Peter's Resurrection Story
The Apostle wanted everyone to know how he failed Jesus, which is why we know his story.
One of the things that struck me when I was researching and writing The Characters of Easter was the fact that the story of Peter’s denial is in all four gospels. It made me think a bit about how his story became known in the early church. Let’s remember, the gospels began as oral histories and then were written down as books. This helpful article explains this in some detail. Some scholars believe the gospel of Mark was dictated by Peter.
But how and why do all four gospels contain the story of Peter’s denial? The primary reason it is in the canon of the New Testament is that the Spirit of God wanted it in there (2 Peter 2:21), but a secondary reason is that it seems Peter wanted his own failure to be known. This is what I wrote in The Characters of Easter:
Peter’s dramatic fall was the beginning of his rise. And we know about the denial and the rooster crowing because Peter himself shared it. Nobody else from the inner circle was with him in the courtyard, by the fire, and outside the high priest's house. We can only read about it in the gospels because Peter must have shared it, over and over again, with audiences large and small until it became such a part of the eyewitness narratives that later became the gospels and inspired canon of Scripture. What's more, if Mark was the first gospel written, as many scholars believe, then this means Peter intended for God's people to see him at his worst moment.
We can only wonder how many thousands, perhaps millions, have converted to Christianity because this Apostle cut open his heart and shared his most vulnerable moment. Only heaven knows. So maybe it's time we stop looking at Peter as a foolish coward and instead see in this man an example of Christ's transformative gospel work. Peter's response to his sin, in contrast to that of the sad tale of Judas, is a study in true repentance. Like David's transparent confession in Psalm 51, we find no justifications, obfuscations, or anger. We just see a once-proud, self-confident man reduced to a mess of tears. This is why Jesus would name him "the rock," not because he was bursting with bravado, but because of a tender, contrite heart.
Peter wanted his worst moment known, in order to show the transformative power of Christ’s resurrection. Most of the folks who heard him preach on Pentecost with power, who saw him willingly arrested for preaching the gospel, who received his letters and know of him as the leader of the early church—they would not know him as the guy who slinked away from Jesus in the courtyard.
Most of us would have edited this out of our bios. We would have not made sure everyone knew it. We certainly would not have wanted it told for 2,000 years of church history. But, transformed by the Spirit of God, Peter wanted his full testimony out there.
Peter’s message is that God seeks and saves the failures, the misfits, and the folks who turn tail and run when they should be courageous. And that what Peter accomplished for God was not done in his own, feeble strength. That’s the power of the Resurrection.