One thing about the people God chose to use in the Bible is their absolute human imperfection. Even those that God used mightily had warts and the Bible really doesn’t do anything to hide those warts. As a kid, I used to wonder why some of these people were considered giants of the faith, they were stupid a lot and, through ‘happenstance,’ good things sometimes occurred because of them or through them.
Or despite them.
The apostle Peter was one of those guys I secretly thought foolish. Of all the apostles, he was the one who was constantly shooting off his mouth, making promises that he never should have made, looking for applause when no sane person would think he’d done anything that good to begin with.
I mean, there’s Peter, boasting to Jesus that he’s willing to forgive his brother seven whole times. (Matthew 18:21). And Jesus says (in my paraphrase, obviously) “not only seven times, but EVERY time, Peter. You’re not supposed to count the times you forgive.” (Matthew 18:22).
Then, there’s the most classic Peter-foot-in-mouth: his betrayal of Christ. At the last supper, Jesus tells them all that they will all flee when he is betrayed. Ten of the disciples sit there and maybe ponder Jesus’ words.
Peter; however, opens his big mouth, “not me. No way, no how.” (Matthew 26:33). I imagine that he felt he knew himself better than anyone in the room and, being impressed with himself, felt he could say this and make it be true.
Jesus tells Peter that, actually, that very night, Peter will deny he even knows who Jesus is … not once, not twice, but three times before the rooster crows. Peter, still racing with his foot in his mouth, declares in front of everyone, “there’s no way. I’ll die before I disown you.” (Matthew 26:35). Then, in the garden, he actually cuts off someone’s ear.
But, we know what happens. Maybe not even 6 hours later, Peter is huddled among the crowd in the dark while the Jewish leadership accuses Jesus and decides he should hang. Peter’s waiting to see what happens. Somebody recognizes him as a guy who used to hang out with Jesus. Peter denies it. Somebody else says they think they saw Peter with Jesus. Peter denies it. A little while later, somebody else says they’re sure Peter is part of Jesus’ gang. Peter, a fisherman by trade, starts swearing like a sailor, concluding his impromptu string of obscenities by saying, “I don’t even know the man.” (Matthew 26:69-74).
I wonder if the crowing rooster cut off the last syllable of Peter’s denial.
Fast forward to after Jesus’ resurrection. Fast forward to Pentecost. Here we have Peter, betrayer of everything he claimed he would die for, forgiven and reinstated, giving a speech in Acts 2. This man who was obviously non-courageous on the night of the crucifixion, gets up in front of everyone and declares the gospel: Jesus was a man. He worked miracles. He died on a cross. He was raised from the dead. “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:37.
This speech was pretty simple, really. It’s not lengthy. It doesn’t have a lot of persuasive argument and, coming from a former fisherman from a hick-town in Israel, it probably wasn’t given with the rise and fall of an eloquent politician.
But, God used this speech. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
Three thousand people believed in Jesus and were baptized that day. (Acts 2:41).
I’ve shared the gospel a few times with people. I have never had four people decide to follow Jesus as a result of my sharing, let along three thousand. I’m not sure anything I’ve ever said has cut anyone to the heart.
But, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t because of Peter that the people responded the way they did to his sermon. Peter stood up and opened his mouth. It was God who moved the people’s hearts.
Unlike my young self, I don’t look down on Peter anymore. Maybe I’m more honest about my own problems these days … I have my personality warts and I do things I shouldn’t when I know better. I speak when I shouldn’t. I’m pretty good at running around with my own foot in my mouth and eating crow later.
Maybe, if I just get out of the way a little bit, God will use my open mouth for his good purpose. So, I’ve begun to wonder, how can I better get out of the way? How and when shall I stand up and open my mouth to give God room to move?
I’m not sure I have answers yet, but I think these are good questions to ask. And, so, what about you?