Did the Apostle Peter Have a Purpose-Driven Life?


Did Peter have a vision for his life? Was his life purpose-driven?

Yes, at least he thought so. Like us, unfortunately, after those first wondrous encounters with the Savior, he got off track and started to think more about himself, his importance, and the significance of his agenda over and against that of Jesus. He didn’t devise this goal all by himself. His religious culture helped influence him to think this way. To Peter, this reasoning made perfect sense. The Messiah had come. He, Peter, was going to be a part of it. A leader in it. (Luke 22:24-30). His plan was to be great and influential, to make a difference in the world, to change the world. This was an imminently rational position to take for one who was zealous for his God.

But Jesus’ “vision” was quite unlike Peter’s. It had nothing whatsoever with being an earthly leader with greatness or influence. In addition, as surprising as it may seem to those who emphasize such things today, Jesus’ ultimate purpose wasn’t to “make a difference in the world” or “change the world” by doing certain things.

Wrong emphasis.

Wrong goal.

Wrong target.

Wrong “vision.”

Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to die.

Jesus left His glorious habitation in the heavenlies to come to earth, empty Himself, and die. This was His primary reason for coming. Not to care for the poor. Not to do miraculous deeds—to die—and, of course, to rise from the dead and conquer sin, death, hell, the grave, and the devil. To give us a relationship with our Father. To establish a new covenant, not based upon our ability to be righteous, but upon His alone.

But Peter had another plan, and it had nothing to do with the one above.

When Jesus told His disciples that He intended to go to Jerusalem, be killed and then raised on the third day, “…Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’” (Matthew 16:22). 1

The Messiah, Peter thought, should have nothing whatsoever to do with dying, heaven forbid. This was crazy talk. So, strange as it may seem, Peter rebuked the God of creation because obviously, He wasn’t thinking clearly. Jesus, however, had a different perspective, one which Peter never could have imagined. “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:23).

What? To set one’s mind on the things of God meant that this Messiah who came to establish His kingdom in Israel and throughout the earth was to…die? And to think otherwise was to be like…Satan?

Nevertheless, Peter didn’t stop there.

After the Last Supper, Jesus announced to His disciples that all of them would fall away because of Him and be scattered like sheep. Jesus was telling Peter and the disciples that neither He nor they would be great and significant at all, at least not in the way they thought. In fact, they would deny Him, the very One whom they thought would lead them into greatness. Peter—and I don’t intend to denigrate this man of God since he is, after all, our brother whom we will meet in heaven—disagreed with Jesus again, proclaiming that he would never deny Him. “Peter said to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away’” (Matthew 26:33). Jesus set Peter straight on that one, notifying him that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed (Matthew 26:34). Peter, again, rejected what Jesus said: “‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same’” (Matthew 26:35).

However, in spite of these corrections from Jesus, Peter did not relent. In the garden, when the Lord was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus, once again emphasizing His true purpose, said, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). In other words, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, where earthly eminence and power hold sway. He must die so the true heavenly kingdom will arrive.

Then, sadly, in the face of the impeding reality, Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would. He denied Him three times.

However, Peter did finally surrender, not to man, but to the Lord—his difficult capitulation to the purposes of God instead of his own. After the resurrection, at the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. To all those questions, Peter replied in the affirmative: “Yes, I love you.” Each time, Jesus told him to tend or feed His sheep or His lambs. As we continue, keep in mind that Peter was aware of his denial and how often he’d been mistaken.

He had told Jesus He was wrong about the purpose of His life: to be killed and raised.

He told Jesus he would never deny Him, because that’s not just the way this thing was going to roll.

He was going to fight to the death, if necessary, to help bring in his idea of God’s kingdom. He attempted to prove his strong loyalty by raising his sword to defend his master but that didn’t work out, either.

However, when Jesus was arrested and everything started circling the drain, Peter denied Him—three times—just as many times as Jesus asked him if he loved Him.

Such is the inglorious consequence of a person who seeks his own will, his own glory, his own purpose over God’s. He is so overwhelmingly disappointed that he was utterly wrong about the intentions of God for his life, that he denies Him altogether.

However, God is gracious.

Now, the sovereign God he had denied and about whom He was so mistaken, was giving him, astonishingly, the responsibility to take care of His sheep. Finally, in humbled wonderment, Peter said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17b).

Peter had learned that Jesus did indeed know God’s will for both His mission and Peter’s, when he did not—that his purpose was at odds with that of the One who knows all things; the One who teaches us that to find the highest, true purpose for one’s life, one must give up one’s life, fully; yes, even without comprehension, to the great and glorious Savior and God of all that exists. After Peter understood that he must abandon his own will, Jesus called him to shepherd His sheep.

Jesus’ crucial purpose was about dying. He had tried to tell Peter this almost from the start. Peter’s purpose-driven life was not to be an influential, great, gifted leader. His purpose was to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

And that is our ultimate purpose, as well. Any other is wrongheaded and misguided, just as Peter’s was.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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