Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



The Failure of Peter                                        audio (6MB)

Luke 22:54-62 

Have you ever had a cooking phase where you became obsessed about making the perfect something …. ? A while ago I had a lemon tart phase. Eventually I was very proud of myself, I perfected the technique after a few goes using this great recipe from Stephanie Alexander's book. 'The cook's companion'. Then one day I made the most glorious looking lemon tart yet, but it tasted revolting - I'd succeeded in making it with salt instead of sugar! It was very tart. It's no good is it? It's ruined.
When we spoil something that we're making it's often very hard, if not impossible, to make it come good.
Compare this with God's handiwork in our lives.
When he sets out to build a people for himself and to create followers of Jesus, He is able to build even our failures into his work to shape us to be followers and servants of Jesus Christ.
Do you remember the last episode in the Life of Peter? …..
Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him. Not only that, he says to Simon Peter that God will allow this and build it into his purposes for Peter's life. Jesus says to Peter: "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

God's purpose is to build into Peter's life a really deep understanding of where his true security in following Jesus comes from. Do you remember how we explored the contrast between Peter's words, I will follow you even into prison and death, and Jesus' word: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail you. That is, that you won't despair but turn back towards my mercy and find a true basis for following me there.
This week's story is the outworking of what Jesus said last week. Luke describes how later that very same night, what Jesus said came to pass. (Luke 22:54-62)  Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." 57But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." {58} A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." 60But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter is being schooled in the reality of his own nature. He is learning that the true basis for following Jesus lies not in his own words and intentions and actions. He needs to learn to abandon his own self security. In biblical terms, God is disciplining him. The root meaning of discipline is to learn. So we read in Hebrews chapter 12: "And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children-- "My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts." 7Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? ... 10For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Years ago I read a book by Gordon Macdonald: Ordering your private world. It was a bit intimidating, the efficiency and discipline and the achievement. Then he wrote a second book some years later called: Rebuilding your private world. This latter book reads very differently. It is like scar tissue on every page. After I read the second book I thought, I'd like to meet Gordon Macdonald and get to know him. What do you think happened between the first and the second book? …

He had an affair with his secretary and it came out into the open. His wife stood by him. He lost his ministry position. And the ones he had hurt the most, his family, became the instruments God used to rebuild his private world, with a new found deeper faith in God's mercy and grace. The anchor that was hooked on himself and his ordering of his private world slipped and he was shipwrecked. He had to undo his self confidence. He was sifted through some very fine sharp wire mesh! Just as Peter is here.
Jesus tells Peter he is going to fail, so that he can impress on him the purpose God has in allowing this to happen.

But it's worth asking the question: how exactly does he fail? How does he end up failing so completely?

There's one vital clue in the story Luke tells us. At the start of the story we read that: Peter followed at a distance.

One of the other disciples, probably John, who knew the household of the High Priest, followed Jesus into the house, but Peter hangs back in the courtyard and stays outside. And by following at a distance he puts himself in an incredibly dangerous place for a disciple.

Consider the alternatives. If Peter had gone into the house with Jesus and all the others involved in the plot to kill him, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to deny knowing Jesus, would he? He would have undeniably been with Jesus and any attempt to deny knowing him would have been ridiculous. If he hadn't bothered going along at all, and had fled like the other 10 disciples, then he wouldn't have had the opportunity to deny Jesus because no one would have been around to put him on the spot. But instead of these two options he follows Jesus, but at a distance.

His discipleship or following of Jesus is close enough to separate him from others who had abandoned Jesus, but not so close that he dies to his own self together with his Lord. To keep your distance from Jesus, while saying that you follow him makes you easy pickings for the devil. If we  hang back, we are away from the one who could give us real courage to resist satan's lies. Jesus had already resisted the tempter in the garden of Gethsemene, and if Peter had been close Jesus could have strengthened him as well. But peter couldn't hear his voice or receive a look to give him courage. Because he had hung back in the courtyard.
In the same way it's easy for us to follow Christ, but to do so at a  distance. We put ourselves at a distance by not spending time listening to what he says. By not pondering our lives in prayer and asking for strength to follow closely. By not spending time getting to know other Christians well enough at church to open up our lives and our feelings with them. When was the last time someone here said something helpfully critical to you? If we don't spend time deliberately letting people into our lives then they can't help as God's agents to reshape us, nor can they encourage us when we are genuinely struggling to follow Jesus more.
We often end up in the same perilous position Peter was in.

Peter was in the courtyard and Jesus was inside. He's away from Christ and he's in the midst of a hostile world. Now you can't blame Peter for wanting to warm himself by the fire once he's hung back in the courtyard. But there in the midst of a world hostile to Jesus, his fears get the better of him. Maybe the crowd of servants or onlookers who were gathered there would have been hostile if he'd confessed to being a follower of Jesus. Maybe they would have asked for his arrest as well. But maybe not. Maybe the people there were just curious and would have made little of it if he'd told the truth. We don't actually know. But Peter's response is the key thing Luke focusses on. At  a distance from Christ, Peter is filled with fear. We might recognise ourself in him. He fears their opinion. He fears the power he imagines they have. He fears they'll do the same to him as they are doing to Jesus.

We often feel we're going to be socially disadvantaged or shunned or not taken seriously if we confess to being a Christian? We want to be thought well of, we want to be accepted and we fear what people will think of us. So it's a really important question whether we believe that Jesus can take care of us when we decide to stick close to him no matter what other people might think? That's the challenge of the story, isn't it? Not to be controlled by our fears but to be prepared to speak up even if we still feel afraid.

Peter follows Jesus at a distance, relying still on his own confidence and underestimating his own fear and insecurity. So all it takes from there is a gentle nudge for him to fall. Three simple questions from these strangers without warning. And as peter answers in the same way his words of denial get more and more strident, as though he realises what he is doing and begins to condemn himself.

Do you see how much Peter is denying? He has walked with Christ, talked with him, been commissioned by him, he's recognised him for who he truly is and his life has begun to be transformed by him. And here he is almost yelling, I don't know him!

And then the cock crows. And on the other side of the courtyard inside, a man who is being falsely accused and struck unjustly, is thinking of Peter. Think back to Jesus' words to Peter earlier in the same evening. I have prayed for you Simon Peter that your faith may not fail. Jesus foretold what would happen. Nothing that is going on is outside of his control. He knows where Peter will be, what kind of state he will be in. He's allowed the sifting of peter through his failure! And when the cock crowed, he got to the window and looked straight out of it at Peter. It's a look that penetrates to the very heart. It's a look that goes straight through Peter. It breaks Peter and his self protection apart. Jesus didn't need words did he? With that one look Peter knows what he has done. With that one look Peter remembers Jesus' words, and he went outside and wept bitterly.

With one look he reminded Peter of the words he had spoken. Words of both truth about Peter and words of hope for Peter. For had he not said, when you turn back strengthen your Christian brothers and sisters? Are they not words of hope, that Jesus knows Peter will fail but that he builds this into his purpose to strengthen Peter for truer service in the future?

Jesus is relentless in his purpose to transform Peter - to expose the false foundations of Peter's overconfidence in himself. He doesn't hesitate to show Peter up for his own good. He wants to make him a better future follower. He puts him in a situation in which he will fail so he will see that he needs to follow more closely. And friends, he's prepared to do the same with us. Those God loves he disciplines. And his love is more thorough, more purposeful, more relentless in showing us up if necessary, than what we often call love. But at the same time God's love is restorative and gracious. He has a future purpose he is refining you for. He wants to transform you and I into better servants. He wants to give us the ability to rely on Christ for the difficult things he will call us to do in the future years. He doesn't want to send us away when we fail, but to use it to help us draw closer.

Think of your own children. When they are rude and difficult, you don't send them away forever out of your family do you? No, instead you discipline them so they will learn how to be helpful to others instead of self serving. You rejoice in apologies, you forgive them and start all over again at the task of learning to be concerned for others.

And it's the same with God. Jesus had to look that way at Peter. He had to break down Peter's self confidence, to show it up, so that Peter would learn to lean on Christ's words, Christ's power and Christ's mercy and foregiveness. And think what this accomplished. What happened next time some 7 or 8 weeks later when Peter was amongst some of the same crowd of people in Jerusalem on the day of pentecost?  … He stood up, and did he deny knowing Jesus? …..

The real God will sift us through our own failure, to discipline us, for us to learn. His goal is true holiness, true following. Following that is founded not on our own achievements or ability, but on Jesus ability to reinstate us. God can build major failure to follow Christ into his plan to make you into a better servant in the future. This may be painful, but it's true.

I want to finish by looking at this subject a little more broadly than just our own failures. For it's not just failure, but other suffering that God can also use to discipline those he loves. Other sufferings can be used by God to help us learn and grow. This doesn't mean God delights in those sufferings, he doesn't. But the world is a damaged place. And we get damaged by our involvement in such a fallen world. So with peter, it's his own fault that God uses to discipline him, to help him learn. But what about things that are not our fault?

So in my life some of you will know that my hands suffer from a birth defect. As a result I had a very hard time at school, being teased and excluded from things, being bullied in year 9-10. It's not a good thing, yet praise god he can build these things into our growth. I was an assertive, intellectually overconfident brash young kid. You might say I'm still much of that, but through having a hard time at school I learnt to identify with outsiders, to empathize with people who are being excluded by other, to stick up for what is right and not just go along with what the most powerful group is doing. I have certain sensitivities that I otherwise wouldn't have, I don't think, (and without them I'd be unbearable).

It's worth pondering on isn't it? God disciplines those he loves. Through sufferings that build character, and here through failure that gives Peter a surer understanding of Christ's power to be merciful, forgiving, and transforming of him.
May we be prepared for the greater things God wants to use us for in the future by the suffering and failure God allows us to go through today. Amen.

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