Of all the disciples that we meet in the gospel accounts, Peter is the one whose character and personality come through most clearly. Wherever the action is, there is Peter — bold, brass, confident, wholehearted.
He’s the one who steps out of the boat to walk on water, only to be overcome by fear and need rescuing. He’s the one who is aghast that Jesus would wash his feet, then after being told that this is what is needed to be with Jesus, boldly asks for his hands and head to be washed too. He’s the one who declares that he would never deny Jesus, going with him even to death, only to crumple under questioning from a servant girl.
It’s that last scene that’s been on my mind lately. Here it is, from the Gospel of Luke:
Then seizing [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
— Luke 22:54–57
What’s struck me lately as I’ve reflected on this passage is that Peter is recognised as one who was “with Jesus”. There’s likely a physical reality to that — the girl may literally have seen them together — but I wonder if there’s another element to it as well.
For three years, Peter has been with Jesus, following him and learning from him. He’s seen the amazing miracles that Jesus has wrought, he’s heard the incredible teaching that surpasses any other, he’s been empowered to go out himself to pray for the sick and share the good news. Although he’s not always gotten it right, Peter certainly can’t be accused of being lukewarm in his devotion to Jesus; everything he does has been wholehearted and earnest, if a little naïve at times. All of that has impacted him and changed him — his being “with Jesus” has left him a different person to the fisherman we meet at the start of the gospel story, to the extent that it’s recognised by others.
In this moment though, being recognised as someone who has been with Jesus leads Peter to fear, denial and shame. For all the boldness, brashness and bravado, at the critical moment, he’s left as a broken man, huddled around a charcoal fire in the cold of the night, angrily proclaiming to anyone who asks that he’s never even met Jesus.
Let’s fast forward in the story though. Jesus is crucified, buried, and raised. He embraces his disciples, tenderly restores Peter beside another charcoal fire, ascends to glory, and sends the Spirit to birth the church at Pentecost. And here, we see Peter in Acts 4:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone’.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
— Acts 4:8–13
For a second time, Peter finds himself in a situation where he is being recognised as someone who has been “with Jesus”. Yet, this time, rather than being overcome with fear , he steps out with courage — proclaiming the wonder of who Jesus is and what he has done. Whereas before, the questions of a lowly serving girl caused him to deny everything he believed, now Peter is so transformed that he can stand before the most powerful people in the community and speak with confidence and clarity.
For Peter, everything has changed.
He’s been transformed by an understanding that he is someone who has been sent by the Father (John 20:21), who has encountered the resurrected Jesus, and who has been filled with the Spirit. Fear, denial and shame have been replaced with courage, proclamation and freedom. As the rest of the book of Acts will show, he’s not the finished article yet, but that’s okay…God is still at work in him!
The often unglamorous days, months and years as a disciple — listening, learning, seeing and sharing — have slowly shaped him into someone who would be recognised as having been “with Jesus”, and all of that has built towards the day when he would embrace that recognition rather than run from it. Even his lowest moment now becomes a signpost on the road towards who God has been making him to be, through the transforming power of the Father, Son and Spirit.
The invitation to be “with Jesus” is the same for us; both in the long span of days, months and years, and in the moments when encountering the Father, Son and Spirit causes everything to change.
Each of us are sent by the Father — empowered to go into whatever unique context we are working into — knowing that we have been called and caught up in God’s heart to bring his transforming kingdom to the whole world. Each of us are invited to encounter the resurrected Jesus, spending time enjoying him in worship and word, silence and song, prayer and presence, as we grow in relationship with him and understanding of how his life, death and resurrection changes everything. And each of us are invited to know the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit transforming our everyday encounters into moments where God can move in our lives and the lives of others to bring freedom, courage, healing, comfort, wisdom and strength.
I encourage you to take some time again this week to open yourself to the transforming presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, even in the midst of the everyday. God was working in the life of Peter, and He is at work in your life too. May we increasingly be a people who live in such a way that we are recognised as having been “with Jesus”, and live embracing that reality to know, enjoy and share the wonder of who he is!