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Lenten Perspectives: Peter, Luke 22:24-62

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Luke, chapter 22, and we’re going to start reading in v. 24.

This has been a week of preparation in our family, which is very appropriate to the lenten season we find ourselves in. My brother’s going to have a baby tomorrow—I’m not prophesying the future, they’re having to do a c-section, and you schedule those, so tomorrow it is. We spent a lot of our week getting ready. I’ve been helping put together new furniture, and my parents are coming in town and are staying with us, so Anne-Elise has been in-law panic cleaning.

Lent is a time of preparation, of fasting and waiting. Fasting reminds us of our dependence upon God alone. This kind of waiting, this observance of the church calendar, teaches us that our lives are built around the things God does in the world, not human events; he is the only one who knows how many days we have left, and what they will bring.

We’ve decided, through the season of Lent, to follow individual people through the last week or so of Jesus’ life, to see through their eyes the events which brought our savior to the cross to die in our place—just as he died in the place of each person in the passion narrative. My hope is that we would begin to see pieces of ourselves in each of these men and women, so that we might understand in new and more personal ways what it means that Jesus died on the cross for us, in our place and for our sake.

We started by looking at Caiaphas, the hight priest and ruler of Jerusalem, who in order to keep his throne and his priesthood, decided to kill the true king and high priest over the people of God. Jesus, though, took everything Caiaphas meant for evil and intended it for good. Jesus gave up his throne, bore our shame and sin, became unclean, and died to save his people.

And we looked at the apostle John, who through Jesus’ death was adopted into his immediate family, taking Jesus’ place. Jesus died to give John family and a place; so he calls to each of us to recognize in the church our mothers and sons, sisters and brothers.

Last week, we looked at Judas, who was dissatisfied with God as his portion. He wanted more—more money, more religion, more revolution; and we are the same. We are so often dissatisfied with what Christ calls us to do, and who he calls us to be, dissatisfied with the servant’s humility and quietness to which he calls us. But Jesus died to offer us a chance of redemption.

This week, I want us to remember Simon Peter, remember his denial of Christ, and remember the road Jesus led him down.

Read with me, Luke 22, verses 24-62: a longer passage, forgive me, but it’s so good, and all driving at the same point, so I didn’t want to leave anything out. Luke writes, [Luke 22:24-62]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father God, your plans don’t make sense to us, but they are good; Christ, thank you for walking the road you did; Holy Spirit, we praise you for calling us to walk the same way; we pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

If you’ve been here the past few weeks, you know what I’m about to say: we are Peter. We are Peter. When Peter denies Jesus, we should hear in his denial our own daily denials, our own rejection of the road Jesus walks.

So you guys know how I obsess over whatever books I’m reading, and then I quote them in my sermons? So I’m reading this book by James K. A. Smith called On the Road with St. Augustine, talking about Augustine of Hippo, a saint of the church, a medieval theologian, who traveled incessantly in his life, always on the road to the next big city where he could be at the center of things; so my mind is obsessively thinking about life as a road. And I’m realizing, most of my favorite books are about the road, the journey of life. Lord of the Rings, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and then one of my favorites is just literally named The Road. So this morning, I want you to imagine Peter’s life, and your own, as a road, a way, a journey.

If you’ve been in church for a while, of course, you’ll know that this is not a new way of thinking. Christians love the words road and journey; we use them all the time. If you’re a Christian, and you want to say something in your life has been really hard, you say “it’s been a journey.”

But the road or journey metaphor can be found all through Scripture, too—and when Christianity first started, before the word Christian came into common use, people who followed Jesus called themselves “followers of the way.” We’ve always been on the road with Christ. The Bible is full of road images, like God’s word being a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, or John the Baptist crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” and then of course there’s Jesus’ famous parable about the wide and narrow gates.

He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus imagines life as a journey to a specific destination, and his warning is to go along the hard road to the narrow gate.

It reminds me of my cousin Rachel. She grew up in New Orleans, city girl, and they moved when she was in—I think it was middle school—to Greenbrier, Tennessee, which is a town that is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve driven the road from New Orleans to Greenbrier many times; their house was my way stop in college whenever I came home to NOLA, and the drive is about eight hours. For the first seven hours of the drive, it’s what you might expect—interstates, cities here and there.

And then that last hour, you drive through downtown Nashville, which is beautiful, by the way, and filled with music and life, and then to get to Greenbriar, you keep going North, past Nashville, past the suburbs even, off the interstate, and onto a country highway, where you pass smaller and smaller houses, and they get further and further apart. Eventually, on this country highway, there is a single stoplight for the whole town of Greenbrier, and you take a right at the stoplight, drive another mile or so, and that was their home until just this year, they just moved.

The way my aunt tells it, my cousin Rachel was pretty content with the drive until the country highway, and she got nervous. I don’t know what the city girl expected, but she started asking, “Where are you taking me, where is this new house?” And around about the turn at the single stoplight, there was a farm on the side of the road, she’s looking out the window frantically, and she says, “Mom, that’s a goat. I’m not living here.”

Peter does, in many ways, the same thing in his life. The first part of following Jesus, the first leg of the journey, seems to go just fine. Jesus is teaching, performing miracles, and crowds begin to follow. Peter is in the inner circle, and Jesus begins trusting him with more and more responsibility. One day, Peter confesses that he is following Jesus because he thinks Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus says, yes, I am the messiah come to save Israel and bless all the nations. Jesus tells Peter, I’m going to build my church upon you, Peter, like the temple is built on the mountain. I imagine Peter looking around Jerusalem that day like my cousin looked around Nashville—life in his eyes, excitement, a bright future.

And immediately after Jesus tells his disciples he is the messiah come to save Israel and bless all the nations, they go up to the mountain, and Jesus is transfigured, Peter sees him in his glory, and Peter says, yes, this is it! Let’s stay here on this mountain. But glory wasn’t Jesus’ road, at least not yet.

Immediately after the transfiguration, Jesus tells his disciples exactly what he meant when he said he was going to save his people: he foretells his death in their place, for their sake. Peter rebukes him, tells him, that’s a terrible plan, I’m not living here, I want to go live on the mountain, with you in your glory, and Jesus calls Peter Satan, the tempter, and again tells them he will save his people by dying in their place and rising again. Jesus’ destination wasn’t the palace in Jerusalem, he kept walking, out of the gate, out of the city, like my cousin passing through Nashville and turning onto the country highway, and from that point on, Peter, like my cousin, starts to get nervous.

In the passage we just read in Luke, the disciples start to argue about who will be held in highest honor once Jesus comes into his kingdom—they still didn’t understand, even though Jesus had told them, what he was intending to do, what this kingdom, this destination would be like. They want to be situated at his left and right hands; they’re arguing, fighting over those places.

Peter tells him, Jesus, I would die for you, go to prison, follow you wherever you decide to go, and Jesus tries to tell him—no, you aren’t willing to follow me, not yet. You’ll deny me three times before you follow me where I’m going. Jesus knew, Peter wanted to stay on the main road and go through the broad gate.

This is what we misunderstand about the parable of the broad and narrow gates—we make the same mistake Peter is making over and over again on his road. Peter thinks the journey may be long and tiring, but eventually it will end at Jerusalem. Eventually, he’s going to walk through the broad gates of the capital city to the sound of trumpets. Church, that moment will come, but not in this life.

What Peter doesn’t realize is that Jesus’ road in this life branches from that main way. He’s not going to the capital city yet. He’s going off on the country road, just a path, really, through the mountains. It’s steep, and you’re probably not going to meet anyone of importance—all the palaces are in the city. And at the end of this narrow road, the destination is just a little town with a narrow gate. They don’t need gates big enough for horses and chariots. Just goats, and people, and little wagons. You wouldn’t even be able to get a chariot up the path—it’s knotted with roots, and it isn’t paved.

We don’t want to live next to the goats. We want to live in the city. We’re just like Peter. We dream of being at Jesus’ right hand, or at his left, and what we don’t realize is that on Jesus’ road, to be at his right hand and at his left is to be a thief on a cross. We can say all day long we want to follow him, but when it comes to it, we’ll probably deny him in order to avoid being on one of those crosses.

Even when we imagine dying for Jesus’ sake, we want to give our lives in the same way Peter wants to give his life when he tells Jesus he would die for him, when he pulls out his sword and cuts that guy’s ear off; Peter wants to be a martyr, go down in a blaze of glory, have people sing songs about him and tell their children’s children of the great love Peter had for Jesus. We, too, want to be remembered for our great love of Jesus, to have people say things like, he’s the real deal, or she gets it, or he’s one of the most godly people I know.

But when it comes to following Jesus, a lot of times we get those swords out, start fighting, and he tells us to put them away. Some of us will be martyrs, others will be leaders, but the vast majority of us are meant to give our lives in the sense of actually living our lives in quiet discipline and service in pursuit of Christ. And yeah, Peter did eventually die as a martyr, and he got to see God do incredible things, but in the in-between he was serving as a pastor for years—preaching non-stop, praying with people who are hurting, who are begging; holding church business meetings where people lie about how generous they are; he makes mistakes, forgets to care for the elderly, doesn’t delegate well, gets called out as a racist in front of his whole church—you know, church life.

We are just like Peter. We talk a big game about giving our lives for Jesus, but we deny him in little ways every day, like when we seek honor rather than service, when we try to win the fight with the friend or family member instead of winning a closer relationship, when we try to lead in the church or in our families instead of humbly following Jesus wherever he leads. When we reject the least of these because we think they can’t help us on our way, not realizing that Christ on his road is traveling among them.

Jesus is always calling us out onto the little paths where people who have never been invited to the capital live and work and sometimes sleep. He tells us that his plan is to die in shame for his people, and we rebuke him, tell him all of our plans to be honorable and righteous, happy, well-known and well-liked, and he invites us again, to get behind him and follow.

In Christ’s kingdom, in his glory, when we are raised to the restored heaven and earth, I imagine most of new Jerusalem filled with people who have never been to Jerusalem before, never walked through her wide gates, never eaten at the king’s table, never even seen the palace. Like Lewis, I imagine parades on the streets of the city as people no one’s ever heard of arrive—just brothers and sisters who lived quiet, faithful lives; people whom Jesus loved and who loved him in return and cared for the people around them.

I always imagine in heaven talking to the apostles and prophets, hearing their stories again—but have you ever thought about hearing story after story of redemption and faithfulness from brothers and sisters in every time and place who have known and loved God, people who have walked the overlooked path to the narrow gate?

Lastly, just briefly today: if we are Peter, you have to realize that when Jesus died to show Peter a different way, Jesus died to show us a different way.

There’s all types of people in our church. I love it. I imagine us all walking down the same roads that Jesus walked. Some of us, our temptation will be to go buy a house in the city with the wide gate. Maybe we fit in there, we can afford it, we’ll be welcome. We could probably live quite comfortably. The only problem is, Jesus is calling us—out of comfort, out of normalcy and status quo and safety, and all of those things. You missed a turn, he says, if you meant to accept my invitation, just so we’re clear, I invited you to my house, not your house—mine is up the steep way, unpaved, through the narrow gate, next to the goats.

Others of us are like Peter. We’re also walking toward the city, but not to buy a house. We’ve got swords in our hands, we’re here to overturn, overthrow, and to those of us marching toward the city with swords in our hands, Jesus is calling. He says, that’s enough, no more of this, put away the sword, and he heals the very wounds we thought we were inflicting in his name. Then he starts walking towards the cross and invites us to get behind him.

Others of us are just lost. We’re not even on the road, or in the city. We’re just wandering, and we can’t ever seem to reach a destination, anything to give us rest. To those of us who wander lost, Jesus is calling. He says, your heart will be restless until you find your rest in me.

If you hear Jesus calling you today, listen to him, and follow his lead. Come pray with me and start following him. Or join our church, and we can walk on the way together. If you’re on the right road, and you’ve stumbled—confess your sins, and we’ll help you back to your feet.

You don’t need to be ashamed when Jesus finds you and turns you around. No one finds the path to the narrow gate without being led there. It makes sense that you stuck to the paved road, or wandered. It makes sense, but that’s not the road Jesus walked. You can settle, you can fight, you can wander, but if your intention is to let Jesus lead, he’s calling you to take up a cross, walk right on through that city and keep going, up the path, outside the gate, onto the hill to sit at his right and left hand. Pray with me.