Simon Peter, shamed but not shattered

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In my devotions I’ve been reading the Gospel of John. Occasionally this reading leads me into in-depth study of particulars within a passage. Sometimes the passage just speaks to me and questions pour out about it. Most recently, this has happened with the story of the disciples going fishing (John 21), between appearances of the resurrected Jesus. I’ve been studying, examining and taking apart the “Do you love me” dialog between Peter and Jesus. Yet while doing this, something struck me about the character about Peter. What does his failure, his restoration (which most scholars see this exchange as) and his behavior between the two tell us about Peter and what should it tell us about ourselves?

Peter had been a close companion of Jesus. Along with James and John, he was present in many places where the other disciples were not taken. We learn much about Peter’s character by watching him during this walk with Jesus. Peter was quick to speak, slow to listen—often “shooting off his mouth before his brain has been loaded.” He is praised by Jesus when he testifies that Jesus is the Son of God, then immediately has to be rebuked for trying to “correct” the Son of God (Matt 16:23). He is there on the scene when Jesus has a visitation from heaven, but his outburst of how he can contribute to the moment brings a rebuke from God—“This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NIV).

During the events around the crucifixion Peter makes boasts of loyalty that his character just can’t fulfill (Luke 22:33). Jesus is to be crucified and his sheep must scatter. Jesus had to prevent any of the sheep from being lost during the trial and crucifixion (John 18:9). Peter postures as if he is more powerful than the predictions of God. Jesus tells Peter “Not only will you not stand with me unto death, but you will disown me three times before this night is out” (Luke 22:34, my paraphrase). Of course, Peter failed. If God says you are going to fail then you are going to fail.

Yet, there is something about Peter. I don’t mean Peter before the denial—before the failure. I mean the Peter we see after his failure. Scripture doesn’t limit our view of Peter to before failure and after restoration. We see him with the other disciples between the two. Before Peter-the-restored, we get to watch Peter-the-failure both before and after the resurrection. Peter was still among the other disciples. He didn’t kill himself like Judas. He didn’t run away into the wilderness away from the others. He stayed with his friends and family who had followed the same Messiah as he. He cowered in fear with them. This couldn’t have been from a sense of security in numbers because there is no indication that they ever felt secure. He didn’t abandon those who were in the same condition as himself. He knew he failed, and he knew they had failed too. They all ran. They all abandoned the master. His shame may have come from something deeper, but he didn’t wallow in it. Peter stayed with the others.

So, did his shame cause him to hold back and take a back seat to others who might lead? No. He still stepped forward. He still led. His failure didn’t break his character. It may have tempered it, but it didn’t break it. Peter was still influential among the disciples and quick to take action. When there was a report from one of the women that the tomb was empty Peter along with another disciple ran to the tomb (Luke 24:12). After the resurrection during a time when they weren’t seeing Jesus, Peter came up with the idea to go fishing (John 21:3). When Jesus appeared on the lake shore, Peter did not hesitate to jump in the water and swim to him (John 21:7). Peter knew he had failed. Peter knew he was not Super Disciple. Peter had learned his own shortcomings, but it didn’t break him.

We fail. We falter in our belief and in our obedience. We get trapped by sins and fall to temptation. We are not perfect. Yet these failures should drive us towards Jesus. Our failures and weaknesses are not hindrances to our ministry; they, like credentials, show our preparation for service. Let your failures and weaknesses push you to act boldly for the Lord.

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