“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Heb. 12:2)
One of the basic messages of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher and better than our own.
This is one of the pivotal, fundamental lessons of the Christian experience. Only the real, supernatural God can compose and direct circumstances in our lives that will lead to genuine, everlasting spiritual growth.
It is within God’s unique character-manufacturing furnace of present-time experience that He forges mature saints who can trust and follow Him. Peter and Paul are two of the best examples of this process from scripture.
Before the crucifixion, Peter thought (according to Peter’s understanding in the realm of the “natural man”) that Jesus was in peril from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and that Jesus needed Peter’s personal help for physical protection (Mt. 16:22).
When Peter utterly failed in this capacity, to the point that he actually denied knowing Jesus using cursing to save himself out of a difficult situation in the courtyard, Matthew 26:75 says: “And he went out, and wept bitterly.”
Peter was not just mildly disappointed in himself. He thought he had failed in the critical, defining moment in his life.
But this was not the defining moment in Peter’s life. God the Father knew from eternity past that Jesus would die on the cross, and that He would raise Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. God did not need or want Peter’s help to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus. That was merely Peter’s best intentions according to his own thinking.
The critical moment that God had planned for Peter was not at the midnight trial standing alongside Jesus as a faithful companion, but on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, at the birth of the Christian church, as described in the second chapter of the book of Acts.
On Resurrection Day, when Peter first sees the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5), Peter realizes in an instant that God did not need his well-intentioned help to guide these final events. God did not need Peter to prevent what Peter thought would be a guaranteed negative outcome if Jesus fell into the hands of the Jewish authorities.
God the Father had raised and transformed the broken and mutilated body of Jesus Christ the Son from the effects of a violent death that had occurred only a few days before, into a new and glorious resurrected body. In a moment of realization…in the light of finally understanding…it all comes together for Peter.
Peter thinks back upon Jesus by the lakeside, in a boat because of the press of the crowd, as He is brilliantly teaching truth like no one has ever heard before (Lk. 5:3). Peter remembers the oversized catch of fish in the nets that nearly overturns Peter’s boat (Lk. 5:4-11), the miracle of the feeding of the thousands on the hillside (Mt. 14:15-21), Jesus walking on water (Mt. 14:22-36), the transfiguration (Mk. 9:2), lepers cleansed (Lk. 5:12-15), the blind receiving sight (Jn. 9:1-41), and the dead raised (Jn. 11:1-44).
When Peter intently gazes upon his risen Lord on Resurrection Day in amazement and appreciation, he cannot take his eyes off Jesus. He realizes in a series of quick flashbacks the always up-to-the-challenge Son of God, working masterfully with the Father and the Holy Spirit through every imaginable human issue and crisis, but especially in this final, amazing, unexpected event of salvation for mankind through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after the seeming finality of death on the cross.
Peter realizes that Jesus had Peter’s denial in the courtyard factored into the whole process all along (Mt. 26:34). With an enormous sense of relief, Peter now understands that his personal failure at the critical time…when under normal circumstances Jesus might have otherwise needed his support the most…that any well-meaning attempt on the part of Peter to physically protect Jesus…could not possibly have prevented or affected in any way…the monumental work of salvation planned by Almighty God so long ago.
Peter was also resurrected to an eternal hope in that single moment of time upon first seeing the risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:3).
In a bright flash of spiritual light, Peter in that instant finally realized that God was infinitely bigger than he was. Peter saw with his own eyes the capacity of God to overcome anything, no matter how hopeless, when he saw the risen Jesus.
This experience changed Peter forever.
At that moment Peter shifted his reliance from self to God. Peter could go forward from that day onward with the rock-solid hope of a living faith, and a vessel emptied of self-reliance, to serve his Savior to the end of his life.
This is how Peter was able to stand up before thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through his natural leadership ability and bold personality, to successfully proclaim the truth that Jesus was indeed the Christ of God.
Peter’s prior overconfident statement, before Gethsemane, that even though all other men might forsake Jesus, that Peter under no circumstances would forsake Him (Mt. 26:33), revealed a person who was still partially self-led. Peter was talking out of his un-crucified self-in-charge nature, and this led to bitter spiritual defeat.
Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, was not operating “in the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of listening to and following the Holy Spirit, as an apostle of Jesus Christ should. Trouble found and exposed a vulnerable flaw in Peter, because self was still in-charge in this instance.
The character transforming lesson of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard, and the loving forgiveness he experienced in his personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day, changed Peter from self-led failure to a Spirit-led overcomer. Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ is an example of experiential faith that actualized into spiritual victory.
Rewinding these events backwards in time, Peter could have faithfully and courageously stood at the side of Jesus, as he said he would, and been condemned to death as a follower of Jesus.
Peter would then have occupied the fourth cross on the hill of Calvary that Passover Day.
But God the Father had a much different plan for Peter.
How infinitely better and more exciting would it be, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and to stand up before thousands of people in Jerusalem and preach powerfully about both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 2:14-36)?
How much more exciting would it be to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40), or to heal the crippled man at the gate to the Temple (Acts 3:7), or to participate in the revival in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), or be preaching to the Gentiles when the Pentecost “gift of the Holy Spirit” was poured out on them as well (Acts 10:44-48), or be miraculously released by an angel in the dead of night from Herod’s prison (Acts 12:7-11)?
How much better was God’s plan for Peter than what Peter had in mind for himself prior to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? To what purpose would a fourth cross on Calvary, bearing Peter, have served?
According to historical tradition, Peter was eventually crucified in Rome, sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D. Peter was finally crucified physically, but not before living a full life in service to his Lord Jesus Christ according to the much higher plans of God.