It must have been a shock to Peter when Jesus called him Satan, especially since all Peter was trying to do was help Jesus. “Get thee behind me, Satan!” is a far cry from “Thanks, Peter. I knew I could count on you for back up”, which is likely what Peter expected Jesus to say in response to Peter’s offer to protect him.
I can imagine the awkward silence that followed Jesus’ outburst, and I can almost see Peter’s face, his eyes wide, staring at Jesus in hurt disbelief and confusion.
Peter was easily the most enthusiastic of all the disciples. That he wanted to please Jesus was beyond doubt, but during Jesus’ ministry years, Peter had a hard time figuring out what Jesus really wanted from him. Jesus nagged him about his lack of faith and about his tendency to “think as man thinks, not as God thinks”. But Peter always tried his hardest.
And that was his problem.
Peter approached kingdom life as if it were the world. But following Jesus and doing God’s will is not like living in the world. In the world, you decide how you want to proceed based on a combination of common sense, logic, desire, past experience, knee-jerk reaction, and other people’s expectations. In the kingdom, you have to wait for God’s go-ahead and proceed only if and when you get it. You also have to do what God wants you to do, not what your gut tells you to do, not what everyone else is doing, not what has always worked in the past, and not what religious tradition dictates you do.
Peter wanted to follow Jesus, but what he ended up doing instead was trying to get Jesus to follow him. It didn’t work.
It must also have been a shock for Peter when Jesus stared straight at him following his betrayal in the courtyard. That’s a wordless “I told you so” that I hope never to experience.
But amazingly, immediately after his resurrection, Jesus singles out Peter for a special mission: He wants him to feed his sheep and lambs. No, Jesus hasn’t left Peter his petting zoo to look after; he’s assigned Peter more or less the same position Jesus had during his earthly ministry.
Say what? Peter is to take the reigns from Jesus? How can that be?
Peter must have experienced yet another shock when he realized that Jesus had entrusted him with the leadership of the new church. Maybe the other disciples were shocked, too. Peter always seemed to get it wrong, and he had even denied knowing Jesus – how could Jesus overlook Peter’s numerous mistakes and make Peter the new leader?
God reads hearts. Peter clearly had a heart for Jesus and a heart for discipleship. What he was missing was the sense that he wasn’t up for the job. Peter’s enthusiasm was tinged with a headstrongness that was morphing into pride. The pride had to go, and pride can only go through repentance and a sense of one’s full dependence on God.
When Jesus appeared out of nowhere while the disciples were fishing, Peter didn’t even want to approach Jesus, he felt so unworthy. This is similar to the man who went to the temple to repent of his sins. He wouldn’t even lift up his head, he felt so bad about what he’d done. And what did Jesus say about this man? That he was the one who was forgiven his sins, not the man who proudly stood up and recited his laundry list of good deeds.
God reads hearts. Peter was ready to be everything he needed to be, but only after he let go of everything he wanted to be. As long as Peter thought as man thinks, he was going to go contrary to God’s will. God’s ways are not our ways. You can only think as God thinks when you stop trying to control the narrative and give yourself completely over to God.