HARD LESSONS ARE THE BEST LESSONS
"Simon Peter asked Him,' Lord, where are you going?' Jesus replied, 'Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.' Peter asked, 'Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.' Then Jesus answered, 'Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.'" John 13:36-38 NIV.
Before we come down heavily on Peter for denying Jesus, let's stop a minute and ask a few questions. Firstly, was he sincere? I do believe that he could not have been more sincere in his expression of loyalty to Jesus that at that moment. After all, had he not stuck with Him through thick and thin? There were many occasions when he could have disowned him and walked away, but he didn't...
What about the times when Jesus had a go at the Pharisees, calling them whited sepulchres, liars, murderers and children of the devil? The disciples must have cringed and felt like crawling into the nearest hole. And what of the very recent incident in the temple when He caused a huge furore by driving the merchants and out of the temple court, upsetting the money changers' tables and sending the animals fleeing in all directions? Don't you think the disciples wanted to disown Him at that moment?
And as for their visit to Caesarea Philippi, the "red light district" of Israel! Jesus deliberately took His group of conservative Jewish men to a place where they were confronted with a spectacle too disgusting for words; the devotees of Pan, the goat god, shamelessly and publicly having intercourse with goats as part of their religious ritual! What was He thinking?
Yet Peter and his fellow disciples stayed with Him regardless. No other rabbi in Israel had ever said and done the outrageous things Jesus did as part of the training He put His disciples through. Having come this far, Peter had no intention of deserting Him now.
Secondly, did Peter believe at that moment that he had the courage to endure whatever he had to? I'm sure he did. He wasn't afraid to take risks. He was always the first one to respond to Jesus, no matter what the circumstances. Didn't he go fishing in broad daylight at Jesus' instruction, knowing from a seasoned fisherman’s point of view that it was a useless waste of time? Didn't he get out of the boat and walk on the stormy lake, knowing full well that he risked drowning? As long as Jesus was close by, he knew he was safe.
Thirdly, did Peter really know himself? No, he didn't! That was the whole point of Jesus' warning. Peter was confident but unfortunately, he was over-confident. He did not know the limit of his ability to stand up under testing. In spite of his reassurance that he was willing to give his life for Jesus, he did not yet know that something would paralyse him when it came to the crunch -- fear! Fear would crush his resolve and expose him as a cursing coward.
In the moment of truth, Peter would become who he really was. As long as circumstances were favourable and he was not exposed to any risks when Jesus was not there to rescue him, he thought he was as brave as a lion! He had to learn the very hard and unforgettable lesson that without Jesus, he could do nothing.
For Peter when he looked back, this moment of denial would be a moment of grace. He would take Jesus' warning with a pinch of salt because he didn't really believe Him and because he thought he knew himself. His greatest sorrow and deepest regret would be that he ignored Jesus' words and trusted in himself. But that was part of God's grace because the pain was so deep that he would not walk that way again.
Some of our hardest lessons are learned when we think we are stronger than we are. But just as Jesus knew what was coming for Peter, He knows us. We can never disappoint Him because He already knows what will happen before we fall. Why does He not intervene? He knows that we need these lessons to discover what we are capable of doing without Him so that we realize how much we need Him.
It's as simple as that!
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