Peter. If you’ve read any part of the New Testament, specifically the Four Gospels, you know this name. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter was always the one doing or saying the wrong thing. He was the one I found myself forgetting the name of during a story to then finish reading it and thinking to myself, “please don’t be Peter, please don’t be Peter,” because I already knew it was Peter. It’s always Peter.
He tried, but he always fell short. He doubted. He questioned. He lied. He denied. He compared himself to others. Aloof and fearful, Peter set the bar pretty low for being a disciple.
Let me provide you with five examples:
1. Matthew 14:28-31 – “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Peter doubted. He lacked faith, and he began to sink.
Peter, this is JESUS we are talking about. He is walking on the water toward you. You are walking on the water toward him. A little wind started up and you thought it would blow you over? Have a little faith!
I find myself doubting what I know to be true more times than I’d care to admit. I know that God keeps His promises to us. I know His word is truth. I know we can do all of Jesus’ works and even greater today. And yet. Sometimes I forget, and other times I don’t believe all of that enough to act on it. I start right along, and then I begin to doubt. I watch as my feet slip below the surface, and I call on Jesus to rescue me. And graciously, because our God is not one who shames, He gently reminds me to have faith.
2. Matthew 16:22-23 – Jesus predicts his death to his disciples, to which Peter replies: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Peter questioned. He questioned the authority of God and what He had set in motion. And then Jesus called him Satan. Ouch.
Come on, Peter. Do you really think you are one to be denying the repute of something His father in Heaven spoke to Him? You are a human. You can’t know the ways of God. Though your words were intended to comfort your dear Jesus, they had you questioning the authority of the God who ordained all of this to happen.
The Bible is a big book. It’s got a lot of confusing stuff in there that I can never hope to understand. And when I am overwhelmed by things far beyond what I can comprehend, I am tempted to turn them into what I can make sense of. I have no authority to bend God’s word to suit my needs or desires. I have no right to question what He says. It seems that sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our own life that we forget who gave it to us in the first place.
3. Matthew 26:33-35 – Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Peter lied (granted, he didn’t know this was a lie at the time), and he failed to trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Peter, Jesus literally just told you you were going to deny him. Jesus. Like the guy who is fully God and fully human; the guy you earlier declared to be the Messiah. I think you can trust what he says. If he says you’re going to deny him, you gotta know He’s right.
I think about this a lot. When push comes to shove, will I own my Jesus? If there’s a gun to my head, will I deny Him? Same as Peter, I like to think I would never.
4. Matthew 26:70-75 – “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man! Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter denied. Three times he proclaimed never having known Jesus. The Jesus who loved him, cared for him, walked with him, and would later die for him.
This always breaks my heart, Peter. You knew this was coming, and you still let your mortality interfere with your love for Jesus. The man you said you loved enough to die with, you denied you ever knew.
How often, though, do I also let my fleshly desires, even my own primal needs, come before my love for Jesus? OFTEN. I say I prioritize Him, and a lot of times, I really put in a good effort. But at the end of most days, I know I could have placed Him first in so many more ways. I’ve never denied Jesus in the face of death, but in the small daily things, I do. Those thoughts about that person I know I shouldn’t have, the time I know I shouldn’t spend watching that movie, the hours I waste away on my phone. All of it comes at a cost. A decision is made. Something is sacrificed. Often, that something is Jesus.
5. John 21:22 – When Jesus returns, in the book of John, Jesus asks Peter (3 times, ironically) if he loves him. Peter answered every time that he does. Then Jesus indicated the kind of death Peter would endure for His glory, ending with, “Follow me!” And Peter, in classic Peter form, looked over at John and asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me!”
Peter compared. And he was called OUT by Jesus telling him that it doesn’t matter what happens to that guy over there. All that matters is that Peter follows Jesus – whom he loves and has decided to follow.
Keep your eyes on your own paper, Peter. What’s it to you if John doesn’t suffer a painful death? What’s it to you if he stumbles upon good fortune? It doesn’t have any bearing on you, because YOU follow ME.
I find myself with my eyes on the other guy’s paper all too often – checking out his answers, measuring my shortcomings against his. Jesus is gently prompting — quit looking at that person; fix your eyes on ME. Jesus is, after all, who I claim to follow, and if I get so caught up in looking at what everyone else is doing or where everyone else is going, I might miss out on what I have been called to do, or worse yet, who is calling me there.
When I see the finish time of a fellow runner in the same race; or the Instagram picture of a seemingly more successful writer, or teacher, or mother; or listen to a talented artist or musician; or see that massive house that little family owns right on the beach – I slip into thinking, “hey God, what about that guy over there?” I begin to question why they have something that I don’t or why I have something that they don’t, and I am reminded of just how similar I am to Peter. And constant as ever, Jesus responds to me in my own trap of comparison the same as he did to Peter: “what is that to you? You follow me!”
Peter gets to walk alongside Jesus as His disciple, and he still can’t keep it together. Couldn’t Jesus have picked someone better – more righteous, more honest, less deserving of a face palm every few chapters? The more I think on this, the more I know Jesus chose Peter for multiple reasons (many being beyond our understanding); but one being, so we could relate to a guy all too similar to us and understand the amazing grace of our Father. In all of Peter’s screw ups, I see a human – flawed, yet forgiven. Not outside of the grace of God. Just like myself.
Looking at all of these interactions with Peter, it would be easy for anyone to write him off as the silly Bible character who denied Jesus three times.
Funny thing is, though, God has been known to take terrible messes and turn them into beautiful vessels for His glory.
At first glance, Peter is certainly not the type of guy one would choose to build a Church upon. But God. God sees more in us. He calls out the best in us. He called Peter “the rock” – the rock on which he would build His church. And build His church through Peter He did.
What I find especially beautiful about this is that Jesus declared this destiny over Peter before Peter denied Him (Matthew 16:18). Jesus knew, and He loved him anyway. When Peter messed up, he always ran back to Jesus in repentance. And Jesus – always – forgave him.
Like all redemptive stories, Peter went on the change this world for the glory of God, just as Jesus had prophesied.
In the book of Acts, we watch as the tragically foolish Peter is transformed into an entirely new man, something only the resurrection of Jesus could accomplish. Peter became a man on a mission – sharing the good news of Christ with everyone he encountered. He performed the same works as Jesus – healing the sick, raising the dead, receiving visions from God. Throughout Acts, miracles were commonplace, and people were coming to know the Lord left and right. Peter was bold and courageous in his faith, encouraging others to be the same and creating a noticeable shift from the earlier Peter who doubted and denied.
But that’s what the Lord does. He loves us. Sometimes that looks like Him calling us out; sometimes that looks like Him calling us up. And sometimes, most of the time, it looks like both. His love is a transformative love – it takes what we were and turns us into what He is.
Our Father in Heaven is not without mercy. He wants you. And fortunately, He has been known to use the biggest failures of humans to bring His kingdom to earth. When we are weak, He is strong. I’m thankful for Peter’s example that reminds us that there is hope in the midst of our mess.
His glory shines brightest in the holes of our humanity.