Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 1, part 1

Originally posted September 15, 2017, at Women of Purpose

This is the first of a series that I have written to go along with the studies which I have been blessed to teach at my church, Christ Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels, Texas. The studies began in September 2017. I will import them in the order they were written to this blog now that we are in the home stretch of our studies at church. I pray that they are edifying to any who read, and that they point you continually to Christ. BA

Welcome to the beginning of our new Bible study! This year we will be focusing on the life, letters, and Lord of the Apostle Peter. We will be learning more about our Heavenly Father, his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessed Holy Spirit through the experiences and teachings of the brash, impulsive, bold, and passionate Peter. In this first lesson, we follow along as Peter rises from fisherman to follower, and then falls from fearless spokesman to devastated denier. We will watch as the Lord Jesus molds and shapes the man he has chosen to shepherd his flock. And in these episodes, we will see the love that our Lord, the God-Man, has for Peter, his disciple and friend. We will also see the love that our Savior has for us, as he identified with us in our humanity, humbling himself to serve those he created, gently leading and teaching those to whom he would entrust his flock.

We began by walking through several well-known episodes in the gospels where Peter is progressively learning about who Jesus is as his Master reveals himself by degrees. Observing Peter’s impulsive responses to Jesus, and his continued misunderstanding of him becomes a mirror in which we see our own impulsivity and misunderstandings. These also shine a light on the patience of our Lord as he gently leads his disciples toward understanding who he is and what his mission is, despite the weakness of their faith and confusion regarding the Messiah.

In Luke 5:1-11 we see Simon (the professional fisherman) being told by Jesus (the one-time carpenter and now itinerant preacher-healer) how to do his job. This isn’t the first time they have met. It’s not even the first miracle witnessed by Simon. In chapter 4 of Luke Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. That was well and good, but now he’s meddling in Simon’s profession. Simon knows how to fish, and when Jesus tells him to go out at the wrong time of day to the wrong spot on the lake to catch fish, after he had fished unsuccessfully all night, it must have hit a nerve. But faith—or curiosity—took the upper hand. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (5).

To Simon’s surprise, the nets filled with so many fish that he had to call out his partners to help them fill the boats with the catch, filling them nearly to the point of sinking. At this, Simon realizes that he is faced with no mere preacher, but one who knew where the fish would be—and is therefore omniscient—or called the fish to the very place they shouldn’t have been—in which case, omnipotent. His response is immediate and deeply felt: “he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (8) In this response we see Simon’s “sincere and humble recognition of his own unworthiness as contrasted with Christ’s greatness and holiness.”[1] Impossible to remain neutral: when Jesus then calls Simon, James, and John to follow him, they drop everything and follow.

Our next peek at the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter is in Matthew 15:22-33 when the disciples have gone ahead of their master across the lake in a boat while he has spent the evening on the mountain by himself, praying. Jesus then goes to his disciples, walking across the lake to reach them where they are in the boat, “beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them” (24). The disciples, naturally, cry out in fear, thinking they are seeing a ghost—wouldn’t you?! But Jesus reassures them that it is he, upon which, Peter asks him (for the sake of reassurance, for the sake of the adventure, for permission or power?), “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (28), to which Jesus says, “Come” (29).

Peter, being Peter, gets out of the boat and walks across the water to his Lord. But when he becomes aware of the wind and the waves he begins to sink. (Curiously, he only begins to sink, I see myself under the water at the first step…) He cries out, and the Lord—who Peter now realizes commands not only the living fish beneath the waves, but the very molecules of water upon which he walks—reaches out with his hand to save him (though he could have caused the water to lift him up and back into the boat), saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” (31)?

In this we see Jesus’ power and love gloriously manifested. He walked across the water to be with his disciples when they were in a difficult circumstance. From the mountainside as he prayed he saw them struggling below with the wind and the waves and he went to them to strengthen their faith.

Focusing on the fearful circumstances around us may cause our faith to falter, but our Lord, in reassuring words of assurance and love, reaches down and takes us by the hand even as we feel ourselves sinking and by his might he carries us to safety. Rather than being disappointed by our small measure of faith, our Lord gently strengthens our faith. Our response ought to be that of the disciples’: worship.

We turn next to Matthew 16:13-20. There’s a lot here, so let’s begin with the whole passage:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And 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. 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. I 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.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Jesus, gradually approaching the subject, asks the disciples who others say he is, and then, “But who do ya’ll say that I am?” (v. 15, Texas translation[2]). Simon Peter steps forward as spokesman for the rest of the twelve, after all, it’s what he’s good at, right? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this occasion we see Peter making not his first, but his most complete profession of faith. “When Peter declares Jesus to be ‘the Christ’ he means the long awaited Anointed One, the One who as Mediator was set apart or ordained by the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be his peoples’ chief Prophet…, only High Priest…, and eternal King.”[3]

In declaring that Jesus is “the Son of the living God,” Peter is saying that “Jesus is, was, and always will be the Son of that God who not only is himself the only living One, over against all the dead so-called gods of the pagans, but also is the only source of life for all that lives.”[4]

Jesus answers by emphasizing first Peter’s humanity, “Simon Bar-Jonah” meaning, Simon-son-of-Jonah (or more to the point, “man-son-of-man”), and then rejoicing that this understanding had been revealed to him by his Father in heaven—as is always the case when a Believer comes to a knowledge of the truth. In this gift of faith Simon—and every Believer—is truly blessed!

And now Jesus drops Peter’s new name firmly on him: with meaning. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” There are many interpretations of this passage which, for the sake of space I won’t explore here.[5] I will go straight to the view held by William Hendriksen as given in his commentary.

Jesus is telling Simon, the man: who by nature is weak and unstable, that he will build his church upon him as he is as a product of grace: Peter, the Rock. “By grace he has become a most courageous, enthusiastic, and effective witness of the truth which the Father had revealed to him with respect to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. It was in that sense that Jesus used Peter in building—gathering and strengthening—his church.”[6]

This authority isn’t given only to Peter, but as he is their spokesman it is conferred upon him here and later given to the rest of the twelve (18:18). Jesus is also not saying that Peter will be the primary foundation of the church. Jesus Christ is the primary foundation of his church (1 Corinthians 3:11), its head, Master, and its Lord. Indeed, in the passage from Matthew Jesus says, “I will build my church” (18). “It is a great comfort that Jesus considers this church ‘his very own.’ Did he not come from heaven in order to purchase his church ‘with his own blood” (Acts 20:28)?[7]

In another sense, however, it is entirely appropriate to say that Peter, and the rest of the apostles, are the church’s foundation because their purpose is to point to Christ as the one and only Savior and call others to believe the gospel. It is in this sense that Paul writes of the church as “the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21[8]). And so we see here that Peter was Christ’s own instrument for the establishment of the New Testament church, as he took his stand as one of The Twelve.

Next, we observe that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church)” (18). This is great encouragement to know that Christ’s church will be victorious over the forces of Satan and his minions. In fact, it reads as if the church is on the offensive, and not the other way around. Through the gospel, the church is storming the gates of hell and leading captives to the light and salvation of Christ! Jesus is not locked in some sort of cosmic wrestling match with the devil; Jesus is the victor and the devil roams about tormenting the church, but his is a lost cause. The end has already been decreed by God and is now being worked out in time and space. The battle is already won.

And now, Jesus continues addressing Peter as representative of the disciples when he tells him, “I 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” (19). One who holds the keys of heaven determines who is allowed to be admitted and who is forbidden admission. This refers not to an earthly judgement of worthiness to enter, but to the Gospel Gate, the narrow way by which all who enter heaven must pass. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The Gospel is the key. The Heidelberg Catechism[9] deals very clearly with this subject on Lord’s day 31, Question and Answer 84:

Q. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and closed by the preaching of the gospel?

A. According to the command of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel. The kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent. According to this testimony of the gospel, God will judge both in this life and in the life to come.[10]

What about binding and loosing? This passage is referring to beliefs and actions which are forbidden (bound) and permitted (loosed) in the church of Christ on earth. Those who continue to do or believe that which is forbidden in Scripture, who refuse to repent, are to be disciplined. Those who do repent from their evil ways are forgiven and welcomed into the fellowship of the body of Believers. Again, from the Heidelberg Confession 86:

Q. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by church discipline?

A. According to the command of Christ, people who call themselves Christians but show themselves to be unchristian in doctrine or life are first repeatedly admonished in a brotherly manner. If they do not give up their errors or wickedness, they are reported to the church, that is, to the elders. If they do not heed also their admonitions, they are forbidden the use of the sacraments, and they are excluded by the elders from the Christian congregation, and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ.[11] They are again received as members of Christ and of the church when they promise and show real amendment.[12]

Who would be teaching and writing the doctrinal guidelines for what is forbidden and permitted in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Apostles! Peter and the rest of the apostles would teach, admonish, and direct the founding of the church, and, aided by the Holy Spirit, in view of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, they would write or oversee the writing of the rest of the Bible.

Peter goes straight from this high point to missing the point again entirely. We read in the next passage, Matthew 16:21-23, that Jesus, having his true identity revealed to the disciples by his Father, begins gently to explain to them what his mission as Messiah means. Their assumption that the Messiah was to be a sort of military and/or political ruler is turned on its head when he tells them that, “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed…” (21). Peter, however, has this figured out. “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’” (22) Jesus; response was swift and uncompromising, “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” (23).

How’s that for whiplash? Poor Peter, misunderstanding everything again. By presuming to “rebuke” the Messiah (do we even need to explore how absurd that is?), he is asking Jesus to deviate from the mission he has prepared for from eternity past. The cross has been the focus of his mission to save for himself a people from before time began. It was told by the prophets and shown in the law; the entire sacrificial system alone testified to the need for a substitutionary atonement! Isaiah testified about the man of sorrows who would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities by facing the horror of the cross.[13] And here comes Peter, saying, “Oh no, not that, you’re not going to do that!”

Peter didn’t realize it, but in his denial of the Messiah’s mission, he was asking for his own damnation.

Jesus, however, understood his mission, and in his unflinching rebuke of Peter we see that he will not be sidetracked on his journey to the cross. He recognizes the temptation spoken by Peter as the voice that has been dangling temptations to sin before mankind from the beginning. Does not Peter’s rebuke sound like the temptation of our first parents? “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1)? Jesus, did God really say you need to die? That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think? Surely there’s another way… Jesus had already faced Satan after his 40 days in the wilderness, when, though in a weakened condition, he fought back against the devil’s darts with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). Now his friend stands before him speaking with the same forked tongue.

To imagine there could be any other means by which the Messiah would accomplish his mission was to be thinking earthly thoughts. But as the Lord reminds us through the prophet Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

There is one more thing that Jesus told his disciples in this passage which must not be missed. He told them that, “on the third day (he would) be raised” (21). He knew that they would miss this as their minds grappled with what he was telling them. Just like the rest of it, they simply weren’t ‘getting it.’ But he tells them anyway. Hendriksen asks:

“Shall we say, then, that these words of Jesus were futile, since they were not understood? Not at all. Because of the very fact that the disciples did, after all, hear these predictions, and heard them not just once but with increasing clarity three times in the three lessons on the cross, it was possible, after the resurrection, for the angel(s) and for the resurrected Lord himself to refer to them (Matt. 28:6; Luke 24: 6-8, 45, 46). Those reminders served, as it were, to pull the rope that caused the bell of memory—a memory deeply rooted in the subconscious area—to ring forth, so that faith was strengthened (John 16:4).”[14]

With this telling of his coming resurrection, Jesus was planting a seed of hope which would spring forth into bloom when they needed it—and they would need it.

Now we read of the transfiguration of our Lord in Mark 9:2-10. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where he was transfigured before them, his clothes becoming whiter than white as the radiance of the light of the world shone through. Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus. We are told that Peter, though terrified, didn’t know what to say. But that didn’t stop him. “And 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’” (5). Before Jesus could answer him, a cloud came down upon the mountain, and a voice from the cloud, saying, “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him” (7).

The Old Testament imagery is already before us in the presence of Elijah—representing the prophets—and Moses—representing the law—and now we see in the cloud the presence also of Almighty God, as he appeared to Moses and the tribes of Israel as they wandered for 40 years in the desert. This God who spoke to Israel through the law and the prophets is now investing his Son, Jesus Christ, with the authority to speak, and Peter, James, and John—and we—are obligated to listen to him. Jesus charges them not to tell anyone about what they have seen, “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead,” (9) another missed reference to his resurrection.

We turn next to John 13:1-17

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. . . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him… (1-7)

Based on his own sure knowledge that he is the heir of all things, Jesus takes on the role of a servant for several reasons. Having been invested with all authority in heaven and on earth, and knowing that he had come from heaven and would soon return there, it subtracted nothing from him to humbly serve his disciples. Humility was part of his mission, after all. Paul tells us that, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

The washing of the disciples’ feet was also a symbol of the washing which they—and we—must have if we are to have any part in him. Peter protested, not realizing what was happening, “Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet’” (8-10), To be “in Christ’ we must be washed by his blood. As John elsewhere writes, “the blood of Jesus (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Without this washing, we have no share in Jesus. This washing of regeneration, once received, is enough: we need no more and will get no less than that which Christ sufficiently provides. Having been justified once, all our sins are forgiven forever.

Finally, this humble service by Jesus was an example for the disciples. These men, after all, as we see in Luke 22:24-27, have been anything but humble. While they have been arguing about which of them is the greatest, their Master and Lord is preparing to teach them how prideful and arrogant they are. When they entered the room, there was no servant standing ready to wash their feet, as was the custom. The basin and the towel were there, and it ought to have been one of the Twelve who took it upon himself to perform the task. But, no, instead they arrogantly argue among themselves and ignore their duty. Paul introduces the passage in Philippians 2 on Christ’s humility by exhorting Believers to follow his example. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who…” (Phil. 2:3-5). If we have benefitted from the loving humiliation of our Savior, shouldn’t we also stoop to serve others?

Due to several unforeseen interruptions in my week, I have been unable to finish this first post in a timely manner. Rather than sliding to a sloppy finish, I will break here and get this posted, returning to finish with part 2 in another day or so. Thank you for your patience—this is all such good stuff, I don’t want to skimp on the summary!

[1] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1978), p. 284.

[2] This is a plural “you,” addressing all the disciples, not only Peter.

[3] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1973), p. 643

[4] Ibid., p. 643

[5] For a more in-depth discussion, see William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1973), pp. 645-647.

[6] Ibid., p. 647

[7] Hendriksen, p. 648.

[8] See also 1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Peter 2:4, 5.


[10] Matt. 16:19; John 3:31-36; 20:21-23.

[11] Matt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:3-5; 11-13; II Thess. 3:14, 15.

[12] Luke 15:20-24; II Cor. 2:6-11.

[13] Isaiah 53

[14] Hendriksen, 654

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