2020 Through the Lens of St. Peter
Prior to 2020, we all had the luxury of self-delusion. We were able to think of ourselves as great followers of Jesus because nothing had come along to challenge that notion. The Lord, in His grace, allowed us a year of testing. If we are honest with ourselves, the test has revealed subtle and not so subtle ways where each of us is denying Jesus in our daily lives. The example of the Apostle Peter’s experience with denying Jesus can offer us some valuable insight into how to navigate this season in our lives.
Peter was a rough and tough kind of guy, a fisherman by trade. I imagine he had a strong back, thick, calloused hands, and the “can do” attitude common to such hard-working men. When Jesus called him as a disciple, Peter boldly walked away from his fishing nets and followed Him.
During the last evening of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, He told his disciples that they would all fall away that very night because of Him. A conversation ensued between Peter and Jesus that went a little something like this:
Peter: Deny You? Even if all these men fall away on account of You, I never will.” (Mt. 26:32)
Jesus: Oh, Peter, Satan has demanded an opportunity to test you. I have prayed that your faith would not fail during your test. Once you recover from the test, use what you have learned to strengthen your brothers. (Lk. 22:31-32)
Peter: Seriously, Jesus, I am not going to fail. I am willing to go the distance with You. If that means I go to prison with You or die with You, so be it. (Lk. 22:33)
Jesus: Actually, Peter, you will deny me three times before the rooster crows in the morning. (Mt. 26:34; Lk. 22:34)
Jesus was correct. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. (Mt. 26:69-75; Lk. 22:54-62) One of those times was even to a little girl. I imagine that was a rough night for Peter. Finding out that you are not who you think you are is never easy for anyone. In fact, some people never fully recover from such discoveries.
A short time after Jesus had risen from the dead, He appeared to his disciples and cooked breakfast for them. After breakfast, He turned to Peter and asked him, “…do you love me more than these?” (Jn. 21:15-17) Jesus asked Peter that question three times in a row. People tend to focus on the different Greek words for love that Jesus used in this conversation. I think the real emphasis should be on the number of times Jesus asked Peter about his love. Three. Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love for him one time for every time that Peter had denied him. With each declaration of love, Jesus turned Peter from his shame and towards his ongoing mission to feed Jesus’ flock.
Fast-forward a few months, and we meet a very different Peter. No longer bold and confident in his own strength, we see Peter standing in the boldness and confidence of God before the most powerful leaders in the Jewish world. Now empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter not only claimed the name of Jesus, but he also ignored the threats of those powerful men and refused to quit preaching the Gospel. (Acts 4:1-22)
So, what are we to make of this?
1. Peter was not the man he thought he was. Prior to 2020, if you had asked me to identify the idols in my life, I would have confidently declared that I had eliminated them all. Early in the COVID 19 lockdown days, my wife and I realized that we had been using entertainment and frequent excursions to the store to comfort ourselves, reduce our stress and create a sense of peace in our lives. When those things were removed, and we had to confront our discomfort, our idols were exposed. We were looking to those things instead of looking to God. We were not who we thought we were. (At least we did not hoard toilet paper. LOL)
2. Jesus always knew who Peter was. Jesus knew that Peter was not the superhero disciple he proclaimed himself to be. Jesus knew Peter would have shortcomings and make mistakes. Like us, Peter was just a fallible human being who was following Jesus. Did you notice that Jesus never confronted Peter about denying Him? Jesus simply reminded Peter of who he was, what was important, and what he should be doing. All Jesus wanted was for Peter to be his friend and to be about Kingdom business. It is the same for us.
3. Failure was not the end of Peter’s story; it was the beginning. Sometimes failure feels fatal. The realization that we are much less than we thought we were feels like it disqualifies us from ministry. In Peter’s case, coming to the end of himself was the very thing that humbled him enough to be useful. No longer was Peter confident in what he could do; he was confident in what the Lord could do through him. I am sure that if Peter had not failed his test, he would have never been able to be used by God in the mighty and miraculous ways that he was used. If we will allow ourselves to be humbled by our failings this year and let the Lord restore us, imagine what He might do through us in 2021?
Maybe over the last year, you have found that you do not trust God as much as you thought you did. Maybe you are not as faithful and true as you thought you were. Maybe you have discovered that you have a bunch of idols that are taking God’s rightful place in your life. My advice? Sit down and have breakfast with Jesus. Be his friend and do what He leads you to do. He will provide all the power you need. He will get all the glory that He is due, and others will be inspired by your witness.
I will share some ways to connect with Jesus in my next blog post. - Scott