Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 19
THE WAY BACK
The two days following his denial were, no doubt, days of real soul searching for Peter. It was the darkest time he would ever have to pass through. His Master had died nobly but that didn’t erase the fact that his Master was dead. All Peter’s hopes and dreams were gone now. Even yet he cannot understand what has happened. But the loss of a kingdom, the failure to understand, were small compared to the rest that Peter suffered.
Peter’s Great Suffering
There was the deep loneliness. Bereavement is always difficult. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have known Jesus personally, be his constant companion for three years, and then suddenly lose him. This is grief from the most terrible bereavement a man can know.
In addition to the loneliness there is fear. We read that between the crucifixion and the day of Pentecost the disciples met secretly for fear of the Jews. They had killed their Master. Were they not likely to seek the disciples out too? It is a terrible thing to have seen a loved one go through the agony of crucifixion and then, knowing all the horror of it, expect that you may be next. Every sight of an armored soldier or a robed priest sends terror to the heart. Every unexpected knock on the door might mean the coming of torture or death.
But greater even than his fear was Peter’s sense of hopeless shame. He had deserted, forsaken, denied. Even if, by some miracle, some salvage might be made out of the wreck and ruin of the hope of the kingdom, what possible place could there ever be for Simon the denier?
We, too, must know something of what Simon was feeling. There have been times in our lives when Jesus seemed very close to us and the prospects of his kingdom seemed very bright. Then adverse conditions strike. We lose our bright, happy sense of the presence of Jesus. We feel a deep loneliness. God seems far away. The church seems to move very slowly if at all. Our hopes and dreams are threatened. We feel disappointment and discouragement. We also know fear. Not physical fear perhaps but the fear of failure, the fear of being laughed at and left out, the fear of losing all we have prayed and struggled for.
Yet in such moments the greatest burden we bear is the burden of our shame. We know in our hearts that we have not been blameless in these matters. We know that our own selfishness and wrong attitudes have brought us to this hell of self-pity and despair. Our lack of faith has brought us our loneliness. Our lack of humility has crushed our dreams.
But what are we to do? What can help us in such a time? The only thing I know is a faith in the risen Christ. This is at last what started Peter back out of his dark despair into the bright sunshine of blessed hope.
A Shaft of Light
Into his mood of despair bursts a woman with strange news. She had been to the tomb of Jesus and he was not there. The stone was rolled back, and the guard was gone. Peter springs up and looks at John with a wild surmise. He said he would rise on the third day. This is the third day. But no, it is too much to hope for. Probably they have simply taken his body away. They wouldn’t want the possibility of a shrine being made of the martyr’s tomb. But while he is thinking he is running. John runs before. He can see John enter the garden, run to the tomb and stop. Why does he stop? Peter can see already that the stone indeed has been rolled back and the door of the tomb is open.
He reaches the tomb and, without a moment’s hesitation, goes in. There isn’t much to see. The linen wrappings are there but the body of Jesus is gone. But wait, what is that? It is the face cloth and it has been carefully folded. Someone has taken time to neatly fold the face cloth. No grave robber would have done that. John has come inside the tomb now and stands beside Peter. They look at each other silently but with shining eyes. Why not? How could they ever have doubted? Was he not the Son of God? Could he not command the elements? Had he not raised Lazarus? Why then should they wonder that there was no power in death to hold him? Had he not told them this very thing would happen? Had he ever deceived them? Why had they been so blind? And what would he do now? The grave could not hold him. His enemies might kill him again and again but it would avail them nothing. Oh, if only they might see him now and talk with him.
They did see him a little while later. Simon had already had some kind of meeting with the Lord but the record simply notes the fact and tells us nothing more. Jesus appears to various of the disciples on a few occasions. They are assured that he actually has risen from the dead but still know nothing of his plans. Peter evidently knows little yet of his own status before the Lord since his denial. So far as we may judge by the record, Jesus has not yet mentioned it. It is a time of hope but that hope is very indefinite. At last Peter decides that just waiting around to see isn’t going to get him anywhere. He decides to return to the fishing business. The other fishermen in the group are interested. So next we find Peter out on the Sea of Galilee again in his boat.
Probably they didn’t have much zeal for fishing; at any rate they caught nothing that night. The following morning, as they approach the shore, they see a man standing on the bank. Having ascertained their lack of catch he instructs them about where to cast their nets and they find themselves working with a great net full of fish. They remember an almost identical situation that occurred three years before and recognize the Lord.
Blazing a Trail of Glory
As Peter swims eagerly ashore many things must have been going through his mind. The whole great story has now gone full cycle. He is back at Galilee with his Lord and a miraculous draught of fish. It was in such a situation that the Lord first called him. Obviously great things are again ready to happen. But the story of Peter’s restoration to service is material for another chapter. Suffer it to say now that the dark days are behind Peter. From this point on he will leave a trail of glory.