“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young you girded yourself, and walked wherever you wished: but when you are old, you will stretch our your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ And this He said, signifying by what death he would glorify God” (John 21:18,19). Such was the end reached by that denier and lover; elated by his presumption, prostrated by his denial, cleansed by his weeping, approved by his confession, crowned by his suffering.
This was the end he reached, to die with a perfected love for the name of Him with whom, by a premature forwardness, he had promised to die. He would do, when strengthened by His resurrection, what in his weakness he promised prematurely. For the needful order was that Christ should first die for St. Peter’s salvation, and then that St. Peter should die for the preaching of Christ.
“Consistently inconsistent.” Such is the honorable description many writers have given to the first among the disciples. He was impetuous yet sincere; rash yet fervent; quick to falter yet quick to repent; headstrong yet quick to obey the Master’s commands.
Thus, we often see in the Gospels the touching instances of St. Peter’s unstable nature reprimanded and steadied by the love and patience of our Lord. For all his faults, there is probably no other character in the Holy Bible who delights us with a life so filled with color and spontaneity.
And it is often difficult to decide whether his actions flow from impetuosity or love. He pours forth his whole heart in all he does. Is his Master surrounded by fierce ruffians? St. Peter immediately has his sword drawn, and the lowly fisherman is instantly converted into the soldier. Is there rumor of the Lord’s Resurrection from the tomb? St. John’s youthful feet out-distance his elder friend; but St. Peter’s eagerness propels him past the gazing disciple as he rushes breathless into the empty sepulcher. Is the risen Savior on the shore? His comrades secure the net and steer the vessel for shore, but St. Peter plunges straight into the sea; and fighting the beating waves, he arrives with his dripping coat and falls down at his Master’s feet.
The attentive reader can scarcely follow the course of his actions without the occasional prickling of emotions. We smile when at one moment St. Peter vows his Master will never wash his feet; and the next moment, after one word from Christ, he suddenly changes his mind.
We shed a tear when St. Peter vows to follow Christ unto death, and several hours later denies Him from cowardice and goes out and weeps “bitterly”. Or we are awed at the remarkable insight and boldness St. Peter has in his great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But we must remember when we dwell upon St. Peter’s impulsive nature and the mistakes it led him into, that it was God who created him so. God had it specifically in His design that the first among the twelve should be equipped with such a personality.
For although in the Gospels we meet a Simon Peter who is passionate and changeable, in the Acts we meet a St. Peter the Rock who is vastly different. Once the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost, all the weaknesses of his nature were transformed to indomitable strength. The frailty to admit Jesus before a servant girl was replaced by a boldness to proclaim Christ before thousands.
The fear that caused him to flee on Holy Thursday gave way to the courage to confess Christ before the High Priest and Sanhedrin. And his vow to go with Christ unto death made before prematurely and with self-confidence, was now joyfully fulfilled by the grace of the Holy Spirit. St.Peter was in the highest sense of the word a changed man. But it did not happen easily. He had to experience a great personal crisis; he was to pass through the Lord’s betrayal, arrest, denial, and crucifixion – oh, the hours of dark agony in St. Peter’s soul! – before he could experience the regeneration and rebirth of Resurrection and Pentecost.
All the vows, promises, and swift actions he took before the Pentecostal illumination ended in failure. He had to learn that, of himself, he could do nothing. But when the GRACE of God descended in the Person of the Holy Spirit on that memorable day, St. Peter learned to submit to God’s workings; and with his life of failure behind him, his life of victory had begun. It took many years indeed to realise those words he wrote in his older days of wisdom: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
And that brings us to the third and last stage of St. St. Peter’s spiritual development. We have passed from his premature days in the Gospels; on to his enlightened and spiritual days of service in the Acts; finally to arrive at his latter days of seasoned wisdom and spiritual fathership in his epistles. For in his writings we see every stamp of an apostle tried, proven, and refined by a long life of hardship and labor. He had learned to “…be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8); he had also learned the need for trials: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). And most of all, he learned that “love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Whose life reflected such an extended list of sins and errors covered by Christ’s love more than St. Peter? And what more joy could St. Peter the Elder have than to see his own spiritual children undergo the same growth and transformation that he did? Therefore he encourages them that Christ has “begotten them again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3), and that they should never despair for they have a spiritual inheritance that cannot be dissolved or fade away, reserved especially for them in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). From beginning (1 Peter 1:2) to end (1 Peter 5:14) of his epistle, he promises peace and victory to those in Christ Jesus. What better way to celebrate the Apostles’ Feast than to share in the joy and wisdom of the great apostle? Best of all, we can join in his struggles.
It is the age-old battle between the old life and the new life. It is the struggle between the habits and tendencies of the old nature and the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. And it is nearly always a heart-breaking struggle. The force of the pull from opposite sides feels like they will tear us asunder. But we must hold on; we must be brave. Whenever hope for victory wanes, we can trust that our Paraclete, our Comforter, will with Christ “beget us again to a living hope”. Christ lifted St. Peter up from the ashes of defeat by His love, and He will show us the same love. We, like St. Peter, are His own sheep; “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).
Ideas where taken from this blog and used in a Sunday School Lesson (Year 10-12) at St Barbara & St Noufer Coptic Orthodox Church on 11/07/2010.