Bible Readings: John 18:12-27
Free Resources: Gathering ‘Round the Campfire (Kids PK-2nd Activity)
Lenten Theme 1 (February 18—March 4): Following Jesus
Here we are now, at the middle point of the Lenten season. We’ve skipped ahead five chapters since last week, missing Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” and are now quickly approaching the crucifixion. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas and arrested. He now stands “trial,” a sham trial if there ever was one. Our passage for today alternates two scenes, Jesus before the high priest and Peter in the courtyard. As the only two named “good guys” in John 18:1-27, the Gospel writer clearly sets the two up for comparison, Peter being the foil for Jesus. It’s a contrast between standing up and backing down, between courage and fear.
Courage and fear
Beginning at John 18:1, Jesus’ movement toward the cross accelerates, and the danger becomes crystal clear, as does the contrast between Jesus and Peter. Taking the initiative, Jesus approaches the soldiers in the garden calmly. Jesus knows the entire situation (passion, resurrection, and the meaning of it all), which provides him motivation to see this thing through. But, despite John’s characterization of Jesus as the Word made flesh, calm, cool, and in control, I believe that the man who overturned tables and wept and Lazarus’ tomb had at least some fear to overcome. But, his trust in God and his mission gave him the courage to move forward.
Peter, on the other hand, gave into his fear in the garden. Perhaps it was his fear of something happening to Jesus. Perhaps it was his fear of something happening to himself. Perhaps it was his fear that this messiah movement that he was a part of would die with Jesus. But, whatever the internal motivation, Peter was afraid. How do we know this? When confronted with the same situation as Jesus (though the soldiers weren’t coming for him), he reacted with violence. And violence comes from fear.
Fear in our identity
John accentuates the contrast between Jesus and Peter in the language used in this longer passage. In the garden, Jesus claims his identity, both as fully human and fully divine. By using the Greek phrase ego eimi, he is on the surface claiming his identity as the human, Jesus of Nazareth. But, we the readers are clued in that this phrase has a deeper meaning. Jesus is claiming the Hebrew name of God, the great I AM. Knowing full well where it will lead him, Jesus clearly claims his twofold identity.
In John 18:15-27, it is now Peter who is questioned about his identity, specifically his identity as a disciple of Jesus. Fear again motivates Peter and results in his denials. Within the text, Peter denies his association with Jesus three times, however, his words are only quoted twice. Jesus says “I am” twice, and Peter says “I am not” twice. In direct opposition to Jesus’ affirmation, Peter denies his own identity.
Fear for us
How does this all connect to us, living in the 21st century? Some make the move that we, like Peter, face the fear of claiming our identity as disciples of Jesus in our secular culture. Some will even go so far as to suggest that as Peter was facing a dangerous choice, so are we. But, it is so rare that claiming to follow Jesus has any dangerous consequences for us in the West, unlike in other parts of the world where claiming this identity could lead to arrest or death. It does a grave injustice to those who face deadly consequences for following Jesus to claim that we are likewise persecuted.
But, as humans, we face fear every day. The question before us, again and again, is how we will respond to this fear. Will we respond with courage, trusting that God is with us no matter what happens, like the three young men faced with the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 (12/3/2017)? Or, will we respond with fear, as Peter does here?
Returning to our passage this week, prepare participants of all ages to hear the story with our free multisensory activity. “Gathering ‘Round the Campfire” brings us into Peter’s setting and prepared to hear this story of fear and courage. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum and can be adapted to many different settings and many different age groups.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
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