With the start of a new school year, we probably can all re-live a moment of being a kid alone at a school lunch table, staring down at our food, trying not to make eye contact as not to draw attention to the fact no one sat down beside us. Or in gym class, desperately hoping to be picked for a team, and really hoping not to be the last one chosen. Maybe your moments of loneliness came later in life, trying to meet others after moving to a new area or stepping off the corporate ladder.
When I started drafting this blog, I immediately was directed to Simon Peter, strange I know, as lonely is not a word we typically associate with him. More common descriptions of this disciple include strong, since Jesus called him the Rock upon which the church foundation is built. Or impulsive, because there are many stories about his knack for misspeaking and quick actions, like cutting off the ear of a soldier (and then watching Jesus immediately heal it (Luke 22:51).
I believe the Holy Spirit led me to Peter because he must have been crushed when Jesus was taken from him.
Let’s take a look at their relationship. Simon Peter was living a simple life as a fisherman before Jesus walked up to his Sea. In a moment and 13 words, we witness his impulsiveness as he boldly left his family and accepted a new calling to become a fisher of people (Mark 1:17). And what an adventure he accepted.
Think of the escapades Peter witnessed first-hand: from Jesus casting out demons from possessed humans; watching a herd of pigs plunge themselves in a lake to drown; the healing of leprosy, blindness, lameness…and the faithless. Peter had a front-row seat at the Sermon on the Mount, the garden of Gethsemane, the multiplying of bread and fish to feed thousands, lessons in generosity, not to mention all the miracles Jesus performed (water to wine, walking on water, tax money in the mouth of a fish, etc.). We also observe the intimacy in their friendship. Jesus changed his name to Peter (Matthew 16:16-18), healed his mother-in-law in his home (Matthew 8:14), allowed the three friends to see His glory, and hear the Lord’s voice in the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).
Peter was one of the 12 with whom Jesus shared His life and emotions, from a playful, teasing side, like when He asked Peter “Are you still so dull?” (Matthew 15:16), to displaying His anger at the money changers at the temple (Matthew 21:12). Jesus was honest with them about the future: “you will be arrested, persecuted and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT). And even shared a worse truth:
“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34).
For three years, Peter experienced a very full and complete life, living alongside the coolest, most exciting, full of wisdom best friend. And then He was gone.
How lonely and abandoned Peter must have felt after all the excitement and intimacy. Not to mention the guilt and shame he must have felt from denying knowing his best buddy (Matthew 26:75). Even though Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah, he never really understood that Jesus had to leave, that He had to die for Peter’s (and our) sins.
You, too, might be feeling lonely because a good friend doesn’t have time for you anymore, has moved, or has passed away. Or a loved one was taken from you unexpectedly and your heart just aches with missing them. Peter was in the same (figurative) boat, having all kinds of new-found time on his hands, lamenting his Friend’s “death”, desiring his most recent life back. As he sulked, he reverted back to his old way of life – fishing for fish. And it’s here, in a similar situation of their first encounter, that Jesus returned.
John 21 gives a beautiful description of this reunion: after an unsuccessful night of fishing, a stranger on the beach tells them to cast their net to the right, which produces 153 fish. When John recognizes it was Jesus, Peter impulsively jumped in the water to go to Him. Peter’s heart must have leapt with joy! After breakfast, Jesus asked him three different ways if they were still friends. More so, Jesus forgave him for the three denials. He removed the guilt and shame, and because of God’s grace, Jesus restored Peter’s identity and renewed God’s calling on Peter’s life with the same words they met with: “Follow Me.”
This time when Jesus left, Peter was bold and firm in faith. He wasn’t going to let the enemy kill, steal, or destroy his zeal. He was ready to draw on the three years of relationship and teachings, and start spreading the Good Word.
This is why I love Peter. Yes, he was impulsive and imperfect. He jumbled his words and made mistakes, but realigning with God’s will, he was a man on a mission! You can read through the Book of Acts to see how Peter preached to crowds, baptized with the Holy Spirit, performed his own miraculous signs and wonders, escaped from prison, healed people, and grew the number of believers by zealously sharing his faith, exactly as Jesus told him (Great Commission), earning the Rock nickname.
Another word I would attribute to Peter is wisdom, especially with his perspective of relationships with others. In a letter probably written from a Roman prison just prior to his martyrdom, he shared a great plan on how we can share our faith while caring for other believers. He had a glimpse of God’s glory years ago at the transfiguration and desires it for all:
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”. 1 Peter 5:1-4
Lord, in times of loneliness and isolation, I pray you will use believers to share Your light. Let us be a gentle nudge of Your hope and peace when life feels rocky and uncomfortable. Please teach us to be great shepherds over the little flocks you entrust us with and keep our spiritual fervor zealousness for You. Amen