Recently in church, my pastor gave a sermon on John 18. He talked about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and of Peter’s denial. He talked about how Peter didn’t really know who Jesus was, he didn’t really know why Jesus came, and he didn’t really know the kingdom Jesus was bringing.
Peter, like usual, got the bad rap. He is loud, brash, and quick to act. He says what he thinks, like that one student in class that always raises his or her hand for every question. Then he has the gall to deny being one of Jesus’s disciples not once, not twice, but three times. And he even denies it to a young servant girl, who in that context had no power to bring about consequences.
There is a level where blaming Peter for his actions is fair. He messed up.
But the scary thing is that we are more like Peter than we may like to admit.
I’m sure you’ve heard that before… Sermons or talks echoing with phrases like “When have you denied Jesus?”… “When have you not talked about Him with your friends or coworkers?”… “When did you not speak up for Him?”
These are not what I’m talking about, though they are also valid points.
I was struck as my pastor talked by the earnestness of Peter. His misguided earnestness. He is the first disciple to tell Jesus that they know He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He is the first disciple to rise to defend Jesus when the soldiers come. He runs to the tomb when they hear Jesus has risen.
It isn’t as though Peter has bad intentions. He confesses Christ boldly, but then he wants Jesus to run from death and suffering even though that is the very reason Jesus came. When the soldiers come to take Jesus, Peter draws his sword in a moment of supreme idiocy and bravery, prepared to fight insurmountable odds to protect his Master. He even follows Jesus after Jesus is taken, though he then denies being a disciple of the Messiah.
By now, perhaps you are admitting a grudging respect for Peter, even in his pre-restored state of the brash disciple.
But do you see how like him you are?
I do. I can be loud and brash, quick to speak because I think that I have something of value to say. I want to be the one to voice what those around me believe, to tell the Master that we believe in Him. If I were in that lucky group of Twelve, I would say what Peter said.
And if soldiers came to take my Lord, I would do the same brash, pig-headed thing Peter did. I would fight. I would look at it as a brave and principled stand, to die on that wooded hill called “of Olives.” You see, that’s what Peter does. He is taking a bold and dangerous stand for Jesus. And how often do I do that? How often do we? We choose a hill to stand and die on, be it gay marriage or Calvinism or male ordination. And we pull out our sharp tongues and battle any who would come against, believing that if we do not stand here, all will be lost. It is not though Jesus was not worth defending, nor that these things are not worth defending. But this violent, aggressive stance did not gain praise from Jesus.
In this time of Peter’s Braveheart-esque stand, Jesus rebukes him. Can you imagine? To take such a bold and dangerous stand and to see the Lord you have believed in tell you no? That your sword and your life are not meant for this patch of ground.
It would be devastating. Then to follow Jesus, terrified and confused and ashamed. And as people ask you if you are a follower of Jesus, you juxtapose your weak “I am not” with His “I AM” that floored hardened soldiers. You say it because you are afraid, but maybe you say it too because you are beginning to believe it. You don’t know if you really are a follower of Jesus, because when you thought you were doing what was right, He showed you that you weren’t. And you are so scared, both because you don’t want to die and you aren’t sure if you deserve to be a part of Jesus’s band of disciples anymore.
This way of looking at Peter does not divorce his denial from its stark sin. It does not excuse his abandonment of the One who would never leave us nor forsake us. But maybe, just maybe, it shows us that we are a bit more like Peter than we’d like to admit. We are eager to please, we lash out in violence while claiming to take a stand, and we deny the One who bought us.
So there is more to Peter than a fear of death. He is loud, he is proud, and he is brash. But the more I look at him, the more I realize it.
I might be Peter.