On Thursday night, Peter said to the One he knew was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35). Then, in the wee hours of Friday morning, Peter said to a couple of servant girls he didn’t know at all, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:69–72).
What in the world happened to Peter that made him do exactly what he swore he would not do? Fear happened to Peter.
Then, just a few weeks later, Peter found himself in front of the Sanhedrin — the same Sanhedrin that had terrified him the night of Jesus’s trial — and instead of denials, out of his mouth came these words: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
What in the world happened to Peter that suddenly made him so bold? Faith happened to Peter.
Like Peter, we too are no match for the crippling fear that will seize us when faced with potential or real danger, if we only see things with the eyes of our flesh. In fact, we’ll tend to be easily intimidated by all sorts of things. But if by the power of the Holy Spirit, we see with the eyes of faith, we’ll see things as they really are and our fears will melt away.
That power, which freed Peter from fear and fueled his boldness, is available to every Christian. It is ours for the asking, and ours for the taking.
Like everything God made, fear is very good when it functions according to its intended purpose. Fear is designed to keep us away from dangerous things. When fear moves us to avoid things that are truly dangerous, we experience just how merciful a gift it can be. God created fear to help keep us free. He meant it to protect us from all manner of real harm so we can remain as free as possible to live in the joy he intended.
But after the fall, like everything else God made for us, fear has been distorted by sin, and by the brokenness of our fallen bodies and minds. So, it frequently does not function the way God designed. Due to our fleshly pride and unbelief in what God promises us, we fear things that aren’t truly dangerous at all. We feel too much fear of things that are relatively small threats and too little fear over things that can cause us far greater harm (Luke 12:4–5). Our fears are disordered and disproportionate.
Disordered fear is what Peter experienced during Jesus’s trial. The Son of the living God, whose power he had personally observed and experienced — power that raised the dead (Mark 5:41) and even made demons subject to Peter (Luke 10:17) — was now in the custody of the Sanhedrin. Things had taken a perilous turn. All those strange things Jesus had been saying about suffering and dying at the hands of the rulers — the things Peter had told Jesus should never happen to him (Matthew 16:21–23) — looked like they were happening.
Seeing Wrongly Leads to Fearing Wrongly
That was the root issue: how things looked. The things Jesus said would happen were indeed happening, but Peter’s mind was still set on the things of man, not God (Matthew 16:23). He was only seeing the human side of things, so it looked like everything was happening wrongly. This sucked the faith right out of him — and filled him with fear.
The same thing happened to the prophet Elisha’s servant. Do you remember the story? The king of Syria discovered Elisha was receiving words from the Lord about Syria’s military plans, and informing the king of Israel. So, the Syrian king took a big army and surrounded the city where Elisha was staying. In the morning, Elisha’s servant saw the troops and was terrified. So Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see,” and suddenly the servant saw the mountains full of the host of heaven (2 Kings 6:17). When the servant only saw the human side of things, he was overcome by fear because he saw wrongly. But when, by the Spirit’s power, he saw rightly, his faith revived and his fear melted away.
So too, when Peter, by the Spirit’s power, saw rightly, his faith was revived and his fear melted away. He went from cowering in front of servant girls to boldly confronting the very leaders who had crucified Jesus (Acts 4:8–12).
O Lord, Open Our Eyes!
Elisha prayed for his servant, and he saw the spiritual reality. Someone prayed for Peter, too: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith. The timing and purposes for Elisha’s and Jesus’s answered prayers were different. But the outcome was the same: the formerly fearful men became bold in faith.
Are we fearful? Do we find ourselves easily intimidated into silence or inaction or even outright denials? It is because we are seeing reality wrongly. We are blind to what God is actually doing. For if, by the Spirit, we see what God is doing in the spiritual realm, we would not stop speaking of what we have seen or heard.
This is available to us! That’s why God put these stories in the Bible. And it’s why he has surrounded us with the great cloud of Christian witnesses throughout history. Let’s ask God for freedom from unbelieving fear and a new boldness. Let’s lay hold of him until he grants our prayer. And let’s not just ask — let’s begin to confront our fears by stepping out in faith and obediently trusting his promises. The provision of boldness is often given to the one willing to act in obedience.
Father in heaven, whatever it takes, set us free from unbelieving fear by opening our eyes to reality. Do not allow us to remain silent or inactive. The freest people in the world are those who trust you most. We will not let you go until you bless us, because you are too glorious and souls are too precious for us to remain muted by fear. In Jesus’s name, Amen.