PeterHow was Peter a hero? Peter was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus to participate in His ministry. He was part of what is commonly referred to as "the inner circle," the three apostles who were with Jesus on certain occasions when the others were not present. He became one of the great leaders of the early church, with God giving him great power and even miraculous deliverance. Both in the gospels and in his epistles, Peter revealed wonderful statements of truth. Peter is by far the apostle mentioned most often in Scripture. If I calculated correctly, Peter is mentioned by name 209 times in the New Testament. The next closest are James and John, who are mentioned 31 times each. In fact, all of the other eleven apostles combined are mentioned only 130 times.
How did Peter fail? While Peter's best-known failure is his denial of Jesus, it is not his only failure. Several times he was guilty of speaking unadvisedly, without thinking through what he was saying. These utterances often led to difficult situations or stern rebukes. Peter wanted to walk on the water, but his initial success turned to failure when he looked at the waves instead of at Jesus (Matthew 14:28). On one occasion, Peter actually rebuked Jesus, declaring that He must not be killed (Matt. 16:22). At the transfiguration of Jesus, Peter's unthinking response placed Moses and Elijah on the same level with Jesus (Matt. 17:4). He asked Jesus what his reward would be for having served Him (Matt. 19:27). When Jesus wanted to wash Peter's feet, Peter forbade Him; when corrected by Jesus, his response swung to the other extreme (John 13:8-9). Jesus was deeply grieving in the Garden of Gethsemane; when He took Peter to watch with Him, Peter repeatedly fell asleep (Matt. 26:36-45). Of course, the most prominent failure followed his adamant assertion that he would never deny Jesus - in fact, he declared that he would die first. Within a few hours Peter had denied Jesus three times, even cursing in the process (John 18:15-27).
What was Peter's heart response? The beautiful thing about Peter is his passion for God. Even when he spoke or acted rashly, his heart was often in the right place. His intent was to show his trust in Jesus, to express his love for Jesus, to relate the overwhelming impact of a situation, or to verbalize his humility and devotion. Because his heart was so passionate toward God, his intentions were good. He wanted to do the right thing. He just didn't always think about what that right thing would be, or he lacked the human strength to follow through on his resolve.
Peter repeatedly displayed his passion for God and his desire to learn from God. When Jesus called him, he responded immediately (Matt. 4:17). Peter was the one to ask for explanation or clarification when he did not understand what Jesus had taught (Matt. 15:15; 18:21; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:45). Peter openly declared his loyalty to Jesus (John 13:36), as he realized there was no one else worthy of following (John 6:68). Peter declared great statements of truth about Jesus when none of the other disciples had much of a response (Matt. 16:16). Peter showed humility and respect before Jesus (Luke 5:8; John 21:7). Peter was the one to remember what Jesus had said and to take note of the results (Mark 11:21). Peter was the only apostle bold enough to attempt to defend Jesus (John 18:10), and was one of only two who was loyal enough to follow Jesus after His capture (Matt. 26:58).
Because of his earnest passion for God, Peter was willing to accept correction and to learn from his mistakes. While sinking into the waters, Peter relied on Jesus for deliverance. When he was confronted after his errant suggestion at the transfiguration, Peter fell to the ground. When corrected or rebuked by Jesus on other occasions, Peter silenced himself and continued to learn. He continued to receive Jesus' instructions. After his grave failure of denying Jesus, Peter displayed his most poignant response. Three of the gospels reveal that his response was immediate, and that it was to weep bitterly. While John's gospel does not repeat this information, it gives the beautiful passage of Peter's restoration in chapter 21. Peter's failure in denying Jesus led to displays of deep grief, shown immediately in his bitter weeping. Peter never intended to deny Jesus; he loved Jesus deeply, and he was grieved over his failure. Peter was devoted to Jesus, and his failure to remain true to that love sent piercing arrows deep into his heart. The incident in John 21 reinforces this concept. Jesus repeatedly questioned Peter's love for Him, and these repeated questions grieved Peter (v. 17). Peter was painfully aware that his love had failed at the most critical time. With his genuine passion for God, Peter had never wanted that to happen, and he was broken over his failure. His tender heart prepared him to receive Jesus' call to renewed service.
How did Peter's story end? A thorough answer to this question would require an examination of much of the book of Acts, in which Peter is a prominent character. Peter became an influential and pivotal leader in the history of the early church. He stood up and spoke to the other followers of Jesus after Jesus' ascension. He preached powerful sermons through which thousands of people were saved. He was empowered by God to perform miracles. He stood boldly and resolutely in the face of intense persecution. He was involved in discipline, decision-making, and discipleship within the church. He was used for the dispersion of the gospel to the Gentiles. He was miraculously delivered from prison and went on to continue preaching after that threat of death. Jesus' words allude to a martyr's death, and church tradition suggests crucifixion. As part of his life of ministry, Peter wrote two books of the Bible.
Application: Peter's story should be a great encouragement to Christians of today, because many believers would describe themselves in terms similar to an evaluation of Peter. They might say, "I really do love God, and the sincere desire of my heart is to serve Him, but I just keep messing up." They might even add the sad words, "I've failed so badly that I'm sure God can never use me again." These words so closely mimic Peter's story. It is not hard for many Christians to imagine this scenario - a series of repeated failures in spite of the best intentions, and the failures do not always progress from more to less serious. After years of growth and increasing maturity, the next failure might be more serious than any that has come before, seeming to indicate a hopeless quest for stability and service. That's just where Peter was. Due to Peter's passion for God, his sorrow over failures, and his continued teach-ability, God went on to use Peter in a dramatic fashion. His later service far exceeded anything he had done in the past, and probably anything that Peter had ever imagined. As long as the heart is humble and sincerely dedicated to God, there need not be an end to the story of service for God.
"You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:5 (NASB)