Why didn’t Jesus choose John as the apostle upon whom to build His church? John was the good guy; he didn’t betray, deny or reject Jesus in any way. He had strong leadership skills and was one of the youngest of the disciples and, in fact, did live the longest. It makes perfect sense to me to give the responsibility of building the church over to John, rather than Peter.
I’m not God, and thank God I am not, because handing over the leadership of the church to John may have looked promising from the foot of the cross, but Jesus knew that Peter was the best man to show Christians what their relationship with Him is all about. Peter’s infamous denial of Jesus and Jesus’ ultimate forgiveness is an example to us all. John had other responsibilities in God’s kingdom: protecting Mary, writing a theological gospel different from the others, sending pastoral letters to the church encouraging them to focus on love and, chief among them, ultimately sharing the hope of the second coming through the book of Revelation. Peter was God’s man for the church because Peter is in all of us.
Like Peter, we are attracted to Jesus. We acknowledge Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords, but our personal ambition keeps pulling us away from utter devotion to Him alone. We find it difficult to give up our own ideas, our own power, our own wishes and submit totally to Him. No one models my own life of wavering human devotion met with utter confidence in Jesus better than Peter. Peter demonstrates how to live the Christian life authentically. God chose to highlight his every failure and every victory as a follower of Jesus in an attempt to show us that we should never give up on inviting Jesus into our messes and letting Him show us the way beyond the sins we have committed.
Where was Peter during Jesus’ crucifixion? We don’t know where he was; all we know is that he was not there. Jesus knew where Peter was. Jesus never lost sight of His number one disciple. The last interaction between Jesus and Peter before the cross was a shared glance that left Peter with bitter tears.
Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).
In Jerusalem, they built a church over the site of the home of the High Priest, and they call it The Church of the Crying Rooster. That place is so significant to the story of the cross. That place reveals the parts of us that know that Jesus died on a cross for our sins but deny its power in our lives. We get so focused on what is not right in this fallen world that we become bitter and overwhelmed with self-pity and our own failure to do anything about it mixed with our doubt that what God is doing is really making a difference. We deny the power of the cross, so we lose the strength to go to the cross. We go someplace else. We might go to success at work, or to the bed of depression or into self-destructive additions. We refuse to see that the way to victory is to stand before the cross of Jesus Christ.
Peter never made it to the cross, but he made it back to God’s people because the next time we find Peter in the Gospel narratives is when the women came to tell that Jesus was no longer in the grave. Peter, not John, was the first to go into the tomb and actually recognize the work of God (Luke 24:12). Jesus appeared to Peter personally and made sure that Peter knew he was still to be the rock on which he would build His church (Mark 16:7). You need read no further than Acts to discover that Peter, though dearly flawed, did what Jesus entrusted him to do. He shepherded the church of Christ and built on the foundation of Christ. Peter gives us all hope that Jesus can and will forgive us, and Jesus does use us and sees in us what we cannot see in ourselves. I want to be more like Jesus by never giving up on myself following the example of Peter.