Much is written about Peter in the Gospels. We can’t pretend to know him fully by what the Gospel writers have penned but it’s my conviction all that what we need to know that is of any benefit to us, is disclosed in scripture as the Holy Spirit inspired these ordinary men to record the events of living life with Christ. Scripture now becomes the blade that Holy Spirit uses to carve out in ‘US’ a totem, a fuller, a clearer image of the Christ of whom they speak.
Peter’s lessons learned can become lessons from which we too can learn. I thank God for the work of Christ in him and how that same hand, that shaped Peter, can and will shape me. One of the deepest cuts Jesus makes into Peter’s life is towards the close of His own. Before He leaves He is committed to pour more of His love, truth and grace into this man’s life. He continues the work He begun as He takes His blade and continues to shape him. His craftsmanship painful, yet outstandingly beautiful. To set the context for the final moments Peter has with Jesus let’s read some verses from Luke’s and John’s Gospels.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” 34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 (NLT))
54 So they arrested him and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. 55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. 56 A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!” 57 But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!” 58 After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!” “No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted. 59 About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62 (NLT))
36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” 37 “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me. (John 13:36-38.)
From my own reading, I imagine Peter to be a passionate, bold, enthusiastic and committed disciple. He seems an assertive character, willing to speak up and wants to be heard. The type of person that despite any circumstance is a ‘can do’ type and even annoyingly positive! There are many examples of Peter’s words and deeds in the Gospel stories, almost to the exclusion of the other disciples. In fact the whole of the Gospel of Matthew is peppered with the little
phrases ‘And Peter said’ or ‘Peter asked’. Did any of the others every say anything? Here are some examples of his words and service;
In the face of fear as he and his fellow disciples lives are threatened by a treacherous storm upon the Sea of Galilee, who is the one to boldly step out of the boat aiming to emulate His savior? (Matt 14) You’ve got it Peter!
When Jesus asks who His disciples who they think He is, who is the first to open his mouth? Yep Peter!
Who’s the one who wants to pin down and work out how many times you have to forgive someone? (Matt 18:21) He thinks he’s come up with a really great idea of forgiving not just once but seven times. Again it’s Peter. This looks like someone who really does want to learn.
It’s Peter who seems to ask the difficult questions, or so it seems, in Matthew 19:27 he asks Jesus “…we have left everything and followed You; what then is there in it for us?” Now that’s what I call highly assertive, he certainly gets straight to the point. Isn’t this self-interest at work here? Yep and yet Jesus initial reply is so gracious and loving. I may not have responded quite the same way!
And then of course there is the feet washing episode in which Peter looks like the holiest of the disciples. John records this act in detail. Here’s the little piece of dialogue;
6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” 8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” 9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Is this passion, enthusiasm and commitment real? “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” or should I ask you to bring me a bucket…….and not to wash feet! On the other hand, oh to have followers like this!
Lastly, there is that final moment when Jesus talks about His death and departure. And guess what? Who’s the first to have something to say? Yes right again, Peter! But Jesus has something far more profound to say to Peter. He could never have comprehend at this point in the unfolding of the final moments of Christ’s life how transformational these final words to would be for him.
In His grace and mercy he deals a blow to the soulish ‘Peter’, the Peter who was the ‘Simon Peter – Barjona’ of Matthew 16. The Gospel writer records that Jesus promise to use Peter in laying the foundations for the church. So why do I say Jesus takes a blow to this ‘Simon Peter’ in order to reveal the “Peter’ who God would use to establish a foundation for the first Church? Jesus has a purpose for Peter, a calling for him to fulfill but he needs to deal with Peter at a profoundly deep level in order for him to be able to accomplish all that God had set out for him to do. Let’s read this passage.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said, “Lord, I am
ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” 34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 (NLT))
Here we go again! Peter the bold and brave! “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” Of course this is not the truth! At this point Peter can’t lay down his life, he can’t go to prison. This is just the soulish, bold, brave Simon Peter, along with all his passion and enthusiasm that is speaking.
Notice Jesus words; “…So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter cannot strengthen anyone, he’s not ready to for the ministry Christ has called him too. Why? Because, and this is hard to believe, he hasn’t yet repented and turned to Christ again. Despite spending 3 years with the eternal Son of God Peter hasn’t really turned to Christ, he hasn’t really repented. The new Peter of which He spoke earlier in the Gospels is not yet fully formed. The ‘Old Man’, the ‘Simon Peter – Barjona’ needs to disabled in order for the real Peter to stand up and to get to this critical point Peter needs to come to place of profound and deep repentance. For him to find the will of God for his life Christ needs to become his magnetic north. Without this radical internal reorientation Peter will simply carry on being a bold, brave, passionate and enthusiastic person and miss the joy of really knowing and serving this Jesus. The Father has far more for him than he currently realizes.
Christ strikes a blow at this bold, brave and passionate man as He prophesies his denial of the one he claims to love and want to follow. Not just once will Peter deny Jesus but three times. In His love and full of grace and truth he even sets an alarm call to mark ‘Simon Peter’s’ demise, a Cockrill will crow. The crow is a call to repentance. More than this Luke tells us, as he tries his hardest to hide in the crowd the cock crows and Jesus glances at Peter ( At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter Luke 22:61). In that moment those fateful prophetic words come back to haunt him. This is to be the greatest act of love this savior could have offered Peter.
Where was the bold courageous man he thought he was? Where is the man who said he would go to prison or even die for his saviors cause? The confident and assertive Peter seems to have disappeared into the shadows of fear. Where was the loyalty he was sure that he had for Christ?
What was Peter’s response? Tears of repentance! (62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly). Suddenly this blow had knocked him off his feet. All his grand notions, his ambition and vision that had held him disappeared. At this point in time he is totally disorientated, but this is no ordinary moment of disappointment, self-doubt or rejection. This is a disorientation orchestrated by the very man who will shortly re-orientate him. Jesus knows he is to be the one who becomes the great under shepherd of the harvest in Jerusalem of Acts chapter 2 and 3. Before he can fulfil this remarkable calling he must be wounded in order to be made whole. Jesus made it clear that he can’t fulfil his calling to ‘strengthen the brothers’ ( Luke 22:31) until he has first received a final life shaping blow of the master craftsman. He must experience death, the death of ‘Simon Peter – Barjona’ in order for the real Peter to be resurrected. God cannot build with Simon Peter but he can build with Peter, the man who had a revelation of Christ.
Not only is he repentant, but we know the rest of the story! Just has Jesus had said he not only needs to repent but he needs to be ‘turned again’ to Him. This of course happens follow Jesus resurrection as he teaches Simon Peter the fishermen, that he can’t even fish, that is do the job he knows best with submitting to the word of Christ. (Peter has had a history of not submitting to the words of Jesus). Christ calls to him and Peter returns. He undoes the three denials by
leading him in three confessions of love and then commissions him to do the job he’d shaped and created him for. Without the denials, without the crowing of the cock, without the glance of Jesus, Peter would not have been the man He needed for the job He had planned for him to do. Being brought down (his failure to stay true to Jseus) was his saving grace!
This account of Peter’s final moments with Jesus have much to teach us. The words are as sharp today as when they were first spoken by Jesus to Peter. The blade that Christ used to in crafting Peter’s life is unchanging, it can touch our hearts and lives with as much authority if we care to let it. I am sure already the verses have spoken to your heart but let me draw together a few thoughts of how the unfolding work of Christ in Peter can be ours today.
That sounds a bit heavy! ‘What’s wrong with a bit of passion?” I hear you all say! “We could do with a bit more”! Our passions only have Kingdom value when fully submitted to Jesus and His word. It is un-submitted passion that sooner or later will protest against the word of God and ultimately the person of Jesus (He is the word made flesh). Let me explain by taking a little look at John 13:36.
36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” 37 “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus is clear, in fact, without question it is 100% clear. “You can’t go with me now…..” What is that Peter doesn’t understand about “…you can’t go with me now”? Peter’s passion has become a protest. This is not the first time that Peters ‘passion’ becomes a protestation against the words of Jesus. When Jesus is about to wash Peters feet, and He tenderly explains that he will not understand this act now, but will in the future, it’s not good enough for Peter. He say’s “Never shall you wash my feet!” (John 13:8). Again his human passion and assertive conviction become a protest against the words of Jesus. Peter’s response comes out of his ‘self-will’ than true acts of discipleship that come from submission to God’s will. Peter’s soulishness had the potential of stopping the will of God rather than fulfilling His will. One commentator say’s; Possibly, he is even clinging to Jesus, trying to prevent him from departing in accordance with the Father’s will (Ridderbos 1997).
Most of us prefer to be around people who are positive and have an optimistic outlook on life. After life is too short to be morose and negative! It is however so easy to mistake positivity and passion for faith. It is this very ‘self-will’ in Peter that Jesus sets a time aside to disable and then pushes home the point by setting an alarm in the form of a cock crowing and glancing across the crowds. What a loving God He is. He wants to disable our ‘self-will’ that results in fear of failure, disappointment and hiding and so charge us with the truly satisfying life of submission to His will. This is a place of great freedom where we need hide no more.
Prayer: Teach me not to question your word and ways O Lord. Teach me to submit to your word.
A very good friend reminded me one day that in the shadow of our greatest strength lays our greatest weakness. Sadly few of us ever really get to grips with what lays in the shadows of our strengths. However Jesus couldn’t have Peter as the leader of the early church without doing just that, exposing what lay in the shadows. The Lord had set this time for him to face the truth about himself. Jesus wanted to confront him with the reality of his own pride and self-endeavor.
You see, if Peter were to lay down his life that night as he said to Jesus he would this would be an act of selfish martyrdom rather than an act of obedience to the Fathers will. But in fact he is not really able to lay down his life for Jesus at this point. Despite his own estimate of his devotion, his love is still too selfish. The Lord will bring him to a new stage of maturation after the resurrection, though even then there is evidence that yet further maturation is needed.
Repentance was his only way forward and that involved Jesus revealing the truth about the condition of his heart. He was saved by Christ prayer and his prophetic word. Jesus saves Peter but not just from his sin but from himself. That is the nature of salvation.
Prayer; Show me the truth, reveal the true condition of my heart and in so Lord save me from myself.
In my experience, often in Christian circles, other than in connection with the initial profession of faith or when dealing with specific sins, the word repentance carries negative connotations. In prayer meetings where I have talked about repenting for our hardness of heart it goes quite, many see it as negative and inward looking. Others advocate that instead we should move on to reaching the lost, healing or claiming our rights as believers. Of course it’s not either or, it’s both and!
What I am fascinated by in this account of Jesus and Peter’s conversation is His calling Peter to repent and return! Well surely he hasn’t gone away, so how can he return? He’s been with Jesus for three years surely he’s repented already, he is, after all, one of the twelve apostles. I am sure he had repented to become one of the twelve, I am equally sure he was close to Jesus, but Jesus seems to have had a deeper work in mind. He could see the need for a more profound level of repentance to take place in Peter’s heart and life. Yes he’d been close but not close enough. Jesus prophetic declaration of his denial foretold of a separation, a leaving that would enable a revelation of the truth. In fact beneath his protestations about loyalty and faithfulness the truth was, that he was already in denial, he just didn’t know it. When the alarm bell rings or should I say the cock crows, he sees it leads him to a deep level of repentance and remorse.
Repentance and returning must be a regular part of our walk with Christ. There are things that he wants to deal with that will enable us to be ready for the mission for which he has called each of us.
Prayer; Thanks you for the great news that you want me to know you more intimately. Teach me how to repent and return.