by William J. Stewart
Peaks and valleys in life are a common thing. Whether we are talking about our relationships, career, health, finances, emotional well being, or faith, there will be high and low moments.
A survey of what we know about the apostle Peter’s life shows that he experienced these peaks and valleys in the faith, just like you and I. It is interesting to notice that most of the low or difficult times came on the heels of a spiritual high or occasions of growth. Let’s notice this pattern from Scripture.
In Matthew 14, the disciples had gone out in a boat on the sea of Galilee before Jesus. They were in the midst of a storm, when Jesus came walking to them on the water. At first, they were all fearful, thinking He was a ghost. After He identified Himself, Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (v 28). I don’t know about you, but I’m content to wait in the boat. This was a statement of great faith. And so, he was called by the Lord, and he stepped out of the boat and walked on water! I wonder how many steps he took before he focused on the waves and the sound of the wind, and began to sink. The problem is He took his eyes off Jesus. What started as a huge step of faith ended with Jesus asking, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v 31)
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v 16). I imagine there was no hesitation or question in his mind. This was a statement of absolute confidence. Jesus commended Peter, acknowledging his faith in what the Father revealed (v 17). At that time He began to tell His disciples about His impending death and resurrection (v 21). Peter took Him aside and rebuked Jesus (v 22). Can you imagine rebuking the Messiah, the Son of God? Peter did! Hear the Lord’s response to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v 23). His confession of Christ demonstrated his love for the Lord and knowledge of who He was. In rebuking Jesus, Peter’s love is still on display (he didn’t want Him to die), but it revealed his failure to understand the purpose for which Jesus came.
In Matthew 17, Jesus took three of His disciples (Peter, James and John) up on a mountain and He was transfigured before them. Essentially, they were privileged to see a small measure of His glory as God. His face shone like the sun, His clothes were as white as light. It had to be a wonderful and faith building experience. They knew He was the Son of God. This was visible evidence to reinforce what they already knew. Two others appeared while they were on the mountain, Moses and Elijah. Our apostle is rarely at a loss for words or ideas – he suggested that three altars be made, one for each of these giants of the faith. I’m confident Peter meant no harm, but Moses and Elijah are not in the same class as Jesus. A moment later, he and his two companions were face to the ground in fear, as a voice boomed from above, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (v 5).
In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive his brother. I wonder if there was a time in Peter’s life when he’d forgive the first offense, but nothing beyond. He likely thought he was being gracious when he suggested, “Up to seven times?” (v 21). Jesus’ response revealed the need for Peter to grow. If we are going to forgive as our Father in heaven forgives, then it is not up to 7x, but seventy times seven (v 22).
In John 13, the Lord shared Passover with His disciples. It was a Jewish custom that the host of a feast would wash the feet of his guests. They had rented this room to celebrate the event – any of them could have or should have washed feet that night. Sadly, none of them did. So, Jesus rose after supper and began to wash their feet. When the Lord came to Peter, He said to him, “…you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter emphatically stated, “You shall never wash my feet” (v 8). I’m sure he felt unworthy to have Jesus wash his feet. It was a statement of humility, and yet it was ignorant. Rather than hastily say “No way,” he ought to have presented himself as a teachable pupil. Being told that he would have no part with the Lord if He didn’t wash his feet, the apostle went from one passionate extreme to the other (v 9).
There are several other examples of this in Peter’s life. In Matthew 26, even if all were made to stumble, he would not, and yet he could not even stay awake in the garden to keep watch. In John 18, he defended Jesus by cutting off a man’s ear with his sword, but later would deny three times that he knew Jesus. In Acts 10, a series of miracles taught the apostle the gospel was to go to the Gentiles also, and that he should not call or treat them as common or unclean. Yet, in Galatians 2, Peter is rebuked by Paul for he withdrew fro the Gentile Christians when Jewish Christians visited.
Surely Peter was not the only apostle who had these peaks and valleys in the faith. The fact that he was prominent among the apostles is likely why we have so many of his ups and downs on record. What shall we learn from such?
We, like Peter, will face highs and lows in the faith. Why a challenge to our faith quickly follows a growth moment, I don’t know. It may be euphoria (Peter had some amazing experiences with Jesus), followed by a crash, or overconfidence (1 Corinthians 10:12) leading to a fall, or maybe it is simply that spiritual growth invites new challenges and struggles. Whatever the case, the key is to grow. If we stumble or slip, we need to get back up and do better. Peter always did. He received correction, he learned from failures and errors, and he continued to grow in faith. Let’s do so too.