I have located the aged apostle in a Roman prison cell. He is in both sound mind and body but has no illusions about the emperor’s plans for him. Everyone knows Nero’s systematic executions of Christians accounts for the prison’s revolving door. The guards have allowed me to enter the cell and Peter has allowed me to ask my questions.
Perhaps because of my own awe at this man whose shadow was said to have healed people, I was nervous. Peter sensed this and would not have it. His gentleness and humility disarmed me. He simply said, with a smile, “Welcome to my temporary home. Please feel free to ask me any questions you like. I love to tell people about Jesus.”
The following is an excerpt from our conversation.
“Peter, we all know about your breakdown the night Jesus was arrested so many years ago. How do you account for your cowardice and betrayal of this man you had professed your willingness to die for?”
Peter sighed. The question had pierced him deeply and he said, “I have thought about it much but spoken of it very little. Oh my… What a terrible day that was. I had argued with the other disciples in the morning about which of us was the greatest. Later, I had fallen asleep in the garden even after Jesus had instructed us to stay alert. Then the mob came for Jesus and I panicked, injuring a man with my sword. The day concluded with the incident you are referring to. While the day was a disaster, there is something about it you need to understand—it was one of the most important milestones in my relationship to Jesus.
“The amazing thing, for those of us who stayed with Jesus, is that our failures became our new beginnings—places where His grace has been able to touch us. Our disasters became the platforms on which God has been able to build most deeply. You see, in these areas, we no longer have illusions of who we are and our own greatness. In these areas we know we have nothing—so Christ Himself can become our foundational-everything. I cannot explain why, but this is how it works in His kingdom—where we are most weak, He is most strong.”
“What do you mean when you referred to illusions as to who you were?”
Peter, nodding, said, “That is an excellent question. None of us really knew what this kingdom-of-God-thing was He was always talking about. We thought the kingdom was going to be a government in the mundane sense. We all thought we were going to be chief administrators in an earthly government. On top of this, none of us knew our own hearts. We truly loved Jesus but, at the same time, each of us had been envisioning our own kingdoms within His. Jesus knew we would not finish the race well with our selfish motives and self-delusion in tact.
“That’s why the evening you’re talking about, as terrible as it was, has also become glorious to me. When Jesus turned and looked at me as the cock crowed, this was my first glimpse of something He had known all along. I was not who I thought I was. I was not the great leader of men. I was the chief of sinners. Although it is painful, my awareness of this has created a dependency that opens my heart to His righteousness, peace, and joy—the substance of His kingdom.”
I had never met anyone like this. I was taken with Peter. He was utterly transparent—very much as I imagined Jesus Himself might have been. And, intuitively, I knew he loved me. I had to ask him, “What’s your advice to me, if I wanted to follow Jesus Christ?”
He offered a wry smile and said, “My counsel is to not follow Jesus from a safe distance as I did the night we all betrayed him. Follow him very closely. Don’t attempt to blend in with those who don’t know Him as I had at the high priest’s home. Instead of saying you don’t know Him, tell the world around you that you do! Why this is so important I cannot fully explain, but I do know, we are changed as we identify ourselves with Him publicly.”
Then, as if a load had been lifted, he said, “There is something else you need to know. God is using the events of your life—literally everything that touches you, to transform you into the image of Jesus. My story is relevant because you and I are made of the same stuff. He will likely expose you just as He did with me, so that it will be Him you are really trusting and not some illusion you have of Him or yourself. There may be some terrible moments as you follow Jesus, but press on. They will become the precious chapters in the story you have been born to tell. Keep in mind, our profession is not a one-time event; it is a lifestyle of telling others about our experiences with Jesus. Having a story of our own and telling it well is our calling.”
The jailer called out, “Time!” and our conversation was over as quickly as it had begun. The old fisherman rejected my hand and, while engulfing me in a great bear hug, and said softly to me, “See you on the other side. I’ve got more stories for you.”
The apostle Peter was crucified the next day.
Father, so be it, if you must turn your gaze upon us and provoke bitter tears. Help us to honor the circumstances You are using to expose us, so that we may trust You more completely. Do the necessary work in us, such that You become our foundation. May we publicly walk in step with you in all boldness and joy. Amen.
But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; (2 Timothy 2:12)