Peter had been preparing himself for this very moment.
1)Prepared, 2) Denials, 3) Conviction 4) Restored
Peter had been preparing himself for this very moment. Peter had been preparing himself to fail. What do I mean by that? One situation after another leading up to this moment Peter was repeatedly not doing the right things. So when this test came he was prepared to fail, but, he was not prepared to succeed for Christ. So while Peter denied Jesus in this moment, he had been practicing denying Christ in smaller more nuanced ways before this:
- He abandoned Jesus’ mission to go to the cross
- He abandoned Jesus when he rejected Jesus’ prediction that they would all abandon him
- He abandoned Jesus in prayer. He slept and left Jesus to pray alone in the Garden at a moment when more than any other Jesus needed him to pray.
- He abandoned Jesus when Jesus was arrested, breaking his vow to stay with Jesus to death. Breaking your word, breaking vows, weakens you morally.
- Finally Peter abandons Jesus here by explicitly, adamantly denying that he ever knew Jesus.
In essence Peter was practicing unfaithfulness to Jesus in small ways so that he was conditioned to abandon Jesus when the big test came. What else could Peter do but abandon Jesus since that what he was doing over and over again leading up to this moment?
The real condition of our faith will come out in tests. Tests prove how prepared we are or are not. Tests reveal what’s really there underneath. Leonardo Da Vinci said that the movements of the soul were seen in the movements of the body. His paintings were thus attempts to show the soul through the body. How someone moves outwardly is animated by the inner movement of their soul. We can disguise what’s going on inside pretty well, but, God will bring tests in our lives to show the real movement happening inside us. Is there faith, doubt, or a mixture of both? We can’t fake it in the middle of a test. The test will pull back the veil and show what is really there
When Jesus told the Jewish crowds “Why are you trying to kill me?” They said, “Are you raving mad? Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus knows the heart of man, what’s inside a man, how a man thinks within himself. He saw that their hearts were already disposed to killing him even when they didn’t know it yet. This is what passages like “Who can discern his errors Forgive my hidden faults.” are talking about. This is what Jeremiah 17:9 is talking about, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We don’t know our own hearts – our own hearts keep us in the dark about what goes on way down in the basement of our hearts where all the sewage and filth are. Yeah, Jesus knew what their hearts were like. And He knew it was only a matter of time before their hands would carry out what was in their hearts. The heart is already sinning long before the hands.
Application: The big tests are won in the smaller tests. The daily decisions to compromise your faith, those “smaller” decisions, are forming your spiritual condition for the better or the worse. If you are in the habit of constantly choosing against Christ in small everyday ways you are conditioning yourself to choose against Him in the big test that is coming. Each of us does well to consider the ways in which we chalk up little sinful habits as “excusable”, or “not that big of a deal.”
One thing we can’t forget in this scene is Satan. Satan had devoted himself to taking Peter down. He asked and received permission from God to “sift Peter like wheat”.
Application: Satan is prepared for you when you are not prepared. He is counting on you “not being ready to stand for Christ.” He is carefully watching your every move to see where you are weak so he can take advantage of that weakness. Do not minimize the importance of daily obedience in the “little things”.
APPLICATION: Don’t rely on your strengths in the flesh (Peter’s loyalty). Rely on God’s strength. Peter’s personality strength was loyalty and it was the very point he failed
THE DETAILS of the DENIALS (66-71)
Peter’s failure to confess Christ in this scene is a glaring contrast with Jesus’ faithful confession. How often can the way we act in a situation be so radically different than the way Jesus acts in that situation?
What is significant about 3 denials? Is there something about the number 3?
- The creatures around the throne cry out “holy” in sets of three: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God almighty”.
- Jesus was tempted 3 times by the Devil.
- He was in the grave 3 days and 3 nights.
- God is 3 Persons but 1 God.
The number three seems to give the idea of completion, or, fullness. To fully declare God’s holiness the creatures cry “Holy” three times. The full measure of temptation was reached when Jesus was tempted 3 times. Jesus was completely dead and buried for 3 days/nights. The full and complete Godhead is seen in the 3 Persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three seems to suggest completion and fullness.
So, when it comes to Peter’s 3 denials, it might be understood that Peter gave a full and complete denial of Jesus. It wasn’t wishy-washy, it wasn’t a “sort of” denial. In spite of literally living with Jesus for the last 3 ½ years sharing every meal with Him, hearing every word Jesus ever said, and seeing every miracle He ever did, Peter gave a definite, categorical denial of knowing Jesus. While Jesus was giving testimony about Himself Peter was also “in court” out in the courtyard giving testimony about Jesus. And Peter’s full and complete answer was a false testimony: No, I do not know Him.
Well, what do we make of it? You notice the specific way in which Peter denied Jesus: he denied KNOWING him. Why might that be important? Think about some things here: those who belong to God are the ones who know Him. “Who is the LORD” Pharaoh said, “That I should obey Him?” Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the One True God.” (Jn 17). Speaking to the woman at the well Jesus said, “If you knew who it is that is speaking to you right now…” (Jn 4) Those who belong to God know Him. Those who do not belong to God do not know Him. Peter was saying “I don’t belong to Him.”
Peter’s exposure was a blessing. If you really belong to God then He won’t let you be comfortable or blend in for long. If you belong to Christ then He won’t tolerate you acting like you don’t belong to Him for long. He’ll disrupt what you’ve got going on. Notice that even though he tried to blend in Peter still didn’t quite fit. And they knew it. They knew it. Even those who don’t belong to Christ will know when you’re with them you don’t belong to them.
The moment of conviction. David convicted by Nathaniel (2 Sam 12:13; Ps 51). Judah convicted by his cord & seal and staff (Gen. 38:26). Israel’s conviction at the end of the age, “they will mourn” (Zech 12:10-11). Peter’s conviction: “Remembering Jesus words he went outside and wept bitterly” When the rooster crowed the light went on in his head and he realized what he had just done. He had just done what Jesus told him he was going to do: deny Him three times.
Peter wept bitterly. This was the nadir of his life. His life would never be any lower than this moment. To understand why lets remember Peter.
- He boldly said he would never abandon Jesus, but he did. So he may have already been beating himself up for that.
- But he also argued with Jesus and said that he would never, ever, under any circumstances deny Jesus. But he just did. Three times.
- He contrasted himself with the other disciples and said they might deny and abandon Jesus but he never would. But, he just found out he’s no better than them.
- Peter’s strengths as a person are loyalty and decisiveness. But he failed Jesus in the very areas that he considered himself a strong person.
Application: One of the greatest blessings God will bring into your life is to make you see how limited your strengths really are. You may think you’re strong in one way or another, but, that strength is not so strong as you come to believe. Think you’re smart? He’ll trip you up. Think you’re strong? He’ll crush you. Think you’re powerful. He’ll sideline you. Think you’re rich? He’ll impoverish you. Think you’re better? He’ll show you you’re worse. All of this is how he applies the rule Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”
Application: Holding God’s Words close will keep you from sin. Peter didn’t remember Jesus’ words until after he sinned. He wasn’t thinking about what Jesus said at all. The further God’s word is from our minds the closer sin is.
RESTORATION (John 21:15-17)
Peter’s failure is not the end of Peter’s story. God’s plans for Peter did not come to an end because Peter failed. Let me show you why from several Passages.
First, is Luke 22:31.
- Jesus foretold not only Peter’s failing, but, his restoration. “When you have turned back…” Not “if” you have turned back. God’s Grace means there’s a way back from failure.
- Notice too the phrase Jesus uses: “sift you as wheat”. Agriculturally this means to separate the chaff from the wheat. Remove the useless from that which is useful. Satan had to ask permission to attack Peter, and permission was given, and in this sense Jesus is giving a clue as to the reason for permitting the attack: He was going to use the failure to purify Peter’s faith, remove useless chaff from his life and make Peter more useful. The Bible uses other metaphors like this, “remove the dross from the silver”. Paul said a man should remove the ignoble things from his life to be more useful in the Master’s hands.
I have to point out too that it was Satan that asked to sift Peter. Satan knows that God can use man’s failures for his purposes. But, Satan relishes the opportunity to trip anybody up, even if in the long run God uses it for his glory. So keep in mind that Satan is not forcing Peter to do anything. Satan is exploiting Peter’s ignorance, stubbornness, pride, and frustration. Peter is not tending to his own heart and his own attitudes and his own posture towards Jesus and Satan is taking advantage of that. The best way to become more useful to Satan than God is to neglect God.
- Notice too the future usefulness of Peter where Jesus says, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” In other words, “Peter, when you get back on track, help the others get back on track.”
Second, turn to John 21:15-17.
- Three affirmations of love to answer his 3 denials. Last week I said that love for Jesus was the key to standing with Christ. Jesus confirms that point. He asked Peter “Do you love me?” Love for Jesus has something to do with publicly standing with Jesus. Peter would get another chance to prove his love.
- Peter is restored fully and completely. When God restores you you are restored.
- Notice the time of day Peter was restored on that beach: the morning. Peter failed in the dark, but, he was restored in the morning. If you are in the darkness of failure there is a morning of restoration for you too.
- But you must come to God in the dark. Until God restores you your failure defines you. But when God does restore you then it is your restoration that defines you. I was talking with a Christian brother yesterday at Hopes Outlet and they told me they can’t stop thinking about their past. It is gnawing at them.
The blessing of failure: deeper understanding of the depth of God’s grace. The more bitter failure the more sweet grace, “Who do you think loved more” Jesus asked, “ the one who owed little or the one who owed much?”
God restores you so He can use you to restore others. “When you have turned back Peter, turn your brothers back.” “Do you love me more than these? Feed my sheep”
And then, there’s John Mark. The young disciple who failed, caused a ministry split, and was taken in by an older, wiser Apostle Peter. In Acts we learn how a young John Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey only to abandon the trip before the first leg was completed. You can imagine an embarrassed John Mark walking back into Jerusalem and having to explain to everyone why he was back. Did John Mark think that was it for him? Was it over? Was he a loser and a failure forever? Later, when Paul and Barnabus were going to go on another missionary trip, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark but Paul said No, he couldn’t be relied on. You can imagine how John Mark may have felt, having the Apostle Paul not think very highly of him.
But then one of his family friends, the Apostle Peter, seems to have taken him under his wing. Peter refers to John Mark in 1 Peter 5, when he says “We all send greetings to you, and so does my son Mark” Remember “son” was a term used for someone who was your spiritual son, someone you invested in deeply in the faith. Paul had Timothy and Titus. Peter took Mark. And praise God he did. At the end of his life, when he knew he was going to be martyred, he said in 2 Timothy 4, “Bring me Mark, he is of great help to me”
- The only time we cannot come back from a failure is when we choose not to come to God after it happens. To have a future beyond a failure, go to God. You cannot setup camp at your failure. Some people never move beyond their failures. They define them. Peter is not defined by his failure. He is defined by Jesus. He is defined by his restoration. Jesus had momentum with Peter, there was a future beyond failure for Him.
- Allow failure to become a tool God uses to build you. Discover the depth of God’s grace. Who better to testify of the greatness of God’s grace than those who have drunk deep of it?
- Keeping close to God’s Word keeps you from sin