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A Loosened Tongue

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the rulers and to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

Because the Gospel has been realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, that reality does have a significant manner in which it is played out. Indeed, we are called to be sanctified and to be engaged in good works, these we have already seen here in Paul’s letter. What we see now is that the Christian will respond to the work of Christ with boldness due to having the freedom and confidence to enter into God’s presence through faith.

The idea of boldness — in the Greek, παρρησία (parrasia) — is not just that one has confidence and fearlessness to take an action, it also includes the notion of loosening the tongue so that it can speak freely and honestly in a given situation (John 16:29). This does not mean that the Christian is to be brash, rude, or disrespectful of others, but that the Christian will not hold back speaking truth when they are in the midst of others, not fearing hindrance of men (Acts 28:31). 

If this sort of boldness were the litmus test that was used to determine the true Christian from a false one, how would you fare? How would many in our churches fare? Do your neighbors know that you are a Bible-believing Christian? What does your silence say about your boldness? What does it say about your confidence when it comes to entering into God’s presence?

Details, Details, and More Details

“After a bit, those who were standing around went up to Peter and said, ‘Truly, you are also from them; your speech makes it evident.’”

(Matthew 26:73)

 

“But again he disowned him. But in a short while, again those present said to Peter, ‘Truly, you are from them because you are Galilean.’”

(Mark 14:70)

 

“And after about an hour had passed another was insistent saying, ‘Truly, this man was with them — he is also a Galilean!’”

(Luke 22:59)

 

“And one of the servants of the High Priest — a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off — said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’”

(John 18:26)

 

This sets us up for Peter’s third denial, but notice that this challenge to Peter is one of the reasons that doing a harmony like this can be so valuable, for each Gospel writer adds a little different piece of the puzzle that helps us to better see the whole. Mark gives us the basic account, but from Matthew we also learn for sure that it was Peter’s dialect that has given him away. This can be surmised from the accounts leading up to this statement, but here Matthew confirms that his accent has given him away in Caiaphas’ court. Remember, in ancient times, people were not nearly as upwardly mobile as they are today, so most people spent their whole lives (except for festival pilgrimages to Jerusalem) within a small radius of where they were born. Thus, a variety of accents surrounding you was more uncommon than not. Peter was from the north and that gave him away as he was trying to blend in with the southerners who were conducting this trial.

Luke, the doctor interested in chronological details, adds that about an hour has passed at this point from the previous denials. This again goes to support the premise that Peter’s disowning of Jesus was taking place while Jesus was being questioned — first by Annas and then by Caiaphas. Finally, John tells us who it is from this crowd of bystanders that speaks — it is a relative of Malchus, the one whose ear was cut off by Peter himself. I suspect that were I to witness someone attack a relative of mine with a sword and cut off his ear, that I would be quick to recognize this man, and that is precisely what happened. Peter is in hot water and when the question of “fight or flight” comes up, he chooses the latter. We criticize Peter for his fearfulness, and rightfully so, but realistically, how many of us would have acted differently?

And that is one of the principles that we must keep before our eyes — does our life present a bold witness that we belong to Jesus Christ? Or, have we kept that under wraps? Would your co-workers be able to testify that they knew you were a Christian? How about neighbors? Family members? If the answer is, “no,” then that is not the end of the world — the follow up question is just, “What will you do to correct this fault?” Loved ones, live out your faith in the public sphere — not to point a figure at yourself, but to point a finger toward Christ. This world is in need of life and hope, only Jesus can provide that hope and life — if you know that, share that. It is good news for weary souls.

A Time to Keep Silence and a Time to Speak

“But Peter followed him from a distance up to the court of the High Priest and going in he sat with the subordinates to witness the end.”

(Matthew 26:58)

 

“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the subordinates and warming himself by the fire.”

(Mark 14:54)

 

“And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down in the midst of them.”

(Luke 22:55)

 

“The servants and the subordinates were standing around a charcoal fire they had made because it was cold and they were warming themselves. And Peter was also in that place and warming himself.”

(John 18:18)

 

Probably the obvious question to ask is with whom did Peter sit? Matthew and Mark speak of subordinates and John adds servants, but the question is, who are these people gathered in the middle of the night in Caiaphas’ court. Luke implies that these were amongst those who arrested Jesus, leading some English translations to render these verses as Peter sitting with the “guards.” Yet, the cohort (the official soldiers from the Temple) seems to have either departed or faded into the background for a variety of reasons, leaving us more likely with the rabble-rousers that made up the mob that accompanied the Cohort from the temple. Needless to say that this crowd is not a casual crowd and they are anything but neutral to the events that are transpiring.

Often this courtyard scene with Peter’s denial is portrayed as if Peter is being asked innocent questions about his association with Jesus and that his denials are out of an unfounded fear of what might happen. I don’t think that is what is implied here, though. These questions come from a very hostile crowd that is wanting to see blood — thus, while we still might speak of Peter’s cowardice to follow Jesus even to prison or death (Luke 22:33), prison or death most certainly would have been the end of this night for Peter had he spoken boldly of his connection with Jesus. Peter had escaped capture in the garden just hours earlier (if that long!), it is sure that this escape was fresh in his mind and he knew the climate of the people with whom he would be mixing in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Danger was all around.

It should be noted that some English versions translate Peter as standing by the fire while the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray him as sitting. This objection, if it be a real objection, can be answered in two ways. The simplest way is to recognize that Peter first approaches the fire standing up and remains standing so long as those around him are standing. Then, as Caiaphas takes his position for the trial, people settle down and sit. Peter, not wanting to stand out chooses to sit as well. The second way — if it be a way at all — is to note that the word that John uses, i¢sthmi (histami), can simply mean to be located in a particular spot (standing or sitting). Thus, there is no real contradiction between John’s account and the account of the other four evangelists.

While these questions may be curious, there are two clauses in these verses that are very striking. The first is how Mark refers to the fire around which Peter and the subordinates are gathered. Instead of using the ordinary word for “fire,” which in Greek is pu◊r (pur), he chooses to use the word, fw◊ß (phos) — “light.” One might be tempted to dismiss this as a curiosity, that perhaps Mark was simply looking for a different word to use for variety until one points out that this is the only time Mark uses the term fw◊ß (phos) in his entire Gospel. Furthermore, this is the only occurrence in the Greek New Testament where the term fw◊ß (phos) is used to refer to a fire.

One still might be tempted to suggest that Mark is just referring to the light that is emitted from a fire to foreshadow the fact that Peter would be recognized by those around him. Of course, this is presuming that this fire is the only source of light in the courtyard, which seems to be an odd assumption as oil lamps likely would have filled the space with light. A better answer is to recall that Mark is traditionally understood to have served as Peter’s scribe in Jerusalem, and thus this gospel was written under Peter’s oversight. Thus, there seems to be the suggestion here that the one thing Peter does not intend to do (at least initially) is to hide. His presence by the fire, in other words, is not just to warm himself (though that is one of the reasons), but is also to be present “in the light” and not in the midst of shadows. Of course, Peter’s nerve is lost as the proceedings go on and he realizes that he is noticed, but it is likely that at least at first, Peter’s intent was to be visible.

The second thing of particular interest is Matthew’s statement that Peter followed to see “the end.” The end of what? If Matthew is referring to “the end” of Jesus’ life, could it have been that Peter expected Jesus to be tried and executed even before dawn? Could Matthew have been speaking of “the end” with respect to their pilgrimage from the Sea of Galilee to Caiaphas’ courts? This latter explanation seems to be a better answer to the question. And, while likely not “the end” as Peter anticipated at the time, it indeed was the end — the end of Peter being only a follower and time for Peter to stand up and lead — though that final aspect would not be fulfilled until Pentecost. Solomon writes that to all things there is a season — for Peter (and for the other 10 who remained faithful), the time of following Jesus as he walked and taught in this earth had come to an end. Soon, the time would be for him to speak — and speak boldly he would.

Fear Not, Little Flock!

Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible talks about fear? There is a fear of the Lord, which is the source of wisdom and knowledge—a fear that reflects a holy reverence for who God is. There is also a fear of the world—a fear of going hungry, not having the things we need, or of being persecuted for our faith. This is a fear that we are not to entertain in our lives, for it ruins our witness. The reason we need not fear any of these things is because we have a God in heaven who is sovereign and all-powerful and who loves us with a love that will never be lost or squandered. The pagans do not have a God who will do for them what our God does for us.

There are ramifications of leaving this second kind of fear behind. When you let go of fear and worry you also are left without excuses—you know, those excuses we all use to avoid doing what God has called us to be and to do. Notice what Jesus says immediately after these words:

“Fear not, little flock! For it is the pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”

(Luke 12:32)

In other words, it is the pleasure of God to give us—his church—the kingdom. He will use us to transform the world around us to the glory of Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise—though we are strong, we are not measured by our size, but by the size of the God who is working through us and dwelling in our hearts.

When we read these words of the Gospel, our heart ought to skip a beat! Is this what God really intends for our little church? The answer that God gives us in an unequivocal, yes! Yet, there is a catch. Jesus also stipulates a means by which he wants us to accomplish this task in the verses that follow:

“Sell your possessions and give benevolences. Make yourselves coin bags that do not wear out and an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near nor does any moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

(Luke 12:33-34)

Note, Jesus is not telling us we must take a vow of poverty—here he does not say, “sell all of your possessions.” The fact that he still calls us to have a money purse is a testimony to that. The key is what we are using those possessions to accomplish. If we pursue possessions to gain more possessions for ourselves, then the possessions become idols and distract us from God’s purpose. If the possessions are but a tool to accomplish the work of the kingdom, then God will bless their use, for your heart will reside with heavenly things, not earthly ones.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our handicap is not our small size as a church and congregation. Our Father will not limit his work based on human considerations. Our handicap is our fear of letting go with the things we treasure on earth—both individually and corporately. Remember, David did not form a committee before he went to fight Goliath—he went in the strength of God and slew him. The God that gave him that boldness is the same God that indwells every believer, there is no reason that we too should not be so bold as to engage the giants of unbelief in our day.