May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Moses. Peter. You and me. Hmmm. How are we going to connect the three?
It’s kind of hard to link Moses and Peter together. In fact, I could find only some apocryphal connections. You know what apocryphal means, right?
Not biblical … maybe even of doubtful authority. Okay, it was a joke. I won’t share it here, but if anyone is interested, see me after church.
So, let’s see if we can make a biblical connection that makes some sense.
Religion rests on a historical faith that affirms revelation. The Bible assumes God has revealed Himself in unique events that attest both His freedom and His initiative. But these events have to be conditioned by the dimensions of time and space for us we mortals to understand.
We know Moses more for his life as an adult. What we know probably was passed down to us from the film The Ten Commandments. He was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a former Egyptian prince later turned prophet, religious leader and lawgiver, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. One tends to think of a great man, a great leader, the man who defied the tyranny of a cruel pharaoh, the man who parted the Red Sea with a wave of his hand, he who saw God, heard Him. This is the Moses everybody recognize
But Moses was also a murderer, initially a coward and fearing man more than God.
Still, he is the most important prophet in Judaism and an important prophet in Christianity, Islam and a number of other faiths. There are a wealth of stories and additional information about Moses in the Jewish apocrypha, in the genre of rabbinical exegesis known as Midrash and in the primary works of the Jewish oral law, the Mishnah and the Talmud.
For Christians, Moses — mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament figure — is often a symbol of God’s law, as reinforced and expounded on in the teachings of Jesus. New Testament writers often compared Jesus’ words and deeds with Moses’ to explain Jesus’ mission. In Acts 7:39-43, 51-53, for example, the rejection of Moses by the Jews who worshiped the golden calf is likened to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews who continued in traditional Judaism.
Moses also figures in several of Jesus’ messages. When He met the Pharisee Nicodemus at night in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, He compared Moses’ lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, which any Israelite could look at and be healed, to His own lifting up (by His death and resurrection) for the people to look at and be healed. In the sixth chapter, Jesus responded to the people’s claim Moses provided them manna in the wilderness by saying it was not Moses, but God, who provided. Calling Himself the “bread of life”, Jesus stated He was provided to feed God’s people.
We often read Exodus — I mean, we all just pick up our Bibles and read the Exodus stories every day, right? — as the story of Israel’s march out of bondage and the institution and ordering of common life. Moses stands out as the deliverer.
Well, we’re wrong. God rather than Moses, the leader and lawgiver, or Israel, the elect and redeemed, stands at the heart of the document. The controlling motif is the revelation of God’s power in His victory over Pharaoh which, for the writers, is a disclosure of His — God’s — universal lordship. It is not just Israel’s escape from bondage but also the meaning of its establishment as a community, the significance of its laws and the efficacy of its cultus.
But all this is moot if history hadn’t saved a little Jewish boy floating in a basket in the Nile.
The Israelites — those “other people” — were multiplying faster than their Egyptian counterparts. That concerned the ruling Pharaoh, presumed to be Ramses II, the first strong ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty. So, what did he do? The same thing other leaders before and since him … first turn them into slave workers and later, order the slaughter of those “other people.”
In this case, he ordered the Jewish midwives to kill any sons born to Israeli women. It wasn’t particularly successful since the midwives — at least two named, Shiphrah and Puah — respected their God more than Pharaoh. When questioned why these boys were being allowed to live, they explained — tongue in cheek — Jewish women delivered before the midwives could arrive.
You can almost sense the flash of humor in the narrator as he looks around his listening circle — remember, this was oral tradition without benefit of YouTube or Twitter — and tells them how, in effect, Yahweh outwitted Pharaoh and how bright the midwives were in their reply to Pharaoh.
This little Jewish boy was conceived, born and hidden for three months before his mother set him in that basket lined with pitch and floated it among the reeds of the Nile.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the inlet to bathe and sees the basket. She has one of handmaidens fetch the basket and, seeing this crying babe, recognized he was a little Hebrew boy, but was filled with compassion and love. The little boy’s sister was watching over the ark and asked the Pharaoh’s daughter if she should get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. When instructed yes, she immediately went and got his birth mother. The baby flourished and was “adopted” by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a member of the court. She named him Moses — or Mosheh in Hebrew from the root mashah, “to draw out”.
Some call it coincidence and some call it God as to how the king’s daughter should happen to come down to bathe at precisely the moment when the little ark was entangled at her feet. But remember, God is free from the legalities of laws so chance may not always be random.
It might be noted, though, the Moses birth story parallels the birth story of Sargon of Agade, the first Semitic king of Mesopotamia in the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC, about six or seven centuries before the Exodus tradition was introduced, so don’t look at it as gospel or a historical fact. As with all great men, the story of Moses’ birth and survival did not begin to be told until after he was famous. Thus, this great man who is to lead his people through a sea baffles his enemies in his infancy when he is so small reeds and rushes hide him.
The point the author is conveying — successfully — is the sense of the loving guardianship of the heavenly Father over the fortunes of His people … not necessarily the exact details.
That brings us to Peter.
According to Matthew, Jesus is in the Caesarea Philippi region and He asks His disciple who people say He is. He gets a variety of answers — John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But when asked directly, it is Simon Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
When Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” he was going one step further — a giant step. Israel had, for many years, been looking for God to send a savior — someone like King David of old, who had led Israel to greatness. Israel was looking for God to send a Messiah to do that again — to make Israel great again — to save Israel from oppressors such as Rome, who ruled Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. When Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” he was saying, “You are the savior for whom we have waited for centuries. You are the one sent from God to save us.”
It’s sometimes hard to understand how it was Simon Peter who came to this conclusion. As I’ve said before, he was a “duh”-ciple. One minute he was walking on water by faith, and the next he was sinking in doubt. He was impulsive and emotional. He simply was not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Of course, he didn’t understand Jesus was the Messiah in a spiritual sense not a human sense. He was here as a bridge for us back into God’s grace, not overthrowing a government.
Yet, it is Peter and Peter alone who has this revelation. Way to go, Pete!
Jesus recognizes it. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…”
The prominence of Peter among the apostles cannot be denied. In the lists of the Twelve, his name is always first. Among the Twelve, he was one of the “inner three.” If the above exegesis is correct, Jesus addressed him personally and directly as the person upon whom the church would be built. In time he became one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church and (judging from the early chapters of Acts) its most prominent leader, preacher and spokesman. Significantly, in Acts’ record of the church’s outreach according to the commission of Acts 1:8, Peter — and he alone — is present at each major stage of that outreach, namely in Jerusalem (chapter 2, where he delivers the sermon at Pentecost), in Samaria (chapter 8, where he is one of two apostles sent to pray for and lay hands on the new converts) and among the Gentiles (chapter 10, where Peter enters the home of Cornelius in response to the vision on the housetop). Within the circle of the Twelve, he is clearly primus inter pares (“first among equals”).
The New Testament clearly presents him as a fallible, sinful human being … even after this divine revelation. All four Gospels record his denial of Jesus, Luke implies in 22:31-32 had Jesus not prayed for Peter, he would have gone the way of Judas. At Antioch it was Paul, not Peter, who clearly perceived the implications of the Gospel; in that famous confrontation recorded in Galatians 2:11-14, Paul rebuked him for acting out of accord with his principles.
Thus, I’ll leave it up to those above my pay scale to debate whether he was the first Bishop of Rome or whether true apostolic succession is realized in the history of the papacy (no direct New Testament support, just extrabiblical tradition).
For our purposes, though, we have to recognize the importance of Peter as part of the new “church”. Jesus Himself is the builder. Peter is part of the building. He is a foundation stone in the new edifice, an honor he shares with the rest of the apostles built upon the foundation [consisting] of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the keystone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
So, we have Moses establishing the “community” of Israel and we have Peter as a foundation stone for this then-new Christianity. We have Moses divinely found among the rushes and reeds and we have Peter recognizing divine revelation.
That brings us to you and me. How would we answer the call? How would we answer the question posed by Jesus?
Many people have huge opinions on who Jesus is. I know this might come as a shock to you but not all people, even all religions see Jesus the same way. If you are an atheist, then you probably see Jesus as a historical figure whose followers made wild claims. He was a good teacher, had good morals, but that is it. If you are Jewish, you would say Jesus was not the Messiah because the time was not right for the Messiah to come according to the Hebrew Bible. If you are Islamic, then you see Jesus as one of the Major Prophets God sent to the world but not God. You would believe Jesus was not killed or crucified and, funny side note, He didn’t drink wine. Scientologist, yes like Tom Cruise, state Jesus is classified below the level of Operating Thatan but a shade above the Scientology state of “clear.” (I hope that clears it up for you) If you are a child you might see Jesus as another Santa Clause. You talked to Him and He gave you stuff.
I think people are so hesitant to give the answer Peter gave because they are scared. They are scared of the truth. If Jesus Christ is Lord, if He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then everything He said is true. The way He told us to live, the way He told us He will be with us always, the way He died for our sins, is all true. That scares people because they don’t know how to live with that type of realization. They are scared because if they admit Jesus Christ is Lord, then everything in their life has to change.
And that change is manifested in our Epistle reading. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will.
We’re not Moses. We’re not Peter. But we do have a role to play in forwarding God’s kingdom … each according to his or her abilities. …In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Are you open to what God is asking you to do for Him? Are you willing to step out in faith and follow God regardless of what He is asking you to do? Do you feel as if you are too “old” or too “young” to step out in faith?
We — who know Christ and have that same power of God’s Spirit– often are not in enough meaningful contact with the people who need us most. We spend so much time in meetings with each other, doing programs for each other, having concerts with each other, serving on committees for each other and doing books and music for each other that we’re disconnected from the people who are dying without our Jesus.
This is our time to use God’s power to get out to where it’s needed. We need to dare to risk getting involved in places where lost people are; to look at the unbelieving people around us and start building some bridges into their lives; building intentional rescue relationships. God needs us to just move close to some people who are not His people.
Too many people are slipping away, falling, crashing because there is no one making a difference where they are. If you know Jesus, you have the same power God promised Moses, Peter and the disciples to be where you are needed the most.
God will ask you one day, “What did you do with what you were given?”
You better be ready for that question! It’s the final exam question you need to study for every day of the rest of your life.
And all of God’s people said … Amen!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Live passionately. Dream big. Don’t back down.