Peter was a devoted disciple of Jesus. He had no doubt in his mind that the rabbi from Nazareth was different from all the other itinerant teachers in those days. His brother, Andrew, introduced him to Jesus and from that day on, Peter’s life was no longer the same (cf. John 1:40-42).
For the next three years, Peter followed Jesus, learning from Him, becoming more and more convinced that this carpenter was not an ordinary man. His confidence came to a point one day at the coasts of Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus had asked His disciples: “But whom say ye that I am (Mat 16:15)?” Without a hint of hesitation, Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mat 16:16).”
On the night He was to be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus said to all His disciples:
“All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples (Matthew 26:31-35).”
John further revealed these other words which Peter spoke: “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake (John 13:37).” And Luke added these words uttered by Peter: “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death (Luke 22:33).”
We can see both Peter’s devotion and confidence, but something was out of place.
Peter’s devotion was to an ideal he had of the Messiah. One of the beliefs the Jews held of the coming Messiah was that he would be an all-conquering hero like his ancestor, David. Peter was more likely devoted to this ideal than to Christ.
Peter’s confidence was also in himself, not in Christ. He trusted in his own sense of loyalty. He believed that he was a braver, more devoted disciple even than the rest of the disciples. He was ready to prove his worth by going to the death for Jesus.
Peter is someone we can relate to. He stumbled and fumbled like the best of us. We love and appreciate this apostle because we can find so much of our own struggles reflected in his.
Like Peter, we feel an earnest sincerity in our declaration of devotion and loyalty to the Lord. We, too, want to prove ourselves in service.
Here we can draw a lesson from Peter. Is our devotion to an ideal we have in our minds or to the person of the Lord? He wants our devotion to be for Him, not for a concept or ideal of Him. Think of your spouse. Do you want him/her to love you for you, or for an idea or belief he/she might have of you?
Without meaning to, we can easily make this mistake of holding in higher regard what we think of the Lord than the Lord Himself. What a terror if Matthew 7:21-23 should happen to us!
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Mat 7:21-23).”
In like manner, does our confidence rest in the Lord or in ourselves? The apostle Paul warned us: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1Co 10:12).”
Sadly, even in the church we have this phenomenon known widely as the ‘armchair critic’. This is the person who has a habit of criticising things and persons in the church. He criticises the elders’ management, the deacons’ work, the preacher’s sermons, the Bible lessons, etc. Yet we find him hardly doing anything remarkable for the Lord.
Yes, the armchair critic may be regular in his attendance. Perhaps he likes to remind others of just how wonderful a person he really is. But these are mere displays of confidence in self, not in the Lord.
Thankfully, most of the saints are not armchair critics. Still, we must have a care. We can lull ourselves into a false sense of security by telling ourselves that we are faithful simply because we turn up on most Sundays and mid-week Bible studies.
The ancient Israelites had full confidence in their loyalty too.
“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD (Jos 24:19-21).”
But it didn’t get them very far.
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger (Jdg 2:11-12).”
Devotion and loyalty are two things which can be easily misplaced. Peter made the mistake but he learned; his faith was strengthened. What’s the prevention of misplaced devotion and loyalty? It is still the same old exhortation by the apostle Paul.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates (2Co 13:5)?”