Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14)
You Rebuked Who?
Growing as a Christian can be a difficult challenge. One of the amazing parts of the Christian’s life is they never reach a full maturity where they can feel a comfortable ease from the snares of the devil. It will become less impactful as the child of God grows in courage defeating Satan with greater regularity but still the danger remains of falling prey to the pride of life, lust of the flesh, and the desires of the eye. Clearly the devil never rests. He will always be a thorn in the spiritual side of every child of God and he will attack the weak and the strong alike. Simon Peter learned that lesson the hard way.
If there is one figure larger than life in the ministry of Jesus and the building blocks of the early church – Peter is that man. He was outspoken, impetuous and brash. There were times the fisherman apostle said the right thing and more often than not he was trying to go ahead of the Lord and His will finding himself under the rebuke of the Lord. Peter had a huge heart and was such a devoted disciple of Christ. His betrayal burned deep into the heart of the Lord and it seemed he would not recover. Three days later Jesus refreshed the soul of Peter in the resurrection. The Lord had promised Peter he would open the doors of the kingdom and fifty days after the resurrection on that glorious first day of the week, Simon Peter stood with eleven other men on another first day of the week and proclaimed the good news of God’s redemption. Peter’s sermon is preserved by the Holy Spirit as an inspiring opening to the foundation of the church.
The historian Luke traces the early church through the ministry of Peter and the apostles. Peter and James heal a man at the temple and are later arrested. The apostle witnesses the fury of the Lord on Ananias and Sapphira. He is again imprisoned and beaten for preaching Christ. Going to Samaria, Peter showed the power of God bringing joy to this great city. Fulfilling a promise from the Lord, Peter opens the door of salvation for the Gentiles in baptizing Cornelius and his household. Luke records the miraculous delivery of Simon from certain death in a Roman jail and then the historian turns his attention to the work of the newest apostle, Paul. If there was anyone who was a sterling example of faithfulness to the Lord God – Simon Peter was the man. But then the incident in Antioch happened.
It is hard to imagine how difficult it was for Paul to rebuke Peter. Here is a seasoned preacher of the gospel, apostle and early confidant of Jesus Christ but he is wrong. Peter has allowed his pride to cause him to cave into peer pressure and lead others astray by his actions. He caused other Jews to follow suit and to the surprise of Paul, led Barnabas to act they hypocrite also. Paul was no doubt conflicted in realizing that Peter had done such a thing. Greater still, something needed to be done about it. Paul took Peter to task rebuking him publicly because he was to be blamed. How difficult that must have been for Peter. He may have remembered that terrible night when the eyes of Jesus looked deep into his soul as he denied his Lord three times. Years later, when he should have known better, Peter was publicly being reprimanded for his hypocrisy – and he knew it was the right thing to do. The great story untold in Luke’s account is that Peter accepted the rebuke. Reading the epistles of Peter will tell the rest of the story as Peter matured into a man of great faith.
Growing as a Christian is a constant battle. Satan will never give up on us. He will attack us when we are young in the faith and he will fuel his evil forces hotter as we mature in the faith. No one should ever believe he or she is not susceptible to the wiles of the devil. Peter was wrong. He repented and moved forward with greater determination. Paul had courage to rebuke him. Sin is sin no matter whom it infects. Be careful. Be watchful.
An expert seaman is tried in a tempest, a runner in a race, a captain in a battle, a valiant man in adversity, a Christian in temptation and misery. (Basil; 330-379, Hom. 8)