What Happened to Peter?

Last Sunday we finished our sermon series through the letter of 1st Peter titled ‘Against the Tide’. Personally, it was a deeply challenging and richly rewarding journey. I was reminded repeatedly about the reality of suffering, the goodness of God, and the necessity of standing firm. But as I read and studied I was also struck by the fact that Peter, the author of this letter and one of Jesus twelve disciples, seemed so different to the man that is described earlier in his life in the Gospels.

As one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and closest friends, we are given a fairly detailed portrait of Peter’s character in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and it’s not always a flattering picture. Peter is consistently seen to be impulsive, occasionally proud, often strong-willed, and, on a couple of crucial occasions, cowardly. But the Peter we encounter later in life and through the letter of 1st Peter seems, well, different.

The man who identified himself as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1) was not there when Jesus was hanging on the cross because he had run away and was hiding in fear (Mark 14:50). The man who calls us to be eager to serve (1 Peter 5:2) argued with the other disciples about who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-36). The man who tells us that we should be clear-minded and self-controlled so that we can pray (1 Peter 4:7) fell asleep while Jesus sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). The man who so boldly tells us to submit to human authority (1 Peter 2:13) chopped off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest, in the same garden (John 18:10–11).

I don’t point this out to shame Peter, but rather to highlight the deep transformation that God worked in his life. The impulsive and strong-willed disciple grew into a bold and courageous leader. In fact, church tradition tells us that when Peter was condemned to be crucified by Roman Emperor Nero, he did not feel worthy to die like Jesus, so he requested to be crucified upside down.

It wasn’t easy, simple or quick, but God transformed Peter. And this should fill us with hope and resolve, because the same God that was at work so powerfully in the life of Peter is at work in your life and mine. The same grace that Peter received from Jesus is extended to you and to me. The same Spirit that empowered Peter is poured out upon you and me. We, like Peter, have embarked upon a lifelong journey of growth and transformation. In the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So, if you’ve been feeling stuck and stagnant lately, or if you feel like you’re going nowhere, take heart, God promises that he will complete the good work he has begun in your life (Php. 1:6). But also, take action, because as we co-operate with the work of God’s Spirit and avail ourselves of the resources God provides (prayer, Scripture, fellow believers, etc.), we will find that what happened to Peter is exactly what will happen to you and to me; we will be deeply and profoundly transformed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

With you on the journey,