This morning I did what I usually do on this day each year. I turned on Handel’s Messiah and I read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ final hours in the upper room with His disciples, His betrayal and arrest, His pathetic excuse for a trial, His crucifixion and burial, and then His resurrection and the days before His return to Glory. Today, I was struck with a single verse in Luke’s account:
“The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (LUK 24.34)
These are the words of the eleven disciples left after Judas’ suicide, gathered in Jerusalem to marvel together at the news of Jesus’ appearance to Peter (Simon) and to some of the women who followed Him during his earthly ministry. They prompted me to go back and re-read all of Peter’s failings during Jesus’ passion experience:
- In the upper room, on Passover, Peter boasts, “Though they all [the rest of the disciples] fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” and, “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, he falls asleep with two other disciples while Jesus is agonizing in prayer a few metres away.
- When Judas kisses Jesus to identify Him to the band of soldiers in the gloom of the garden, Peter draws his sword and lops off the ear of the high priest’s servant. (We’re not told if this is a piece of expert swordsmanship or a failed attempt at homicide–in either case, Jesus rebukes Peter and graciously heals the man’s ear.)
- Upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter runs away as all the disciples scatter. He only follows “at a distance” to see what happens to Jesus.
- Though he finally does end up in the courtyard of the high priest when Jesus is dragged before a mock tribunal, he denies knowing the Lord three times–to otherwise harmless people–and even punctuates his final denial with an oath.
- During the agonizing hours of Jesus’ crucifixion, no mention is made of Peter’s presence at the “Place of the Skull” to keep vigil as the Saviour dies for him.
- When Mary Magdalene tells Peter that she has seen the risen Christ, he doesn’t believe her at first. Even when he and John race to the tomb (John gets there first), go inside and see Jesus’ abandoned grave clothes, John tells us that he believes, but says nothing about Peter’s reaction. (JOH 20.8)
- He meets with the other disciples and locks the door to the room for fear of the Jews.
- He goes back to fishing, and doesn’t recognize the risen Lord until John tells him who it is that has come to speak with him and his companions.
Not stuff I would want on my résumé. But Jesus had made some promises to Peter many months before. He had told him that He would make him a fisher of men, and that He would give him the keys to the kingdom.
“…All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 COR 1.20) One morning after He has risen, Jesus appears to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other fishermen. He asks them if they have any fish, and they tell Him they have caught nothing. Following Jesus’ instructions to cast the net on the right side of the boat (reminiscent of another amazing fishing trip), they net 153 large fish–so many they can’t haul in the net in the conventional manner. Jesus already has fish grilling on the beach, and they add some of theirs to His and have a pleasant breakfast together. After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside. Having been assured three times that Peter loves Him (mirroring the three times he said he didn’t even know Him), Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep and His lambs. The Carpenter transforms the fisherman into a shepherd.
Acts 2 finds this same Peter–impulsive, boastful, impetuous, cowardly Peter–preaching to thousands of Jews at the Feast of Pentecost. Many of these are the same people who, just weeks before, were raising their murderous fists to Pontius Pilate and shouting, “Crucify him!” Now, Peter boldly accuses them:
“…This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (ACT 2.23, 36)
That day, Jesus gives the fisher of men a catch so large it cannot be drawn in. Three thousand believe in Jesus Christ, and the Church is born. Years later, Peter writes to believing Jews of the diaspora who are suffering severe persecution,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 PET 3.13-15)
Quite a transformation.
When I look at my own heart–my sins, my fears, my rash assumptions, my pride–I see a lot of myself in Peter. But then I consider the wonder of the risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and am encouraged to think that if Jesus could change Peter, He can still change me.
“Portrait of a Bearded Man as an Apostle” is by Pier Franceso Mola.