Peter provides an example of the power of God’s promises to us but also our susceptibility to misuse what He gives to us. Three great promises of ministry to Peter are balanced by three serious mistakes he made.
Temptation 1 – We Know Better Than God
In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is. Their response is John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. But when Jesus asks them “who do you say that I am?” Peter proclaims Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus praises Peter at this point for receiving a revelation from God about who Jesus is. He then promises that He will build His church and the gift of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Peter is feeling pretty good about himself at this point – he understands who Jesus is and has been particularly singled out by Jesus. But then, in Matthew 16:21 -28 Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to suffer and die. Peter, buoyed by the praise he got from Jesus earlier, jumps in and rebukes Jesus saying that it will not happen. A confessing Peter who got it right turns into a misunderstanding Peter who got it wrong.
The temptation that Peter faced was that he knew better than God what God’s business should be. This temptation leads to self-glorification. Jesus’ rebuke was harsh: “Get behind me Satan, for you are on men’s side rather than God’s.” But it needed to be harsh otherwise Peter would not have realised how wrong he had gotten it and that he needed to understand what God was doing.
Temptation 2 – Self-confidence in Our Own Abilities and Powers
In Luke 22:31-34 Jesus identifies that the disciples, and in particular Peter, will be sifted by Satan to test their loyalty to God and to Jesus. Peter at this point declares confidently his total loyalty to Jesus: “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”
It is important to note that particular positions and gifts come with particular responsibilities and they will also be tested. Jesus had identified that Peter would be tested – and that he had been praying for Peter. But the temptation is that we think we can succeed apart from Jesus, His prayers for us and his power. We go to do it for God not with Him. But we cannot in our own strength, remain loyal and faithful to the Lord. Jesus rebukes Peter saying – you will deny me three times. Which we know that Peter did.
Temptation 3 – To Focus on What God Has Called Others to Do
In John 21:15-17 Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves Him, and three times He tells Peter that his responsibility is to care for God’s people. Then, in John 21:20, Peter questions Jesus about John and what he should be doing. The temptation at this point is to take our attention away from what God has called us to do and begin to interfere in His purpose and will for someone else. This can occur by taking responsibility for something God has not entrusted to us. When we do that we inadvertently breach someone else’s authority, because there is no such thing as responsibility without authority.
Jesus again in this circumstance rebukes Peter: “What is that to you? Follow me!” Peter needed to focus on what Jesus had asked Him to do, not anyone else.
While Peter was given great responsibility and authority by Jesus, and did some incredible things in the early church, He made a number of mistakes and had a number of things to learn. We also need to learn from Peter’s mistakes and remember:
- To learn and understand what God is doing – we don’t know better than God;
- To work with God and not for Him – don’t rely on our own abilities and powers; and
- Remember to focus on our own task – don’t be distracted by what God has called others to do.