In part one we begin to clearly see just how much we are all like Peter. We see why he tends to be the key disciple for Jesus to focus on because of how he represented so many people then and now. As we go further, we’ll see even more of why he is so easy to relate to.
Shaken by the Rebuke of Jesus
Life will often send us tests that include circumstances that will push or stretch us to our very limits. When this happens, do we pass the test? Or do we fall back into our old habits and defeats? The pattern of having setbacks in life following progress is something that should be expected. It’s true in our lives and it was very true in Peter’s life as well.
In Matthew 16 we see an illustration of how Peter experienced a dramatic and life-shaking defeat right on the heels of a wonderful moment of insight. One minute Peter is warmly affirmed by Jesus. But then it was immediately followed by a humiliating rebuke by Christ. Through this process, it helps all of us to see just how quickly our emotional landscape can shift. It shows us again just why it is so important for all of us to keep our focus on God.
A Moment of Insight for Peter
Jesus had just finished another confrontation with the religious leaders and then He traveled north with His men to the base of Mount Hermon in the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was a Roman outpost where Roman troops would reside.
It appears that Jesus chose this place with a backdrop of false religion and idols. This is where He would test His followers about their opinion of Him. It is also here that Peter would pass the first test with flying colors, but would only be rebuked for failing the second test. Something poor Peter never saw coming.
The first powerful question had many answers. He asked his disciples the first one: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man , am?” There were several answers that they gave Him: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. But no one called Him the Messiah.
Sure the summary of popular opinions about His identity was impressive. All of them were favorable, but none of them were adequate or correct. Even those who spoke well of Jesus didn’t fully get what they saw right before their own eyes.
It’s really no different today, over 2,000 years later. Even today when you ask people “Who is Jesus?” the answers are nearly the same as they were 2,000 years ago. Way too often, the inexpressible wonder and majesty of the true identity of Christ is completely lost.
This is why it is so important that we don’t miss what He was doing with His disciples at the base of Mount Hermon. With the different options of public opinion fresh in their minds and with the garden of the gods of the world all around them, Jesus asked a second very important question.
He made this next question personal when He asked them: “But, who do you say that I am?” This question was His intent from the start. Their own eternal life depended on their knowledge of who Christ was. Their relationship with their Father in heaven all depended on their knowledge of who Jesus was. His question was almost as if He were saying “Don’t parrot back to me the multitudes and other empty speculations from the public.”
Did the disciples truly understand who Jesus really was? Well, it seems that Peter understood and gave his very timely answer to this eternal question by replying: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
What made Peter’s answer so different from the public opinion was not just the huge amount of evidence Jesus had provided but it also showed the work of God in the heart of Peter that was being brought to life. The faith that God had put into his heart. Because of this, Jesus replied lovingly: “Blessed are you, Simon Peter, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
This was an incredible moment in Peter’s life. Look how far he had come in such a short amount of time. From being a fisherman who was untrained in theology to a disciple who uttered the greatest theological statement in all of history. His spiritual growth had been the byproduct of his exposure to Jesus. That exposure bore fruit in clarity of mind that was profound to Peter. Everything Jesus had done with Peter up to that moment had been to bring him to this point of understanding in his life.
But for Peter, like us, life was a roller-coaster ride with all of its ups and downs. His remarkable moment of God-given insight was quickly followed by a very disappointing failure. Right after proclaimed his knowledge of who Christ was, Jesus started to unfold the eternal plan of God, but Peter wasn’t ready for this plan.
Peter’s Disappointing Failure
Jesus started explaining to His disciples that He must return to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, and be killed by them and then raised on the third day.
The most important word here is “must”. He was telling them that this was a divine mandate, one which He could not refuse. He told them there would be no looking back, no turning back and that He must face the danger and must return to Jerusalem, a place of many dangers waiting for Him.
There were two realities that Jesus had to face that He wanted the disciples to accept:
The Human Reality – Christ had to suffer as the natural outcome of all that He had been saying and doing. People everywhere were starting to reject His message, and the religious leaders were plotting a way to get rid of Him. This was the inevitable consequences of His radical message He had been presenting to people who were spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind.
The Divine Reality – Christ wasn’t just devoting Himself to enduring human pain and rejection, but He was devoted to the eternal counsel of God who was operating in Him and leading Him to the suffering that would be followed by a victorious resurrection from the dead.
Not understanding this, Peter responded just as wrongly to this matter as he had rightly responded to the question posed by Jesus “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter immediately took Jesus aside and replied, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Wrong response.
With that response, Peter revealed a big personal blind spot. Without him realizing it, his heart was filled with presumption. In the first-century Jewish culture, saying “Far be it from You” was simply a violent expression that was filled with anger. It made him look as if he were the master and teacher, not Jesus! Peter was speaking as if he really understood God’s will better than the Son of God whom he had just confessed who he believed He was.
The reason why Peter responded this was was that he had his own plans and ideas about the future and what Jesus was saying meant that He would suffer and die. This to Peter sounded absolutely unthinkable and impossible for him.
The lesson here for all of us here is that so much of our living and thinking is rooted in our own predefined expectations. Far too often, we fail to understand that God’s ways are not our ways. When we won’t allow God to be God, and when we don’t see our dreams or goals being fulfilled, we tend to respond with presumption out of our own resentment, anger, and bitterness.
The Rebuke From Jesus
Jesus immediately turned to Peter in reply: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
This shocking rebuke from Christ must have shaken Simon Peter to his very core. Jesus had just called him Satan, which means “adversary.” Why did Jesus do this? Well, because Peter was doing the same thing Satan had done when he tested Christ in the wilderness. With far better intentions, but with terribly wrong presumptions, Peter, like Satan himself, was resisting the Cross for which Jesus had come into the world for.
On top of calling Peter Satan, he also said that he was an offense, which means a “stumbling block in Greek. The Cross was intended to be the stumbling block for the world, but Peter had mindlessly become a roadblock to the path of Christ.
Even if Peter’s words were meant to show his love for his Master, the response from Jesus made it clear that Peter’s words came from a different source, a heart filled with presumptive thoughts of self-confidence and self-interest.
This kind of heart is fueled by natural affection and inclination rather than by the Spirit of God. The result is that it sees only the momentary interests of “me”, instead of the overarching purposes of God. Even though we don’t knowingly choose to have such a heart, we, just like Peter, can learn and experience the hard way. We need to remember that:
- a self-centered person cannot be a God-centered person.
- a self-deceived person cannot be a God-sensitive person.
- a self-driven person cannot be a God-purposed person.
It was the natural inclination of Peter’s own human nature that caused him to thoughtlessly assume the role of rebuking God the Son. Peter is a prime example that we need to realize what we all are really like, apart from submitting our own hearts to the will and Word of God.
To Peter’s credit, this shattering and humbling corrective he received from his Lord was taken in the proper spirit. He got the message. In fact, as they moved closer to the events that lead to the Cross that he wanted to prevent, his total commitment to stay true to Christ at all cost just intensified.
Reflection: Think about who our society thinks Jesus is. What can we do to make sure they know Him as Savior and Lord?
Shaken by the Failure to Prepare
There is no substitute for being prepared. This applies to living by faith as well. We won’t ever accomplish it through our own strength. And when we try, we fail. It’s only when we are prepared for the challenges of life that we can face them in the grace of our Father in heaven.
Jesus Shows Concern and Caution
After the events of the upper room, the disciples started maneuvering for a position in what they thought would be the ruling administration of the long-awaited Messiah. During all of this Jesus turned to Peter and warned:
“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
There were difficult times ahead, moments that were going to be far too big for Simon Peter. So in his first warning, Christ gave both an assurance and a way for facing those hard times.
His second warning came when they arrived at Gethsemane. Jesus Himself was again going to prepare for the horrors that wait for him by praying to the Father. But he started off first by praying for His disciples: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
There is a very important message here. If Jesus needed a time of prayer to face the difficulties ahead, how much more did His disciples need to pray? It was so very important to Jesus that He warned them a second time: “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
When we spend time in the presence of God, it prepares us for all the challenges that will test our faith in Him, moments we couldn’t handle through our own strength. Even though Jesus urged Peter to pray in the anticipation of the darkness that was headed his way, Peter soon fell asleep, at a critical moment. Because he was not prepared, he was going to be shaken by yet another personal failure.
The Courageous Stand and Fall of Peter
We know that Jesus warned Peter that he was about to be tested by Satan. But he responded in typical Peter style: “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” After that Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times, abandoning Him in His darkest hour. Peter must have assumed that Jesus didn’t know how loyal he was determined to be. Just a little while later, Peter did show his resolve. When Judas came with the guards, he pulled out his sword and started swinging.
As courageous as Peter was, he once again found that he needed his Teacher far more than his Teacher needed him. Jesus told Peter to put down his sword and then He healed the servant whose ear Peter had cut off with his sword.
Remember, Jesus had given Peter plenty of warning that a difficult time was coming. But when Peter drew his sword, he showed self-reliance that left him completely unprepared for what was happening. When he pulled out his sword, he was proving his willingness to go to prison or even die for his Master. He was trying to live up to the name Jesus had given him. You have to admire his heart for that.
To Peter’s credit, even though the other disciples forsook Jesus and fled after His arrest, Peter tried to remain strong. He followed the arresting mob as they took Jesus to the house of the high priest. However, an unsuspecting Peter would be rocked even harder by fulfilling Jesus’s prediction of his denial.
We all know the story, during the arrest, Peter cursed and denied that he even knew Jesus. His fall, however, was greater than Peter could ever have imagined. Just as he uttered his third denial, the cock crowed. This was tragic, yet it’s even more tragic because it was totally unnecessary. If Peter had just prayed. If only he had paid attention to the warnings of Christ. The lack of preparation is what led to extreme and deep regret.
Peter’s collapse wasn’t unusual. In fact, it is the collapse that faces all of us when we decide that we are strong and have need of nothing. Self-sufficiency sets us up, and then tears us down. If we truly understand our own inadequacy, we will be more likely to remember the words of Paul:
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The failure of preparing by making use of Peter’s spiritual resources, choosing instead to depend on himself resulted in him experiencing the biggest collapse of his life. This seismic shift in his life shook him to his very core. Sadly it didn’t have to happen, all he had to do was trust the warnings of Jesus more and less on himself.
Reflection – We don’t have Peter’s excuse of perhaps not “getting” what Jesus was doing. We know what Jesus was doing and why He was doing it. Yet are there times when we deny Him to others and act as if we don’t know Him? How do we prepare ourselves so we never find ourselves doing that?
Restoring Peter to Lead
Peter is so very much like all of us. Right up to the very last hours of his three years with Jesus, he struggled with failure. Yet as an expression God’s marvelous grace, the resurrected Christ sought out Peter and restored His dear friend to a lifetime of service.
After Jesus had made breakfast for the disciples, who had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee, there was a seaside meeting between Jesus and Peter. Jesus sat down with Peter for a very important one-on-one conversation. Jesus gently asked Peter three times if he loved Him and then told him the same number of times to feed His sheep. Jesus is leading Peter from utter failure to success. Peter is learning from the Teacher what his next task in His service will be: to feed the sheep, to lead His people, and to do so out of a strong love for Jesus Christ.
Peter, the one who denied Jesus not very long before that moment is now on a course toward serving Him in remarkable new ways. The one who had failed so miserably has been given new direction and new hope for success by his friend and Savior.
The result of Peter’s restoration, we find him just ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, preaching a great sermon on the Day of Pentecost in which 3,000 people gave their lives to the risen Lord. He then showed courage that was born of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by boldly declaring Christ’s resurrection to the very same people who had conspired to crucify the Son of God.
During it all, he also continued to do battle with his own heart. In Galatians 2:11, Peter was rebuked by Paul for aligning himself with men he knew to be in error. Peter, however, would move beyond his failings and would live out his life in service for the living Christ.
Years later Peter would write:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (1 Peter 5: 8-9)
The lessons of Gethesemane had finally taken their hold, so that Peter could use his painful life lessons and provide us with wisdom from his own life experiences. Peter reflects on his episodes of failure by marking out a path for spiritual growth and dependence, lessons learned through his pain and failure. His final words are a penned reminder of how easy it is to stumble and fall:
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever.” (2 Peter 3: 17-18)
Peter reminds us that coming to Christ is an event, but becoming like Jesus is a journey. Along the way, we all have ups and downs, like Simon Peter, but we can trust in the strength of Christ to enable us to be useful, in spite of our human failings and inadequacies.
Our struggles to live the Christian life can be a battle that lasts a lifetime, but it’s a battle worth fighting. It will be worth it all, as the song says, when we see Jesus. For then we will fully be like Him, when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) and the battle will finally be won.
Reflection – We have seen Peter’s failures and his successes. Preparation seems to be the key to transforming our lives from failure marked to success driven. In what areas do you feel you need to prepare better spiritually, and what are three practical things you can do to avoid failure?
Peter is a perfect example of the grace and mercy of God. God doesn’t just throw us away because of our blunders and sins and start all over. What God does is redeem us and makes us better.
Peter tended to do and say whatever seemed best at the moment. He has often been referred to as an impetuous blunderer. In his fear after Jesus was arrested, Peter claimed three times that he didn’t know Jesus. But later, on the basis of Peter’s three declarations of love, Christ turned Peter’s humiliating denial into a wonderful occasion of restoration. Even with all of his flaws, Jesus restored him to become the leader Christ knew the whole time that he would be and the protector of His sheep.
Peter’s story should remind us all that even the biggest blunder or sin is never too big for Jesus, nor are they irreversible. The most important thing is whether you love Jesus or not. When we love Him, Jesus can turn our most serious blunders and sins into awesome wonders!