Of course, Peter still is a cautionary tale in some respects.
It seems the self-distrust that Jesus sought to teach Peter didn’t take root, even in the closing chapters of His earthly ministry. One commentator said that if Peter had learned what Jesus was teaching him when he sunk beneath the waves, then he would have withstood the test of his faith when Jesus surrendered to the rogue religious crowd.
I like Luke’s rendition of the story for the personal details. Jesus didn’t just tell his disciples that they would all forsake Him — He specifically turned to Simon Peter and said:
Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.Luke 22:31, NKJV
Simon, the leader of the rebellion of the universe wants you specifically, and he wants to test you severely.
But I’ve prayed for you, that your faith would hold. When you return to Me, after you mess up, strengthen your brethren.
Lord, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death.Luke 22:33
Did Peter even hear Him?
Does He think Jesus is lying?
There’s no, “Oh no, Jesus, please help me, thank you for your prayers,” or “Please give me strength,” or “Tell me what to do, Lord, I want to remain by Your side.”
“Lord, I’m good. I’m ready. I can handle it.”
It must have pained Jesus to say, and pained Peter to hear, His response:
I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.Luke 22:34
And that’s exactly what happens (Luke 22:54-60).
So what’s the cautionary in the tale here? Don’t deny Jesus when hanging out with strangers around a fire? Well, yeah, that might be included.
But more broadly: believe Jesus when He tells you about yourself.
When the Holy Spirit nudges you about your anger problems, don’t respond “No, I’m good, thanks.”
When He brings up your not-so-secret struggle with a substance, don’t brush Him off with “I’m handling it, I’m fine.”
When He speaks to you through other people about the way you wound them, don’t ignore it with “They’re just sensitive, I’m settled into who I am.”
When He whispers to your heart about your desire to get praise and attention, don’t respond with indifferent silence.
It’s a hard experience to be told hard things about yourself. I’d also wager most of us aren’t used to being told our weaknesses out of love instead of out of spite. But Jesus is not a reflection of the sum of our painful experiences.
Jesus’ warnings about our weaknesses our invitations into deeper surrender. He does not chastise for the fun of it, or rebuke in order to shame. He exposes for the sake of healing, and He does it all in love. This “in love” may be novel for us — but just because something is novel doesn’t make it true.
When the last word of the third denial had just left Peter’s lips, the rooster crowed. And then,
The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.Luke 22: 61-62
One author captures the experience this way:
While the degrading oaths were fresh upon Peter’s lips, and the shrill crowing of the cock was still ringing in his ears, the Saviour turned from the frowning judges, and looked full upon His poor disciple. At the same time Peter’s eyes were drawn to his Master. In that gentle countenance he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there.
The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow. Conscience was aroused. Memory was active. Peter called to mind his promise of a few short hours before that he would go with his Lord to prison and to death. He remembered his grief when the Saviour told him in the upper chamber that he would deny his Lord thrice that same night. Peter had just declared that he knew not Jesus, but he now realized with bitter grief how well his Lord knew him, and how accurately He had read his heart, the falseness of which was unknown even to himself.The Desire of Ages, 712.4-713.1
Even as Peter’s heart was overwhelmed by the reality of what he had done, Jesus’ look was not one of condemnation, I told you so, or anger. Just, “I see you Peter.” The additional evidence that Jesus’ love for Peter was unchanged is his explicit restoration to Him after Jesus has risen (John 21:15-19).
There’s countless lessons to take from this story, but for right now, I want to remember three:
- Believe Jesus when He tells you about yourself
- Even when you fail, Jesus’ lovingly restores you when you come to Him.
- Jesus loves you as He warns, as He sees you, and as He restores. Jesus’ love is unchanging, and nothing you do can affect His love.