Author: Connie Storr
Of all the apostles, I have a soft spot in my heart for Peter. While his strengths are well beyond me, I can readily identify with some of his weaknesses.
The gospels paint a vivid picture of the big fisherman. Peter was a man of passionate intensity – a risk-taker, a doer, a natural leader who wore his heart on his sleeve. He sprang into action quickly, often without thinking. He had a great desire to serve God, but sometimes his fear negated his faith. When Jesus enabled him to walk on water, Peter soon became alarmed by the wind and began to sink.
I can relate to that. Even when I see God enabling me to do something I know I can’t do, as soon as I take my eyes off Him, fear sets in and I start sinking. Then all I can do is what Peter did: cry out to Jesus to save me – not from the storm, but from drowning in my own anxiety.
Peter had his faith greatly tested that day. But a greater test was yet to come.
Jerusalem was celebrating Passover. Jesus had entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” The crowd was jubilant; their promised Messiah had come at last. They expected Jesus to overthrow the hated Roman rule, and establish Himself as their earthly king. They anticipated a political, not a spiritual, solution.
Even the disciples couldn’t grasp what Jesus was plainly telling them. When He explained that He would suffer, die and rise again, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Jesus said Peter had world-thoughts, not God-thoughts.
Peter had just affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and been told that the would build the church. But when Peter’s ideas of what the Messiah would be and do were turned upside down, he reacted by rebuking the Son of God. Instead of moving into line with God, he wanted God to move into line with him. Surely it couldn’t be a good thing for God’s Son to suffer and die! Peter may have been so horrified he didn’t even hear the part about being resurrected.
How often do I rebuke God when what seems like the obvious good doesn’t happen? Or when I blithely proceed with what I’m sure God wants, without bothering to involve Him in my plans? When I do these things, I put myself in God’s place and presume that I know better than God. No matter how good my intentions are, I’ve got things backwards.
After they’d eaten the Passover meal, Mark records this exchange between Jesus and Peter:
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them . . .
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today – yes, tonight – before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Then Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane. In spiritual agony, Jesus took Peter, James and John aside and asked them to keep watch with Him and pray. Exhausted, they soon fell asleep. When Jesus returned, He singled Peter out, asking, “Could you not keep watch one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Three times, Jesus left them to pray through His torment. Each time He came back to find them sleeping. When Judas appeared leading a detachment of soldiers and Jewish officials to arrest Jesus, Peter impulsively drew his sword and cut off the right ear of the High Priest’s servant. But Jesus said, “Enough of this!” and reached out, healing the man’s ear.
The soldiers seized Jesus and took him to the High Priest’s house. John brought Peter into the courtyard, where he warmed himself by the fire. Three times, he was challenged to admit his relationship with Jesus. Three times, he denied knowing Him. Then Luke tells us: Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord
Caught up in his fear, Peter was denying everything he had seen, heard and experienced in the years he spent with Jesus. He was denying the miracles, the message, the Messiah. But when his eyes locked with those of Jesus, his panic dissolved into pain. The dread of possible arrest and death was nothing compared with his horror at what he had just done. His staunch declaration of devotion to the death, made only hours earlier, lay like ashes on his tongue.
I can only imagine the soul-wrenching guilt, the sense of utter failure, that Peter must have dragged through the following days. His loud denials and curses were the last words Jesus had heard from his lips. Peter had often failed and been forgiven; surely this was unforgivable.
But when Mary Magdalene and the other women found the tomb empty, the angel told them to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus had risen. The specific mention of Peter was an indication of the forgiveness of God to a truly repentant heart.
If Jesus had not risen, Peter would have remained a failure, at least in his own eyes. Because Jesus rose from the grave, because Jesus kept on loving him, because Jesus forgave him, because Jesus filled him with His Holy Spirit, Peter became what Jesus had declared he would: the rock on which He built His Church. Tradition records that the man afraid of being arrested with Jesus was martyred by being crucified upside down at his own request, considering himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. The man who had failed miserably was used mightily.
When I fail, as I so often do, Peter serves as an inspiration to me. When my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak, I know that God will be my strength as long as I seek His face and keep my eyes firmly on Him. When I look at Peter, I see that God can take an ordinary, weak and fallible person like me, and by faith transform me into a vessel He can use.