Peter's Ups and Downs
An autobiographical account of the last days of Peter.
My name was Simon bar Jonah, until Jesus renamed me Peter. I’m going through my recollections of Him, in an effort to dull the waves of pain traversing my body. At the moment, I’m nailed to a wooden cross. I’d begged to be put in this upside-down position, because I didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as my Saviour and Master, Jesus Christ.My earliest such recollection is of the first time I saw Him. I was casting our fishing net with my brother Andrew. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19 NIV). I couldn’t have explained why at the time but we both just left everything as it was and followed Him. And we stayed with Him until the end.
During that time, I saw Him perform many amazing miracles and listened to Him explain new ways of looking at things, which made so much sense, that my mind just drank in everything He said.
I remember my heart almost bursting, when He said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17,18 NIV). He’d said this because I’d been the first to recognise Him as “… the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16 NIV).
This was followed a short time later by a huge comedown, when He told me I was a stumbling block to Him, because I’d refused to accept that He was going to be put to death (Matthew 16 21-23).
The following, more detailed description of the Transfiguration is taken from Matthew 17:1–9.
Just six days after that, Jesus took James, John and me up a high mountain. As usual, only Jesus knew the purpose of the climb but we were happy to follow. What a day that was going to be in our lives. The climb was hard work and we soon got pretty hot as we started up. That changed! Higher up, it became really cold.
Finally, Jesus called a halt. We were glad of the rest, because by then we were all tired by our efforts. But we were also watching Jesus intently to see what He was going to do. Suddenly I noticed His face begin to glow. It became so bright, that it was almost blinding, like the sun. And His clothes also became dazzling white.
Jesus was always talking to us about the Scriptures, so I recollected that when Moses spent time with God, his face used to glow. So much so in fact that he’d had to put a veil over it so as not to frighten the people, who couldn’t bear to look at such brightness (Exodus 34:29–35).
Whilst I was still pondering this, Moses himself suddenly appeared and Elijah was there as well. What a shock! They had died so long ago that no one knew what they looked like but, though I can’t explain it, I just knew who they were. It’s said that these two represent the whole of the Torah, Moses the Law and Elijah the prophets.
My mind was racing. I couldn’t take this in, so I started to speak, feeling I had to say something. I could hear myself babbling, offering to make shelters for these three.
Just when I thought my brain could take no more, we were engulfed in a shining white cloud. Nerve racking! Then we heard a voice that could only have belonged to God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV). That was just too much. All three of us threw ourselves facedown to the ground. Jesus came over, touched us and told us not to be afraid. When we got up, only Jesus was there with us. (Matthew 17:6-8).
When our nerves finally stopped jangling, we set off back down the mountain. I just couldn’t wait to get back and tell the others, tell everyone, what had just happened. Imagine my frustration, when Jesus told us that we mustn’t tell anyone about it until He had risen from the dead. Mingled with the disappointment was still my lingering resistance to the belief that Jesus was going to die. I learned later that there were reasons He had to die. The most basic one was to prove that God had allowed His Son to be born human, in order that He could be sacrificed to pay for the sins of every other human. Even that was a little bewildering but, if Jesus said it, then it had to be so.
There were many things that proved His humanity. Quite apart from His birth to a human mother, His life growing up in Nazareth, He’d been baptised, although John the Baptist had wanted to reverse their roles. He’d been led into the wilderness and suffered temptation at the hands of Satan. He’d travelled and lived with us, His disciples, undergoing all of the hardships that such a life brought. He’d wept at the death of a friend and at the plight of Jerusalem. Finally, He’d suffered humiliation, despair and the cruellest of deaths. During our three years with Him, that was the only time we’d been utterly despondent. We’d never really understood that He was going to die and then come back to life.
How different that was from the elation earlier, when we’d entered Jerusalem with Jesus sitting on a donkey. All the crowds were proclaiming Him as King, shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38 NIV). That got right up the noses of the Pharisees there, who told Jesus to stop them. He told them that if the people didn’t shout it, then the very stones would do it. What a put down.
As well as being human, He also had to be divine so that people knew what a sacrifice their God had made and that Jesus wasn’t just another martyr. There’d been plenty of those and there would be countless more going down through the ages. So what was there to prove his divinity? At His Baptism, ‘the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ (Luke 3:22 NIV). He had to prove it first to us, His disciples, which He began to do by His changing water into wine (John 2:1–10). What had clinched it for me was when He walked on the water (John 6:16–21). He gave me the courage to join Him walking on the water. What a strange and wonderful feeling that was. Alas, my nerve failed and I began to sink. Of course Jesus was there to save me. (Matthew 29:31).
Being with Jesus could be a bit like riding a billowing wave with its crests and troughs. But for me, the lowest point of all was when I saw Him on that cross. He’d told us more than once that He had to die. He’d even hinted at how it would be by talking about the Son of Man being “lifted up” (John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32, 12:34). But I guess I’d just put it to the back of my mind hoping it would never actually happen. Yet there He was, this amazing, gentle, wise, profound, compassionate, man who was God. Yes, there He was, not only suffering the physical pain I’m now enduring but, for the first time in His life, abandoned by His Father in heaven. That was His cry to His Father, asking Him why He’d been forsaken (Mark 15:34). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to feel their heart bursting with grief for Him and for ourselves. We’d lost our leader, the one who’d always protected and guided us. It seemed our world had come to an end.
Then the wave rose again, when He appeared to us when we were in a locked room. He did this twice (John 20:19–29). And again when we’d returned to Galilee and gone fishing. He’d performed another miracle for us by enabling us to catch a huge haul of fish. But it had been John’s younger eyes that picked out Jesus on the shoreline. I couldn’t wait for the boat to reach shore so I’d jumped in to be the first to reach Him. (John 21:1–13)
Afterwards, I thought I was going into another trough in the waves, when He asked me three times if I loved Him (John 21:15–17). I realised this was to wipe out the three times which, to my shame, I had denied him on the night He was arrested (John 18:15–18; 25,26). He then told me of the way I would be put to death (John 21:18) and, as always He was right.
He told us later that we should preach the Gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15 NIV). Obviously, there were not enough of us to do that. So it would have to be that we’d preach it to as many as possible. All who receive this salvation must tell of it to others and they pass it on to more people and eventually, it will have been told to all the world.
There was also a very deep trough in the waves, when we saw Jesus taken up into heaven for the very last time. Then the seriousness of the situation began to dawn on us. The authorities were still combing the city for any followers of Jesus they could find. So following what Jesus told us about spreading the word was a bit scary to say the least. Jesus was the Son of God and look what they’d done to Him. I’m ashamed to say that I was scared at the thought of the same things happening to me. Even to be scourged would be unbelievably painful and would most probably kill me. I also knew what crucifixion is and what that entails. I certainly do now!
I became really fearful. I met my fellow believers in secret, behind locked doors. I didn’t feel too badly about that, because Jesus had told us not to leave the city until He’d sent us a helper. Who would that be then? I thought of all the super heroes and leaders from the times of Israel’s glory. A Samson would be good. He’d killed three thousand Philistines with one shove of his mighty shoulders (Judges 15:30) — or perhaps a Joshua. He’d just marched around Jericho a few times, had some trumpets blown, called for a big shout and down came the city walls (Joshua 6:20). God might even create an entirely new hero who would be even more powerful than all the rest. I thought we needed all the help we could get. I’d seen what the Jews were capable of. As waves go, we were in a very deep trough. We had no idea that we were about to experience the highest crest of a wave imaginable.
The day of Pentecost arrived — fifty days after Passover, marking the completion of the barley harvest. Over a hundred of us were attending a meeting in an upper room. As usual, the door was locked and the windows barred “for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NIV). It was mid-morning. We’d ended up in several groups of about a dozen or more each. We’d all fasted and been singing psalms and praising God continually.
I looked around and noticed a few people in my group had stopped singing and seemed to be listening to something. Then I heard something. What was it? It sounded like the rustling of a breeze through a field of ripe wheat. It got louder and more people stopped to listen. The sound increased. I looked around at the other groups. A few began to look a bit anxious. The volume increased further and I started to feel the first tingle of fear — deep in my stomach. Louder and louder it became, but nothing in the room moved— even the candle flames didn’t flicker. People began to look upward. I followed their gaze and saw tongues of flame near the ceiling. The room was filled now with the roar of the wind that seemed to touch nothing. The flames began to descend. I was paralysed with fear.
The flames separated and seemed to lower themselves onto the heads of those I could see. It looked as if their hair was on fire. Then I saw old Matthias — he had no hair. Was his head ablaze? Then I felt the warmth above my own head and realised that what was happening to the others was about to happen to me. The warmth stayed. It didn’t become hot, but the feeling spread.
It moved from my head, down my neck and into my whole body. It was a lovely, tingly feeling — it was nice. I suddenly realised that all the fear had gone. I looked around and everyone was smiling. There was a wonderful sense of peace all around the whole of the room. Whatever was happening? All at once, I knew. This was the help Jesus had promised. I’d had no idea what to expect, but it certainly hadn’t been anything like this. I felt ten feet tall and that nothing was going to be too difficult for me to achieve. I was filled with the Holy Spirit.
I began to speak to tell those around me how I felt, but realised I wasn’t speaking in my own language. In fact all those around me were speaking in different languages. I only really recognised the odd word I’d heard before, spoken by visitors from far-off lands but, strangely, I could understand all that they were saying. Like me, they were praising God and proclaiming the name of Jesus.
The next thing I knew, we were all out in the street, where a huge crowd had gathered. They were God-fearing Jews from all over the known world, come together in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Lots of them had travelled many hundreds of miles. They were even more astounded than I was, because, although we were known as a bunch of Galileans, they all understood what I and my friends were saying — every word of it. I wanted so much for them to hear and understand — not only the words, but also the truth of the message.
Love for them flowed from inside me. I understood finally that the Holy Spirit filling me up was the Spirit of Love — love for God and love for every human being. I saw the reality of what Jesus meant, when He’d said that those two commandments fulfilled the whole of the Law and the prophets. It was all that seemed to matter now. I no longer cared what happened to me, only that I wanted to carry on the work of Jesus, just as He’d commanded. He was in charge again — thank goodness.
I began to speak to the crowd and, instead of the strength of Samson destroying three thousand non-believing Philistines, I saw the power of the Holy Spirit bring the salvation of God’s love to three thousand new believers. Instead of the trumpets of Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho, the proclamation of a living Saviour crumbled the walls of slavery-to-sin. The sheer wonder of it all was almost overwhelming. Thank you Jesus!
Yes, Lord, thank You so much for the ups and the downs I’ve experienced since You called me to follow You. I regret nothing, except perhaps the time I denied I knew You. I know You’ve forgiven me that sin already.
As I now feel my life ebbing away, my joy begins to rise up the crest of the next wave, a crest almost unimaginably high, because I will soon see my Lord and Saviour and be with Him in all His glory. He promised us that His Father’s house has many rooms and that there would be a place for me there and not only me but for all who accept Jesus as their Lord.
For the Holy Spirit has been released on earth in His full power. He’ll sweep throughout the Earth like a mighty, unstoppable wind and all who invite Him into their hearts will be spared the never-ending torment reserved for Satan and his followers. The evil one may win the odd battle here and there but the final result is in no doubt. The time for this, measured by human standards, may be long or short but the last chapter has been written and their own eventual end is in the hands of each person on Earth. I’ve written a couple of letters to encourage believers now and, hopefully, in the future (1 Peter). I’ve also warned against the false teachers, who are a real danger (2Peter).
Jesus gave us the task of passing the Good News on to everyone we could and we did that. Now it must be passed to the next generation, the generation after that and so on until the end. If just one generation doesn’t do its share of this, then the message could take much longer to reach all of the people of the earth. Please don’t let it be your generation, or your children’s.
So, imminent joy for me and a hope that the carrying of the Good News about Jesus will get to all the people of the world. But my part is almost done and I must take my leave. It’s up to you now. May the love of our Lord Jesus be with you all the days of your life, Amen.