Character Study: Peter – The Seed That Dies (John 21:18)


“…you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go” John 21:18.

Saint Peter

Mention the apostle Peter and what springs to mind? Boasting? Rash tongued? Lopping off ears? Denying Christ? He’s usually noted as the disciple who repeatedly put his foot in his mouth. And I bet he’s taken more chiding from the pulpit down through the centuries than any of the others–with the possible exception of Judas of course.

I think of Peter differently. When I think about him I am always drawn to the last conversation he had with Jesus. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it stuck pretty heavily with him too. What a conversation! He was told he would die a martyr, and I’m sure this time he didn’t protest to the Lord that it certainly would not happen, the way he had about the cock crowing.

Remember that last conversation? It was after the Resurrection and Peter and some of the others had gone out fishing overnight but caught nothing. As the day broke Jesus was on the shore grilling fish and called them to let down their nets for one more try. They caught a net full. When Peter realized it was the Lord he “threw himself into the sea” (John 21:7) and rushed to join him.

Following the breakfast Jesus cooked for them He talked to Peter intimately about his future, and asked him to, “’Tend My sheep'” (Verse 17). Then he told him, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go'” (John 21:18). Finally He said to Peter “’Follow Me!'”

Peter was crucified

Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, as was Jesus, but in his case he asked to be placed upside down on his cross because he did not consider himself worthy to die the same way as his Lord. So when Jesus said to follow Him, was He talking about how Peter would die? Yes, but I don’t think He meant just Peter’s physical death.

Earlier in His public ministry Jesus told his disciples, “’If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me'” (Matthew 16:24). He also said “’He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal'” (John 12:25). Even if we never become martyrs we are all called to take up our own cross, and it will be different for each one of us. What exactly is the cross? In a nutshell, it’s death to self.

By the time Peter got to his physical death I believe he had already died. Jesus told him that others
would take him where he did not wish to go, and in that showed him his own unique cross. As we look at what is recorded about Peter in the scriptures we see what price he paid to “follow Me.” His character is revealed in how willingly he died in both senses.

His name became his character

What kind of a guy was Simon, renamed Peter (meaning “Rock”) by Jesus? His name became his prophetic destiny, as he was a strong pillar to the infant Christian church. When Jesus first knew him however, you might have thought his new name would be “Rash” rather than Rock. He was impulsive, emotional and impetuous. Passionate to be sure, like when he
“struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear” (John 18:11) in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up until he became a disciple, Peter was used to directing his own life and making his own decisions. If I think of Peter in terms of today’s culture I think of a big burly rough and tumble self-made man running his own show. Someone whose education came from the school of hard knocks. Streetwise. No pushover. A leader rather than a follower.

It’s often said that our greatest gifts are also our greatest weaknesses. Peter is a good example of that. When Jesus first saw Peter and his brother Andrew casting their nets he said, “’Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (Matthew 4:19). They didn’t mull it over for a month or two or consult with family and friends. “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (Verse 20). See? Decisive!

It’s good to be decisive but the negative side to that is being rash, hotheaded, reckless and premature. Peter could easily lay claim to those things too. And what came out of his mouth was also the best and the worst. When Christ asked his disciple who they thought He was it was Peter who said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). But near the end of Jesus’ ministry it was out of the same mouth that came the words, “Woman, I do not know Him” (Luke 22:57).

When Jesus told Peter that the day would come when others would lead him where he did not wish to go, he was telling him that in order to follow him he must give up those very things that made him who he was. God created Peter with a unique personality that was good. But, in the end, he would have to lay it down. Death to his self, his flesh, his desires, and even that which was his best to use for God’s kingdom. That was his cross.

Our call to death

We are each called to do likewise, but for each of us it will play out differently. Just as our personalities and gifts are unique, our cross will be unique. What it will have in common with Peter is that it will mean our DEATH. Oh, I cringe when I contemplate those terrible words, perhaps because my own personality finds much in common with his. Do you cringe too, even if you and your cross are different? Yet it is our destiny as followers of Jesus Christ.

As we choose to lay down our life let us contemplate Peter, a worthy role model in our daily trek to the cross. Then finally, consider this: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

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