by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
It was a foggy morning. The fog was just beginning to lift as the sun was beginning to rise and Peter and the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were frustrated. And then on the shore stood a solitary figure. Jesus showed up and that changed everything. It changed the fish story. More importantly, it changed Peter. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus had met with Peter and the disciples in the upper room, but it wasn’t until this scene on the lakeshore that Peter knew that his relationship with Jesus was ‘Ok’.
Isn’t it great that God’s Word reveals real men with real struggles. They are not white-washed historical figures. They are men with failures so that we will know how to deal with our failures, we will know how to return, how to get straight, how to get back on board.
The book of Mark is the gospel that Peter inspired because it was written by Mark under Peter’s guidance, so it gives Peter’s insights, his specifics into what happened and that is why it tells us how he started drifting. In Mark chapter 14, we will see what caused Peter to drift. Then we will read 1 Peter and see what he has learned that made him into a mighty warrior for Christ.
While eating the Passover meal, the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples what was soon to happen. Mark 14:17-28 says: In the evening Jesus arrived with the twelve disciples. As they were sitting around the table eating, Jesus said, ‘The truth is, one of you will betray me, one of you who is here eating with me…. It is one of you twelve, one who is eating with me now. For I, the Son of Man, must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for my betrayer. Far better for him if he had never been born!…. All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.’” Peter heard what Jesus said and declared his loyalty. “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” Jesus turned to him and said, “Peter, I tell you the truth. Today, yet this very night, before the cock crows two times, you will deny me three times.” But Peter insisted , “Jesus, you’re wrong, even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” The others also pledged their loyalty.
Peter was an aggressive individual. He brimmed with self-confidence. Peter meant what he said to Jesus. He fully intended to stay by Jesus’ side. The problem is that he tried to do it in his own strength. Jesus is quick to recognize this. He warns Peter, “You are going to deny me three times in just a few minutes. You are going to desert me.” Self-confidence is the first step in drifting away from God because we think we can handle everything on our own. “I have come a long way, I can deal with this. Jesus, let me make you proud of me how much power and how much strength I have, how mature I’ve grown. I can figure this one out on my own. I’m not a kid anymore. I want to do it myself. God, go help those other people. They need it more.” 1 Corinthians warns us that when we think we are spiritually strong we need to be careful because we are ready to fall. Proverbs promises that a proud attitude leads to ruin. The problem is thinking yourself to be more than you are. Building yourself up and pushing God out. We slowly but surely edge God out of our lives. Not because we hate him but because we do not think we need Him. We leave Him out of our family life. Pretty soon we edge Him out of every important area in our lives. Our self-confidence deceives us.
When Jesus is arrested, What does Peter do? He attempts to fulfill his promise to Jesus with a sword. He is willing to risk his life in a sword fight for Jesus. But that is not what Jesus wanted. How does a man who was willing to draw a sword to show his loyalty, desert that very person minutes later? Obviously, Peter was willing to risk his life for Jesus’, then why the desertion?
Remember, the gospel of Mark was written by Mark under Peter’s guidance. We find an interesting reference in Mark 14:51-52 that does not appear in the other three gospels. Peter must have wanted it included for a reason. “There was a young man following along behind, clothed only in a linen nightshirt. When the mob tried to grab him, they tore off his clothes, but he escaped and ran away naked.” That young man must have been humiliated. Humiliated! Just the sound of that word frightens us. Peter saw what happened to that young man and he wanted no part of it. “That is not going to happen to me,” he might have thought. Frightened and running from humiliation, he ran into a little servant girl, a teenage girl, who cowered him into denying Jesus by simply saying, “You were one of those with Jesus, the Nazarene.” Just then the first rooster crowed a warning to Peter to deny Jesus no more. Peter soon denied Jesus two more times. And then the rooster crowed a second time. “And [Peter] broke down and cried” (14:72). Peter was willing to die for Jesus but he was not willing to risk humiliation for Him!
Notice a second thing about Peter. Look at Mark 14:32-41. Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to pray with Him during that agonizing time in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus anticipated the suffering that would soon be His. “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.” Three times He pleaded with them to pray with Him and three times they slept instead. The second cause for Peter’s fall was neglect. They had a full day. They had a full meal. Jesus had already talked a long time. It is dark and it is late. They did not know what was going on, but Jesus did and Jesus compelled them, “This is important, pray with me.” But they neglected it. Doing the right thing is usually hard. It requires effort. It requires more energy than just doing enough to get by. It is difficult to consistently do the right thing.
We have to make sure that we have the energy to do the right thing and not get fatigued by doing the wrong things. We must learn to prioritize and discipline ourselves. Fatigue is often the precursor to moral and spiritual defeat. Fatigue should be a warning light in our spiritual lives. When you get fatigued, you are going to be tempted to drift away. It lowers your defenses. It makes you vulnerable to temptation. So when fatigue comes, beware and recharge your spiritual batteries. You do not get recharged by reducing your involvement, though. You get recharged by increasing your input. You do not stop the outflow, you increase the input. If you are running out of gas, you do not just pull over to the side of the road and stop. You go to where the gas is. If you are running out of gas, you do not just turn off the motor, you go to where the gas is. If you are running out of spiritual energy, you do not stop ministry, you do not stop involvement, you do not leave the family of God, you go to where the gas is. You get refueled, you get refilled, you get connected with them again. I have seen Christian after Christian pull back because they want to get refueled but they do not do anything to take in and so they end up drifting farther from God.
Verses 53-54 describe yet another reason for Peter’s fall. It says: “Jesus was led to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, other leaders, and teachers of religious law gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed far behind and slipped inside the gates of the high priest’s courtyard. For a while he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire.” Notice how Peter followed at a safe distance. He stayed back. He let the current of events pull him along. Do you try and follow Jesus at a safe distance? Just far enough that nobody really notices?
People respect men and women of convictions who are not afraid to graciously live by godly standards. Not flaunting it, not being preachy, but genuine, humble, steadfast faith. Proverbs 29:25 teaches that fearing people is a dangerous thing. It is a dangerous trap. Fearing people means that they become god in your life. You are looking to please them, to serve them, you are letting them guide and guard what you say and do. If you cater to the world, you are going to end up drifting from God.
I want you to notice that Peter does not just keep his distance. Look at where he is. He blends into the crowd and enjoys the benefits. He sits by the guards, the guards who arrested Jesus, those who chained him, those who perhaps even drug him down that road. He is by their side warming himself at their fire. Jesus is being tried. He is going to be condemned to death and Peter is there at the enemy’s fire warming himself. There is something wrong with this picture. It is a picture for us, almost a parable, about what can happen in our lives. If you get seduced by the world’s campfire, you are going to end up getting burned by it. It happens subtly. Peter did not even notice.
We follow Christ for a number of years and we look at our lives and we see someone else around us that we went to college with and we think, “Well, how did they get so far ahead of me? They have got more stuff and more recognition. They have got more influence and more fun things. I am a Christian. God is on my side. I should have those things. I deserve those things. I want those things.” We start redirecting our time, our energy, our finances toward achieving, toward getting those things. We get sucked into the world’s economy, the world’s values, and the world’s priorities and forget who our Lord is. And suddenly, you say, like Peter, “I do not know the man.”
Now read 1 Peter chapter 5. I want you to see the lessons that Peter learned. He did not stay in defeat. He did not stay adrift. What does Peter say cured him? What is his advice, or commands, to us. First, we are to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. The cure to prideful, ego-centered self-confidence that edges God out, is humble dependence. Knowing who we are and who God is, is the first step to dependence on God.
Peter continues in verses 8-9a: “Be self-controlled and alert! Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, so resist him, stand firm in the faith.” Faithful diligence, self-controlled, alert. The devil is prowling. Peter knows firsthand what defeat feels like. Peter is calling all Christians to focused devotion. “Focused devotion”—lets look at those key words. To be focused on something you have to give it your undivided attention. To be focused on Christ you have to look at Him and what He has done. It implies mental focus. Devotion speaks of the heart. We are to give our hearts to God through Jesus Christ. With all our mental and emotional energies our central core is to be focused on Christ Jesus. Our devotion to God is focused for us through Jesus Christ! If we focus our mental energies and our heart’s longings on Christ and His purposes, the roaring of Satan will not paralysis us with fear. And it was fear that felled Peter!
If you are adrift in your faith, What do you need to do? First, you need to recognize that you are drifting. Admit that you have drifted from better days. Peter admitted it with his eyes when he saw Jesus in that courtyard. When he denied Jesus that third time Jesus turned His head to look Peter in the eyes. And Peter was ashamed. But unlike Judas, who ran from his guilt by committing suicide, Peter faced his guilt and accepted the forgiveness of Jesus.
Secondly, you must realize that God wants you to return to Him. God wants you back. After what we have done, after our unfaithfulness, He still wants us back. Isaiah tells us that the Lord longs to be gracious. The only thing stopping Him is the unrepentant human heart. Does that include you?
Thirdly, we must remember that our sin has already been paid for. Can you imagine God the Father looking down upon the crucifixion scene and seeing Jesus hanging on that wretched cross suffering unspeakable pains of body and spirit and saying, “It is not enough! You need to do something more.” The Father was infinitely pleased and satisfied with what was accomplished at Calvary. The door of redemption and reconciliation was swung wide open for all who will receive it for themselves. Your sins are paid for, all you have to do is repent and accept it for yourself!
Peter’s fear was conquered. Never again was he ashamed to name Jesus Christ as his master and friend. Look at 2 Peter 1:1-2. “This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you who share the same precious faith we have, faith given to us by Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, who makes us right with God. May God bless you with his special favor and wonderful peace as you come to know Jesus, our God and Lord, better and better.” F. B. Meyer says this concerning Peter’s last day: “After reducing Rome to ashes by the conflagration that his wanton cruelty had kindled, Nero cringed before the passionate resentment of his subjects, and in his endeavor to divert it from himself, imputed the hideous crime to the Christians. In his search for victims he scoured the empire, striking first and hardest at the most illustrious and well-known Christian leaders. Among these Paul was certainly one, and Peter was almost certainly another.
“What befell them in Rome is not chronicled by inspiration. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth in the second century, states that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom at the same time; and Jerome, in the fourth century, attests that Peter was crucified and crowned with martyrdom, his head being turned earthward and his feet in the air, because he held that he was unworthy to be crucified as his Lord was. Such was the death that he experienced at Rome. By such an exodus—for that is the Greek word—he passed out from this world to the bosom of the Redeemer, whom he had so ardently loved.” Crucifixion is a humiliating way to die. There is nothing dignified about it. Yet, Peter consented to be crucified upsidedown. Peter was always willing to die for Jesus Christ, but he was not always willing to be shamed for Him. Peter’s love for Jesus changed that!