It may be a familiar story but it is powerful nonetheless…. He failed in business in ’31, he was defeated for the legislature in ’32, he was elected to the legislature in ’34. His sweetheart died in ’35, he had a nervous breakdown in ’36, he was defeated for speaker in ’38, he was defeated for elector in ’40, he was defeated for Congress in ’43, he was elected to Congress in ’46, defeated for Congress in ’48, defeated for Senate in ’50, defeated for vice president in ’56 and for Senate in ’58. But fortunately he was elected president in 1860. His name was Abraham Lincoln.
A similar story could be told of Simon Peter . . . He was a fisherman by trade, enlisted in the group that followed Jesus. He was noted for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
- -He told the Lord He could not go to Jerusalem . . . Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan”
- -He asked Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration if he could set up tents for them
- -He was the one who asked . . . ‘how many times do I have to forgive somebody’ (Mt. 18:21)
- -He got out of the boat to walk on the water and began to sink because He was scared by the waves
- -He feel asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus had specifically asked him to pray
- -He cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden (and Jesus put it back on)
- -He said, “These other guys might deny you . . . .but I never would.”
The story of Peter’s optimism is found in our text this week. However, I want to direct your attention to the text as it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke:
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Lk. 22:31-34)
There are some important lessons to be gleaned from this text and I will share four with you.
Anyone Can Fall
We are so familiar with the story of Peter that we forget what an example of faith he sometimes was:
- He was one of the “inner three” with James and John
- He was the one who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man” after the miraculous catch of fish.
- It was Peter that answered the Lord’s question: “Who do you say I am?” with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
- It was of Peter’s confession that the Lord said, “On this rock I will build my church”.
- It was Peter who stood up to defend Jesus in the Garden
- It was Peter who followed Jesus (with John) into the court after His arrest.
- It was Peter who ran with John to the empty tomb
- It was Peter who jumped in the water after the resurrection to swim to shore to see Jesus
Peter was not a bad man. In fact, Peter was a man we would all admire. We would point to Peter and say, “I’d like to be like Him.”
The face is we see times of failure in the lives of many of the saints of the past,
- –Abraham out of fear for his life told a ruler that his wife was his sister and let his wife live in another man’s house
- –Moses ignored God’s direction and took credit for a miracle and it cost him entry in the promise land.
- –Aaron built a Golden Calf for the people to worship.
- –David committed adultery and was an accessory to murder.
- –Solomon compromised his faith by erecting temples to the idols of his wives
These men, like us were guilty of overestimating their own strength. If they can fall . . . . so can we.
Peter believed he would stand by the Lord till death. These other men loved the Lord. However, when we stand in our own strength we are in grave danger because those are the times we are most vulnerable. Alistar Begg says it well: “We must remember that the best of men are men at best“
We should take the advice of 1 Corinthians 10: “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall”
The Enemy is Ruthless
Jesus tells us that it is Satan who wants to sift Peter. It is Satan who wants to destroy Him. The Bible tells us various descriptions of the evil one:
- He is the accuser (Zech. 3:1)
- The Father of Lies (John 8:44)
- Disguises Himself as an Angel of Light (2 Cor. 11:14)
- A Schemer (Ephesians 6:11)
- The one sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
- Like a Lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8-11)
The point is simple . . . we battle a formidable foe. Satan’s goals are simple: He wants to destroy our faith; devour our confidence; neutralize our effectiveness. No wonder Paul reminds us:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Eph. 6:12]
Satan is underhanded. He looks for our weakest point and attacks when we are least ready. Max Lucado says it well:
It happens in an instant. One minute you are walking and whistling, the next you are wide-eyed and falling. Satan yanks back the manhole cover and an innocent afternoon stroll becomes a horror story. Hopelessly you tumble, aware of the fall but unable to gain control. You crash at the bottom and stare blankly into the darkness. You inhale the evil stench and sit in Satan ‘ s sewage until he spit you out and you land, dumbfounded and shell-shocked, on a sidewalk.
Such is the pattern of sudden sin. Can you relate to it? Very few sins are premeditated and planned. Very few of us would qualify for Satan’s strategy team. We spend our time avoiding sin, not planning it. But don’t think for one minute that just because you don’t want to Fall that you won’t. Satan has a special trip for you, and he only pulls it out when you aren’t looking.
This yellow-bellied father of lies doesn’t dare meet you face to face. No, Sir. Don’t expect this demon of demons to challenge you to a duel. Not this snake. He hasn’t the integrity to tell you to turn around and put up your dukes. He fights dirty.
He is the master of the trap door and the author of weak moments. He waits until your back is turned. He waits until your defense is down he waits until the Bell has rung and you are walking back to your corner. Then he aims his dart at your weakest point and… Bullseye! You lose your temper. You lust. You fall. You take a drag. You buy a drink. You kiss the woman. You follow the crowd. You rationalize. You say yes. You sign your name. You forget who you are. You walk into her room. You look in the window. You break your promise. You by the magazine. You lie. You covet. You stomp your feet and demand your way.
You deny your master.
We dare not talk our opponent lightly . . . and we dare not let our guard down.
The Savior if FOR us
What incredible words Jesus says to Peter, “But I have prayed for you.” He not only prayed for Peter . . . he prays for us. Hebrews 7:25 says, “He is ever living to make intercession for us.” Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith might not ultimately fail. He prays that in spite of the test Peter would be strengthened and equipped.
Charles Spurgeon wrote,
How encouraging is the thought of the Redeemer’s never-ceasing intercession for us. When we pray, He pleads for us; and when we are not praying, He is advocating our cause, and by His supplications shielding us from unseen dangers. When we reach the hill-tops of heaven, and look back upon all the way whereby the Lord our God hath led us, how we shall praise Him who, before the eternal throne, undid the mischief which Satan was doing upon earth. How shall we thank Him because He never held His peace, but day and night pointed to the wounds upon His hands, and carried our names upon His breastplate! Even before Satan had begun to tempt, Jesus had forestalled him and entered a plea in heaven. Mercy outruns malice. Here is a matter for joy, gratitude, hope, and confidence. [MORNING AND EVENING]
The Lord alone is our anchor. The Great Missionary to China, J. Hudson Taylor, once said; “I have failed . . . . I am failing . . . I will fail . . . .But Jesus never fails.
Our hope is not in our ability to stand but in HIS ability to protect and sustain us. The Apostle Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” They seem odd words don’t they. Understand that in our times of weakness . . . when we understand how helpless we are . . . in those times we are most dependent on the Lord. And when we are most dependent on Him we are in the least danger. In those times when we feel so ill-equipped and “needy” we are strongest . . . because we have stopped relying on our own strength and devices . . .but instead are resting in Him.
The Failures of Life Can be the Springboards of Greatness
Let’s be honest, many of us feel like failures. We feel we have failed as: teachers, parents, Pastors, businessmen, examples, witnesses . . . believers. We identify with Peter in his failure more than we care to admit.
Our text reminds us that in the midst of the failure there is a lesson for Peter to learn. It is a lesson that can be used to encourage the others. The greatest lessons of life are learned in the crucible.
I was leading a class this week on Weddings and Funerals. I made the statement that a Pastor will be limited in their effectiveness in the times of sadness until they have been there themselves. In our suffering we learn compassion. In our failure we learn about mercy. In our sin we come to understand grace.
Do you think Peter learned the lessons of the crucible? I do.
- He stood up and preached on the day of Pentecost
- He refused to be bullied into silence by the civil leaders and instead responded, “We must obey God rather than men.“
- He was thrown in jail for His faith but He would not recant.
- He was on the forefront of erasing the barrier between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
- He was a prominent spokesman in the early church
- And tradition says He was martyred in Rome. In fact, the tradition says Peter was crucified. He insisted however that He be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as His Lord.
In John 13 we read about two men: Judas and Peter. Both of them failed. What was the difference between them. One despaired . . . the other repented. Peter failed. He sinned. But He also knew where to go for forgiveness. This leads me to our applications:
FIRST, I know there are people who will read this who feel like they have made such a mess of their life that they are hopelessly lost. They have failed their family, hurt their friends, denied the Lord. It may be that you have come to this spot hoping for a word on how you can atone for some of what you have done.
I had someone write me a wonderful note. They confessed that they had felt that they were beyond the reach of God’s grace. They felt they had used up their chances. But now they had come to understand and receive grace.
I want you to come to that same point in your life. Do you realize that you may be closer to salvation that you realize? The first step to being right with God is admitting the lost condition of your soul.
Jesus came to pay for your sins. He didn’t come because you were good . . . but because you were lost. He didn’t die because you deserved grace . . . but because you didn’t. He extended love to you. It’s time to give up the life of despair and turn to the Savior and His open arms. Place your trust in the sufficiency of His work on your behalf and make the decision to follow Him.
SECOND, This passage warns us to guard against pride in our lives. When we feel we are the strongest we are really in the gravest danger. When you feel you are “on top of things” you are setting yourself up for a fall. You are exposing your flank to the Devil’s army. Don’t do it!
If you are looking down your nose at those who have fallen . . . if you are quick to point and criticize those who stumble . . .BEWARE, Satan is on your heel. He is close at hand. He sees that you are drifting away from your protection and He is waiting to pounce. Don’t think it can’t happen to you . . . IT CAN.
THIRD, Maintain your spiritual discipline. It may be that you are drifting in your spiritual life. There was a time in the past when you road the waves of spiritual vitality. There may have been a time when you were a diligent student and a devoted intercessor . . . but not now. It seems so unnecessary.
It may be that you, like Peter have begun to fall asleep on the watch. You feel strong. It’s not a priority. You have more pressing needs. Christian awake! You are hearing the lies of Satan. Renew your diligence. Be fervent in prayer. Study to show yourself approved. Be on guard against the Devil.
FINALLY, in those times of failure – deal with things quickly. Don’t roll around in the mud. Don’t wander away in embarrassment . . . . return to the Lord. Confess your sin. Learn your lesson. Be stronger and wiser. Come home. Don’t stay away . . . return.
You see, we can look at the story of Peter and shake our heads in disgust. But the fact is, when we look at the failures of Peter we are very often looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves.
Peter learned from his failure. And if we want to know the strength of the post-denial Peter we must learn the lessons that he learned. We can learn them through his story or we can learn them by personal experience but we will learn them.
God help us to learn the lessons without having to experience the failure first.