Updated: Apr 29
Peter, in many ways, was Yeshua’s most difficult leadership training project—but also the most important. The New Testament reader may scratch his head a few times, on his way to the book of Acts, wondering, “Really? This guy?” And, still, he gets a cool nickname—Rock (Matt. 16:18). The original Rock, by the way, in case Dwayne Johnson is reading!
But his real undoing comes just before Yeshua dies. This is the same bold Peter who:
Wanted to build tabernacles for Moses and Elijah (not recognizing that they pale in comparison to God’s beloved Son!).
Walked on water before falling in.
Who would hours later cut off someone’s ear.
Who rebuked Yeshua for saying He would soon die and gets rebuked right back.
Not me, Lord!
Yes, this same Peter is now sitting around the Passover table with Yeshua and the disciples, when Yeshua shocks them by saying, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Matt. 26:21). Later in the meal, Yeshua tells them something even more difficult. “You will all fall away because of me this night.” (Matt. 26:31).
And then this famous exchange:
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Yeshua said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matt. 26:33-35).
Wow! Willing to die with Him. And then…later on that evening, Yeshua is arrested. The disciples are stunned! They are in the Garden of Gethsemane praying…or at least Yeshua was praying…when Judas shows up, “with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matt. 26:47). They take him away.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Yeshua the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Yeshua of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” (Matt. 26:69-74).
He, our bold father in the faith, didn’t just deny him; he called down curses on himself! And then, Peter has a moment just like when Nathan the prophet pointed his prophetic finger at the murdering, adulterer King David, and said, “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam. 12).
And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Yeshua, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matt. 26:74-75).
Peter the bold was broken. The most radical disciple was ruined—the most courageous of them all was crushed. The Messiah was arrested, and in a few hours, crucified and dead. The humiliated Simon hunkered down in the upper room—all had been lost.
Now we know from John that a fire had been started:
Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:18).
And that before Peter denied knowing Yeshua, he went to warm himself by this very fire. I’ll come back to this.
Looked like the end for Peter
The Lord had His work cut out for him in terms of rebuilding the ruined Rock. Peter was guilt-ridden. Much like Joseph felt in jail all those years after thinking that God showed him he would be a great leader. Or like David, after being anointed to be king, slaying the giant, and leading the armies of Israel, suddenly found himself being chased by a demon-possessed King for the next decade or more. Peter, who had planned to be a general in Yeshua’s revolution, must have felt so foolish and presumptuous.
But then an angel appears to Mariam Hamagdalit and tells her,
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7).
How encouraging. He singles out the denier as if to say, I still have a plan for you, Peter.
Going Ahead of you into Galilee
Then a few weeks later, back in the Galilee, the guys go fishing. Yeshua has revealed himself to the disciples twice but they have no real direction. Peter and Yeshua still have some unfinished business. At the end of a long night of fruitless fishing, they are on their way back, when a man calls out…
“Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”
These were grown men and He calls them children. That should have been the first clue. Next, he asks them to cast on the other side. How could they not remember that first calling of the disciples in Luke 5, where He had them cast on the other side and they were overwhelmed by the number of fish?
But, it seems, they still were dull. However, once they saw the number of fish, John turns to Peter and said, “It’s the Lord.” Bold Peter jumps out of the boat and runs through the water to get to Yeshua. Who knew when He would appear again?
Now it gets real!
When Peter gets to shore, he sees a familiar, painful site: a charcoal fire.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 21:9-10).
Yes, it was next to a charcoal fire that the Rock denied the Lord. He called down curses. It was time for a little internal surgery. After the meal, Yeshua asks Peter three times if he loves Him. The only place in the New Testament where the term “charcoal fire” is used is in John 18 and 21—the first, the place of the denial, and the second, this place of healing.
Yeshua starts by calling him Simon and not Peter (or Rock). It would seem silly to call him Rock after such an astonishing failure. First, it was time to get serious. Much has been made by the changing of the Greek word for love there, and clearly, there is something to that—but my focus here is that next to the charcoal fire of denial, He is restored to be the Lord’s first evangelist.
Three denials and three times Yeshua asks him, “Do you love me?” Then, He presses him hard, until, finally, Peter seems to respond sharply saying, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17). Okay. Yeshua follows with, “Then feed my sheep.” And He begins to tell Peter that He is going to become a martyr for the faith. In other words, He is saying…
Peter, this is not about sitting at my right hand or my left…this is not about you being a big shot…this is life and death. It is about spreading the gospel and watching over my sheep. If you accept this calling, you will indeed die for me, as you proclaimed you would on Passover. It is not about titles or position, it is about self-denial and sacrifice.
When they counted the fish, there were 153 fish in the net. Pastor Troy Brewer, an expert on numbers in the Bible, says the New Testament shows Yeshua leading 153 people to the Kingdom in all four Gospels? In other words, you guys are still my fishers of men. It was a prophetic sign regarding what would happen in just a few days.
On the Jewish Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, healed emotionally, knowing who he is in Yeshua, gives his first sermon…
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed the crowd:
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:14-16).
The rest is history, my friends…
Application: What horrible thing have you done that you think disqualifies you from being used by God? Peter had to learn humility, God had to humble him because he could not see the need to humble himself. It is always better to humble ourselves, but if we don’t, God, out of His loving desire to mold us into the image of Yeshua, will humble us. It is His love, not His anger.
Hey, friend: God is not done with you.
(Originally published on June 5, 2018)