Peter Stepped Up and Stumbled

Peter put himself out there when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ in Luke 9:20. And when all were deserting Jesus after the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus stood fast, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68 ESV) And, while his rebuke in Matthew 16:22 was clearly misguided (Jesus even refers to him as Satan), surely his words indicate a sentiment of brave loyalty, the same sentiment contained in that bold promise, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 ESV) And I know you to smirk at such words, knowing that he ends up denying Jesus three times. But before you dismiss Peter as impetuous and weak, full of empty boasts, 1) remember that Jesus chose Peter, not only as a disciple, but as the chief of the disciples, the rock upon which he would build his church, and 2) let’s rewind the arrest scene and look again. Though exhausted, Peter doesn’t hesitate to confront an armed mob, by which he is severely outnumbered and out-gunned. And while many will fault Peter for following the mob “at a distance,” at least he was following. I think the case can be made that Peter is very determined and very loyal and very brave. But he’s not very humble … or he wasn’t.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov 16:18 ESV)
Peter wasn’t wrong to profess his loyalty. Peter’s Profession was Praiseworthy, but his Denials were Damnable. Remember Luke 12:8-9? What led to the crumbling of the Rock? It was Pride. It was self-confidence. Peter was relying on his own determined will to see him through the trials he would face. A proud man never leans. And so Peter ignored Jesus’ urging to pray. That’s why he wasn’t sweating blood himself.

Peter and Judas

But why was Peter restored, while Judas fell entirely? Both had betrayed the Lord. Judas had handed him over for money, but Peter disavowed following him, associating with others who followed him and even knowing him. Judas had shown the wolves where to find him, but Peter left him to be devoured by the wolves. And both of them were sorry. Judas even gave back the money (Matt 27:3-4). But two things separate Peter from Judas. First, Jesus prayed for Peter. And secondly, because Jesus prayed for Peter, Peter repented. His was a godly sorrow. When Jesus shot Peter a knowing glance, Peter was convicted. That look crushed Peter. But he was filled with a godly grief. “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 ESV) Peter’s bitter tears produced repentance. Judas’ produced death. Judas was brought to despair. Peter was moved to change.

Peter is Permanently Humbled

God was sovereign over both Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denials. And both brought him glory. He’s going to use you one way or the other (Eph 1:11). God had allowed Peter to stumble to humble him. From now on, he’d give up confidence in his own flesh. From now on, he could, like the apostle Paul, boast in his weakness. Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. “Therefore,” Paul says, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9 ESV) Now, Peter would be the rock. Now he was in a position to lead sinners to Jesus. Imagine if God had allowed Peter’s own bravery and resolve to hold him fast. In his success, he would have failed. Now, unlike the man whose self-confidence led him to promise loyalty to prison and death could also say with the apostle Paul, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12 ESV) God let Peter fall so that he would grasp his need. But once he’d seen his weakness and tasted the wonder of God’s mercy, Peter would never deny his Lord again.

So let us learn from Peter. Know that you cannot serve Christ in your own strength (2 Cor 10:4). You can change, but you cannot change yourself. And when you find yourself stumbling, when you find yourself at your lowest point, remember that the glance you get from Jesus is a loving glance, not a resentful one. And let your sorrow be a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.