When Peter intently gazes upon his risen Lord on Resurrection Day in amazement and appreciation, he cannot take his eyes off Jesus. He realizes in a series of quick flashbacks the always up-to-the-challenge Son of God, working masterfully with the Father and the Holy Spirit through every imaginable human issue and crisis, but especially in this final, amazing, unexpected event of salvation for mankind through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after the seeming finality of death on the cross. Peter realizes that Jesus had Peter’s denial in the courtyard factored into the whole process all along (Matthew 26:34). With an enormous sense of relief, Peter now understands that his personal failure at the critical time…when under normal circumstances Jesus might have otherwise needed his support the most…that any well-meaning attempt on the part of Peter to physically protect Jesus could not possibly have prevented or affected in any way the monumental work of salvation planned by Almighty God so long ago.
Peter was also resurrected to an eternal hope in that single moment of time upon first seeing the risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). In a bright flash of spiritual light, Peter in that instant finally realized that God was infinitely bigger than he was. Peter saw with his own eyes the capacity of God to overcome anything, no matter how hopeless, when he saw the risen Jesus. This experience changed Peter forever.
At that moment Peter shifted his reliance from self to God. Peter could go forward from that day onward with the rock-solid hope of a living faith, and a vessel emptied of self-reliance, to serve his Savior to the end of his life. This is how Peter was able to stand up before thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through his natural leadership ability and bold personality, to successfully proclaim the truth that Jesus was indeed the Christ of God.
Peter’s prior overconfident statement, before Gethsemane, that even though all other men might forsake Jesus, that Peter under no circumstances would forsake Him (Matthew 26:33), revealed a person who was still partially self-led. Peter was talking out of his un-crucified self-in-charge nature, and this led to bitter spiritual defeat. Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, was not operating “in the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13-14) of listening to and following the Holy Spirit, as an apostle of Jesus Christ should. Trouble found and exposed a vulnerable flaw in Peter, because self was still in-charge in this instance. The character transforming lesson of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard, and the loving forgiveness he experienced in his personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day, changed Peter from self-led failure to a Spirit-led overcomer. Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ is an example of experiential faith that actualized into spiritual victory.
Rewinding these events backwards in time, Peter could have faithfully and courageously stood at the side of Jesus, as he said he would, and been condemned to death as a follower of Jesus. Peter would then have occupied the fourth cross on the hill of Calvary that Passover Day.
But God the Father had a much different plan for Peter. How infinitely better and more exciting would it be, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and to stand up before thousands of people in Jerusalem and preach powerfully about both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 2:14-36)? How much more exciting would it be to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40), or to heal the crippled man at the gate to the Temple (Acts 3:7), or to participate in the revival in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), or be preaching to the Gentiles when the Pentecost “gift of the Holy Spirit” was poured out on them as well (Acts 10:44-48), or be miraculously released by an angel in the dead of night from Herod’s prison (Acts 12:7-11)?
How much better was God’s plan for Peter than what Peter had in mind for himself prior to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? To what purpose would a fourth cross on Calvary, bearing Peter, have served? According to historical tradition, Peter was eventually crucified in Rome, sometime in the early 60’s A.D. Peter was finally crucified physically, but not before living a full life in service to his Lord Jesus Christ according to the much higher plans of God.