Summary: This "Saints Peter and Paul" sermon is about the real evil we are each unintentionally capable of and how God overcomes it, using the example of Peter.
Saint or Satan?
This Sunday we observe a day in remembrance of Peter and Paul, both, according to tradition, were put to death as martyrs, as witnesses to Jesus Christ, on June 29, in or around the year 67 AD. This is one of the oldest of such days in the history of the New Testament church, dating back to 258 AD. Peter and Paul are called saints. And, rightly understanding the term, that is what they are. Yet calling them saints does not mean they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination. A saint is someone, anyone, made holy by the forgiveness that Jesus gives us through His death on the cross for us, followed by His resurrection. Sainthood, as I’m describing it here, is a free gift from Jesus that is received through faith as we are led to trust in him.
As we look at heroes like Peter and Paul, we see everything about them. They have their bad points and their good points. We can identify with them, because they are just like us in this regard. One thing that draws people to reality TV is that it shows us the good side of people as well as the bad side. This is a nice break from the typical good guy vs. bad guy thing. Yet even on reality TV the people are sometimes little more than cardboard characters coached by network executives. The Bible is more real than reality TV.
From its very first pages, the Bible tells you and me all about the good and the bad of its heroes with unflinching honesty. Adam and Eve were perfect, yet they disobeyed God. Nevertheless, they still believed in the promise that their descendant would crush the serpent’s head in the very act of being bitten in the heel by the serpent. Noah built the ark that saved the human race from the flood, but he also was known to get drunk and fall asleep naked. Abraham was a man of faith and the father of all who believe, but he had the habit of passing his wife, Sarah, off as his sister, for fear that he would be killed. Jacob was a hard worker and smart, he wrestled with God and prevailed, but he stooped so low as to trick his blind father, Isaac, into giving him the birthright, and he acted cowardly in his reunion with Esau. Moses was the great leader of Israel, who led his people out of slavery in Egypt. He was the giver of the Law, but he himself was shy and a murderer and could not enter the Promised Land because he overstepped God’s instructions. Gideon defeated the Midianites, but he made a gold Ephod, which Israel idolatrously worshipped. Samson had amazing strength, but was undone by Delilah, his wife. David was the greatest king Israel ever had, but he was guilty of adultery and murder to cover up his adultery. Solomon, David’s son, was the wisest man alive, but his wisdom was no match for 700 wives and 300 concubines, who led him astray and turned his heart after their false gods. Even the best of the remaining kings in David’s line (until Jesus!), Asa and Jehoshaphat and Joash and Amaziah and Azariah and Jotham, all have something negative described about their reigns. They did not destroy all the high places where people worshipped false gods. Not even the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah could save Judah from its idolatry. Elijah was a great prophet, who defeated all the prophets of Baal, but he soon became afraid and depressed. With a simple message, Jonah led the whole wicked city of Ninevah to repent, but he was uncaring and judgmental.
Paul was like all that. He, of course, wrote many New Testament books, including those called the Pastoral Epistles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But his history of persecuting the church before he became a Christian, and even some of the things he said and did would make most congregations think twice about calling him as their pastor. In fact, he spent a great deal of time in jail. He called himself the chief of sinners. He spoke frankly about the inner battle that took place inside him between the new, God-created person within him and the person who he used to be. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We encounter Peter in our text for today: very human, very flawed, an instrument of Satan, yet still a saint. Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Then Jesus asked them what they thought. Peter said, “You are the Christ.” Peter understood (since it was revealed to him by God) that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Savior, the One anointed and chosen by God the Father to serve Him and accomplish His mission with divine power, the ideal and ultimate King sent by God to deliver His people and establish His kingdom.