By Mike Willis
The crucifixion of Jesus caused all of Jesus’ disciples to scatter like sheep without a shepherd. During these final days, two of the apostles were particularly affected. Judas betrayed Jesus, committed suicide and passed into eternal damnation. Jesus said, “Woe unto the man by whom he is betrayed” (Lk. 22:22). Simon Peter also fell during this period when he denied the Lord Jesus.
The Scripture’s comments regarding the sin of Peter are particularly instructive. By his circumstances, I am reminded of the constant danger which sin presents to my soul. Consider the sifting of Simon with me.
On the Thursday night of his betrayal, Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples, instituted the Lord’s supper, washed the saints’ feet, and prayed for them (Jn. 17); he spoke especially to Peter saying,
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me (Lk. 22:31-34).
From what happened to Peter, let us learn these lessons:
I. The Activity of Satan
Jesus said, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Lk. 22:31). To Jesus, Satan was no mythical creature. He is a real spiritual person working to destroy the souls of men. In Jesus’ own life, he confronted the Devil in the temptations (Matt. 4:1-11); he recognized Satan at work when Peter protested the prophecy of his death. He replied to Peter saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23).
Satan was the one who induced Adam and Eve to sin against God in eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2-3). He was the one who appeared before God making blasphemous charges against Job (Job 1-2). He has always been the great adversary of man, seeking to persuade him to disobey God.
In Peter’s case, the Lord revealed that Satan desired Simon – he wanted Simon for himself. He wanted to “sift” him as wheat, to see whether he was grain or chaff. No doubt Peter remembered Jesus’ words on this occasion when he wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Just as the Devil was active in trying to destroy Peter’s soul, he is trying to destroy my soul. If someone sins against me, he will try to create a spirit of bitterness within me; if my loved one becomes sick and dies, he will try to convince me that God does not care about my circumstances or does not love me; he will try to seduce me with lasciviousness, persuading me to make one compromise after another until my soul is destroyed by worldliness; he will try to get me preoccupied with the cares of this world that he might root God out of my life. Yes, the Devil is working any and every way he can to destroy my soul. What happened to Job and Peter was not unique. The Devil is working in the same fashion with every other Christian.
Being reminded of his activities, let us be vigilant and sober. We face a cunning enemy and need every spiritual advantage to overcome him.
II. Jesus’ Intercessory Prayer For Peter
Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for thee.” Indeed he had. In his intercessory prayer, he addressed the needs of the apostles.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. . . . Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. . . . I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (Jn. 17:9,11-12,15).
I need to remember that Jesus desires my salvation just as much as he desired the salvation of Peter. He is not watching to catch me in sin so that he can get some kind of sadistic glee from casting me into hell. He loves me and desires my salvation.
Heaven only knows the spiritual battles which have been fought for my soul. Satan wants to sift me as wheat. Jesus pleads my case before God. The deciding factor is whether or not my faith fails.
III. Peter’s Sin
A number of things need to be said about Peter’s sin that night. Please consider these with me:
1. Peter’s sin demonstrates the danger of over confidence. When Jesus told Peter that he would deny knowing him that night, Peter affirmed his loyalty. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter slept when Jesus admonished him to watch and pray that he enter not into temptation (Lk. 22:40,45). Peter is an example of the danger of which Paul warned: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
2. Peter’s sin demonstrates the possibility of a Christian failing into sin. Whatever the creeds may say to the contrary, Peter’s sin demonstrates that a child of God may fall into sin. The doctrine of “Christian perfection” or “entire sanctification” as taught by Wesleyan groups is false. The Methodist creed teaches that man’s inherited sinful nature is renewed by the Holy Ghost “whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his Holy commandments blameless” (Discipline of the Methodist Church 1940, “Of Sanctification”). Regardless of what the creed may read, Peter’s “sanctification” had not and never did progress to the point that he was not tempted to sin; from time to time, he stumbled into sin. Unlike some Wesleyans who say that they go years without sinning, Peter fell into sin. He was not so sanctified that he could not or would not sin. Christians need to remember that the Wesleyan doctrine of sanctification is just as dangerous as the Calvinist doctrine of impossibility of apostasy.
3. Peter’s sin demonstrates the possibility of apostasy. Whatever the creeds may say to the contrary, Peter’s sin demonstrates that a child of God can fall from grace. The Calvinist creeds teach that once a child of God is in grace, he is always in grace. Nevertheless, Peter’s sin brought him into disgrace and in danger of eternal damnation. He denied knowing the Lord (Lk. 22:34,57,57,60). Jesus said, “But whosoever (Peter was included in whosoever) shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:28). Peter’s sin, had he not repented of it, would have resulted in Jesus’ denial of him before the Father. One can also see the condition of Peter’s soul by Jesus’ comment: “and when thou art converted” (Lk. 22:32). What kind of soul needs “converted”? A soul which is saved does not need converting. Hence, this statement implies that Peter’s soul was alienated from God, full of guilt, and separated from him by his sin.
4. Peter’s sin demonstrates that sins of weakness bring one’s soul into a state of alienation from God. Peter’s sin was not that of high-handed rebellion. Peter’s intentions were good. When Jesus told Peter that he would deny him before that night was over, Peter protested saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Lk. 22:33). That he was sincere is seen by the fact that Peter drew his sword and tried to kill Malchus (Jn. 18:10). Peter knew that he could not overcome the entire band of soldiers sent to arrest Jesus. He was ready to die for him. Yet, later that night when Jesus was being tried, Peter became afraid for his own life and denied knowing Jesus. His was a sin of weakness, not a sin of high-handed rebellion. Nevertheless, his sin alienated him from God.
IV. Peter’s Restoration
Two apostles sinned on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Jews and Peter denied knowing him. Judas was exceedingly sorrowful and, in his deep grief, committed suicide. Peter, on the other hand, exhibited a godly sorrow which brought him to repentance.
At his third denial of Jesus, the cock crowed. From the place where he was standing, he could see Jesus on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. When Peter denied him the third time, “the Lord turned, and looked at Peter” (Lk. 22:61). “And Peter remember the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62). Can you imagine how Peter must have felt when his eyes met the eyes of his Lord?
His sorrow was not a sorrow unto death; rather it was godly sorrow that brought him to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Rather than driving him away from God, Peter’s grief for his sin drove him back to God. Consequently, he was anxious to see the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:1ff); no doubt, he had a few things he wanted to say to the Lord Jesus. God grant us, when our footsteps slip, the heart to weep such tears as his!
As a result of his own experience, Peter could identify with the sorrow which a penitent erring child of God experiences. He knew exactly what to tell the erring child of God to do in order to obtain the forgiveness of his sin. He did not say, “You need not worry about your sins of weakness because the grace of God continuously cleanses you from all sin.” Rather, when he confronted the young Christian Simon (the sorcerer) who stumbled into sin, Peter said, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). I need to follow his example, telling erring Christians to meet the same conditions in order to be forgiven, whether their sins be committed in ignorance, weakness, or high-handed rebellion.
My soul is threatened by the assaults of Satan in the same manner as Peter’s soul was. I sometimes fall into sin just as he did. My faith needs to drive me back in penitence to the Lord to seek his forgiveness, even as Peter’s did. When it does, I will obtain the same forgiveness which Peter found in the grace of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 16, pp. 482, 502-503
August 20, 1987