Vol. 5, No. 12
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About sixty years ago, some said I was small for my age. Others thought I was young for my size. Maybe I was both. I remember seeing some pictures of Charles Atlas on the back of some magazine that pictured him as a 98-pound weakling. After he used the barbells, or whatever it was they were advertising, he had muscles all over and was attracting all the girls on the beach. Probably this "before and after" image has been used to sell cereal, shampoo and a variety of other things. It even impressed me so much that, although I could not afford barbells, I did use an old buggy axle, and eventually reached the point where I could chin myself with one arm.
So, when I looked at men before and after Christ had touched them, I was impressed with what Christ can do for a man. When I see Peter in Matthew 14:30, he had a great fear of sinking. Jesus had said, "Come," and Peter started, "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying 'Save me, Lord.'" Many times in home Bible studies, when I invite a person to come to Christ, he replies, "I would like to be a Christian, but I am not strong enough." That is sad, but true. We are all in danger of sinking. The waves are really there, and the wind is really boisterous. And we cannot walk on water! Neither could Peter, and he knew it and was afraid of sinking. But that sentence above is not complete. It should read, "Neither could Peter by himself."
But the point is, when Christ finished with Peter many years later, he had been delivered from the fear of sinking, and no doubt realized that he could do many things with the help of Jesus, and in obedience to his commands, that he could not do by himself.
Second, in Matthew 16:21, we find "From that time began Jesus to show unto His disciples, that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up." When Peter heard him talk about suffering and dying, he began to rebuke him, saying, "Be it far from thee, Lord." He did not like the idea of pain and suffering. Jesus taught, in effect, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." He said it far better than that in verse 24, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up His cross, and follow me." As important and painful as self-discipline is, this is not what Jesus was here talking about. It was something even more radical and painful. It was self denial. We still have trouble letting that sink in. Even our pronunciation of the phrase contributes to it. We speak of self-denial instead of self denial. So, the fear of suffering was very real to Peter, but with the help of Jesus, he conquered it.
The third fear from which Christ delivered him is suggested in the story found in Mark 14:66 where he denied Christ. We may call it the fear of sneering. When I served in the Air Force in World War II, I was impressed with the fact that there were some that had the bravery to face the shooting enemy, but not the bravery or moral courage to face the sneering friends. There are boys and girls who have lost their lives because they had a greater fear of a sneer than they had of a speeding car, train or gun. Many have refused to obey the Gospel because they knew they would face the sneers of their friends. It is sad when the sneering of friends is more real than the cheering of angels, but the basic cause of that is a lack of faith.
But Peter also overcame that. In Acts 2:4, we find the answer to how he did it as we read, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Being filled with the Spirit involves two things: 1. Being emptied of self and 2. Being possessed, owned or controlled by another whose power and ability is infinitely greater than our own.
The reason why being filled by the Spirit lessens the fear of the sneer (or any other damaging fear) may be explained in this simple language: There is less of self to be hurt or afraid. This is about what Paul meant when he said in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me." Dead men do not hurt, either from sneers or jeers.
So, here we see a man who a few days before had such a fear of the sneer of a little servant girl that he thought, "I cannot speak for my Lord," now having the courage to stand up and say in Acts 4:20, "We cannot but speak." That is, "We cannot keep from speaking." One of the reasons listed is "They had been with Jesus" (Acts 2:13).
There are many things Christ can do for a man, but in this lesson, it is that he took one who was afraid of sinking, suffering and sneering, and he gave him the courage to stand, speak and live or die for the Lord. The key to doing that is be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The way to do that is to know, obey and, as the parallel passage says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16).