I recently re-read Matthew 26:31-75, in which Peter goes from promising Jesus that he would never leave him to swearing never to have known him. What struck me this time reading the passage was that early in the evening Peter really was ready to die for Jesus—he attacked the servant of the high priest, even while an armed mob was standing by. I’m not sure I’d realized before that Peter’s desertion was not necessarily from a fear of death; he proved that by his desire to fight. Peter’s abandonment of Jesus seems to spring from another cause.
To me it seems that Peter didn’t really mind death; he just wanted to die on his own terms. He was willing to go down fighting, to go out in a blaze of glory defending his Lord.
He was ready to die for Jesus, but he was not willing to lay down his life for Jesus. An active death, one where he would get to make a big show of his loyalty and feel like he was making some kind of statement, appealed to Peter. Simply following and, in all likelihood, dying the same kind of death as Jesus didn’t seem so appealing.
I’m afraid that no situation I’ve ever been in can really compare with the one Peter found himself in here, but I think I do share a few of his characteristics. I’d much rather serve God (and, by extension, others) in my own way, using my own strengths, than follow on his terms.
Over the years, I’ve really thought of some great ways God could use me. But that is never the way he does it. He tends to put me in situations where I have pretty much no idea what I’m doing. (For example, teaching middle school math and science. I think that this is proof that God has a sense of humor.) This does not seem logical to me; to me it would make much more sense to put me in situations where I could use my multitude of talents (please note irony), rather than situations in which I make a fool of myself on a regular basis. But it is in these situations that God chooses to use me. And I think he does that on purpose. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I believe that it is when I am weakest that God is working most powerfully through me.
Not that I’m usually particularly good at recognizing that this is what’s happening. I tend to whine and want to abandon ship; I usually don’t recognize that this is the kind of sacrifice Christ asks of me.
John reports that, after his resurrection, Jesus told Peter, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Then Jesus tells Peter, yet again, “Follow me” (John 21:18-19). Jesus is letting Peter know that he has been given another chance, and the fact that Peter is now willing to follow on these terms shows how much he has been changed.
I'm hoping that someday I will be a bit more like Peter, but for now I'm still trying to learn how to lay down my life day by day and to let Him lead me even to places where I don't want to go.
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