“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Among the last words of Jesus Christ to His disciples were a promise, a gift, and a commission. The promise was that the Disciples would receive power in order to be effective witnesses. The gift was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The commission was to go into the entire world preaching the gospel beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. I suspect that, initially, the disciples might have wanted to avoid the city of Jerusalem because it was the scene of their greatest failure.
When people fail they want to run away. People are always running. Adam and Eve ran away from God. Jacob ran away from Esau. The Prodigal Son ran away from home. Paul and Barnabas ran away from each other after a controversy over John Mark. All through the Bible stories are recorded of people running away from the place of emotional, and mental, anguish. It is much easier to run away, than to face up to our failures.
Just outside the City of Jerusalem, the night Jesus was arrested, the disciples of Jesus ran away from their Master. They had left Jesus to die alone. The disciples did not mean to desert the Lord, especially Peter. Peter had purchased a sword in case there was any trouble.
“Look Lord, at what I have,” he had said.
Jesus had answered,
“Peter, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”
Peter planned to defend to the death anyone who tried to hurt Jesus. Peter had boasted, “Though all others be offended at you, yet I will not leave you!”
Poor Peter. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak, and in the critical moment of being loyal he failed the test. When Jesus needed a friend, Peter was found missing. Courage left the disciple faster than wind going out of a sail. Peter left Jerusalem.
“I go fishing,”
he said. He wanted to get away. We all want to get away from the scene of our failures. Sometimes we go on a long vacation. Sometimes we just pack up, and leave the area. Sometimes we change jobs. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said,
“I want you to go back to the place of your failure.”
But why? Why did Jesus send the disciples first to Jerusalem? If I were there, I might have said,
“Lord, let us go to the uttermost parts of the world. Then we will in time find our way back to Samaria, Judea, and maybe Jerusalem.”
Jesus would have no argument. He would teach His disciples, and they must learn the Jerusalem Principle, which is simple enough, face up to your failures. I have yet to meet a human being that does not struggle with facing up to failures. The heart grows stubborn. The spirit grows harder. The mental barriers go up.
A verbal torrent of words comes cascading down to defend attitudes, and actions, that are really defenseless. Self is always right, others are always wrong. The heart will admit to the general principle of being imperfect, and making mistakes, but when it comes to specifics, there is something very resilient about the heart to confessing failure. Just ask Peter, outside Jerusalem, before Resurrection Sunday.
“Peter, will you confess to denying Jesus? There is a report to that effect. Did you really say to a servant girl, ‘I never knew him?’ Peter, did you really curse and swear to press the point?”
Peter might have responded.
“You do not understand. Life changes. Circumstances are different. There was no other alternative. If I had not said what I did the soldiers would have arrested me. I would have lost everything. Do you want me to be crucified? Do you want me to die?”
“Peter. How about your character? Do we not lose the essence of life through acts of verbal betrayal, not speaking the truth, and cursing?”
Peter, outside Jerusalem, prior to Resurrection Sunday, might have feebly tried to press his position for just a little while longer. His moment of expediency was existential. He might have wanted to convince others of the rightness of his actions, and so we hear Peter saying,
“Perhaps you do not understand. The situation, which involved the servant girl, just happened. In the Garden, I did take my sword, and I tried to split open the skull of a man, but I missed, and only cut off his ear. Jesus healed the servant’s ear, and they took the Lord away. In the confusion, and tenseness of the moment, the soldiers allowed me, and the other disciples to escape. I was loyal up to that point. Then there is something else. For three years I walked, and worked with Jesus. I was with Him at the beginning of His ministry. We should talk about that.”
“Peter, as commendable as all these things are, what are you going to do about this current problem.”
“Problem? I have no problem. I was with Jesus in the Garden! Who do you think you are, anyway, to stand in judgment upon me? You do not know what I am up against! If you were in my place you would have done the same.”
“Peter, there is another report, that after you denied Jesus three times, a cock crowed. That was a very unusual time of the day. Some say that at that very moment, Jesus, who was nearby, managed to turn, and look at you. Peter, did all that happen?”
“Yes, Jesus did turn, and He looked at me. He did not say anything. He just looked at me.”
“Peter, what do you think Jesus meant by that look?”
“I wish you had not asked me that question. It is all so painful. I do not want to talk about this anymore.”
“Peter, come, be a man. What do you think Jesus meant with His look? What did His eyes tell you?”
“The eyes. Ah, the eyes. The eyes of Christ could always see past a person into the very soul. You ask me what I think the look of Jesus meant. I will tell you.
First, His look had the, ‘I told you so,’ expression. In the Upper Room, during the Last Supper, when I made my vow of loyalty, Jesus had warned me to be careful. Jesus had said that I would deny Him three times, but the thought was inconceivable to me. ‘Never! Never!’ I cried. It was unthinkable. But the Lord was right. He had told me so.
Second, His look was a look of disappointment. Even though Jesus knew that I would fail Him that knowledge does not, and did not, take away the pain. Jesus was disappointed in me.
Then third, there was something else in His eyes, forgiveness. In that very hour of His impending death, I know that Jesus was saying to me, ‘Peter, I can forgive you, and I do.’”
“Peter, I want you to know how much I appreciate your honesty. As we talk, I can tell you, sin has changed you. Like all of fallen humanity, you are flawed, but Peter, I can tell by the redness of your swollen eyes that you have wept bitter tears over your sinful behavior.”
“You will never know how sorry I am for doing what I did.”
The Bible tells us that forty days after Peter’s acceptance of his responsibility for his attitude, and actions against Christ, Jesus told him to do something about his failure. Peter was to go back to Jerusalem, and he was to face the people he had fled from. Peter’s willingness to be obedient required four things.
First, it required humility. It took humility for Peter to go, and appear in the place of his failure.
Second, it required great moral courage for Peter’s return. Moral courage stands in distinction from physical courage. Moral courage is manifested when a person stands up for a great principle. In this world, moral courage is rare. People tend to be more interested in tactics than in being committed to high principles of conduct. Principles can be sacrificed upon the altar of expediency unless absolute truth, and honesty are embraced.
It has been said, that, If there is nothing worth dying for, then there is nothing worth living for. Peter found something, and Someone, worth dying for. The gospel of redeeming grace captured his heart to the point that Peter was willing to forsake everything, to be in the sphere of the ministry. Peter was willing to risk his life to go back to Jerusalem, where emotions still ran high against Christ and His followers, and say to those who gathered,
“Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:14b-15; 22-24).
Peter found the courage to return to Jerusalem. There, God entrusted him once more with the gospel of redeeming grace.
Then third, it took great faith for Peter to go back to the place of his failure. When problems arise, the first thing that is lost, is faith. For just a little while, Peter lost his faith, and it all happened so suddenly with the arrest of Jesus. What could be done? There was only one answer: find Christ. Peter had to find Christ afresh. Three days later, he did. Peter found his Shephard. He found the Lord, or, more accurately, the Lord found him. “Go tell Peter,” said Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, “I will meet with him.”
By way of application, Christians today need the Shephard. We need Christ. We need His wisdom. We need His protection. We need His comfort. We need His love. We need Jesus. We need His power to forgive. We need something else. We need to obey Christ. Listen to Jesus as He tells us that He wants us to go back to the places of our failure, and find the humility, the moral courage, and the faith to minister afresh.
There was one other thing Peter had to have in order to be able to return to the place of his greatest failure. Peter needed the power of the Holy Spirit. The flesh has never been able to overcome one sin, or do one thing that is God honoring. The flesh is not just weak, it is wicked. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
The Christian must walk by the power of the Holy Spirit. After Resurrection Sunday, Peter did walk by the power of the Holy Spirit because of the Divine promise that the Holy Spirit would come, and also because of something else. Peter knew his own heart better. No longer would the Apostle boast. No longer would he swagger, and dream visions of self-grandeur. No longer would Peter pick up fleshly weapons of warfare to fight carnal battles. There was still weakness in Peter. Old sins are not destroyed easily, even after drastic experiences. But, fundamentally, Peter was a changed man after Resurrection Sunday. Peter was transformed. He obeyed Christ, and he waited with a longing heart for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Jerusalem Principle is still in operation today. When you and I come to the resurrected Christ, He will tell us to face up to our failures. By facing up to our failures, there will come forth from the renewed heart, true humility, moral courage, renewed faith, and fresh power, from the Person, and work, of the Holy Spirit.