The life of Peter is an inspiring story of how God uses us despite our failures. Peter, so adamant that he would not betray Jesus ends up doing exactly that. Yet unlike Judas his failure is subsequently turned on its head as hope wins through. Jesus restores him, commissions him and then we read in first Peter how he had experienced this living hope.
I have always really appreciated the life of Peter. Perhaps that is because I can identify with his gung-ho, speak-before-thinking, wear his heart on his sleeve kind of faith. Or perhaps it is more because I resonate with his cycle of pride, failure and restoration. Either way there is much in his story that can encourage us and give us hope as we seek to live for Jesus amidst our three persistent enemies; the “flesh”, the “devil” and the “world”. We will look at 4 snapsnots from Peter’s life which help us see that there is hope when we mess up:
Snapshot 1: Encountering Jesus (Luke 5:1-11) – We begin Peter’s story in Luke 5 when after a hard nights fishing (during which they had caught nothing) Jesus tells him to pull out again into the deep and let down the nets. Peter is naturally sceptical but nevertheless does what Jesus has asked and boy does it pay off. They catch so many fish that they need to call in help from other boats and even then they start to sink under the weight of all the fish. What is really interesting is Peter’s response to Peter in v8-11:
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
His response to the miracle is to fall at Jesus’ feet while simultaneously telling Jesus to get away from him because of his sinfulness. Encountering Jesus caused Peter to come to terms with his own sinfulness. Likewise my experience is that encountering Jesus tends to highlight my areas of failure and weakness. Jesus’ response however warms my heart (and I hope yours too) as He tells Peter not to be afraid and tells him that from now on he would fish for people. His response is to pull up his boat leave everything and follow Jesus. It seems that God wants to use us in-spite of our failures and in-spite of our sinfulness.
Snapshot 2: Fearless Courage (Matthew 14:22-34) – After feeding the 5,000 Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of him. Shortly before dawn we are told that Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake and when they saw him we’re told “they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear” (v26). They did not think it was real and seeing Him made them feel afraid. Jesus appears to have been walking out to them in the storm as the waves crashed up and down – this was not in calm waters! Peter speaks up “Lord, if it’s you…tell me to come to you on the water” and Jesus replies “Come” (v27-28). We’re told that Peter walked on water until he saw the wind and then he became afraid and began to sink. He followed Jesus’ instructions and he did walk on water. Peter was incredibly courageous and he followed Jesus to do something that defied nature. Peter personifies fearless courage but it doesn’t take long before things start to go wrong; as soon as he took his eyes of Jesus he became afraid and started to sink.
Snapshot 2: Misunderstanding Jesus (Matthew 16:13-28) – There are a number of examples that we could turn to here for how Peter misunderstood Jesus and His mission. The best known is probably Matthew 16 when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (v13). The disciples suggest some of the things people had been saying but Jesus goes further and makes it personal for Peter. Peter boldly declares “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v16). Jesus blesses him for this and then tells him;
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v18-19).
Soon after this however we find Jesus starting to teach about how He must suffer and be killed before rising from the dead. Peter however takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him saying “Never, Lord! … This shall never happen to you!” (v22). From Peter’s point of view there was no way he was going to allow that to happen. Jesus responds to Peter in the strongest way thinkable saying “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” (v23). Peter had grasped who Jesus was, but he had misunderstood what Jesus was about and why He had come. For Jesus this was an attack on his mission. Within the same breath Peter can say wonderful things and then the most ludicrous of things and yet despite the fact that Peter is not the finished article it is clear that Jesus wants to use Him.
Snapshot 3: Denying Jesus (Luke 22:54-62) – All four gospels record Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him and disown him before the rooster crowed the next morning (Matt 26:33-35, Mark 14:29-31, John 13:36-38 and Luke 22:31-34). In each Peter is adamant that even the others fell away he would not and he declared that he was willing to go even to prison and to death. In the Luke account we read;
31 ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ 33 But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’ Luke 22:31-34
Yet his bold and determined declarations soon pale into insignificance when having been asked three times whether he was one of Jesus’ disciples the cock began to crow. Each time Peter had denied that he had known Jesus. It is such a far cry from the man who drew his sword at the Mount of Olives to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest (Luke 22:50). In the following verse (v61-62) we read that Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter and then he remembered and wept bitterly:
61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
This ‘look’ was not the kind of look that said “I always knew you were going to fail” or “You’ve failed me”. It was a look of concern and Jesus’ commitment to Peter. This is not the end of the story however and there is however a fascinating contrast to be made between Peter and Judas. Both men failed Jesus and let Him down; one gave up hope while the other was repentant and subsequently restored. The life of Peter is a clear lesson in the fact that with Jesus there is always hope when we mess up.
Snapshot 4: Experiencing Grace (John 21) – John 21 is one of my favourite chapters and it fits wonderfully here with the things we have been talking about. It is the account of the third of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples by the sea of Galilee. The chapter begins with Peter disciples going fishing. It is however another one of those nights where they worked hard all night but caught nothing. Then early in the morning they encounter Jesus (though they do not realise it) from the sea shore and he asks them “haven’t you any fish” (v5). When they respond negatively Jesus tells them to “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (v6) and it is no surprise to learn that when they did, they were unable to haul in the net because there were so many fish. At this point John recognises that He was Jesus and Peter immediately jumps into the water. The rest follow in the boat and they soon find Jesus with breakfast awaiting them.
Now things become really personal for Peter as Jesus asks him “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (v15). Peter responds saying “Yes, Lord” and “you know that I love you” and Jesus says “Feed my lambs”. This is repeated twice more until we read “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v17). One final time Jesus told him to “Feed my sheep” and then he told him about the kind of death by which he would glorify God. Finally Jesus says to him “Follow me” (v19). Peter had messed up big time but Jesus was gently restoring him and commissioning him for the future ministry that He had for him amongst His harvest. Peter was the rock upon whom Jesus would build His church (Matt 16:18). He was the one who stood up and preached to the masses at Pentecost (Acts 2) and it was he who wrote about a “living hope” at the start of his first letter;
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5
You see there is nothing that we can do that can put us beyond the reach of God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves unusable in God’s service. The life of Peter should be a huge encouragement to us all amidst all of our failures and weaknesses – we can all share in this living hope and we all have an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us. I can identify with Peter, I too am quick to speak, quick to dive in feet first and quick to mess up. Yet I am thankful that when I do so I too can experience this living hope…