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01.01.1970 01:0000    Comments: 0    Categories: General Articles      Tags:
A "Theophostic" Moment in the Life of Simon Peter

Ed M. Smith

Consider in the following passages, how the Lord Jesus worked in Peter's life after Peter denied Him three times. I have taken all the Gospel accounts and tried to pull all that occurred in the narrative into the story line.

The night Jesus was to be betrayed, He told the disciples that they would all desert him. Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you" (Matthew 26:31–33 NRSV).

Jesus told Peter, "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." And he [Peter] said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:31–33).

When Jesus led his disciples into the Garden to pray, Judas brought a group of people to arrest Jesus.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave… Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:10–11).

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"

Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54–62).

After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to the disciples one morning while they were fishing. They ate the breakfast He had waiting for them over a charcoal fire, the only other time such a fire is mentioned apart from the instance of Peter's denial. Then Jesus began to deal with Peter's painful past. He did not tell Peter to put his past behind him but actually brought it up.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." (John 21:13–19).

Notice Peter's lie-based thinking. When Jesus told Peter that He was about to be betrayed and killed and that all of His disciples would scatter, Peter boldly took his stand – he would die before he would deny Jesus. However, Jesus exposed Peter on the spot, telling him, "Before the cock crows three times, you will deny me."

Since he buckled in fear just a few hours later, we can safely say that Peter's declaration was rooted in fear, not courage. But this is common in all of us. Something happens that triggers our lie-based thinking and surfaces a negative emotion. Rather than coming clean with our feelings (which reveal our true thinking), we cover them over with a false front that puts us in a more positive light. You see this sort of behavior today when a pastor who is struggling with lustful thoughts continually preaches against immorality.

Jesus' disclosure of His forthcoming death triggered fear in Peter that he was unwilling to admit. Instead, he boasted of his willingness to die if necessary. Peter gave the "right," noble response, but was not confessing his true feelings. I think Peter believed dying for Jesus was the right thing to do and really wished that he could die if he was called on to do so, but his emotions did not match his logical data.

Not long after, when the band of men came to arrest Jesus, we see Peter again trying to push through his fear by attacking the high priest's servant with a sword. As Jesus was led off to trial, the disciples all ran away. Peter, we are told, followed, but only at a distance. Later in the courtyard he watched Jesus being questioned, spat on, and beaten.

Again, Peter was trying his best to do the right thing, getting as close to the action as his fear would allow. But his lie-based fear was exposed, first when a servant girl challenged him and he twice denied having been with Jesus. Finally, when man who had been at the arrest scene identified him as one of Jesus' companions, Peter's performance-based spirituality reached its limit, and he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man." His fear had completely taken over.

The Scriptures say that as the cock crowed, Jesus turned and looked over at Peter. Eye contact with Jesus at the moment of his exposure and defeat must have created intense pain in Peter. He left the courtyard and wept bitterly.

Jesus allowed Peter to wait a while before taking him aside to talk to him. I don't believe Jesus did anything by chance, but purposefully chose this third post-resurrection appearance to trigger the pain in Peter's heart. Jesus deliberately asked Peter three times if he loved Him, which we are told hurt Peter. In the setting of the charcoal fire, it appears that Jesus was intentionally triggering Peter's memory-based pain by way of association.

Jesus' kind but unrelenting confrontation positioned Peter to hear the truth he so desperately needed to hear. The truth was immediately forthcoming. Jesus told Peter that when Peter grew old, he would die for Him; his death would be difficult, but his courage in enduring it would bring glory to God: "'You will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.' (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, 'Follow me'" (John 21:18).
Jesus' words were healing words. There is a vast difference between Peter saying that he would die for Jesus and Jesus saying to Peter that this indeed would come about. I can say that I will stand for Jesus out of my desire, hope and willingness, but there is always a chance for failure. However, when Jesus says to me that I will stand, then I can rest assured in His words.

Before He spoke them, Peter was deeply grieved by the cowardice he had shown three times in his time of crisis. Afterwards, hearing the words of His Lord, he knew that when the time came, he would be able to lay down his life for his Lord. He experientially knew this was true because the Lord had said so. In the days to follow, he would pass the test.

Why did Jesus say to Peter "Feed my sheep" three times? It's likely that Jesus' triple re-commissioning of Peter at this time replaced another lie Peter believed: "Because I failed, I'm no longer usable" with God's truth: "I've chosen you to feed my sheep."

Satan had indeed sifted Peter as wheat, and exposed his true belief system, which was based on fear. However, Jesus' incisive words to Peter that morning on the seashore erased the lie-based fear in Peter's mind. We know this because Peter immediately was able to face with great courage and boldness the very men before whom he had earlier cowered (Acts 2–4).

The Bible is full of stories just like this. God has not changed his methods. He still allows us to be tested, to fail, to be exposed, and to make poor choices so that we will be motivated to seek His truth. Jesus is still willing to speak to us in our pain and provide His peace if we will listen.

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