The Hope Found in the Story of an Unfaithful Disciple
One of the things I think of when I remember being a little girl is skinned knees. It wasn’t that I was clumsy, I think I just had too great an opinion of my own abilities. I was the kind of kid who would jump to that branch in the tree that was a little too far, or dive for that ball that was just a little out of reach. And I would fall. I attempted to do things that I didn’t have the skill or the strength to do yet– like skateboard down the street in front of my house.
It was very hilly where I grew up and the road that ran in front of my house was quite steep. I had seen older teenage boys speed down that hill on their bikes without even holding onto the handle bars. Surely I could ride my skateboard down. Wrong. Skinned knees…hands…elbows…and forehead. I fell hard. What made me think I could ride down a hill like that?
I think Peter and I must have had something in common.
Peter. The rock. The disciple Jesus planned to use to build his church (Matthew 16:18). The disciple who recognized Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:15-17). Peter, who followed Jesus through thick and thin; who cut off a man’s ear to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10). Peter, who walked on water (Matthew 14:28-29). Even this disciple stumbled…fell hard…gave up hope…lost faith. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, this Peter thought surely he would stand strong and remain faithful even if none of the other disciples did. Wrong. What made this disciple think that he could do it if no one else could?
And if even Peter could fall when things got rough, what hope do the rest of us have?
Yes, there’s a warning for us in Peter’s story, but there’s also tremendous hope: a hope that can also be ours.
Pride Comes Before a Fall
It was the week of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were together in the holy city, Jerusalem. Jesus had come into the city amidst cheers, but now there were rumblings of opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. A lot was going on, but they set aside time to have a meal together and celebrate the Passover. The conversation at this Passover dinner was different than any other. Rather than recalling that first Passover night, Jesus was talking about all sorts of things that confused and dismayed the disciples: betrayal, suffering, dying, going away, a new covenant in his blood… All very strange and unsettling.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing Jesus told the disciples was that they would all desert him that night (Matthew 26:31); they would all fall away (Mark 14:27). Imagine the uproar in that room…the shock…the denials…and through it all burst Peter’s voice,
“Not me, Lord. Even if all the others dessert you, I won’t! I will never fall away! Even if I have to die, I will die for you. I will never be unfaithful.”
Peter very passionately, and maybe rather arrogantly, believed his faith was strong enough – he was strong enough – to stand even if others fell. What made him think he was so different from everyone else?
A Warning for Us All
Before we get too down on Peter and his exuberance, remember my little incident on the hill with my skateboard. What made me think I could tackle that hill? Pride? Maybe. Arrogance? Probably. Over-confidence? Certainly. We are not so different from Peter. How many times have we looked at Peter’s denial and thought, “Peter, how could you? I’d never do that!” The truth is, we all could and we all have. (And remember that Jesus told them the other disciples would all dessert him as well.) Maybe we haven’t denied knowing Jesus (yet), but there are plenty of times we overestimated our ability to withstand temptation and failed the test.
I wasn’t prepared to take that hill. Peter wasn’t prepared to face that trial.
The time to prepare for a trial is well in advance. Click To Tweet Peter had that opportunity in the garden at Gethsemane. Right after dinner, Jesus asked Peter (and James and John) to keep watch and pray – that they might not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:37-38). But what did Peter (and the others) do? He fell asleep!Like Peter, are you sleeping (literally or figuratively) when you should be praying and keeping watch? Let's stop sleep-walking through life! Click To Tweet
1 Peter 5:8 warns us,
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
Even the Great Ones Fall Sometime
And when Peter did fall, he fell hard.
Jesus was arrested and taken to the home of the Jewish high priest to be questioned. Peter followed with another disciple – at a distance (already, Peter the bold was beginning to waffle). In the courtyard of the high priest, the religious leaders ridiculed and abused Jesus. At first, Peter watched from just outside the courtyard, behind the gate; but then the other disciple got Peter closer – right inside the courtyard – because he knew some of the priests (John 18:15-16).
That’s when a woman recognized him. “You were with Jesus. You’re one of his followers, aren’t you?”
Matthew 26:70 says that “in front of everyone” Peter replied, “No, I’m not. I don’t even know him.” Peter denied he even knew Jesus – in front of everyone…the other disciple that was with him…the priests…the Roman guards…the household servants…and…Jesus. They were all in the courtyard together. Jesus was right there. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Peter – to feel Jesus’ eyes on him as he disowned him. How that must have pained Peter; the shame he must have felt.
A little later, while Peter was warming himself by the fire with some of the guards, someone else thought he recognized him. “You must be one of his disciples.” Again, Peter denied it. “No, I’m not.”
And then, one of the household servants – one who happened to be a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off in the garden (busted!) – didn’t believe him. “Didn’t I see you with Jesus in the garden?” (John 18:26) But Peter didn’t give it up. Peter swore that he didn’t know Jesus at all.
AND THE ROOSTER CROWED.
At that very moment, Jesus turned, and looked RIGHT…AT…PETER. (Luke 22:61) *Gasp*
There was no hiding what he had done. There was no taking it back. Peter, who thought he was the most loyal disciple; Peter, who thought he was beyond falling away; Peter, who loved Jesus, had betrayed him in the worst way – to his face. Not even Peter was immune to this kind of failure – none of us are.
Peter was devastated. He ran away weeping bitterly.
Hope for the Fallen
Thank goodness Peter’s story doesn’t end there – and neither will ours.We typically read Peter's story as a story of great failure. But Peter's story isn't a story of failure, it's a story of second chances. Click To Tweet
One morning after Jesus had risen, he had breakfast on the beach with his disciples (John 21). Jesus took Peter aside, one-on-one. There he was, face to face again with Jesus. That must have been a difficult conversation.
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do.”
Jesus told Peter, “Then feed my lambs.”
A second time, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Again, Peter answered, “Yes, you know I do!”
Jesus told him, “Then shepherd my sheep.”
A third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” This time, Peter was hurt. Yes, this must have been painful. He answered, “You know everything, Lord. You know that I love you.” Jesus knew, but Peter needed to say it out loud – just as he had denied Jesus out loud. Jesus gave him that opportunity. How incredibly personal. How incredibly intimate. How incredibly merciful!
Jesus told Peter, “Then tend my sheep.”
The hope we find in Peter’s story is the hope of mercy, forgiveness, and second chances. Jesus did’t give up on Peter simply because he failed the test. The same mercy Jesus showed Peter is available to us. Just as Jesus forgave Peter, he will forgive us when we fall; and Jesus will meet with us one-on-one, just as intimately and personally as he met with Peter. What a marvelous hope!
Hope for a Future
After that, Peter was a different man. He had gained a new humility and learned not to rely on his own strength. Never again did Peter deny Jesus. Instead, when Peter raised his voice, thousands came to believe (Acts 2:14-47). Peter was tending to the sheep. For the rest of his life, Peter taught, cared for, and led Jesus’ sheep. In the end, Peter did die for Jesus, just as he said he would. There is no biblical record of Peter’s death, but early Christian writers reported that Peter was executed by Nero.
In spite of Peter’s past failure, there was a place for Peter to do great things for the kingdom. When Peter repented, Jesus was quick to give him an assignment. We too can have hope for a future. Like Peter, our story isn’t over when we stumble and fall. Second chances. If we repent and return to Jesus as Peter did, he will restore us and use us to do great things for his kingdom.
Want more Easter hope? Read more posts in our Easter series:
We’re excited to give you some lovely free Easter art!
There are 4 different quotes and two different styles of art for the quotes:
Picture 1: “He has risen.” Mark 16:6
Picture 2: “Do not abandon yours to despair. We are Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” John Paul II
Picture 3: “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” Martin Luther
Picture 4: “Behold, I make all things new.” Revelations 21:5
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