Villains of the Bible

Peter: Fearing He Wasn’t Good Enough

Peter is a coward of the Bible. When Jesus called Peter to leave his old way of life to follow the Way of Jesus, Peter’s fears got the better of him.

Peter is a coward of the Bible.

Peter is not a villain of the Bible.  That label fits Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.

And, to be sure, Peter was not a coward for most of his life. Indeed, he died for Jesus by being crucified upside down (John 21:18-19).

But at a few key moments in his life, Peter’s fears got the better of him. Since our fears often threaten to get the better of us when we are following the Way of Jesus, we need to learn from how Peter overcame his fears.

One such fearful moment came when Jesus asked Peter to leave his old way of life to follow the Way of Jesus.

Peter had already heard good things about Jesus. His brother, Andrew, heard Jesus being praised. “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother [Peter] and tell him ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41-42).

It is one thing to hear good things about Jesus. It is a very different thing to experience the power of Jesus at work in the world.

It is one thing to meet Jesus.  It is a very different thing to have Jesus ask you to leave your old way of life to follow him—to experience the power of Jesus at work in your life.

It is no wonder that fears got the better of Peter as he experienced the power of Jesus at work in the world and in his life—just as our fears can get the better of us at such moments.

There are many different times and ways when we experience the power of Jesus in the world and in our lives.

Peter experienced the power of Jesus after a long, discouraging night fishing on the Sea of Galilee without catching any fish. Peter’s family business was fishing. He undoubtedly was a skilled fisherman who knew the best places to fish. Nevertheless, Peter was already washing his nets, tired and discouraged, when Jesus came.

“The people were crowding around [Jesus] and listening to the word of God” (Luke 5:1).  In order to be heard, Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat “and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then [Jesus] sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:3).

It is one thing to be in a crowd, listening to Jesus. It is a very different thing to be singled out by Jesus.

It is one thing to stand around listening—or sitting in a pew. It is a very different thing to have Jesus ask you to do something for him—to begin following the Way of Jesus.

At first, what Jesus asked him to do was easy—“put out a little from shore.” Yet even this task required Peter to overcome his weariness and his discouragement after a long nighttime of fruitless working.

Next, Jesus asked Peter to do something harder—“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4). Peter must have been exasperated. Jesus was telling him to dirty the very nets that Peter had cleaned earlier that morning!

At first, Peter’s weariness and discouragement got the better of him. He answered Jesus, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” (Luke 5:5). Then, something in the way Jesus looked at him must have convinced Peter to do what Jesus asked.

Peter overcame his weariness and discouragement to tell Jesus, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5).

Then came a demonstration of the power of Jesus that changed Peter’s life forever. Peter caught so many fish that his nets began to break. It took two boats to haul in the fish. The fish weighed so much that both boats began to sink! (Luke 5:6-7).

Now Peter’s fears got the better of him!

It was one thing to overcome his weariness and distress to put his boat out into deep waters. It was one thing to dirty his nets in what looked like a futile, silly effort to catch any fish.

It was a very different thing to change the purpose and direction of his life by putting out far from shore for deep waters—far from the comfortable, familiar routine of his existing life.

It was one thing to hear what Jesus says. It was a very different thing to experience the power of Jesus—following the Way of Jesus even when it creates such astonishing opportunities that we feel totally overwhelmed because our “nets” are breaking and our “boats” are sinking!

When Peter realized this, his fears got the better of him. He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.” For he was astonished at the immense catch of fish. (Luke 5:8).

Peter’s reaction to his astonishment at the power of God is typical among those who encounter it. It is normal to tell God to go away. It is normal to feel totally overwhelmed by what Jesus says to do.

Moses reacted that way when God spoke to him from the burning bush. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and “bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Moses told God that he wasn’t up to the job, making excuse after excuse for why God should send someone else to help God’s people. (Exodus 3:1-4:17). Of course, Moses ultimately accepted the job and led God’s people out of slavery.

Gideon reacted that way when God spoke to him when he was hiding from an invading army. God told Gideon to destroy the invading hordes that ravaged Israel “like swarms of locusts.” (Judges 6:5). Gideon made excuse after excuse for why he wasn’t up to the job, before accepting the job and destroying the invading hordes.

Isaiah reacted that way when he saw a vision of the LORD’s holiness. Isaiah believed that he was too sinful to serve the LORD. (Isaiah 6:1-5).  Nevertheless, the LORD gave Isaiah the thankless task of warning God’s people that their cities would be ruined and their land would be ravaged because they had strayed from the Way of the LORD. (Isaiah 6:6-13).

Moses, Gideon and Isaiah all faced challenges as daunting as catching fish with nets that are breaking in boats that are sinking!  Nevertheless, Moses, Gideon and Isaiah all overcame their challenges.

So did Peter. When Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and asked Jesus to go away because Peter was not up to the job, Jesus reassured him. Jesus told Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10).

In response to this amazing grace of Jesus, Peter pulled his boat “up on shore, left everything and followed [Jesus].” (Luke 5:11).

In the same way, we can overcome our fears while we are following the Way of Jesus. By leaving our former lives behind “on shore”—by leaving everything and following Jesus far from shore until we reach deep water—we can become like the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower that produces an immense crop of righteousness. (Mark 4:20).

Then—like Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, and Peter—our lives will produce an immense crop of righteousness. A great catch of “fish”!

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To read about another time when Peter was a coward of the Bible, please read my blog “Peter: Denying Jesus”.

To read about how Jesus overcame the temptation to be a coward, please read my blog “Cowards of the Bible”.