We can be strong Christians and still have moments of faltering faith. One of the best examples of this I can think of is Simon Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Peter was an adamant follower of Christ and one of Jesus’ three best friends. However, even he struggled with faith, and we can learn from his struggle! When Jesus rose from the grave, He relieved His disciples from their grief and proved that He was the Messiah. However, some disciples needed more closure than just knowing that Jesus was alive again. We definitely can see this in Peter’s walk with Jesus.
In the few days after the Passion week, Peter was devastated with the grief and guilt of denying Jesus three times before His death. When we reflect more on Peter’s story, we can learn about the emotions and impulses that drove Peter to deny Jesus, and we can see how emotions and impulses can sometimes lead us to sin.
When Jesus renamed Simon as “Peter,” which is derived from the Greek word “rock,” Jesus made it clear that He trusted Peter to be the foundational “rock” of the Church (Matthew 16:18). Indeed, Peter was a great man of Christ and an amazing man of faith, but he wasn’t perfect. Peter’s faith in Jesus sometimes faltered when Peter was overwhelmed with intense emotions or impulses. For example, when Peter saw Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14:22-33, Peter was filled with such faith that he was the only Jesus called to walk on the water to Him. Peter was doing well at first as he looked only at Jesus. However, when he looked away and saw the wind and the waves, Peter’s fear was stronger than his faith, and he began to sink.
There were also times when Peter had strong faith but displeased Jesus by acting rashly. When Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples asked Jesus if He wanted them to defend him with swords (Luke 22:49). Peter didn’t wait for Jesus to respond, but he immediately went to attack the high priest’s servant. Quoting other examples in the Bible, theologian J.B. Lightfoot summarizes Peter’s character as “impetuous” or impulsive (315).
This assessment of Peter’s character can be connected to why Peter denied Jesus. Before the Passion week, Peter promised Jesus that he would rather die than deny his faith (Matthew 26:33-35). When Peter was sitting at the Last Supper with Jesus and his friends, it was relatively easy for Peter to commit himself to Jesus. However, when other people began to question Peter’s association with Jesus right after Jesus had been taken, Peter was afraid of being accused and persecuted like Jesus. Peter’s faith was shaken, leading him to deny Christ and give in to his fear and impulses.
In light of these examples, it is important to remember that the Bible is God’s word written to help us become more like Christ and glorify God. I have listed these examples of Peter not so that you can judge Peter and feel good about your self in comparison, but so that you can learn from Peter’s mistakes. As Christians, we struggle every day to obey Jesus and to put our full faith in Him. As Christians, we promise to devote our lives to God, but whenever we sin, we deviate from that promise. Jesus forgives us, but our sins still take a toll on us, and we have to find some closure from our mistakes. Peter broke his promise to Jesus, and it wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that he began to find some closer.
Peter found forgiveness and peace when Jesus reunited with him. After Peter saw that Jesus’ tomb was empty (John 20:1-10), Jesus appeared to Peter when Peter decided to take up fishing again (John 21). Similar to the time when He first called Peter to be His disciple (Luke 5:1-11), Jesus enabled Peter and the other fishers to fill their nets with fish. After Peter recognized Jesus, came back to the shore, and ate breakfast with Jesus, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” Interestingly, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, not just knew Him.
When Peter denied that he knew Jesus during the Passion week, Peter claimed that he had no connection to Jesus. However, to say that you love someone is to say that you know him and hold him close to your heart. When Peter told Jesus that he loved Him, he professed that he was a disciple and a friend of Jesus. Jesus responds to Peter by urging him, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus reminded Peter that if he truly loved Him, he shouldn’t be afraid to express his love. Hence, Jesus reminded Peter that he was the “rock” of the Church. As the rock of the Church, Peter needed to encourage other Christians to have strong faith in God while being strong himself. Although Peter was not perfect, he went on to proclaim his faith with exceptional boldness and support the Church in essential ways. He did not let his past mistakes define him. When the time came, Peter went on to die horrifically as a martyr for the name of Christ.
Today, we can learn from Peter about what it means to be faithful. Although Peter sometimes fell in his journey with Christ, Christ was there to pick him up again. He made mistakes, but Peter continued walking steadfastly in Christ’s name and guiding others as they walked with Christ. Because we are humans, fear and doubt come naturally to us. At times, the world may seem like a stormy sea. However, Jesus calls us to walk with Him and to Him through the storm. Even if the wind and the waves surround us, even if the world punishes us for pursuing Jesus, we must not let our fear and doubt overpower us. Like Peter, our faith must be stronger than our fear.