Summary: The Apostle Peter experienced many transformations during his life, but the most profound transformation was from failure to faith. This sermon reflects on Peter's denial of Christ in the courtyard.
Let’s talk about transformation. Merrian-Webster defines transformation as “a complete or major change in someone's or something's appearance, form, etc.” Transformation is at the heart of our Christian faith, isn’t it? Don’t we believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to transform the world—to change the hearts and lives of those who would believe in him? Don’t we believe that transformation is possible, not only in God’s creation, but in our individual hearts? I might even suggest that it’s impossible to see the transformation God desires in His creation until we see transformation in the hearts and lives of people. As we read the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, we find people whose lives were transformed when they encountered Jesus. Jesus just has that effect on people. Our new message series “Transformation: Possible” takes a look at six different biblical characters whose lives were changed by their encounter with Jesus.
When we talk about Jesus changing people, we’re talking especially about a change of heart. We’re not talking about physical hearts. We’re talking about spiritual hearts, which the Biblical writers understood to be the center of the will of human beings. Transformation then, from a Biblical standpoint, means to have a “change of heart” that involves our will and our total being as a person.
Heart transplants are increasingly more common. I’ve stood by the bedside and prayed with a couple of persons who’ve had heart transplants. The first heart transplant was performed successfully by Dr. Christiaan Barnard. He transplanted a human heart into Dr. Philip Blaiberg. After the surgery, Dr. Barnard carried the old heart in a plastic box and showed it to his patient. The two physicians sat in the hospital bed examining the scars and thickening of the dead useless heart. Dr. Barnard said, “Dr. Blaiberg, do you realize you are the first man in the history of humankind to sit and look at your own dead heart?”
Dr. Blaiberg received a new human heart to extend his life. Jesus came to transform the lives of people and give us a spiritual heart that lasts for eternity, and that He can use in the continuing transformation of His creation.
I wanted to start with Peter. I love the Apostle Peter. One reason I do is because Peter’s journey through life (and faith) so greatly reflects my own, and I suspect, many journeys of people sitting in this room. Peter’s is a life that experienced many transformations, and that’s the reason I wanted to start with Peter. I think Peter’s life reminds us that transformation is an on-going thing. It’s never a one-time event. That’s kind of what the whole “sanctifying” grace idea is about.
As a I mention “sanctifying” grace, I might take a moment to remind us of some basic Wesleyan theology, but let me do it in the context of the illustration of the heart transplant. Remember, grace is the means by which God engages us. Grace is how God saves us. Grace is how God changes us. In John Wesley’s understanding, God’s grace was real in three distinct ways—prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. You’ve heard me talk about those before. God’s prevenient grace is like going to the doctor and discovering we need a new heart, that something is wrong with the old one. We didn’t necessarily know it, and we don’t understand how it happened, but the doctor tells us we need a new heart. Prevenient grace is that grace that goes before. Justifying grace is that grace that washes away our sin, and in that moment gives us a new heart, and to use the heart transplant analogy, it is the time we’d say we received the heart transplant. Sanctifying grace is the process of learning how to live with that new heart. The diet has to change. The exercise regimen has to change. We have to stop doing the things we did before the heart transplant and begin doing new, healthier things if we’re going to utilize and honor the great gift we’ve been given.
Let’s follow that through Peter’s journey. Peter (who was Simon at the time) was called by Christ, and he responded to the call. He got that new heart, and he got a new name, too. Yet, Peter’s transformation wasn’t complete. There were numerous transforming moments for Peter. Peter walked on water! That’s was a transformative experience. Yet, even in the midst of that transformative experience his faith was so small that he couldn’t sustain it. Transformation can be a terrifying thing! Another transformative moment for Peter came when Jesus told Peter he was “the Rock,” and changed his name to Peter, yet almost immediately after, Jesus has to rebuke him, and even calls him Satan. From the Rock to Satan in a few verses…that, too, is transformative. Peter’s next transformative experience came on Mount Hermon when he witnessed Jesus transfigured, and Peter wanted to build three shrines for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Spiritual high moments and spiritual low moments define our lives. Each one is part of God’s transforming work in our lives.