One of the good things about reading the Bible is that although there are a few paragons of virtue, most of the heroes make mistakes. For many of them, fear and self-preservation is what causes them to come a cropper. In the Old Testament Abraham pretended his wife was his sister for fear of Pharaoh and Moses fled Egypt after killing the slave driver for fear of what would happen to him.
Peter falls into this trap several times: he shows great bravado and then when things get tough, he buckles. The first example is when he tells Jesus that he will walk on the water. He climbs out of the boat, but suddenly the realisation hits him and faith turns to fear and he panics. At the ‘Last Supper,’ Peter confidently says that he is willing to die for Jesus. yet within a few hours he is denying he even knows Jesus. What made the difference? At supper Peter was in a safe environment, surrounded by friends and death seemed a long way away. But sitting in the courtyard by the fire, Peter was surrounded by strangers and death seemed a real possibility.
How often do we come to church full of faith, convinced of God’s power, goodness and faithfulness and yet later completely fail to exercise His power or trust in His faithfulness? Are there any of us who can, hand on heart, say that if we were in Peter’s situation we wouldn’t think of ourselves or our family and act like Peter did? Can any of us say that they when we speak to someone in difficulty or with an illness we always tell the person that they need Jesus, or pray with faith then and there for healing?
Peter definitely let Jesus down – as we all do. A few weeks ago, I blogged about Judas and how he let Jesus down on the very same night. However the story of Judas and the story of Peter had very different outcomes, due at least in part to the different ways that Peter and Judas dealt with their guilt. Judas was consumed by what he had done and turned in on himself and committed suicide, no doubt believing that there was no hope of forgiveness. Peter went back to what he knew, but as soon as soon as he saw Jesus he ran to him. He did not know what response he would receive but his love for Jesus and longing for relationship with Him was greater than his guilt. Jesus’ response is wonderful, poetically: as Peter had three chances to confess his relationship to Jesus and failed to do so, Jesus gives him another three chances. Jesus also makes clear, in his responses to Peter’s confessions, that he is not just forgiving but also restoring responsibility.
Peter went on to preach to thousands at Pentecost and stand fearlessly before the Sanhedrin and eventually, we understand, to receive the martyrs death he had told Jesus he was willing to have. Peter was not perfect – we know for instance that Paul rebuked him for changing his behaviour because he was afraid of the Judaisers – but I am sure that when he did mess up again, his response was to go back to Jesus and receive once more his amazing grace and commissioning to start again.
Knowing Jesus changes how we deal with failure. This week, when you react in fear and not faith, run back to Jesus and expect not just to be forgiven but recommissioned to go again and take responsibility for your part in bringing in His kingdom.