By Drew Larson

The Hands of Peter and the Rhyme of Redemption

For many years my grandfather worked on the railroad, and it showed.

He had these hands one only gets from wrestling brake levers that grind tons of speeding metal to a halt. Even old age preserved them: fingers thick with rope-like tendons, palms swollen with muscle, knuckles crooked and flat. In them one read the story of his vocation, a life of riding and guiding steel giants.

Hands are like that, even in the Bible. They tell a story. And like my granddaddy, the story of the apostle Peter is also in his hands. It’s a story of four hands in two places, and a picture of the redemption that transforms our weakest moments.

Changing Hands

The first place is the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee, in a scene from Matthew 14. Brash, impetuous Peter steps onto the waves and walks toward Jesus. His confidence falters, as does his success. As he sinks, he throws a hand into the night sky—and feels the hand of Jesus slide around his, pulling him up.

The second place is the Jerusalem temple court in the days after Pentecost in Acts 3. Peter and John are strolling through the plaza when a paralyzed man begs them for money. Peter commands the man to get up and walk in Jesus’ name. Then “taking him by the right hand, he [helps] him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles [become] strong” (Acts 3:7).

Taking him by the right hand. We aren’t told what echoed in Peter’s mind as he healed this man. Could he hear the roaring wind, his own desperate, drowning cry as he reached for the man’s hand? Could he taste the sea foam on his lips as he spoke? And as he pulled the man up, at once stable and strong, could he see the face of the Lord Jesus who had done the same thing for him?

What’s clear is that something happened to Peter between that moment on the sea and this one in the temple. His hands are not the same. Doubting hands have been made sure. Panicked hands have been made calm. Frail hands have been made strong.

On the water, Jesus’ grip saved Peter; in the temple, Jesus’ grip through Peter saved a paralytic. Peter’s hands had been transformed by love, for love.

The story of Peter’s hands has a symmetry to see and savor. They are hands that:

  • Dragged an empty fishing net overboard one last time for a night—but in a first act of obedience for his life.
  • Swung a sword to stop Jesus’ arrest—and were later bound in chains.
  • Cradled his tears after betraying the Lord—yet were later crucified just as Jesus was.

Day to day, whether in school or work or life, our hands feel so often like Peter’s. We clench what we should release, break what we should protect, reach for what we should ignore. We cup them under tears of grief for what we have done and left undone, what we have been and wished we had been.

If we’re honest, they can feel very unlike Jesus’ hands. So when we hear pastors or staff ministers say things like “Go be the hands of Jesus,” it can ring hollow. We’re trying to have Jesus’ hands. But we’ve seen what our hands are like, what they do. They’re mostly the hands of Peter.

You Are More Than You Are

If you ever look at your life and see its careless mistakes, false starts, blown chances—in short, if you see the hands of Peter—and wonder, “Can God do something with this? Will he?”, take heart.

He can. And he will.

In Peter’s hands, we see 2 Corinthians 5:17 come to life: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.” This promise has both power and direction; it’s going somewhere and taking Peter with it, incorporating his lowest moments and using them in his finest, letting them echo against each other in a rhyme of redemption.

I wonder if Jesus foresaw Peter’s Acts 3 moment when he told him to walk on water. As the sea whipped and frothed and Jesus said "Come", maybe he thought of Peter’s future self, the one Peter kept stumbling toward but couldn’t yet see, the one he kept falling toward but couldn’t yet feel. And maybe he thought something like this:

You’ll sink today, Peter, but my hand will catch you. And soon you’ll do the same for someone else—I’m giving a miracle walk to you both. I know what kind of hands you have, but don’t lose heart. Because I know the kind of hands I’ll give you, the new creation I’ll make you. One day, you’ll see.

Your hands have been swept up into the story of Jesus, just like Peter’s, and they share the same trajectory. Your life of redemption may not always rhyme with such clarity as Peter’s, but it does nonetheless. God’s story is that rich. His promise is that strong. His love for you is that real.

Because of that, we can have courage. Courage to be honest with ourselves, not dodging or hiding our fears and mistakes, because God has already gathered them into his loving story of new creation. Courage to trust that he is at work even when we can’t see it, guiding us to our own Acts 3 moments even when their symmetry is too subtle to notice. And courage to join hands with the Lord in the mercy he wants to give us, extending them to all who need the healing and wholeness he longs to share.

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Drew Larson works as a writer on InterVarsity’s Communications Team in Madison, WI.

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