by Elaine May Women’s Leadership Developer CRCNA
The intimate breakfast on the beach with Jesus told to us in John 21, when Peter is asked three times if he loves Jesus, doesn’t happen without the crisis and failure chronicled in Luke 22. We cannot separate one from the other. They are the both/and of transformation.
In Peter’s growth as a disciple and leader, a significant crisis precedes his deeper intimacy with Jesus. Intense pressure situations in life have the potential to teach Christ-followers greater trust and dependence on God. They also have the potential to halt our development.
A Personal Crisis
A series of events took place in Peter’s life the day of Jesus’ arrest. Any one of them would have been traumatic, but together the events sent Peter into a personal crisis. The events began with the Passover supper in the upper room when Jesus predicted that Peter would disown him. Later that evening, Peter is reprimanded for falling asleep while Jesus was praying. He discovers that Judas, one of his closest friends, betrayed them all by turning Jesus over to authorities; and in an attempt to protect Jesus, cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave. In fear, Peter follows Jesus at a distance as he is taken into custody. The events climax with him disowning his Lord, not once but three times. The trauma of that day was followed by another even worse event, as his teacher, mentor, and friend was beaten and crucified.
Peter’s crisis took him to what Hagberg and Guelich describe as “The Wall.” In their book, The Critical Journey, the Wall represents our will meeting God’s will face to face. Every time Jesus predicted his death or suggested to the disciples he was going to die, Peter challenged him. Peter couldn’t accept that God’s plan for Jesus included the religious leaders taking his life and cutting his ministry short. None of this made sense to Peter. Peter’s will was in conflict with God’s will. The 24 hours preceding the crucifixion of Jesus exposed Peter’s need for personal transformation. He had a choice. Would he surrender to God’s plan, or would he continue to resist? Surrender isn’t easy. It would require him to die to himself, and dying is painful.
The three days following Jesus’ crucifixion must have been excruciating for Peter. Echos of the rooster crowing were only silenced by the replaying of the words of Jesus at the last supper,
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32).
God is Aware
God was not unaware of the events leading to Peter’s crisis. God cared deeply about what was going on with Peter. On the morning of the resurrection, the angel outside the tomb instructed the women who found the tomb empty, “Go tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:7, emphasis added).
When Peter realizes Jesus is on the shore, he jumps from the boat into the water, eager to get to him. Peter’s experience at the Wall leads to breakfast on the beach with his risen Lord, which ultimately results in his healing, renewal, and restoration. Peter is the recipient of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Scripture doesn’t give us the details of the transformation that takes place within Peter between the crucifixion and the ascension. But a change was evident in Peter. The barriers Peter built to protect his desired outcome came down, and he became open and available to see and step into God’s plans for his life. Following breakfast, Peter admits his limitations and receives with humility the commissioning from Jesus to love and care for those who belong to him.
“Not everyone goes through the Wall. Some stop or get stuck at earlier stages of the journey and never get to the Wall. Others decide at the Wall to return to an earlier stage. Still others get stuck in front of the Wall, not wanting to submit to God” (The Critical Journey, page 115).
If you find yourself at the Wall, hear these words of Jesus as though he is speaking them to you: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). In your fear and apprehension, trust that God is leading, doing a deeper work in you. Run to Jesus in your brokenness and grief. Listen for his voice filled with love for you. Surrender to him and await greater revelation of his plans and purposes for your life.