The Apostle Peter, also known as Simon Peter, was one of the twelve main disciples of Jesus and, along with James and John, was one of his closest companions. He was a fisherman by trade, along with his brother Andrew, and partners of James and John. (Matthew 4:18-20) As a Sanguine, Peter was impetuous, outspoken and impulsive. He could say the most amazing things – and then get it all horribly wrong. He was a natural leader, well-intentioned and well-liked by those who followed him. As a Phlegmatic, he was weak. His hour of testing proved too much for him and his cowardice came through.
Andrew brought Peter to Jesus and Jesus looked at Peter. The word used for ‘looked’ (emblepein) describes a concentrated, intent gaze, the gaze which looks beyond the superficial and reads a man’s heart. Then Jesus gave him a new name. In the Old Testament, a new name often meant a new relationship with God. Jesus called Simon ‘Peter’ meaning ‘a rock.’ (Matthew 16:16-18) He was anything but a rock at that point in time, but Jesus saw who he really was. Jesus sets us free to be who we really are. How was this going to happen? We will select the key points in Peter’s journey so we can draw out principles that show how Jesus deals with us.
Jesus gained Peter’s trust. There was a series of three calls to discipleship before their appointment to apostleship (John 1:35-42; Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11). Jesus did not call for a blind leap of faith or rash, hasty decisions. Peter gradually learnt to trust Jesus in the context of genuine friendship with Jesus and the other disciples. He saw many faith-building miracles (Mark 5:37-43) and he took the opportunity to put his faith into action (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus encouraged Peter, along with the other disciples, to have more faith in him (Matthew 8:23-27). Peter was granted the powerful insight into the true glory of Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).
It had to go deeper
All this – but when Jesus said Peter would run away, Peter told Jesus that he had got it wrong. When Jesus said that Peter would deny him three times that very night, Peter assured Jesus that he was wrong, as did all the disciples (Matthew 26:31-35). In other words, they knew Jesus loved them, they knew he was all-powerful, but they were convinced that their view of themselves, and of how they would respond, was more accurate than Jesus’ view.
We can be happy with the miracles; it is good to see God’s power at work, but if we are going to be used to bring about deep change in people’s lives then we are going to have to go deeper ourselves. For there to be a ‘bringing back together’ in relationships, then fundamental change must take place. We will not be able to help someone to go where we are not prepared to go. Peter was going to have to face the weakness of the Phlegmatic otherwise his service for Jesus would be limited and would always be in danger of being undermined. Peter’s Phlegmatic needed to become solid. Jesus knew that somehow Peter was going to have to know his own heart before he would reach out to what was in Jesus’ heart for him.
For us to really grow we have to become big enough to look at what drives us in our hearts. Peter was going to have to see his heart for what it was. Jesus’ concern was not for himself but, that his friend Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. We can be blown away by fear, disillusionment or guilt – but if we hold on to the simple knowledge of God’s love, we will be safe.
Satan had asked permission to sift the disciples as wheat (Luke 22:31). Jesus addressed that to Simon because he knew he would face the toughest test. How did Jesus help Peter to become strong? By allowing him to go through the temptation, even though he would fall. Jesus gave Peter the dignity of being able to make his own choices. The really important lessons of life don’t come out of a book – you have to experience them as you walk with Jesus. Jesus was big enough to see his friend get hurt. Jesus’ prayers and the strength of his relationship with Peter would enable Peter to come through.
The pain of failure – Luke 22:54-62
Peter had been challenged, for the third time, that he was with Jesus and, just as he was denying it for the third time, the cock crowed. Jesus turned and looked at him. The word used of Jesus’ look is exactly the same as the word used when Jesus first met Peter and gave him his name. Jesus looks below the surface. It was not a look of condemnation, nor ‘I told you so’ but a deep understanding and acceptance of a man who was now face to face with his own weakness (Luke 22:54-62).
We are safe to face all that is in our hearts because Jesus knows already – and loves and accepts us.
Peter went out and ‘wept bitterly’ (Luke 22:62). This was sharp and deep pain – but Peter didn’t get stuck there. We might have expected the tense for ‘wept’ to have been in the imperfect, ‘kept on crying’, but it is the aorist – it happened but didn’t continue for a great length of time. In other words, Jesus’ prayers for Peter had been answered and he wasn’t swept away by his emotions. Although there would still be three days of emotional agony, perhaps Peter somehow hung on to the knowledge that all was not lost. He was the one who first ran to the tomb when the wild stories about a resurrection were brought to them by the women (Luke 24:12). He had his own personal encounter with Jesus (Luke 24:34) and would surely have been instrumental in getting the Eleven together in the Upper Room on that first resurrection day.
However, there was still work to be done in Peter’s heart. Seven of the disciples went out on Lake Galilee to fish. They fished all night and caught nothing, but when they followed Jesus’ instructions, they caught a net full. This would have reminded Peter of a similar situation when Jesus called him to be a disciple (Luke 5:1-11). Here was that trust issue again. If Jesus knew what was in the depths of the lake, then he certainly knew what was in the depths of Peter’s heart.
We make our decisions to follow Jesus – and then we are called to make them again. Each time we discover more about ourselves we can decide to take that with us to another level and give ourselves to Jesus more fully. It is the going down through the levels to the depths of our hearts. The whole of Peter needed converting.
What a breakfast that would have been – eating with a man who had been dead and was now more alive than ever! Embarrassed silence? Furtive whispers? ‘None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord’ (John 21:12). Just as the large catch of fish reminded Peter of his call so the burning coals in the morning light would have reminded him of that awful night in the courtyard in which he abdicated his responsibility as an apostle of Jesus.
After breakfast – John 21:15-17
Jesus waited till breakfast was over and then asked Peter a pointed question. He wanted to know, ‘do you truly love me more than these?’ This would have been an arrow to Peter’s heart, a reminder of his declaration that, even if everyone else forsook Jesus, he never would. Now Peter was dependent on the heart of Jesus for him. After all, in Jesus’ darkest hour, Peter had denied that he even knew him. He declares, ‘you know that I love you.’ And Jesus gives him a job to do. It is a job that requires depth and tenderness – qualities that Peter’s Phlegmatic heart possessed in abundance.
Twice more Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. That hurt Peter to the point where he exclaimed, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Phlegmatics don’t like to be hurt – they like their comfort. When they are hurt, they normally retreat into themselves and into silence. But Peter didn’t – he really did love Jesus and he wanted Jesus to know. He couldn’t bear the thought that Jesus might think that he didn’t. For a Phlegmatic, change takes place at the point at which it hurts and at the point at which what someone else feels matters more than what they feel.
Now there is a deeper trust in Peter’s heart. The man who once said, in effect, that Jesus had got it wrong about the state of his heart, now has to acknowledge, ‘Lord, you know all things.’ He has learnt that Jesus has known and loved and accepted him all along. It was Peter who needed to know his heart and the heart of Jesus towards him. Now Peter knows what it means to follow Jesus (John 21:19). He is to use and offer the whole of who he is in love and sacrifice to the One who gave himself completely for him.
Helpful Bible passages John 1:35-42; Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11; Matthew 14:22-33; Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:54-62; Luke 24:12,34; John 21.
Return to Bible study page Click here for more information about the temperaments - and here to read about the Sanguine Phlegmatic temperament in more detail.