He was one of the first to become a follower of Christ, and later one of the first Jesus called into full-time service. While his boldness is commendable and worth imitating, we can learn a lesson from his rashness too.
In Matthew 16, we see Jesus observing the multitude around Him. He then turned to His disciples and the following conversation takes place:
Matthew 16:13-17 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Notice that it is Simon Peter, often the spokesman of the group, that answers first. Jesus praised him for his faith, and stated that the truth of who Jesus is was only revealed from God the Father. But within a few moments, Peter's rash statements got him into trouble with his Lord:
Matthew 16:21-23 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Just like Simon the Zealot, it looks like Peter was also looking for a political Messiah, and did not fully understand yet what Jesus came to do - ie. die for our sins upon the cross.
There are various examples we could give about Peter's walk of faith - and perhaps I might cover some in a future study, but right now I want to move ahead to the night of the Last Supper.
John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
Jesus knew what was coming up, who would betray Him, that all His disciples would be scattered, and that by the next morning He would be crucified. Yet in spite of the dark night that was in front of Him, He loved His disciples unto the end, unto the uttermost. When anyone else would have been focussed on their sufferings or fearful of what lay ahead, Jesus loved His brethren and took the opportunity to teach them two lessons - a lesson on serving one another, and a lesson on forgiveness (which they did not yet understand).
John 13:3-6 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus began to wash His disciples feet, and proud Peter was offended, and protested what the Lord was doing:
John 13:7-8 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet...
We see Peter once again rashly speaking out. But then Jesus continues:
...Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Oh oh, he's gone and put his foot in his mouth, in a manner of speaking.
John 13:9-10 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
The lesson here for Peter and for all of us is that none of us can fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ unless we have been washed. We need to be washed completely, to have our whole bodies washed (figuratively) - which is what the word washed in verse 10 indicates. The word is Strong's #3068, and means: "to bathe (the whole person; whereas 3538 means to wet a part only)." Being washed completely is what happens at salvation, when we are washed in the blood of the Lamb through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. (Revelation 1:5 uses the same word. Another similar word for wash is #628, and means: "to wash fully," and is used in 1 Corinthians 6:11.)
Strong's #3538, which is the word for wash that Jesus used throughout the rest of the passage, means: "to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face)." Jesus was saying that we even need to have our daily defilement washed. This is pictured by our hands and our feet getting dirty - our whole body has been washed at salvation, but our hands and feet get defiled through our daily contact with this world.
For the OT type, see also Exodus 29:4 and 30:18-21: the priest was washed completely when he was separated unto the priesthood - yet he daily had to wash his hands and his feet at the brass laver, everytime he came to minister to the Lord in the tabernacle. Brass represents judgment in the Word of God when used symbolically. (For example, the serpent of brass in Numbers 21:8-9, representing Jesus bearing our judgment on the cross; and Jesus' feet of brass in Revelation 1:15, corresponding with Romans 16:20, indicating that Jesus would be judging His enemies under His feet.) The brass lavers were made from the lookingglasses of the women - see Exodus 38:8. Brass is reflective. When the priests came to wash before serving, they could see their defilement in the polished brass and use the water within the laver to cleanse what was dirty. In the New Testament, three times the Bible is referred to as a glass (ie. a mirror). In the mirror of God's Word, we are to come and see our daily defilement and use the water of the Word to wash it away. This is the picture that is being referred to in James 1:21-25, where he exhorts us to take and apply what we see in the mirror - use it to cleanse our lives from all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. (See also 1 Corinthians 13:12 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 and contexts for the other references to the Word of God being a glass; the first passage indicating that until the perfect - ie. complete - Scriptures came, we were looking through a glass darkly when gazing into the Old Testament; and the second passage indicating that as we look into the Word of God and see Jesus reflected in its pages, we are transformed into His image.) Everytime we want to fellowship with or serve the Lord, everytime we want to draw closer to Him, we first need to take care of the daily defilement of our sins, by washing in the Word of God - by looking into the brazen laver, judging the sin in our lives, and letting God's Word cleanse our way by confessing and forsaking the sin we see revealed therein. (See also Psalm 119:9; John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26)
It was obvious that Peter and the others did not yet understand what Jesus was doing, yet in time I believe they came to realize it. (See John 13:7, 12-17)
As the evening wore on, we see Jesus taking Peter aside and speaking to him:
Luke 22:31-32 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
All of you (you indicates Jesus was speaking about more than Peter here, you in the King James Bible always being plural) will be tested severely tonight by Satan - all of you will be scattered (see Zechariah 13:7). But I have prayed for you specifically, Peter (indicated by the use of thee, which is always singular, meaning one person).
Peter, still bold and rash, was too self-confident for his own good:
Luke 22:33-34 And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
Oh, Peter, you think you are one who will never fall or falter - yet within a few hours you would be denying your Lord! It was already evening, and before the rooster crowed in the morning, you will have already denied Christ!
Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane and led away by an armed mob. The disciples scattered, and Peter and John follow afar off to see what would happen to Jesus.
Matthew 26:69-74 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
Notice how sin is progressive. (For an excellent study, see Why Peter Denied His Lord.) First Peter was too self-confident and proud, then he slept when he should have been watchful in the Garden, then was too impulsive in his actions, and did not stick close to his Lord. Now we see him in the courtyard with the crowd of those who rejected Christ, warming himself at their fire. When confronted, out of fear he denied Christ; when confronted again, he made an oath stating he did not know Jesus; then the third time he denied Jesus with cursings and swearing - then the rooster crowed...
Luke 22:61-62 And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.
Peter suddenly realized with all his boldness and brashness, he failed his Lord - and he had no one to blame but himself. Bitter and discouraged at his own sin and compromise, he turned away in shame...
If you are a believer and are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that there are times you have failed your Saviour - as have I; there are times you have wandered afar off, times where you have hung out with the wrong crowd, times where you were not faithful to watch and pray, perhaps even times where (in your actions at least) you have denied your Lord. If you are unsaved - if you have never turned to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation - then you have already failed the Lord. Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him..." If you do not know Jesus as your Saviour, then you are not walking in faith.
But the story doesn't need to end there. At the same time that Peter was fleeing in disgrace because of his denial of Christ, Jesus Himself was going to the cross to die for his sins - to die for all our sins. The same Lord we have failed and sinned against so many countless times, has already died for those same sins. What could have been a life of failure in Peter's case, upon his repentance was a life of victory. Remember when Jesus told Peter:
Luke 22:32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
Jesus wasn't finished with Peter yet - He knew Peter would fail Him and fall badly, but He also knew Peter would repent and turn back to (which is what convert means) the Lord. When he was restored, then Jesus could use him again, in service and in strengthening the brethren. That time of restoration came after Jesus physically arose from the grave - though He had already appeared to Peter and the other apostles together, He still needed to personally encourage Peter.
In John 21:1-14, we see seven of the Apostles, including Peter, out fishing again - though Jesus had called him (and Andrew, James and John at that time) to leave that career to follow Him in full-time service (see Matthew 4:18-22). I believe Peter was discouraged, perhaps he felt that God could no longer use him - and therefore he went back to what he knew, what he seemed most qualified to do. But that night he and his fellow fishermen could not catch anything. Until a man from the shore called out to them and tells them to cast their net out on the right side of the ship. Suddenly their net was overflowing with fish, and John realized it was the Lord on the shore. Peter in his excitement, dons his coat and jumps overboard, to swim to shore. Jesus has dinner with these fishermen, and then takes Peter aside privately after their meal:
John 21:15-17 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than all these - perhaps all these other brethren, or perhaps all these things, such as his career as a fisherman. Peter was no longer bold and brash - he was no longer self-confident and proud. All he could do was reaffirm his love - though he knew he had failed so miserably to show that love. Three times Jesus confronted him with the same words: Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? The third time grieved Peter because that brought so sharply to mind his three denials of Christ. No longer could Peter boldly proclaim his own loyalty - he knew he had already failed severely - now he could just plead with the Lord to examine his heart and see that he did truly love the Lord, though he knew it was nowhere near as much as it should be.
But Jesus didn't bring this up to condemn Peter - He did it to restore him. You see, when we leave the Lord, when we backslide and wander away from Him - He has to bring us back to the place where we departed. We need to deal with the sin that separated us from Him - and with repentance, that sin is wiped away, cleansed, washed in His blood, and our fellowship with Him is restored. Just as Jesus basically told Peter, "Now I can use you again to strengthen the brethren and feed my sheep," so too, He says to us, "Repent of your sins and I can still use you; I still have a plan for your life - but you need to have your hands and your feet washed, you need to have that daily defilement washed away - then I can use you in the plan I have for you."
The passage ends with some interesting words. Though Peter denied his Lord so vehemently that night out of fear, later he would lay his life down for Christ. Once he realized that he could not serve the Lord in his own strength and boldness, the Lord was able to fill Peter with His own strength and boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit.
John 21:19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Jesus was glorified by Peter's faith, by his life of service, and later by his testimony and martyrdom. At the beginning and during Peter's life of faith, the Lord reemphasized the same words: Follow me. He speaks those same words to us. Are we listening?
Are you living a life that will glorify Him?
Are you serving in His strength?
Peter, are you following the Lord today?
Preached and written July 14th/06
For more studies in this series on The Apostles:
The Apostles #1 - Simon the Zealot
The Apostles #3 - Thomas The Doubter
The Apostles #4 - Jesus Loved Them To The End