The life of Peter, Jesus’ friend and leading disciple, is a lesson for all who are discouraged. He struggled with the same despair but, through the faithfulness of our Lord, he found acceptance and forgiveness.
Peter was a man of contradictions—impulsive and bold, yet affectionate and loyal. He responded eagerly to Jesus’ call (Matthew 4:18). He left his net, his boat, his fishing trade and his familiar surroundings. He was also the first of the disciples to recognize who Jesus was (Matthew 16:16).
However, his strong and positive leadership qualities had a down side. He could be too assertive, and would sometimes have to be brought back into line. Like when Jesus was foretelling his suffering and death, and Peter began to rebuke him, saying: "Never, Lord…this shall never happen to you!" Peter was firmly put in his place by the Lord’s reply, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:21-23).
Only a few verses before, Peter had been commended by Jesus as blessed to have the revelation of the Father. He was now reprimanded for being used as a mouthpiece for Satan. Knowing that his dynamic friend was also vulnerable, Jesus later told him, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-34).
The impulsive Peter answered Jesus with a solemn pledge of loyalty: "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Brave words, but he was setting himself up for his greatest fall.
‘Not me, Lord’
The night before Jesus’ death, he said to his disciples, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee" (Matthew 26:31-32).
Peter found that hard to accept. He may have said to himself, "Maybe the others, but not me!" Soon, however, he denied the Lord three times, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. Just as the cock crowed and Jesus was led out by the soldiers, he turned his eyes to Peter. That gaze was too much for Peter to bear. He had betrayed his friend and his Lord in his hour of greatest need. Overcome with guilt, he wept bitterly.
During the next few hours, Jesus was beaten, crowned with thorns and killed by the soldiers. All the disciples were filled with grief, but perhaps none among them experienced the depths of Peter’s discouragement and shame. How could he face the other disciples? Would they—would anybody—ever trust him again?
Mentioned by name
The resurrection of Jesus brought new hope—and fresh anxiety. The angel at the tomb that morning told the women who came to anoint Jesus body: "Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ " (Mark 16:6-7).
How do you think Peter felt about that? Not only had the Lord risen from the dead, but he had mentioned Peter’s name in particular. Imagine how that must have made Peter feel. Why had he been singled out? Was it because of the denials?
By this time Peter must have known for sure that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God! All Jesus’ claims about giving his life as a ransom for many were true. But would he have anything to do with Peter, after Peter had denied him—not once, but three times over?
Peter soon got his answer. Jesus still accepted him, trusted him and loved him, despite the way Peter had turned against him. Peter soon found out that the words, "tell Peter," were an expression of love, confidence and forgiveness from Jesus.
"Peter’s legacy is of one who failed, but through Jesus, had a new and meaningful life for the glory of God. "
"Tell Peter." What loving words of assurance for one who had been unfaithful. The Lord was saying, "No matter what you have done, there is forgiveness, there is hope. I am alive. I am with you all the way. I offer you a new beginning."
The rest is history. Peter spent the rest of his days proclaiming boldly the good news of the Lord he once denied. He became a mighty witness to the gospel of Jesus, finally sealing his faith with his own blood in martyrdom. Peter left us a legacy of one who failed, but with the power of Jesus, one who had a new beginning and meaningful life for the glory of God.
Do you feel discouraged? Are you, like Peter, dismayed at the extent of your inadequacies, the pressure of living your faith, and those times when you too may have denied Jesus in your life?
Jesus knows what Christians will be facing in this life. Our faithfulness will be tested many times—through temptations, through rejection, opposition and discouragement. But in those words to Peter, we can see the will of our Lord that we will be able to bounce back and prevail. And as those times come to us, we too can be a source of strength and inspiration for others.
Take heart! Be encouraged by the words of the Lord through the angel in the garden. His message is as much for you as it was for the one who felt he had gone too far to ever be accepted again.
"Tell Peter!" •
Eugene M. Guzon is the National Director of Grace Communion International in the Philippines.