4th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Galatians 2:11-21 Sermon
June 26, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
428 "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
399 "Jesus Thy Boundless Love to Me"
370 "Just as I am, Without One Plea"
531 "Jesus Saviour Pilot Me"
ADVERSARY, THY NAME IS PETER
Text (vs. 11-14) "When Peter came to Antioch, I (Paul) opposed him to his face, because he was in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
Are there people in your life whom you respect? People who stand out above the rest for one reason or another? People who share your sense of values and morals? People who always seem to know what to say and how to say it?
It hasn’t been that long ago when we were watching this week-long state funeral of Ronald Reagan. All week long we heard about his virtues as a president and a great communicator, and what a fantastic kind of a guy he was. It was obvious that regardless of which side of the political fence people were on, he was a very popular president. He was well respected amongst the people.
This was a time to exalt his virtues. But on the other hand, certainly there were things in his presidency that weren’t so glorious or to his credit. Iran-Contra comes to mind; also some of the activity in Central America. The important thing is however, that when he made a mistake, he seemed to own up to it and admit it. That in itself gains a lot of respect amongst the people.
Or we can look at someone like Jimmy Carter. Maybe he wasn’t that great of a president, but he has an outstanding moral character, and is an all-around nice guy. His genuine feeling for others has continued through his “Habitat for Humanity” program. Likewise, when he made mistakes, he didn’t try to dodge them or cover them up. He certainly has the respect of the American people.
People in the Bible are a lot like that too. We find many great and outstanding personalities in the Bible; but we also read about how they are very human with their frailties; so they also messed up along the way.
If we examine our Old Testament lesson for today, we read about King David—someone that the Bible refers to as a “man after God’s own heart.” Today we read about one of David’s “lesser moments” where he commits both the sins of murder and adultery. And David tried to cover it up, until Nathan brought things out into the open.
Our text for today from Galatians brings the Apostle Peter into the spotlight. For me personally, I have a lot of respect for Peter.
Peter was not a highly educated man. He was a blue collar worker—a fisherman by trade. He was not the polished speaker that Paul and some of the other apostles were. He spoke straight from the shoulder. He was one of these crusty old guys with dirt under his fingernails; he was stubborn and determined. But yet he was the leader of the Apostles and was very good at communicating the Gospel of Christ.
In fact, he is so well revered amongst Christians that the Roman Catholic Church believes that Peter was the first Pope. Of course this is nothing more than pure conjecture on their part, but think about it; having someone like Peter being the Pope is a far different picture than we have of the Popes down through the ages.
As great as Peter was, the Bible doesn’t hesitate to point out his weaker moments too. Peter, who at one moment said that he’d be willing to share in Jesus’ suffering and death, and who bravely cut off the ear of one of Jesus’ captors, is the same Peter who only a little while after all that while he is in the courtyard of Caiaphas, denies he ever knew the man—and he said this, not to government or church officials, but to a lowly servant girl. She detected from his speech that he was an Apostle, but Peter continued to deny his Saviour. Indeed, not a very glorious moment for Peter.
During the crucifixion, Peter was nowhere to be found around Jesus. He was in hiding; and he continued to hide away, waiting for things to subside. Again, not one of his better moments.
In our text for today, we see another one of Peter’s blunders; and this one was a lapse in his theology. That was a mistake that could not go unchecked. For the sake of Christianity, it had to be rectified. Let’s see what was going on.
The place is Antioch, which was the site of the first congregation known for its Gentile, or non-Jewish members. In fact, the New Testament believers were first called Christians in Antioch. This congregation would be the “launching pad” for further missionary work amongst the Gentiles.
Since this was such a key congregation, Acts 13 tells us that the Jerusalem council sent Paul and Barnabas to work there.
Then along came Peter. He had been a leader in the Jerusalem Christian congregation. The leaders there had allowed some of the old Jewish customs to remain, so that the new Jewish converts wouldn’t be driven away. But they also knew that these Jewish customs and laws had no power to save. Acts 15 even counsels the Gentile Christians to be sensitive to the Jewish Christians around them.
So now Peter makes his journey northward. Peter knows full well that believers have freedom from the Jewish laws, but he starts conveying a different message. In a time of weakness, Peter starts preaching a “different gospel.” In a time of personal weakness, Peter was publicly preaching false doctrine. And since he was doing this publicly, Paul had to rebuke him publicly as well. But we should note too, that Paul’s actions were out of love, and not hatred.
Verse 12 reads: "Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group."
These “men from James” were the Jewish missionaries who came to Galatia who held to the old Jewish ceremonial practices—also called the “circumcision group.” Peter had been there sometime before they arrived.
Before their arrival, Peter openly fellowshipped with the Gentile Christians. But when the Jews showed up, Peter became afraid. He separated or “drew back” from the Gentile Christians. The Greek word here is interesting. It is “aph-OH-rid-zen.” It’s where we get the English word, “atrophy” which means to draw tight and almost shrivel up—like muscles and limbs of the human body. This was a very strong word that described a strong action.
To Peter, he was taking the path of least resistance. It’s human nature to do this, and this was Peter’s very human weakness being put into play. Peter was succumbing to these Jews who demanded adherence to the old Jewish laws and customs as being necessary for salvation.
Verse 13 of our text says, "The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray."
Peter’s weakness was turning into dangerous false teaching. By his very position of authority, many people were starting to follow him in his error. Even Barnabas, who had been Paul’s faithful companion, was being led astray. This was putting the very gospel of Jesus Christ in serious jeopardy.
So now we read in verse 14 the words of Paul’s very strong rebuke to Peter: "When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'"
This gives us the main gist of the rebuke. Peter needed it. The people needed to hear that what Peter was encouraging was wrong. It was leading them down the wrong path; and if it continued, it could only lead them to perdition. And this was being prompted by Peter’s weakness; his ever present propensity toward taking the path of least resistance and the easy way out.
Now before we come down too hard on Peter, maybe it’s time we look at our personal lives. How many times have we taken the easy road rather than the right road? How often have we allowed sin to dictate our actions rather than God? How often have we been willing to swallow the pill of false doctrine? How often have our moments of weakness allowed much more serious things to develop? How often have we thought we knew a better way than God’s way?
It’s right here that we can be truly thankful for Paul’s words of admonition. The Gospel that Paul fought so hard to preserve is the thing we hold most dear. We know that Jesus bore the punishment for Peter’s sins, for Paul’s sins, and for our sins. The Gospel that saves us is free from any laws, because it is only through faith we receive the forgiveness Christ offers us.
In our lives, we have numerous people we respect. We might respect President Reagan, or President Carter, or Paul Harvey, or Andy Rooney, or someone else. But we are also reminded that these people are human, and subject to the same frailties as any other human being—and yes, the same frailties you and I have. How these frailties are dealt with are important, and can give us a tremendous insight of the person themselves.
As Christians, our weaknesses, our downfalls, and our sins are all handled by Christ himself. And so we can come to him, just as we are. We can come as the most wretched, pitiful creatures on the face of this earth, and find comfort and hope. We can come, trusting fully in Jesus our Saviour and find forgiveness and strength. So we get rid of any self righteous attitudes we might have, and come just as we are. We know that God accepts us for Jesus’ sake, knowing his blood was shed for us so we might fully experience God’s undeserved love in our lives here and in the life to come.