by Tara Cryer
Wow what an amazing series this has been! – all those characters who wrestled with their emotions. For me, it has been comforting to discover, through these significant characters, that we are not alone, and that there are great examples of God’s presence in those trialling moments.
Let’s go back to the start of Peter’s journey. Formally known as Simon, Jesus gave a man who was, at times, overwhelmed by fear, the name Peter, meaning “rock” – symbolising stability and strength! I believe this is a powerful message – a valuable thing for us to grasp! Later on, Jesus says to Peter “you are the rock on which I build my church”. I really admire Peter as there’s such a lot to learn from his story. One thing that really stands out for me, is his clear wrestle with his emotions. Remember what I said at the start of the series, that today we sometimes see mental wellbeing and spirituality as two separate areas of concern but, here, Peter’s journey shows that the two can go hand in hand. Peter has very obvious ups and downs and, whilst it doesn’t state that Peter has an anxiety disorder, fear clearly overwhelmed him at times. I’m sure many of us can really connect to this. I believe that Peter had a deep love for Jesus and don’t believe this was ever in question. We can’t ignore that Jesus calls him that perfect name, and that despite all the trials and tribulations Peter goes through, Jesus, still at the beginning calls him “Rock”. As we’re told, in Jeremiah 29:11 “for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
Peter throughout his life did some amazing things and it was through his love for Jesus that he became the disciple he was, and known as the disciple Jesus loved. Let’s look at some of the times that he wrestled with his emotions. A fine example of him wrestling with his trust and his fear is when Peter walks on water. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples, the disciples were afraid, they thought he was a ghost. Peter in the midst of that fear calls out to the Lord and and says “if that is you Lord command me to come to you” and all Jesus says is “come”. Peter then steps out of the boat and on to the water. Amazing example of his loyalty and love for Jesus. Don’t forget that while this is happening the seas were stormy and as Peter walks to Jesus he notices the wind and starts to sink. Peter was a sailor and when sailors saw wind they saw danger, this was hard wired into him. I believe this is what frightened and panicked Peter. It distracted him from the Lord and he took his eyes off Him and started to sink. Peter refocuses his eyes and heart back onto the Lord and Jesus lifts him out of the water. In that moment fear get the better of him. When I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder I was told about what was happening in my head and what was causing me to feel like I did. When we are face to face with fear something incredible is triggered in our brain, a physical process starts to happen called the fight or flight reaction. Everybody has this, God created a defence mechanism within us. This process is how we react to difficult situations. For example if we are faced with a bear, then a chemical in our brain is released and creates adrenaline which helps us to make the right and quick response. I think Peter in that moment was caught in his fight or flight, reality had hit him. Not to mention his experience of being a sailor. He was frightened, who wouldn’t be?, put in that vulnerable place? We can’t forget Peter was human, as were all the other characters we have looked at throughout this series. The most amazing thing about this story I think, is that even though Peter doubted, if only for a brief moment, Jesus didn’t give up on him!, Jesus didn’t walk away!. He actually pulled him from the water and saved him!. It seems Jesus was building resilience in Peter. Sometimes, when we feel engulfed in the storm, it can seem as if Jesus is being cruel – how many times do we say “why Lord?”. But I believe, Jesus’ answer to this question is as the Joe King song goes, “…call me heartless, call me cruel, that’s how I appear to be, every time I lead you to the crucifixion tree, but to be the overcomer that I want you to become, means I’m going to have to give you things to overcome…”
Too often, Christians are made to feel guilty when they experience anxiety, as their trust in God is questioned. However, Peter’s journey shows how this is not correct. I don’t believe that Peters trust was ever in question. He trusted Jesus enough to step out of the boat and on to the water – Peter simply got distracted.
If Peter loved and trusted Jesus with all his heart, now we’re left with a BIG question! – WHY did he deny him, not once, but three times? This can be difficult for us to comprehend but let’s have a look. In Matthew 26:31 – 35, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. Jesus knew what Peter was going to do.
And when He expressed this to Peter, Peter declares, in vs 35, “..even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”. I think Peter truly meant what he was saying at the time – that he WAS sincere in his words. Jesus knew what Peter would do, just as he did Judas, which raises another question – why did He forgive Peter’s betrayal and not Judas? (pause) I believe the answer to this, is the key to understanding why we shouldn’t feel guilty, as Christians, when our hearts are focussed on but we are wrestling with our emotions. Peter, unlike Judas, had a divine understanding of who Jesus was and He acknowledged what He had come into the world to achieve. He loved and trusted Jesus deeply –, Jesus knew and understood this. And that’s it, Jesus knows what’s on our hearts, what’s truly on our hearts.
By the time Peter denied Jesus, Jesus had been arrested; he knew what was going to happen. When Peter was questioned by people around him – he was scared, frightened for his life. I think most of us would say “of course I’d never turn my back on Jesus, of course I love Him” but in that vulnerable place, when your life’s in danger, knowing you will probably be killed for just acknowledging you know Jesus, would you be so certain that you’re going to say the same thing when asked? Fortunately, we live in a country where we can be free to express our faith, but that may not always be so.
When Peter heard the cock crow 3 times as Jesus had told him Peter then realised what he’d done and felt guilty, this remorse came out of his love for his Lord. I believe this was another example of Peter wrestling with his fight or flight – he had to make quick responses in a vulnerable situation.
Despite Peter’s heart, he had human limitations but through all his experiences he was growing, being moulded in to the person God knew he was to become.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit uses Peter’s words to change the hearts of around 3000 people in the same day!
Biblical scholars believe his sermon only took 3 1⁄2 minutes to deliver! Wow – How much Peter has grown! He is the one who stands up and raises his voice and addresses the crowd! Don’t forget this was only 6 weeks after the resurrection of Jesus – how bold!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter, who has been on one heck of a journey with Jesus, who had gone through so much, had come to that perfect moment in time. The time when he would actually become the rock on which God would build His church.
I’ve only scratched the surface of Peter’s character but, hopefully, I’ve built up a picture that we can all relate to and which brings us peace of mind. I firmly believe this peace comes from the work of the Holy Spirit – the Comforter Jesus promised in John 14:6, within us
What is really fascinating is what Peter did in the wake of receiving the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. Peter understood that something new and mighty was happening – that, with the work of the Holy Spirit, God was making the ground fertile for new ministry. Peter recognised where God was working and he took courageous action – and God used him to reach many who didn’t believe in Jesus. I really hope that, we, like Peter, can recognise when and where Jesus is working, so we too can get involved in building the kingdom.