Letters to the Prison - Week 66

Hello, everyone!  Last week, we saw how, in the face of the very difficult things Jesus said, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).  His words were “spirit and life” (John 6:63), but they wanted earthly things.  They were in it for what Jesus could do for them now in this life.  This was a terrible betrayal; disciples who claimed to follow Jesus turned away when they weren’t getting (or hearing) what they wanted.  Is that like us?  Are we in danger of doing the very same thing today?  We have to ask this question seriously and carefully.
And, we can really only ask ourselves.  That point will become very clear very soon.
Meanwhile, the conversation continues:
•So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”-John 6:67
It’s clear here that there were many more than twelve disciples before this conversation began.  That helps us to understand how Jesus’ disciples were able to distribute the massive amount of food Jesus provided to 20,000 people in the wilderness, as we saw earlier (John 6:1-15).  We should also understand that the twelve people Jesus is speaking to now aren’t the only ones who stayed with him at this moment.  Acts 1:15, Luke 24:33 and Acts 1:22-24 give us glimpses of other people who followed Jesus besides the twelve who were likely present with them when Jesus said these things.
Anyway, more important than all of that is how Peter responds to Jesus’ question:
•Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” -John 6:68-69
This is Peter’s great confession.  First, he asks a rhetorical question:  To whom shall we go?  He’s saying that there’s no where else to go for what Jesus has.  And what does Jesus have?  Peter answers it:  Words of eternal life.  Here Peter confesses that his (and our) only hope of eternal life is in Jesus and the words he has spoken.  
What Peter says next is interesting in a number of ways.  First, he isn’t just speaking for himself.  When he says “we have believed,” he’s acting as a sort of spokesman for the rest of the people gathered there (the twelve disciples, several important women and more than a few others who remained with Jesus).  Peter was clearly a leader of this group.  
That Jesus is the “Holy One of God” is not a new concept for us.  But notice that Peter makes a distinction between believing and knowing.  He says, “we have believed and have come to know” who Jesus is.  In one sense, this means that our belief in Jesus is both a one-time event and an ongoing occurrence.  We believe at first that Jesus is who he says he is.  But as we walk through this life with him, we also come to know he is who he says he is.  This is a picture of the transformative relationship each believer has with Jesus.  Our belief changes everything about us, but not all at once.  It is a process of growth that happens over a lifetime of following Jesus.
In another sense, it’s a little (but not entirely) like the brake pedal on a car.  We believe it will stop the car when we step on it.  Otherwise, who would ever start to drive in the first place?  But when we actually step on the brake, then we know that it works… we experience the car stopping.  Our “faith” in the function of the brake pedal is confirmed by our experience.  So, we believe it works, but then we come to know it works.  In like manner, Jesus’ disciples believed what he said, but then their beliefs were confirmed by their experience of him… his love and wisdom… and the many works he did… and the profound change they experienced in their lives.  We get to witness those changes, especially in the life of Peter.  We’ll see some amazing moments in Peter’s life of faith in Jesus.  We’re observing one right now, in fact… with many more to come in this study.
We today get to have the same experience as we learn about Jesus through his words as recorded in the Bible.  Then, while we live our lives, we see that every word he speaks and every word about him is true.  What the Bible says explains the reality we experience every day better than any other source out there.  So, we grow to trust it.  And we can be sure that Jesus is way more reliable even than the brake pedal on our cars!  Jesus and his words to us in the Bible will never fail.  They are always trustworthy.  Always true.  Take courage in that truth!
So, in this moment, we catch a glimpse of Peter’s belief.  Yet we will see him make many grave mistakes.  We will see him proclaim bold things only to fall on his face.  We will see his faith fail.  Yet we will also see him forgiven, restored, and used magnificently in service to Jesus.  This is all to encourage us to remember that we too make terrible mistakes.  We too sin horribly, even after we profess to believe in Jesus.  But that’s not the end of our story.  Jesus offers us the same love, forgiveness, discipline, comfort, restoration, encouragement and fellowship that he offers to Peter.  So, as our study continues, we encourage you to pay close attention to how Peter and Jesus interact with one another.  We can learn a lot about our own walk from Peter’s example.
One key lesson we can learn right now, tragically, is that while Jesus knows the hearts of all men (John 6:64), Peter does not.  He just spoke on behalf of the whole group that remained with Jesus after the departure of all the fake disciples (John 6:66-69).  Sadly, his assessment of the beliefs of the other people who remained there was tragically inaccurate.  How do we know this?  Because Judas, the one who would one day betray Jesus, was still there among them.  And, even Peter’s opinion of the strength of his own faith is off the mark substantially, as we will eventually see.  
John too was there…  the one who wrote the gospel we’re studying.  And he didn’t see Judas coming, either.  He writes from a perspective that looks back on what Jesus says at this moment and recognizes his own inability to accurately judge the hearts of men:
•But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)        -John 6:64
Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray him.  But People like Peter and John didn’t know.  This is a dire warning to those of us who think they know the hearts, minds, and beliefs of other people.  We are not equipped to accurately judge others.  This is why Jesus expressly forbids it (Matthew 7:1).  Next week, we will consider Judas’ great conspiracy.  We love you.

Dean A.

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