Jesus Changed Peter—not Permanently (Mark 8:27-9:13; 14:26-42, 53-72)
We like to find people in stories that we can identify with. We laugh with our friends at movies because a certain character acts the same way we would. I, for one, always find myself agreeing with C-3PO. Always worrying. Always doomed. Or Bilbo Baggins—with an adventure side and a “stay-in-the-armchair” side. But there’s another character I find myself identifying with a lot—except he’s a real person I’ll get to meet someday. His name is Peter—yes, you know him as the great apostle and “founder” of the church. But I want you to meet him in a different light. A lot more like yourself than you may imagine.
You’ve already met him before—when he was called to fish for men on the shore of Galilee. And we’ve seen him all along. Of course, he’s the one relaying this story to Mark to write down. So everything we read about him is his own comments about himself. But now, we come to perhaps one of his greatest moments in Mark 8. And also one of his worst.
Jesus and His disciples are walking on the road, enjoying good fellowship, when Jesus asks them a question:
“Who do people say that I am?”
The disciples murmur about Him being compared to John the Baptist or Elijah or just some prophet. Then, Jesus clarifies:
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter raises his hand. “You are the Christ!” Wow. Bonus points for Peter. He seems to be ahead of the rest of the disciples! But wait, there’s more…
Jesus then launches into a description of His suffering coming soon. Of His arrest and ultimate death. Peter, still pretty proud of himself after that great zinger, stops Jesus and pulls Him aside. “Are you crazy, Lord? You’re not going to die—You’re going to defeat the Romans and—”
Jesus’ eyes focus on Peter.
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.”
That phrase defines Peter’s life. He’s always thinking in the earthly realm. Besides that one profession of Jesus’ heavenly title, Peter’s mind is mostly on the here and now. No doubt this criticism stung in his ears as Jesus talked about His followers having to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Him. When He talks about how He will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of Him. Peter would remember those words…
But apparently, he didn’t learn his lesson. Like us, he’s a bit slow sometimes. Six days later, Jesus takes him and the Sons of Thunder up to a mountain. There, Jesus, the Changemaker, is Himself changed into His heavenly glory, to the amazement of the trio. Elijah and Moses show up to talk with Jesus.
But Peter thinks his comment deserves more attention than Jesus’ discussion with these two powerful figures. Mark doesn’t exaggerate when he writes that Peter “didn’t know what to say.” Remember this, kids—when you don’t know what to say…shut up! Peter learned that lesson the hard way. He timidly steps forward in the brilliance and offers his earthly suggestion:
“Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here.” Thanks for inviting us, Master! “Let’s make three tents, one for You, one for Moses, and one for—”
A booming voice from Heaven interrupts the lowly fisherman.
“This is my beloved Son—listen to Him!”
Peter had a hard time listening to anyone. All he could think to do in any given situation was to talk, talk, talk, talk. He was a “chatty Petey.”
Flash forward to chapter 14. A lot has happened—but some things never change. All those things Jesus was telling His disciples would happen to Him are now happening. It’s the night of His arrest. Jesus is walking with His disciples to the Mount of Olives. In a low voice, He turns to them with heaviness and declares,
“You will all fall away.”
Peter didn’t remember the voice telling him to listen to Jesus. Instead, he pipes up, “Even though they all fall away, I will not!”
Jesus’ sorrow is evident.
“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Peter shakes his head defiantly. “If I must die with You, I will not deny You!”
But not a few minutes later, while the Savior was praying for the cup to pass, for strength to do His Father’s will and save the world with His own blood—while the Changemaker was wrestling with His humanity…Peter was sound asleep.
“Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?”
The man who said he’d die for Christ couldn’t stay awake and pray with Him for an hour. He failed not once, not twice, but three times—sleeping while Jesus suffered in prayer. He woke the fisherman up to witness the mob coming toward them. Peter jumped to his feet and prepared for action. This was the moment he was waiting for—sure, he had failed, but he was going to prove to Jesus that he had changed. He gasped to see Judas, one of their own, come up and betray Jesus to this mob with a kiss. Then, the soldiers came and seized the Son of God.
Peter grabs his sword and tries to attack, managing to cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear—which Jesus promptly heals. Jesus tells him to put his sword away. Peter is shocked and watches as the mob leads His Master away. For once, he’s speechless.
“Come on!” urges John and together they follow Jesus down to the council of those legalists we’ve been talking about. While Jesus stands cold and chained before the haughty high priest, Peter warms himself by a fire in the courtyard. What happened to the brash and brave bravado who would march in there and fight every soldier to the death for his Lord?
Peter hears the high priest’s striking words: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” He thinks back to that day when he told Jesus, “You are the Christ.” Those days seemed long ago. The Peter then would have interrupted the proceeding to yell, “He is the Christ!” But now, the cowardly Peter stands in the courtyard, warming himself by a fire.
Jesus responds for Himself,
“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The place erupts into crazed zeal. The high priest tears his clothes. The guards and priests dare to strike the “blasphemer” and render a judgment against Him. Meanwhile, Peter’s reverie is disrupted by a servant girl.
“You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
Peter panics. “I-I neither know nor understand what you mean!” He backs away and flees to the gateway. The rooster crows once. But the girl follows and says to those around, “This man is one of them!”
Silence falls, and Peter hears his Lord cry out in pain from inside the house.
“Certainly you are one of them—for you are a Galilean!”
Peter grew enraged. Cursing. Swearing. “I do not know this man of whom you speak!!”
The rooster crows again. And Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction. Indeed, one Gospel writer says he makes eye-contact with the suffering Savior as He’s led out to be tried by Pilate.
Peter runs, not knowing where or how far. He just runs, with tears marking his path. Finally, he collapses in an alley and plugs his ears. But he can’t stop hearing the words Christ has said to him before,
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
ASHAMED. That word defines this Peter. It defines many of us too. Truth be told, we have all been ashamed of our Savior before. We let the Changemaker change us—but not completely. We hold on to our pride. We hold on to our comforts. Our desires. We insist we’re good people—we’d be willing to die for Christ. But when we feel threatened by unbelieving friends or family or even just by the world’s temptation to fit in, we cave. We deny our Lord. We are ashamed of the One Who bore all our shame.
The interesting thing is that Peter doesn’t really mention himself any more as he recounts the rest of the story to Mark. Except for one place in Mark 16. The angel is talking to the women who have come to the grave. He tells them, “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.”
When Peter heard those words, the shame crept up again. His Master, the One he denied, is alive again. Would He remove him from being one of His disciples? After all, he had denied Him THREE TIMES! No, the angel had singled him out from the disciples. Did Jesus ever see Peter in Galilee? Indeed, in John 21. Where He restores him with a question,
“Do you love Me?”
Three times. By a fire.
Peter’s shame was turned to service. He went on to be a fiery preacher of the Gospel, one of the chief “founders” of the church, and the “inspiration” behind this Gospel, where he unashamedly reports of his denial. Apparently, the Changemaker finally changed this loud-mouthed, chatty Petey. Changed him into a humble fisher of men.
Will you let the Changemaker do the same to you? We all have shame. We all have let down our Lord. But don’t let that stop you permanently. Take your shame to the One Who can change your shame into service. Turn from your shame to the Savior.
Sometimes all we need to do is shut up and listen to the Savior say,
“I forgive you.”