PART FOUR: Lessons through People (2)
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 21. Peter
Luke 5:8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Focusing on Peter: As we move into the New Testament we pick up again on specific people and there is no better starting place than to consider Peter. Now to put this in context, let’s remember what we are doing: we are considering the whole subject of redemption and seeing how God perseveres with individuals (as well as with Israel as a nation) to bring them through into a good place from a not-so-good-place. Peter’s is a ‘bigger than life’ type of story, and yet one with which I suspect many of us could identify.
Early Encounters: Peter, the brother of Andrew, first encounters Jesus in Judah, presumably because he has taken time off from fishing (his occupation) to go to see John the Baptist (see Jn 1:40-42) and has his name prophetically changed by Jesus. We don’t know how Andrew and Peter got there, but it suggests a heart willingness to see what God was doing through this newly appeared prophet, and in so doing, they meet Jesus for the first time. When they return to Galilee they find Jesus has also relocated there and he calls them to give up their fishing to follow him (see Mt 4:18-20 and Lk 5). It is Luke who gives us the fuller account. Peter, in what took place, recognizes that in Jesus, there is something about Jesus that makes him feel very inadequate, a sinner. It is a moment of real self-revelation and revelation about Jesus. So far we see a seeker and a responder. Good stuff, the sort of people we like in church – but he is a fisherman so that might suggest more of a rough and ready character who braved the uncertain weather of the Sea of Galilee for a living.
A leading light: And so Peter goes with Jesus and the others. As I have studied Peter in the past, I have been struck by the number of times he is an ‘out-front’ sort of guy, so often opening his mouth and putting both feet in it, and yet there are other times when he is the one who steps out in faith. Here are some of the key times:
- In the boat in the storm he steps out in faith (Mt 14:28)
- He asks questions about Jesus’ teaching (Mt 15:15)
- He makes a bold declaration about who Jesus is (Mt 16:16)
- He even rebukes Jesus (Mt 16:22)
- He speaks out on the mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:4)
- He gets involved in the question that arose over paying temple tax (Mt 17:24-27)
- He questions over forgiveness (Mt 18:21)
- He questions about what’s in it for them in the future (Mt 19:27)
- He initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, but then all-in capitulates (Jn 13:6-9)
- He declares his over confidence in his own loyalty to Jesus (Mt 26:33)
A Summary of Peter? He appears bold, brash, impetuous and yet all for Jesus, having brilliant flashes of faith and revelation every now and then. He appears a real mixed bag of instability. He’s a live wire who is out front and going for it with a strong measure of self-confidence. He seems to revel in the wonder of the life with Jesus that impacts people and communities.
And then the Fall: Peter’s three-times denial of Jesus (Mt 26:69-75, Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62, Jn 18:15-18, 25-27) is well documented in all four Gospels. There are relatively few things that come up in all four Gospels, but this is one of them. It is the classic example of betrayal of friendship. Peter had denied that such a thing would happen: “he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” (Lk 22:33) when Jesus had prophesied, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers,” (Lk 22:31,32) and then, “Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (v.34)
Spiritual Dynamics: There is something here we so often miss: “Satan has asked to sift all of you.” Job 1 & 2 gives us insight of Satan’s access to the throne room of God and the biblical teaching would appear to be that Satan is allowed access to our lives where we tolerate less than godly characteristics. The Lord allows this that we might be chastised and humbled and brought to a place of repentance and cleansing and change. It is the same thing that we have seen again and again in these studies, that God, in His work of redemption, often has to bring discipline into our lives to help bring change to them so we can more fully become the people He has designed us to be.
Now in this situation Jesus reveals that the enemy has claimed opportunity to ‘sift’ all the disciples in what is about to happen. The Message version puts it, “Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen and although he prayed for them, he wasn’t going to shield them from it; Peter is going to find himself facing a particular temptation and he’s going to find that he’s not yet up to it, despite all of his ‘out-front’ leadership type words. God is looking for more than words; He’s looking for life transformation.
Peter’s Life Transformation: So Peter falls and he is devastated. In some ways, in the studies we have considered, I think he’s rather like David, and certainly would like to think that he’s a man after God’s own heart, but in experience he becomes more like Moses whose self-esteem was utterly demolished by forty years looking after sheep after having been a Prince of Egypt. For Peter it is a crash course. His failure matches that of Moses, but in his case, he kills a friendship and steps back to let his master be killed. But then Jesus comes back from the dead and meets them all in the locked room but says relatively little. They are told to go to Galilee where he will meet them. When I considered this at Easter it struck me what a turmoil Peter must have been in. He knew Jesus knows what had happened and he knows there is going to come some sort of accounting.
Personal Testimony: I have been through something a number of years ago with vague similarity to what happened here. In my case, to cut a long story short, I felt an absolute failure but had an opportunity at a conference to be prayed over by a top-flight group of prophets. I reasoned if God was going to have to chop me to pieces, it might as well be done properly. I found myself before this group and expected the worst. Instead, from the first word to the last, and it went on for over fifteen minutes, I received total and absolute acceptance from the Lord that reduced me to a blubbering wreck of gratitude.
And Peter: You find it in the last chapter of John’s Gospel where, to put it as simply as possible, Jesus makes Peter face his real and genuine love for Jesus three times (which makes the denial even worse in some ways) and then, instead of Jesus casting him away and saying (as we might expect), “Well, Pete, they were three good years but you didn’t pass the test so I release you to go back to your fishing,” we find Jesus basically saying, “OK, Pete, we’ve been through some pretty terrible days together haven’t we. I’ve got to be on my way back to heaven soon, so I place my church in your hands. OK!” And if I was Peter I think I would sit there flabbergasted, but that is what the love of God does. It devastates us!
And us? Now this isn’t just a nice story, this is God speaking His heart into us. You have failed in a big way? No worse than Peter. You feel bad about it? No worse than Peter. Yes, there has to be a facing up to it and maybe some days, weeks, months or even years of corrective therapy by heaven, but the last thing the Lord wants is for us failures to sit around in little heaps of guilt, shame and hopelessness. This is all about redemption – the ongoing sort from God, and that for me AND you. Amen? Amen!