A fellow apostle to Peter behind locked doors after Jesus' crucifixion:

"Where were you? You were supposed to be His rock?"

Peter's reply:

"I failed him. Now, I can't ask him to forgive me."

This imagined dialogue from the movie, The Bible,[VID] reflects the heart of Peter's struggle to be faithful to his Lord and to understand the centrality of the cross.

Peter's rebuke of the Lord for talking about dying on a cross shows Peter's deeply flawed understanding of what Jesus was doing in his ministry as Messiah, and specifically in his dying on a cross. Peter had just confessed that Jesus is "the Messiah, [the Christ,] the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). However, when Jesus begins to talk about going to Jerusalem and dying and then being raised from the dead, Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked him: "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."[TXT] Peter's answer shows how far he was from truly being JESUShaped!

Heaven had revealed to Peter the truth about Jesus' identity. However, Peter had to be broken of his unwarranted confidence in himself and his desire to be important. In addition, Peter's understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, was deeply flawed.

Like so many others, Peter wanted Jesus to be the powerful leader who threw off the power of Rome that subjugated the children of Israel. Six centuries of being a conquered and abused people had led God's people to hope for a deliverer — a warrior who could be a conquering king like David. Over the centuries of being a conquered people, Jews prayed, yearned, and came to expect the coming of this conquering king, the Messiah, the Christ of God, who would bring them deliverance.

When Jesus began to do his mighty miracles, many who saw them wanted to make Jesus king (John 6:14-15). As Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem on his way to the cross, anticipation was high. Talk about the coming of the kingdom intensified as the Lord journeyed to Jerusalem (Luke 17:20; Luke 19:11). Jesus had taught about the kingdom of God, often using parables (Matthew 13:1-53). He had taught his disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come (Matthew 6:9-10). So expecting Jesus to be the conquering hero, the Messiah the people had longed and prayed for God to send, was natural.

Peter not only lived in a world of such kingdom expectations, but he also had an overblown sense of his own significance. This sense of self-importance got him in trouble repeatedly. Peter was hoping to be one of Jesus' important leaders in the coming of the kingdom. He was, after all, in Jesus inner three apostles (Mark 5:37; Luke 9:28; Matthew 17:1). Despite needing to be rescued in the end, Peter walked on the water to Jesus while the other apostles cowered in fear (Mark 14:25-33). He was the one who confessed Christ and was told he would be Jesus' "Rock" (Matthew 16:18-19).

This sense of self-importance and overconfidence in himself came to a crashing end with Jesus' arrest. During the Last Supper, Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet, then went overboard, asking to be completely washed (John 13:2-9). This one-upmanship of the other apostles occurred as Jesus was trying to communicate what was about to happen over the next night and day of hell's fury. A little later in the evening, Jesus warned that all of them would abandon him and that one of them would betray him. Peter once again showed up his fellow apostles and overstated his commitment to the Lord:

Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?"

Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."

Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."

Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"(John 13:36-38; also see Matthew 26:33-35)

Peter and his fellow apostles were far from being JESUShaped disciples at this point. Peter and the others couldn't even stay awake and pray for their Lord during his most trying moments in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Trying to be true to his word, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter did draw a sword and sought to defend his Lord (John 18:1-11). When Jesus emphasized that he would not resist his arrest with force, that he must fulfill the will of God, Peter and the other apostles deserted Jesus and ran away (Mark 14:48-50).

Peter did follow Jesus at a distance and came into the courtyard of the High Priest where Jesus was being illegally tried (Luke 22:54). It was here that Peter's sense of self-importance and desire to be first was broken. Near a charcoal fire, Peter denied Jesus three times, heard the rooster crow, and went away to weep bitterly after looking into his Savior's eyes (Luke 22:55-62). The Lord Jesus would endure his horrific ordeal of false trials, beating, mockery, rejection, walk to Golgotha, and crucifixion alone.

So, while the words and conversation are imagined, the sentiments are true:

"Where were you? You were supposed to be His rock?"

"I failed him. Now, I can't ask him to forgive me."


The story doesn't end behind locked doors with fearful and defeated disciples after the death of their Messiah. Jesus was raised from the dead. After confronting Peter three times about his failure, the risen Jesus restored the broken Peter to ministry (John 21:15-17). Peter would go on to become the rock Jesus promised he would be. He was the key communicator on the day of Pentecost when the church was born (Acts 2:1-14). He was the key apostle who advanced the gospel among Jews in the earliest days of the church (Acts chapters 3-7). He was chosen by God to confirm taking the gospel to both Samaritans and Gentiles (Acts chapters 8-10). He went on missionary journeys and wrote churches to guide them through their own trials and impending persecution (see 1 Peter).

As A.W. Tozer said many years ago, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply." The issue is not God's desire to break us, but our human tendency to want to be important, to be regarded as significant, and to be put in a place of honor. Peter's life shows us the ultimate failure of this self-seeking approach to life, fame, and faith.

Peter's failure, brokenness, and restoration are part of the gospel story of Jesus. This example is good news for us who secretly identify with the flawed man who was redeemed and made so useful to the Lord and his church. Peter's misunderstanding of Jesus was rooted in his flawed human understanding of importance. Jesus had told him:

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns (Matthew 16:23).

This human tendency is where we fail, too. We want to be important because we see importance as status, achievement, notoriety, recognition, and reputation. Jesus, however, taught that the greatest is a servant who followed their Lord's mission for life.

When Jesus rebuked Peter for wanting to be important in the Messiah's coming kingdom, this is what he said to Peter and to all his disciples — including us who overhear his words two thousand years later:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

The cross of Jesus changed Peter. The cross of Jesus exposed the way God values importance. The misunderstanding Peter had about the role of the Messiah distorted his own sense of what mattered. After the cross and resurrection, he was changed — not just his thinking, but his attitude, his goals, and the trajectory of his life and leadership. The same must happen to us. We meet the Messiah at the cross of Golgotha. That cruel instrument of torture and humiliation must rewire our thinking about importance, significance, and ministry. Like Peter, we can truly embrace the truth of God, and say:

Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:17-21).

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection — from THE BIBLE Movie

This is the third of four devotional posts on "The Question" — challenging us to authentically answer the most important question of our lives:

  1. The Question.
  2. Heaven's Window.
  3. The Misunderstanding.
  4. Cruciformed Disciples.

The focus of these four articles will be Matthew 16:13-27 (ESV) — today's emphasis in bold:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."

But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

Emphasis added by bold text to highlight key focus.

Jesus images used courtesy of Free Bible Images and The Lumo Project.