he was going for the neck). Jesus immediately alters the tone of this tense and hostile moment, heals the man and commands Peter to put up his sword and makes the statement that “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus is demonstrating to Peter the principal of surrender. Peter was brave; he was willing to die for Jesus, something he had stated a few hours earlier even though Jesus didn’t seem to believe him… he was proving it now baby! Really? It still is all about Peter… what Peter can do. I ask myself the question, “what is my sword?” What is it that I default to when I am afraid, when I want to prove my worth, when I am angry, embarrassed or simply confused? Everything Peter had lived for the past three plus years was being dismantled before his very eyes. However, Jesus was asking him to see it differently. Surrender was not failure; surrender was not giving up; surrender was actually winning. My sword could be my intellect, my wealth, my personality, my network, my belief system, etc. My sword will never give me what I am so desperately looking for. What is my sword and am I willing to surrender it and follow Jesus on His terms and not mine?
Peter successfully denies Jesus within the next few hours. I don’t think it is because he was afraid; I think it’s because he was disillusioned with Jesus… he “didn’t know the man.” Jesus was his Messiah and he was willing to die for Him, only to see him give up. I sometimes give up on Jesus and deny Him because He doesn’t seem to be who I think He is… a creation of my own imagination. I make up my own Jesus, and when He is not what I made him into, I get mad and deny Him… give up, indulge in sin (just to show Him). The rooster crows, and immediately Peter recognizes something that he had forgotten. Jesus had predicted this moment, this emotion, this fail. Jesus was right. He knew what was going on. He really was in control, and it had happened just as Jesus said it would. Peter is humbled, and his perspective is immediately altered as this strong, verbose and courageous man runs into the night weeping like a small child.
Several weeks later, Jesus, after His crucifixion and resurrection, meets the disciples in Galilee. Some comedic scenes occur, but it all culminates over a conversation that Peter has over an open fire where some tilapia is being cooked by Jesus himself… the perfect breakfast. Jesus publicly acknowledges, forgives and affirms Peter after Peter’s big fail. Jesus demonstrates the principle of forgiveness and restoration. Jesus probably didn’t need Peter anymore. Jesus could have easily ignored and discarded Peter as a failure, a weak man, a big talker, a well-meaning but incapable person, but He did not. How has God restored me? Is there a person that is not relevant to you and your world and yet God has asked you to restore that person, to affirm them, to forgive them and by doing so, restore them to a sense of dignity in Christ? How has God used me to restore someone who needs restoring?
In conclusion, as I follow Jesus and He instills in me His principles that are core to His character, I find that my own self-generated principles are ill-fitting. I begin to recognize that I cannot fully understand what it means to follow Jesus if I am still at the center of my world. I need God’s perspectives to replace my principles with His in order to live a full life.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.