Simon Peter Syndrome: A Maundy Thursday Sermon
Today we celebrate the night our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, the night He instituted the sacrament of his body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink.
The biggest problem all the other protestants have with the Lord’s Supper is that they don’t believe Jesus’ words that he spoke when he instituted the sacrament of the altar. They don’t believe that the bread Jesus gives us is also given us as his body, and they don’t believe that the wine that Jesus gives us is also His blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.
This is because of Simon Peter syndrome. Simon Peter syndrome is a disease whose name I just invented. There are several instances of Simon Peter syndrome recorded for us in the Bible, and we can learn from these instances what Simon Peter syndrome actually is. It always involves thinking that Jesus’ words don’t apply, or that He doesn’t really mean them. When Jesus’ walks on water, Peter is bold enough to get out onto the water and walk on it towards Jesus when tells him to come, but then he turns away and gets frightened by the waves. He no longer trusts in Jesus’ voice and that is what made him look away from Jesus and sink.
Right after Peter had made a great confession in Matthew 16, saying that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he shows his Simon Peter syndrome again. Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Peter takes him aside and began to rebuke Jesus, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” That was when Jesus called him the devil, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! … For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.”
Before Jesus goes to Gethsemane, he quotes Zecheriah 13, where God says, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter argues with Jesus and with the prophet Zechariah. He tells Jesus that he will never deny him, even after Jesus tells him that he will. He doesn’t take Jesus at his word.
And it’s not like Peter changed all that much after Jesus’ resurrection. He still had the syndrome, even if it wasn’t as acute. When Peter dreamed about the heavens opening and all kinds of unclean animals being let down on a sheet, he heard God say to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” How does Peter respond? “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” But what God has made clean, Peter should not have called common. He should have stopped to think a little more about those words, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
And so we also should think more about the words of Jesus today. The final instance of Simon Peter syndrome I’d like to point out this evening is from John 13, the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus took off his coat, wrapped a towel around his waist, knelt down on his hands and knees and used a basin of water to wash his disciples’ stinky feet and dry them with the towel that was around his waist. When he got to Peter, Peter asked, “Lord, are you washing my feet?” So Jesus deals with him gently and says, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” Then Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”
What is this Simon Peter syndrome? It’s denying Jesus’ clear words. It is relying more on our own understanding than on the simple meaning of what Jesus says. Jesus says things that we don’t understand, that don’t jive with our comfortableness.
Simon Peter syndrome is as widespread as the human race. It’s an inherited disease. You can catch it from others, but you already have it before you catch it again. It’s the “Did God really say?” disease. It’s seeing that the fruit tastes good, that there’s a better way than what God says, because not eating good fruit is unreasonable. It’s not enough for us that Jesus’ said, “Come!” The waves are too big and the storm is too crazy. It’s not right that a good man like Jesus should have to suffer and die. Far be it from us to have to dwell on that. We won’t deny Jesus – we love him too much; the Scriptures can’t really mean that about me. I don’t need to eat unclean animals, that would mean my scrupulous diet my whole life long didn’t actually make me clean, and while I admit that my feet stink a lot, it can’t be Jesus who washes them. It would be more religiously proper for me to wash my Lord’s feet.
It is one of the greatest victories of the devil, that he has robbed the consciences of tens of millions of Christians the comfort of the sacrament of the altar. When they hear, “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you…Take, drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” the devil gives them the symptomatic fever of Simon Peter syndrome. “It can’t be! Forgiveness can’t be that easy. This must refer only to Christ’s body being given on the cross, and only to Christ’s blood poured out on the cross.” But the words are all in the present tense. Take, eat, is, given, being shed. “But it must only be a symbol of Christ’s body and blood! It’s just figurative language!” But “is” doesn’t mean “symbolizes.” “Is” means “is,” contrary to the perjury of a certain former head of state.
Simon Peter syndrome can’t abide by the plain meaning of the words. Simon Peter syndrome instead doesn’t take Jesus’ warning to heart. Simon Peter syndrome rebukes Jesus, looks away from Jesus, doesn’t let Jesus do what Jesus needs to do, doesn’t receive what Jesus wants to give. And Peter Peter syndrome is serious. Just as Jesus called Peter “Satan,” when he tried to get Jesus not to suffer and die, so Jesus is angry at those churches which deny his words, and rob his baptized children of their inheritance and the comfort that his body and blood give them. The words “for you” require all hearts to believe, not to doubt and speculate about what Jesus might have meant when he said that his body and blood are given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Eventually God’s Word got through to Peter. He stumbled again in his reason when he wouldn’t eat with Gentiles when Jews were around, but every pastor sins, and every pastor needs rebuke, because every Christian needs to be rebuked.
We all need rebuke. We need to be diagnosed of our Simon Peter syndrome. Everyday we go into the world and our flesh is a poor help against the pride of the world, and the lies of the devil.
People treat Jesus’ words as if they are simply information that can be filed away in a religious section of the brain. They cry out all the time, “Faith saves!” without considering that faith lives on every word that comes out of the mouth of God. If Christ is speaking in the Supper, which He is, and if Christ is speaking in baptism, which He is, and if Christ is speaking through the minister whom He has sent, which He truly is, then wouldn’t it be the height of arrogance for us to presume that we don’t need to listen to Him or to receive what He gives? People think that Christian faith is something they have because they understand something or because they have assented to some truth.
No, Christian faith is not so human a thing. Christian faith, faith in Christ, is divine. It is a trust in the human heart that no mere human being can create inside himself. It is born from and lives from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It cannot survive without the words of Jesus, because faith feeds on the flesh and blood of Christ. Faith feeds on the sufferings and death that Jesus underwent in his flesh and blood. Faith feeds on the forgiveness of sins that is given not merely once to us, but every dail, richly and freely in the words of Christ.
It is precisely because of our weakness that Christ instituted this sacrament. He knows we sin a lot. Today I sinned, and I don’t know where to turn, but to Jesus. But where shall I find him? Shall I find him in the fact that I knew him before and met him before? My sins loom in my mind greater than the cross that I have preached to others, but find so hard to believe myself in that moment when the devil blurs my faith with my sins and terrifies me with the wrath of God that I truly deserve. What can I do in such a circumstance? Should I pray? I will and I do, but if you have ever been in a fight with someone, and you say you’re sorry a thousand times, and he doesn’t answer you, what assurance do you have that He has forgiven you again? If it’s your wife you fought with, can you rely on her promises she made years ago before the altar of God? If it’s your brother you fought with, can you rely on the fact that you have the same parents and he should forgive you? Will your anxiety leave because you have an amazing intellect and ability to ponder those things that should define your relationship? But the relationship has been damaged, and you need to hear from the one you’ve hurt that you are forgiven. You need to hear the words that, even if you know the other person already means them, yet unless they are spoken, your heart will have only memories to rest on.
We celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus, but not as a mere past event. We pray to God, “remember me,” not so that God thinks into the past about us, but so that He thinks on us in the present. The Lord’s Supper, this sacrament of the altar is so precious because we are remembering a present reality. Christ’s death is being proclaimed and God is speaking to us. He is telling us in the most personal way possible what poor and wretched sinners need to hear. And so I come here, with my brothers and sisters, and I meet again the God whom I know, but I need to know again and I need to know more, and the sins that plague me need to meet this God and thus meet their end.
Because here I hear the voice of my Lord Christ thundering through the shouts of my bad conscience and singing to me in the gentlest, strongest words possible, “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, which is being poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Here the victory of the cross is made mine. Here the reconciliation that Christ accomplished once for all on the cross is spoken to me and I am once again reconciled, as we sing in that great communion hymn:
All our debt, Thou hast paid, peace with God once more is made.
And this body and blood cures me of Simon Peter syndrome. It is the same body and blood that cured Peter of it after he went out and wept bitterly after denying Jesus. It is the body in which God was not counting our sins against us on the cross. It is the blood that washes us again and again no matter where our feet have fallen. It is the sacrament that strengthens and keeps us steadfast in the true faith unto life everlasting.
Jesus washes our feet by forgiving us. So we will wash each other’s feet by forgiving each other. This is the love that we receive and that we give, and this sacrament keeps this love alive in our hearts, because it gives us the faith to know that our sins are forgiven, that we are clean, and that nothing inside or outside of us has more power than one crumb of that body and one drop of that blood. Amen.