I’m still working through the full implications of dying to who I think I am, and today I’m on Peter. Peter’s life astonishes me, because what the Bible tells of it covers the full spectrum of humanity: courage and cowardice, joy and grief, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate. Peter was a wide-open, wild man, but even he had to die to who he thought he was.
When I was first introduced to the actual stories of Jesus and Peter and the rest of the disciples, I was young but not a little child. I remember that hearing about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus made me mad. But when Peter betrayed Jesus by denying Him three times, it just made me want to cry. When the rooster crowed, my heart broke right along with Peter’s. I was old enough by then to know what it feels like to find out that you aren’t the person that you thought you were.
I was 10 or 11 years old when my sister and my best friend got into a fight. I completely froze. Loyalty to my friend clashed with loyalty to my family and I couldn’t – didn’t – choose between them. I ran to get my mom instead. Like most squirmy worms who refuse to choose (and thereby choose), I got it coming and going. My best friend was mad because I didn’t defend her, and my sister (and most of the rest of my family) was mad because I didn’t put family first in my loyalties. To this day, I can easily recall the white-hot shame I felt when I realized that I wasn’t a good friend or a loyal sister or even someone that could be counted on in a tough spot. I wasn’t who I thought I was – I was a coward.
That particular brush with reality didn’t break me; the breaking came later. But Peter? I think Peter broke, just shattered, when he realized that he didn’t love Jesus like he thought he did.
But Peter said, Man, I do not know what you are talking about. And instantly, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter recalled the Lord’s words, how He had told him, Before the cock crows today, you will deny Me thrice.
And he went out and wept bitterly [that is, with painfully moving grief].
Luke 22:60-62 AMP
Jesus knew exactly who Peter was, through and through. It was Peter who was deluded. And I am deluded. And you, and every human being that’s ever lived. We all think that we know who we are, even when we’re told that our hearts are deceitful and unknowable (Jer. 17:9). We’re warned that we see through a glass darkly, imperfectly, yet still we hold to the illusion (1 Cor. 13:12).
For a long time, I believed that God showed me how wicked I was just to torment me. Perfect God in His perfect heaven perfectly proving that I was vile, stupid scum, doomed to live life trying and trying to reach the perfection that He required but never succeeding. Because I believed that God was a bully, I hated correction, and some of that carried over even after I was born again. I didn’t know enough about the Father-heart of God to realize just how much love was waiting for me on the other side of correction and repentance. And Peter’s story is a reminder lest I forget again.
Peter thought he was a man who loved Jesus more than anything else in the world. He thought he was a man who’d do anything for Him, but he learned differently. He met the cold, hard truth when a rooster crowed and the Lord turned to look at him. And in every way that matters, Peter’s life ended that day. The man he thought he was turned out to be an illusion. But that wasn’t just the end for Peter; it was also the beginning.
And it’s a new beginning for us, too. When we die to who we think we are, we are then able to meet the person we were born (again) to be.