Posts Tagged With: Peter

Revelation 11: A Turning Point

The-turning-point-in-relationships-signTurning points.  We love them.  Or hate them, depending on which way things turn.  When things start turning in a favorable way, they are the dawning light of a new day.  They possess hope enough to fight on.

D-Day was one such turning point.  Thursday, June 6, 1944.  Tides turned for the Allied Forces on that day.  That Hitler and the Axis Powers had gone from the hunters to the hunted was becoming clear.  However, there was still fighting to be done.  V-E Day would not be for another eleven months, Wednesday, May 8, 1945.

In many ways I read this chapter, seemingly the contents of the bittersweet “little scroll” of chapter 10, as a similar turning point.

John receives a vision of two witnesses guarded safely through a period of persecution (42 months = 1260 days = 3.5 years = time, times, half a time → were all symbolic ways to depict an indefinite period of trial, based on Daniel 8).  However, when that time period is over and their message has been faithfully delivered, protection is lifted and the people of the “great city” of “Sodom” or “Egypt” kill them and leave them for public disgrace.  After 3.5 days, the two are resurrected and whisked away to the heavens.  At this point the angelic chorus of God’s throne-room breaks into unmatched praise and announcement of a decisive turning point.  Now is the time “to destroy the destroyers of the earth” (11:18).

Who exactly are the “two witnesses”?  There are many, many interpretations.  This may be one of the most contested passages in the book.  Almost all see that the two witnesses are described as Elijah (fire devouring enemies, shut up the sky from raining, v.5-6) and Moses (water turned to blood, calling down plagues, v.6), but who or what is being referred to by these figures?  If this vision is talking about actual people, I am most drawn to the suggestion that this would be Peter and Paul, both of whom died during the reign of Nero in public ways in Rome (always the “great city” in Revelation, and understandably like the immoral Sodom and tyrannical Egypt, v.8).

Now, fifteen years later, the Jesus movement did not in fact die as one might have expected it to after the persecutions of Nero.  Almost as if it were “back from the dead,” as strong as ever before, the tables have turned.  There are dark days ahead for the seven churches addressed in this book as Domitian brings a second wave of persecution in Asia Minor, but God will see them safely through this as he did before, at least safely through the second death of martyrdom to the great reward of new life.  Rome dealt its death-blow to those brought to Christ by the apostle to the Jews (Peter) and the apostle to the Gentiles (Paul), but death could not keep her down.  The fate of the kingdoms of the world is sealed at this point.  Victory is in sight.  Rome is going down.  Rome is now the hunted.  Justice is coming.  In many ways, what we will see as we keep on reading will be the undoing of the forces of evil opposed to God.

Verse 15 may be one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible:

The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and loud voices were heard from heaven.  “Now the kingdom of the world has passed to our Lord and his Messiah,” said the voices, “and he will reign forever and ever.”

There is nothing that God is after more than the redemption of His creation — people and place.  This is the New Creation, when this world is rescued from the forces of evil and it becomes the domain of God once again.  Here in the middle of the book we are given a glimmer of the glory to come.

What do you think?

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John 21: Never the Same Again

When you really meet Jesus for the first time, your life will never be the same again.  

I trained for the ministry in undergrad.  I earned my degree in Bible and at twenty-two I launched out into the world with too many fears and too little faith.  I then proceeded for several years to run away from the call to ministry. I worked in restaurant management and then in the insurance industry.  Mainly I worked at getting a paycheck and distracting myself from the fear and inadequacy I felt about he prospect of working for a church.  Then, I could fight it no more.  At the insistence of my good wife, we moved off to Memphis for graduate school and I have been in educational ministry ever since.

I enjoyed the insurance job a great deal (the restaurant job, not so much) and could have stayed in that job for many years and many promotions, but I had a nagging sense that all I was doing was making a rich company richer.  My life was missing purpose.  I was made for something different.  I am not being dramatic when I say that there is rarely a day in my ministry career now when I would say there is no purpose to what I do; I see the point of my work by the hour practically (though not the results, often).  Still, there are days when I am tired from the pace and never-ending nature of teaching (not the kids, they are great!) that I joke with my wife that I ought to quit and go back to insurance.  Of course I never would, by choice.  Never.  I don’t think I could ever do that job again with any degree of satisfaction.

Peter had left fishing behind three years before.  Had it been a lucrative job?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it had been a job and it put supper on the table, or breakfast as this story would have it.  Then he matched off after this rabbi and his life had never been the same since.  But he blew it.  He didn’t just deny Jesus once, but three times.  How could he keep following Jesus?  How could Jesus accept him?  So he went back to fishing:

Simon Peter spoke up.  “I’m going fishing,” he said. (21:3a)

Maybe we read this and think Peter was going off to wet a line like some retired man passing some time.  But fishing was not a pass-time with Peter, it was a job.  Peter was saying, I am going back to what I did before.  I am a failure as a disciple, so back to the boat and nets.  What happens next is so interesting:

So they went off and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. (21:3b)

Peter can’t do what he did before.  It doesn’t work.  There is no going back.  He has met Jesus and his life will never be the same.  His ability to catch fish is frustrated, because he has a new purpose in life: to be a fisher of men.

Only when Jesus comes along and guides Peter’s hands again does he find success.  A night without a single fish turns into the catch of the year, only because Jesus blessed their work.  Do you really think that there was a miraculous number of fish just on the other side of the boat and they never tried that?  The point, though, is not about fish.  Peter will only find success when he is working for Jesus again.

Then three times Jesus reinstates Peter to his new ministry:

“Well, then,” he said, “feed my lambs.” (21:15)

“Well, then,” he said, “look after my sheep.” (21:16)

“Well, then,” said Jesus, feed my sheep.” (21:17)

Peter can’t go back to catching fish; he has a job to do feeding the sheep of Christ’s church.  And the rest is history. Peter’s life was never the same.

John has taken us from the beginning of Jesus’ life — actually before his birth, to the point when he created the world — to the death and resurrection of our Savior and now to Jesus as he prepares to leave the world in the hands of people like Peter.  What will they do now? History tells us that all of them went on to live radically altered lives of service and sacrifice.  Eleven of the twelve apostles will die a martyr’s death and our author John will die in exile.  John leaves the reader with the same question Peter had to answer: what do I do now?  Now that you see who Jesus really is, what will you do now?  There is no turning back.  You will never be the same again.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of John?

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Matthew 26: Two Very Different Roads Converge

We are approaching Jesus’ death and I am struck by how there are two very different roads to the same place, Mt. Calvary.

The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders are both contemplating the same event, but have very different intentions:

Jesus said to his disciples, “In two days’ time, as you know, it’ll be Passover!  That’s when the son of man will be handed over to be crucified.” (26:1-2)

The chief priests got together with the elders of the people. . . . They plotted how to capture Jesus by some trick, and kill him. (26:4)

Next, we have the two groups making preparation for death.  An unnamed woman comes to Jesus and anoints his head with very expensive perfume, unbeknownst to her as preparation for his burial.  She does this as a sign of honor.  Meanwhile, the chief priests strike a deal with Judas to lead them to Jesus in a private place so they can arrest him without a scene.  Preparations are made for betrayal.

When Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, a stark divergence is seen again.  Everyone around Jesus — including impetuous Peter — operates by force.  Swords are brandished, an ear is cut off, and Jesus is manhandled away to the house of the high priest.  In contrast, throughout it all Jesus operates by peace.  He so opposes force that he heals the high priest’s slave’s ear and chastises his own defender Peter.  These are two radically different ways of operating in the world.

Both groups see Jesus’ body as an object to satisfy a need.  For Jesus, his body is an instrument of “forgiveness of sins” and healing (26:28).  Later, as the palace guard spat on Jesus and beat him, they show that Jesus’ body is simply an object on which to show hatred and humiliation.

Yet, both of these roads end up at the same place.  However, for one it is a cross of shame, mockery, and elimination.  For Jesus it is the cross of victory, love, and forgiveness.

What did you see anew in this very familiar chapter?

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Matthew 16: Who Do You Say I Am?

“What about you?” he asked them.  “Who do you say I am?” (16:15)

This may be one of the most important questions of all time.  Maybe this is the question that all people must grapple with and answer.

For the Pharisees the answer was simple: Jesus was an ally of Beelzebub (12:24), even though all of the signs were there for them to know otherwise, Jesus says in today’s passage (16:3).

For Herod, Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead (14:2 ;16:14).

For the masses, after two miraculous feedings, Jesus was a free meal (14:13ff; 15:29ff).

For some the disciples had talked to, Jesus was another great prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (16:14).

For the disciples, Jesus enigmatically pushed them past the literal (16:7-12).

For Peter, Jesus was the Messiah . . . but not the right kind.  Jesus was the vanquishing savior here to whip up on the Romans, not die on one of their crosses (16:16, 22).

We grapple with the same question today.  Ask around.  Jesus is a prophet, a wise man, a great teacher, a crazed lunatic, a egomaniacal liar, a carpenter turned revolutionary, a revolutionary turned lover of Magdalene, a hippie, a homosexual, a partier, a beaten up hero in a violent bloodbath, a scapegoat for Jewish nationalism, a healer, a handsome emotionless guru, a meek milquetoast whipping boy, a misunderstood leader, a rabbi, a philosopher of love, a Republican, a Democrat, a Communist, a Capitalist, a vegetarian, a figment of Paul’s imagination, or some other permutation next week when another book, movie or YouTube video comes out.

Albert Schweitzer is famous for saying that the quest to determine who exactly Jesus was, apart from the Bible, is a futile one.  It is like looking down into a well; all we see is our own reflection looking back.  People have a tendency to mold Jesus into whatever we want him to be, and in the end he ends up looking a lot like us or at least what we would like to be.

Looking ahead to the account of the Transfiguration in the next chapter, God will weigh in on the matter:

Then there came a voice out of the cloud. ‘This is my dear son,” said the voice, “and I’m delighted with him.” (17:5)

Still, the question is before us today: “Who do you say I am?”

How do we fashion Jesus after our own image today?

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Acts 21: Kill Him!

Is anyone else struck by how much the account of Peter’s and now Paul’s life in Acts parallels Jesus’ life?

For instance, just in today’s reading alone, we are approaching the end of Acts and Paul is in the Temple doing an act of “purification.”  Unbelieving Jews have charges trumped-up against him.  A mob demands that Paul be killed.  Yesterday we saw Paul in a “Gethsemane moment” of solitude and a “last supper” with dear disciples in Ephesus.  Next, we will see a series of Jewish and Romans trials that are anything but conclusive.  I have never noticed this parallelism before.

Maybe the point is that Jesus’ followers will be exactly that: followers.  They will share the experiences of Jesus.

Have you noticed this?  In what details?  

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Acts 15: What Does It Take to Be Saved?

Now, that’s a loaded question!  And not one I am about to try to answer here.  But it is the question the Christians in Antioch were asking.

Grace through faith in Jesus?  Definitely!

He [God] purified their [Gentiles] hearts through faith. . . . It is by the grace of the Lord Jesus that we shall be saved, just like them. (15:9, 11)

But is there more?  At least some of the early Christians thought so:

They must be circumcised,” they [believers from the party of the Pharisees] said, “and you must tell them to keep the law of Moses.” (15:5)

Much like Acts 2, Acts 15 is one of the more significant chapters in the book.  There is so much to say about this chapter.  The chapter also produces so many further questions.  Some of these observations and questions would be:

  • When an argument ensued, they gathered together to talk it out.
  • The Scriptures played a important role in their decision-making (15:15-18), but so did the everyday ministry experiences of the apostles involved (15:12).
  • Early Christianity was diverse enough to encompass former Pharisees and former prostitutes, Zealots and tax collectors, those with a great level of obedience to the Jewish customs and those who thought those customs were largely irrelevant.
  • Even after the decision was made to disagree with the Pharisaical Christians, the apostles and elders still accept them as “some of our number” (15:24).
  • This conflict ends with feelings of “delight,” “encouragement,” and “peace” (15:31-33).
  • How did the apostles and elders making the decision know what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (15:28)?
  • Why was blood in food deemed that much more important than circumcision or the Sabbath?
  • This decision was given to Christians in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.  Was it also intended to apply to other churches too?  For instance, Paul didn’t make a big deal over food sacrificed to idols in Corinth.
  • Is baptism equivalent to circumcision?  Do the principles here regarding circumcision apply to modern debates over baptism?
  • What modern issues of debate would be in line with the topic of law observance?  Worship styles, gender roles, marital history, sexual preference?

However, I don’t want us to miss the big point in this chapter, so important that Luke says it twice:

Therefore this is my judgment: we should not cause extra difficulties for those of the Gentiles who have turned to God. (15:19)

For it seemed good to the holy spirit and to us not to lay any burden on you beyond the following necessary things. (15:28)

This did not mean there were no boundaries or requirements.  The Gentiles in Antioch were expected to avoid food associated with pagan idolatry, food that would still have a good amount of blood in it, and sexual perversions (15:20, 29).  Still, the apostles and elders decided to go the path of least resistance.  They endeavored to place as few barriers as possible between God and those Gentiles seeking Him.  Important to any debate Christians might have today regarding what it takes to be saved should be this same principle: don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be.

What stood out to you in this important chapter?  

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Acts 12: Rescued!

I have never noticed before today how similar this account of the near-death and rescue of Peter is to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  • Both face one of the Herods
  • Both are arrested around the time of the Passover
  • The arrest of each is preceded by the killing of a previously popular leader: John the Baptist and James
  • Both Herods are motivated by placating the Jewish people
  • Jesus hung between two criminals, while Peter was chained between two soldiers
  • Jesus escaped the tomb; Peter escaped a prison and iron city gate
  • Once freed, both go to a “Mary” first
  • The reunion with friends is incomplete in both accounts: people run off to tell others, and Jesus and Peter both tell someone to tell significant disciples about their return
  • The guards in both accounts are put to death for their perceived negligence

The interesting point is that while both stories are so similar, the fate of each was quite differently: Jesus died but Peter was spared.

Nonetheless, God’s will is done in each story.  It was God’s will for Jesus to die on that day.  Presumably, it was God’s will for Peter to live another day.  Both served God’s greater goals — to die for all and to continue preaching and leading the early church — but in different ways.

We can rest in an assurance that God will bring His will to pass one way or another.  Some times we will be rescued like Peter.  Sometimes we will not, like James.  But, positive or negative outcomes, God’s desires will be done.

What verse struck you in this chapter?

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Acts 11: No Need to Argue

Why did you do it? (11:3)

That was the question the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Judea asked Peter about visiting and eating with the Gentile Cornelius and his household.  This sort of thing was not done.  God’s people are Jewish not Gentile, or so they thought.  Why would Peter of all people extend table fellowship to uncircumcised and therefore unclean Gentiles?

So Peter tells them his story.  I am amazed at how it ends.

“As I [Peter] began to speak, the holy spirit fell on them, just as the spirit did on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.’  “So, then,” Peter concluded, “if God gave them the same gift as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was I to stand in the way of God?”  When they [the Judean brothers and sisters] heard this, they had nothing more to say.  They praised God. (11:15-18)

It sounds so easy.  Everything was so clear-cut for them all: We Jews had this experience.  Then those Gentiles did too.  So that confirms God’s will here.  Nothing more to say.  Praise God for His generous grace!

When Christians today argue with each other over who is acceptable to God or not, I am afraid it is rarely that easy to resolve.  Each side has a whole litany of reasons why there is “more to say.”

It seems to me that the best way to explain why consensus was so easily attainable in this passage is that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” mentioned here in Acts 11 was manifested as speaking in tongues.  It did say in 10:46 that Cornelius’ family spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit “fell on everyone.”  Therefore, this phenomenon was immediately observable and objective.  They must have been thinking: We received this.  They received this.  That is how God works.  So, there is nothing more to say.

I am afraid it just isn’t that easy today.  How I wish it could be.  For many of us the tradition we come from does not believe speaking in tongues is still a common experience at salvation (or that it ever happens anymore).  Maybe we could point to the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life as a testimony to divine election and approval, but that is not completely visible, it takes a long time to develop, and even non-Christians are observably and objectively patient and gentle many times.

What I really want to say is maybe we just need to stop worrying about who is accepted by God and not.  Most of those debates involve groups of people who both claim to have faith in Jesus.  Maybe we should focus our attention on other matters, like those who don’t believe at all.  But there will always be people amongst us who would say like Peter did, “I can’t do that.  I have never done that before.  I don’t think that is right.”  And for those people these debates are very real and important.  I just wish the way to resolution could be as easy as what we are seeing here.

What do you think?

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Acts 10: God Leads the Way

This was not Peter’s plan at all.

Go to a group of Gentiles?  Eat with them?  Even baptize them?  No, this is not Peter’s plan, at all.

But it was God’s.

All throughout this chapter God through His Holy Spirit is leading the way:

  • Long before Peter came along, Cornelius and his household had developed a reverence for God and a life of prayer and giving (10:2)
  • The messengers from Cornelius’ household were sent by God to Peter, not vice versa (10:5-6, 20)
  • God brought Peter the vision of the sheet and animals
  • The Spirit coaxes Peter along: “It’s all right; get up, go down, and go with them.  Don’t be prejudiced.” (10:20)
  • Peter says his change of perspective came because “God showed me I should call nobody ‘common’ or ‘unclean.“” (10:28)
  • Out of the ordinary pattern we see in Acts, the Holy Spirit fell on the household before they were baptized (10:44-48), which is best understood as God showing proactively that these Gentiles were acceptable and baptism should be extended by a reticent Peter

As one of you said in a recent comment, this book is more about the acts of the Holy Spirit than the “acts of the Apostles.”  And yet, it is the acts of the Apostles too, in that they are the vehicles of God’s gospel and grace in a partnership between God and humanity.  They have to obey and go.  Still, this is God’s mission to rescue a lost world.  Like Peter, too often we wouldn’t choose to go where God sends.  We wouldn’t reach out to the people He chooses.  Leave it to God to broaden our horizons!

May we find the places in life where God has already been working.  May we set out to simply play the part that is needed next.

Lord, send us to the Corneliuses of our neighborhoods!

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Acts 3: Giving to the Needy

He [a lame man] asked them to give him some money. . . . The man stared at them, expecting to get something from them.  “I haven’t got any silver or gold,” Peter said, “but I’ll give you what I have got.  In the name of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk!”  (3:3-6)

We have all heard it a thousand times: “Hey man, can you spare a little change?”  More often these days I get an elaborate story involving a broken down truck several miles away and how there is a need for money to “fix my truck.”

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of helping the needy.  There are many different perspectives on whether to help or how best to help.  There is no need to rehearse the arguments here.

This is what struck me in this chapter instead:

You are the children of the prophets, the children of the covenant with God established with your ancestors when he said to Abraham, “In your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (3:25)

We are the “children of the prophets” who spoke about caring for the needy almost as much as they did singular devotion to God.  We have received a legacy from Abraham that includes a calling to give to or “bless” the nations.  Well, I know, actually this was talking about the Jews.  But we have been grafted into the olive tree of Israel, haven’t we (Romans 11:16-21)?  Spiritually, we are talking about our family history too, right?  So, giving is a part of our spiritual heritage.

And give to this lame man is exactly what Peter did.  However, Peter did not give the man what he was asking for.  Instead of getting what he requested, this man receives what he needs.  Money is a small blessing compared to healing and wholeness.  Maybe he was so demoralized by his ailments that he had given up hope for anything more than pity.  Maybe it was just easier to beg for denarii.  Regardless, in line with his heritage, Peter gave.

Peter also gave in such a way that God received the credit.  Peter and John were evidently receiving honor for the miracle (3:12).  But they deflected the attention from themselves back to the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob — the God of our ancestors” (3:13).  They gave to the needy and God received the glory.

Lord, give us compassionate, giving hearts — to your glory!

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Acts 2: They Begin to Get It

This is such an incredible chapter!

I don’t say that because I have been programmed to by my religious tradition that has exalted this chapter since the beginning of the Restoration Movement almost 200 years ago.  They often championed this chapter as a blueprint for receiving Christ in a particular way.  That is certainly in here, but that kind of reductionism misses the point.

Acts 2 is a sunburst of spiritual power.  The original Great Awakening.  It is the start of something new, though it was spoken of  long ago (Acts 2:16-21).  So many things we have been seeing are coming together here, and so many things will launch out from here.  The Celts would have called this one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth in an explosion of energy, awareness, ability, and change.  Now that is a reason to exalt a chapter!

Amongst other points, this chapter is so wonderful because the apostles finally begin to get this kingdom Jesus has been talking about.

  • They begin to see that “Death” is the real enemy that has to be vanquished not Rome, and that the battle was waged on a cross and in a tomb not in Judea (2:24, 27, 31-32)
  • They were able to grasp that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to David to have a descendent on the throne, but that this was a different sort of throne (2:30-31)
  • They boldly claimed that “Jesus is Lord” (2:36) instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” a common cry by the AD 60s when Acts was written if not in the AD 30s when the actual events took place.  Somehow it was possible for Jesus to be Lord even while Caesar was on a throne.
  • They were understanding that the greatest tyranny comes at the hands of Sin, and the greatest freedom is from this enemy (2:38, 40, 47)
  • They were switching from a worldview that said Israel is our most important allegiance to seeing the fledgling collection of Jesus-followers as the Great Community (2:42-47)

Notice, they didn’t really get it in Acts 1.  Now they begin to in Acts 2.  What changed?  What happened?  The only thing that changed was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.  God is changing them from the inside out.

Let your Spirit come!  Fall upon us now!

What spoke to you anew in this very familiar chapter?  

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Mark 14: The Beginning of the End

It seems strange to be reading about the Last Supper, Gethsemane, and the beginning of Jesus’ trials already.  Mark is truly short and to the point.  In his preface to the KNT, N. T. Wright calls the Gospel of Mark a “revolutionary tract” (xiv), and that point has come out to me more so in this reading than ever before.

There is much to comment on in this long chapter.  What stood out the most to me was this wonderful juxtaposition of disappointment and grace:

“You’re all going to desert me,” said Jesus, “because it’s written, ‘I shall attack the shepherd, and then the sheep will scatter.’  But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28)

Jesus knows his dearest friends will run away instead of stay by his side when the time comes for his arrest and death.  There is that young man (John?) who is only wearing a tunic (?) but he runs away too in the end.  Peter stays a stone’s throw away but utters his fated denials.  Desert him they do.  Still, knowing that they will leave him, Jesus says he will never leave them.  In fact, he will go ahead of them to Galilee to prepare the way.  He will care for them until the end and even after that.  What a wonderful Savior!

Jesus prays while the apostles sleep

Now, jump over to Mark 16:7.  The women come to Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday.  Amazed, they meet an angel sitting on the rolled away tombstone.  He told them:

“But go and tell his disciples — including Peter — that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You’ll see him there, just like he told you.”

More grace!  The angel singles out Peter to be told specifically that he is welcome in Galilee.  That Jesus is right there waiting for him.  The very same Peter who had denied Jesus three times.

As many of you know, it is typically thought that Mark is writing his gospel in Rome based on the testimony and memories of Peter himself.  As Max Lucado said of this passage, you have to imagine Peter had a big lump in his throat when he told this story.

Praise God for His grace, patience, and kindness to us!  He goes before us today.  

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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