Peter’s Mistakes and lessons from them

Nicholas Greer, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Precious Seed

No doubt the apostle Peter made a name for himself amongst the disciples as being, upon occasions, hotheaded and impulsive, and for being mistaken as often as he was correct. In this article we will look at three occasions in which Peter made a mistake, and what we might learn from each of them.

When Peter knew better

‘He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him’, Mark 8. 32

Peter’s boldness here is almost beyond what we can imagine. He takes the Lord Himself aside and privately begins to remonstrate with Him as to the truth of what He has just said! It is startling, yet each of us can be guilty of the same failing in our own lives, i.e., thinking we know better than God. While we may object immediately to such an accusation, for many it is sadly true. Perhaps God has called us to a work for which we feel we are not suited when in reality it is simply one we do not want to do, or we force our way into a ministry or endeavour for which we are not gifted. We must ensure that we do not ever succumb to spiritual pride to the extent where we feel we know better than God.

We can also be guilty of picking out of the Lord’s commands the ones we like. Peter is not recorded as rebuking Christ when He talked about other issues, but when something came along that didn’t suit Peter’s perception of what the future held – suddenly he felt he knew better than Christ. This is as when we talk of spreading the gospel, but how many of us have taken up a cross to do it? ‘Love your neighbour’ also is a principle we admire, but how many of us can honestly say that we have sold our spare coat in the process? The same goes for the challenge to love our enemies – but how many times do we offer our cheeks for a second blow? We must be sure we do not pick and choose what we like out of doctrine – the scriptures are not a buffet with a ‘selection’ menu!

When Peter lost faith

‘But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, Lord, save me!’ Matt. 14. 30.

None of us has to look very far to see the deeper spiritual meaning in this narrative. Peter, at the first glimpse of Christ, leapt over the side of the boat to go to Him. However, it was not long before he found himself looking more at the waves and less at the Lord. We are all familiar with this feeling – it is very easy in our Christian walk to look at the trials and troubles we, and others, are facing and forget to look to the Lord. Although God never expects us to glibly ignore trials, we must not let them overwhelm us to the point where we take our eyes off Him. Had Peter kept his eyes on the Lord Jesus, the waves and the winds, large and strong, would still have been there, still as daunting, but in perspective. Keeping our eyes on Him will not diminish the hardship in that sense.

Peter does respond in the right way when he begins to sink – he calls out for help. Immediately recognizing what is happening, he does not try to save himself by swimming, but calls on the Lord to save him. Reminiscent of our salvation, when we realize we are in spiritual difficulties, perhaps cold in heart or tangled in sin, our first action must be to call upon the Lord – He alone can save. We should also remember that the waves stopped only when Jesus got Peter to the safety of the boat. Contrary to modern ‘Health, Wealth and Prosperity’ gospels, the scripture does not promise an easy walk with the Lord, but a secure one. Our trials are only guaranteed to end when Christ has walked us all the way into heaven.

When Peter denied Him

‘And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times. So Peter went out and wept bitterly’, Luke 22. 61-62

Of the three incidents we are considering here, this was undoubtedly the very lowest point for Peter. Having sworn his loyalty in response to the Lord’s prediction of his denial, just a short time later, Peter finds himself proving the Lord right, and himself wrong. At this moment Peter was in the courtyard outside the building where the Lord was being interrogated. Christ was able to look directly at Peter and His gaze caught him after his third denial. Peter was engulfed with guilt immediately – indeed it was believed in the early church that from that day on Peter broke down every time he heard a rooster crow.

While we might be quick to condemn Peter in his outright denial of Christ, very few of us have not been guilty of the same attitude. Perhaps someone has asked a direct question about the Lord, or our faith, and we have dodged it with a half-hearted answer. Many a time someone has said something which we could have taken up, but we have let it hang unanswered. We must acknowledge that have been times when we have been too tired, too frightened or perhaps even too ashamed to stand up for the Lord. In our own way, we have all been guilty of denying the Lord as Peter did.

To be fair to Peter, he learned from his errors – on the day of Pentecost he would defy those same people who were at that very moment preparing to murder Christ. He would stand before crowds and boldly proclaim the gospel. When what he once feared finally caught up with him and he came to be martyred, tradition holds that he asked to be crucified upside down, feeling himself unworthy to be put to death in the same way as his Lord.

For us to consider the times Peter excelled in insight and righteous behaviour, in godly boldness earning Christ’s approval would require another study, but there is benefit from considering what we can learn from these three failures. Simply trust God! We can never know better than the infinite, all-knowing Ruler of the Universe. Best rather to keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus, and let everything, good and bad, fall into perspective. We need to sing the hymn, ‘I’m not ashamed to own my Lord!’ loudly and more often, then live it out in work or home from day to day.