You can imagine the New Testament without some of its personalities, but can you imagine it without Peter? Hardly. If you had only Peter and his discussions with Jesus Christ, only Peter and his relations with other New Testament characters, you would have the story of salvation rather clearly revealed.
Peter is dynamic, an impulsive extrovert. He does things as he blunders his way across the pages of the New Testament. On the Day of Pentecost, still energetic but mellowed, he speaks for the Lord, and 3,000 souls are baptized. Now he is a man in touch with the living God. But it was not always so; something had happened to Peter by the time Pentecost came.
I suppose the outstanding trait of this man is his "I can take care of myself" feeling. An independent sort of person, with an advanced degree of selfassurance, he has experimented a lot with life and is pretty sure he knows the answers. Jesus had said, "Thou shalt deny Me"; but Peter replied, "Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee."
"Yes," said Peter the stouthearted, some are going to forsake You: they are going to run, I know. But, Lord Jesus, You can count on me! I'll stand by. Others will be scared, but I'm not easily scared. I'll be there to help You. I'll be there to support You!"
We have no reason to believe that Peter was not sincere. I think he was. He was fully committed to the idea of being there and protecting his Lord. No question can be called on his good intentions.
Peter is outspoken, too. We know where he stands. Some people are always playing hide-and-go-seek. You try to catch them, try to find out where they stand or what they think, but you cannot. They sit on the fence or hide in some hole. Not so with Peter. He is always there. He may be in the wrong, but he is there. What he says may not be correct, but at least he's there to be counted.
"Not only can I take care of myself, " said Peter, "but I can't conceive of anything that would make me run." But Peter didn't understand himself. He was much like most of us. We speak, but we may not know what we're saying. Our words are detached from reality. They have no depth. Peter had not yet looked into his own heart; he had not really faced himself. He boasted, but still he was scared; and the more scared he was the louder he talked. How do we explain such inconsistency? It's the scared people who usually shout the loudest.
I once took a class to visit St. Elizabeth's mental hospital in Washington, D.C. One of the psychiatrists told us, "Here's a patient who talks all the time. He talks loudly; he's really scared. I don't think we have anybody in this hospital who is more scared than this patient." Thus Peter talked loudly and boastfully. He was trying to reassure himself, trying to make himself believe that he would stand. He would not have had to shout so loudly if he had really believed it. But he was scared, and his bluster was a cover-up.
When the woman said, "Aren't you a Galilean?" perhaps she did not mean to be his enemy; there is no evidence of this. But Peter felt so afraid that he exploded with swearing and cursing. What a scared man!
Sometimes you have seen people get angry and go to pieces; and you say, "I wonder what's eating them." The answer is, of course, that they are scared of every body and everything. Peter, a scared man, talked loudly to make himself believe that he was not. The minute the woman asked, "Aren't you one of Jesus' followers?" he began to curse and swear, saying, "I know not this Man of whom ye speak."
Here was a dynamo, a man who expended his energy freely but who was still operating on physical energy instead of spiritual power. This was Peter when he was still on his own.
But when God made Himself manifest to this man, miracles began to happen. Actually, Peter was tenderhearted; he wanted very much to do the right thing. He had a tremendous capacity for feeling, and a great ability for what we call emotional reaction. The problem was to get all this under control and channeled into constructive activity. This the Lord wanted to do for Peter. But first Peter's smug reliance on self had to be shattered and exchanged for faith in God.
When Peter learned to weep over failure, a change took place. It would do a lot of people good if they could cry a little. I have seen some people who were so ashamed of tears that they dabbed at their eyes and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry; I shouldn't cry." Some of us should. There are some things we ought to face, and if we were honest enough to face them, maybe a few tears would come. Maybe we would say, "Lord, I thought I was so strong, but I wasn't. Lord, I admit I need help."
Many of us have lost the ability to deal with our feelings. There are Christians who say, "I don't want any emotion in my religion." But they will shout for the Dodgers, and they will yell for the Little Leaguers! It's time some of us had deep feelings in our relationship with God. Not just emotion for the sake of emotion, but some of us have some confessions to make; and maybe a few tears as we confess wouldn't be bad.
Anything that has to do with genuine religion must touch our feelings. Peter wept bitterly, and from that day on things were better. Someone has said, "Shame on the young man who cannot weep, and shame on the old man who cannot laugh."
Jesus later said to Peter, "When you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." Luke 22:32, R.S.V. How could Peter strengthen us? I think he would strengthen us by helping us face up to the fact that we are sinners and should be willing to admit it. I think Peter would strengthen us by saying, "It was a great day in my life when I put all pretense out and let the Lord Jesus come in," when I no longer said, T can take care of myself.'"
Inherent in Peter's impetuous nature was one excellent quality. He could make decisions.
When Peter first received a call from Christ, he followed Him. "Now as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed Him."
What a transformation would take place in our lives if we, too, could make a clear-cut decision for Jesus Christ and begin following Him!
"Strengthen your brethren," said Jesus to Peter. Strengthen them by helping them to make up their minds. Strengthen your brethren by showing them how important it is to stand up and be counted for Christ. Strengthen them by showing them how to rely on Me.
Peter was an adventurer, an explorer for God. "And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus" (Matthew 14:28, 29). And then he began to sink.
Someone might say: "Isn't it a pity that Peter sank!" Some of us wouldn't have had the nerve to get out of the boat. It's easy to criticize. Peter started walking on the water, but then he got scared. I suppose for a moment he thought he could take care of himself again, and down he went. But at least he stepped out of the boat, while the rest of them played safe.
We ought to adventure. Have we dared anything for God? If we want God to do great things for us, we must make great plans. Many Christians are praying for power, but what do they want power for? For the sake of power, or for the sake of doing something great for Jesus Christ? I think Peter would strengthen us today by saying, "Don't lose your sense of adventure, do something for God."
Some of us know so much that the Lord has to lay us to rest, so that others who don't know so much can do something for God. Bishop Wright of Dayton, Ohio, years ago preached a sermon on the audacity of some young people who thought men could fly. "They ought to know better," he declared; "after all, only angels can fly. It is so decreed by God, and there will never be such a thing as men flying in the air." They buried the bishop, but his two boys never believed a word of that sermon. The Wright brothers, the sons of Bishop Wright, heard him preach that people couldn't fly. They went to Kitty Hawk and started to fly. They dared, they adventured, and they achieved!
"Don't wash my feet," Peter once said to Jesus. But the Master replied, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me" (John 13.8). "If that's it," Peter said, "then wash my head and my hands." Peter was able to make progress; he was able to learn another excellent trait in his makeup.
At last Peter became a true man of God. He no longer said, "I can take care of myself." He let God take care of him! To Peter, Jesus said, "Strengthen the brethren after you have turned." Before, Peter had denied his Lord; now he had found his Lord and he would become a strength to others. If it can happen to Peter it can happen to us.
How do I know? Because of the remedy for fear that Jesus gave. He asked, after the disciple's desperate failure, "Peter, do you love Me?"
"Perfect love casteth out fear"(l John 4:18). Fear was Peter's problem; be was scared. But now Jesus brought him the antidote.
Peter replied, "Thou knowest that I love Thee" (John 21:15). Love had come into his life, and the moment love entered, fear vanished. Peter's security was not in his words, but in the solution Jesus gave him love!
Many of us have experiences like Peter's early ones; but it is helpful to realize that in spite of his stumbling and fumbling, Jesus accepted him and made of him a great man of God in whom the Spirit of God moved mightily.
Peter no longer says, "I can take care of myself." He simply says, "Thou knowest that I love thee." All fear is gone, for the love of God has come into his heart. May his life be a strengthening influence to us!
Arthur L, Bietz was pastor in Glendale, CA. This article is taken from his book When God Met Men, pages 1-6.