When Jesus arrived in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” The response varied from John the Baptist to Jeremiah. There was no hesitation in answering because all they had to do was recite what they had heard from others. If an answer was wrong, well, it wasn’t their answer.
Then Jesus asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” As was typical for Peter, he put himself out on a limb and boldly answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Right he was–at least that time. (Matthew 16:13-17)
While Peter was confident–some might say foolish at times–to be the first to answer and/or act, he was so often wrong and in trouble for it. Later in that same conversation, Jesus told his disciples how he would eventually suffer and die at the hands of the Jews. Peter emotionally reacted by rebuking Christ and said, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”
Jesus quickly turned and said to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Being compared to Satan is not an easy thing to shrug off. (Matthew 16:21-23)
Time and time again we shake our heads at Peter as we read about his mishaps in the Bible. We praise him for his zeal, but condemn him for his constant errors. Sure, he was anxious to walk on water, but then he took his eyes off of Christ and began to sink (Matthew 14:22-32). Sure, he was trying to be humble before the Lord by refusing to let Jesus was his feet, but he was also disobeying the Lord’s will (John 13:6-9). Sure, he said he would follow Christ to the grave, but then he cursed his name and denied him three times at the first bit of pressure (John 13:37-38).
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus went on to ask him the same question two more times. Peter answered in the affirmative both times. However, Jesus and Peter were talking about two different types of love. (John 21:15-17)
In the New Testament, the original Greek used two words which were later translated into the same English word, love. The first is agape or sacrificial love. The second is phileo or brotherly love. Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved him enough to sacrifice himself. Unfortunately, Peter could only promise Christ a brotherly love.
Even though Peter made a lot of mistakes, we see him learning from those mistakes. I’m sure he wanted to promise Jesus “agape” love but he also knew better. He had failed to that end already. But Peter’s story doesn’t end there. It was not long before he was preaching with power, planting churches, being imprisoned for his faith, and laying down his life in the name of Christ.
The more bold we are, the more times we will stumble. The answer is not to stifle our efforts and become complacent out of fear of failure. Rather, we allow ourselves to learn and be refined as we face the fires of life.
“For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again…” – Proverbs 24:16