Please listen to this song to get a better idea of where we are headed with this series.
The song you just heard was originally written and performed by dcTalk. That song gives inspiration to this sermon series entitled “What if I Stumble.” In life, whether you are a Christ-follower or not yet a Christian, you might have turning points in your life. Events that shape the direction of your future, how you react and respond to certain situations. Will you stand up and lead or fall in line and follow? In this series we will look at various people from the bible that had these crisis moments, look at how they got there, where they went next and what truth the scriptures specifically want us to hear concerning failing and falling in our attempts to live our lives for God.
Today we look at the life of Peter and his ultimate crisis of faith. That moment, recorded in the gospels where he denied Christ three times.
[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, please click the Spotify player at the bottom of the post.]
Picture the following:
Peter was waiting nervously for safe passage into the inner courts of the high priest. His master was just arrested. A mob of soldiers chained and beat Jesus as they brought him before the high priest. Try as he did, Peter couldn’t stop Jesus from being arrested. He even assaulted someone with his sword, but that didn’t stop the soldiers.
So here he waits. Waiting for John to come back and bring him into the courts. Maybe they could speak on Jesus’ behalf? Maybe they could testify against the accusations and save Jesus? Maybe they could just …be there for Jesus during this time. Being arrested is a lonely, scary situation to be in after all.
Finally John returns with the servant girl who lets Peter in. She questions him,
“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (John 18:17b)
He looked at her, apprehensively… not knowing what she might do if he said yes. So he said, “I am not.”
Anxious and emotional, Peter finds himself out in the cold…literally. His stomach was all tied in knots, not knowing who to trust, what was going to happen to Jesus…and what would happen to him and John. The temperature began to chill those present and a fire was built up to fend off the frigid conditions. Peter warmed his hand around the fire, shoulder to shoulder with servants and officers. All the while, he’s hoping no one asks him again …
“You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” (John 18:25b)
Becoming more and more worried, Peter responded “I am not.”
A higher ranking servant takes another look at Peter. He looks really familiar. There was someone in the garden that night who had lobbed off his relative’s ear in defense of Jesus of Nazareth. Could this be the man?
“Did I not see you in the garden with him?”
Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
That rooster was a wake up call for Peter. He looked down in shame. He considered looking up across the crowd to see Jesus…but he couldn’t bear to. He felt defeated and condemned. He had stumbled and fell into denying Jesus 3 times.
The question is, How did we end up here?
If we are to understand why Peter fell here in this part of his story, we need to know what came before it, his past. We can learn alot about a person based on the experiences they have had and how they’ve been shaped by those experiences. How their true personality comes through under pressure. As I combed through the New Testament, it might not surprise you to find out that no one wrote his biography in the pages of the bible. Oh there are bits and pieces, his calling to follow Jesus, leadership in the early church and many segments in between. But not a full analysis of Peter. Everytime Peter is brought up in the gospels, it is because it has something to do with the real purpose of the gospels: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. There’s something wonderfully humbling about being a footnote in the story of Jesus. But it is from the various gospel accounts we will glean what we can of Peter’s story. Perhaps infer what kind of man he was and see if there are clues to how he got into that mess! Once we discover what led to Peter’s stumbling, perhaps we can then figure out what came next…
Simon Peter’s beginning is curious. Looking through the 4 gospel accounts,
- Matthew and Mark line up – Jesus calls them from the shore, and they leave their nets and follow him.
- Luke has Simon take Jesus fishing, and they catch an enormous haul, it shocks Simon to the feet of Jesus.
- John’s gospel has them first meeting soon after Jesus’ Baptism.
Simon’s brother Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and John points to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Andrew and another disciple start following Jesus around. Eventually Andrew “…brought [Simon] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” (John 1:42 ESV)
There is some debate as to the order of these accounts and since they are written by different people, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they aren’t carbon copies of each other. They also don’t have to be the very first time Jesus met Peter…Simon…per se. But…
- What they have in common is Jesus is the focus and he chooses to call Peter to follow him.
The next major event that Peter is known for is
Walking on Water
That’s right, actually walking on water! It wasn’t ice, but flowing water. -John 14:22-33 NIV
22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
So many sermons have been preached over this passage. “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat!” All about doing miraculous things for Jesus in your life takes great faith in him, even when the distractions of the world seem big and all around us. I’m not preaching that sermon here today, but there are a few things I’d like to point out.
- Jesus’ disciples followed directions, even if they didn’t make sense.
(Oh you want us to leave you here? Are you getting another boat? Do you want us to swing back around to pick you up tomorrow?) They, including Peter, sailed off without Jesus.
- When Jesus did show up, walking on water, everyone was scared and thought he was a ghost…including Peter.
So here we have a bit more insight into Simon Peter: He can follow directions that don’t seem to make sense and he can get scared. Not ground-breaking information by itself, but it is a piece of the puzzle that led him to his triple threat denial. Oh one other important piece of evidence about Peter: when he’s got something in his mind, there is no stopping him. Jesus was doing an impossible, miraculous thing by walking on the water. When Peter composed himself he called out to Jesus to prove it’s him. By Jesus’ power and Peter’s faith in Jesus…he walked to Jesus on the water. And Peter, much like any of us, we take our eyes off of Jesus and focus on the storm around us and that’s when we begin to sink. One other big character trait of Peter was that…
- He trusted in Jesus to save him
As he is sinking, he calls out to Jesus and Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches Peter. This, I think, is a formational moment for our friend Peter. He’s not only heard of the Messiah, not only seen how Jesus is with others…but he’s experienced Jesus’ saving power personally. He may lean on this later as he experiences a similar problem.
There are many other times and circumstances that Peter is present in the gospels, but once again…the gospels are about Jesus and not Peter. So the next highlight of Peter’s life takes place near the time when Jesus would die for the sin of the world.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells the disciples that he must die. That he will be crucified and raised on the third day. In Mark, it seems to happen a bit earlier in his telling, where Matthew’s account is during the time of the Last Supper.
Jesus is talking “crazy” talk about being handed over to be killed and in both gospel accounts, Peter tries to put a kibosh on that.
“32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” ”Mark 8:32-33 NIV
On the very surface level, it seems like…
- Peter wants to be in control. Telling Jesus what will and won’t happen to him.
When he finally submits to Jesus on this point, he then proclaims he will also follow him to his death. I picture Samwise Gamgee from “The Lord of the Rings” film series. Frodo has just told Sam he’s leaving the fellowship and going to take care of the problem alone. “Of course you are. And I’m Coming With You!” Sam says. It’s comical, yet it shows the light of loyalty. I see Peter, in his heart saying the same thing. “I will die for my Master, for The Messiah.” But if that was in his heart and head…why did the denial come out of his mouth?
In Luke 22, we have an account of Peter’s pledge to go to the grave with Jesus.
33But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”Luke 22:31-34 NIV
These are the words that must have rattled in Peter’s head. In his heart. Deny Jesus? Why would I do that? I’ve given everything I have to follow him, my whole life changed when I met him and I’m following him all the time. I’m not going to do that…
But Peter would have to either put this out of his mind and ignore the problem, believe what Jesus was saying or believe that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about. I think the evidence shows he ignored this problem and went on with life. Hence he “remembered’ the words Jesus said…once the word was fulfilled.
In The Garden
Jesus has his closest disciples stay and keep watch, pray while he prays at night in a garden. Peter is among those who physically grew werey and fell asleep while Jesus was pouring out his heart to the Father just prior to his arrest. And when those who came to take Jesus away reached for him, Peter reached for his sword. Why did Peter have a sword?
- Jesus told them to get a sword.
35Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ b ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.Luke 22:35-38 NIV
I’m not sure what the prophecy was that his disciples having swords fulfilled. I looked at the whole chapter of Isaiah 53, which was what Jesus was quoting here. Nothing about swords. But either way it was integral to the scene that would soon unfold. The scene where Peter lobs off a guy’s ear and Jesus miraculously heals the man…even while he is being arrested and roughed up by the soldiers.
Besides Jesus’ gracious healing of the man, this scene tells us something more about Peter.
- Peter was protective of Jesus. He was also impulsive.
No one was taking Jesus without a fight…or at least without losing an ear. That is until Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away. Jesus proves he is in control here. He allows himself to be taken. And Peter and others watch on as it happens. They follow, trying to get into the High Priest’s courts to see Jesus being tried.
And that brings us back to where we started. Peter’s heart sunk into his stomach. How could he be so impulsive…denying Christ, without much thought but survival? He wanted to control his situation, not knowing what would happen to him…but how could he? How scared must he have been, to speak those words…not only 3 times but more adamantly each time? How did I get here?
You might think the answer is in the opposite. “How to be more faithful to Jesus? Stop trying to control everything, including Jesus. Stop being so impulsive. Do not fear. That’s what you need to do.” I’m sure that would be pretty good advice, but it’s not the solution for Peter.
- If that’s how we got to Denial, we need to know
- How to get to Redemption?
Again…it’s all about Jesus. He knew it before Peter denied him.
“And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”Luke 22:32b NIV
After Jesus rose from the dead, Mark 16 recalls the trip some of the followers of Jesus (who were women,) took to the tomb. They didn’t find Jesus, they found the tomb open and…
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”Mark 16:5-7 NIV
Tell the disciples…and Peter. He may no longer view himself as a disciple so it’s extra important to make sure he knows this news. Jesus will meet up with you all in Galilee.
Luke 24 picks up with the disciple’s response to this shocking news. It was not well received.
“11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”Luke 24:11-12 NIV
Perhaps Peter had felt defeated but he was hoping that the news they brought was true. He still, not seeing it himself, did not know for sure what happened in that empty tomb. He trusted Jesus, but he could not control Jesus. And this open tomb baffled him.
One of the most curious post resurrection story was that of the disciples going fishing. They’ve seen the risen Lord, but he’s not always with them like he had been the previous 3 years. One day Peter just gets it in his mind to go fishing. Some preachers look at this and say he’s given up the work and ministry that Jesus set him apart for. Perhaps others would say that fishing was a coping mechanism for Peter, a way to deal with the problems of life…to relax.
Whatever it did for Peter, one thing was for certain…
- He was a Leader. He said “I’m going fishing.” And suddenly everybody he was hanging out with that day decided to join him.
They then have an encounter with Jesus. Peter seems back with the disciples and Jesus is on the shore making breakfast and giving them fishing pointers. When they finally followed the advice of the cook on how to catch fish, they caught so many it was difficult to pull in the nets. What they were able to bring ashore was 153 fish.
Before the fish counting could begin, the wonderfully impulsive Peter jumps out of the boat and gets to shore the quickest and wettest way he knew how. After they all enjoyed Jesus’ tastey food, Jesus ask Peter three times if Peter loves him. Three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus, though it hurt him to have to do it. Then Jesus took our denier and redeemed him. Gave him a calling,
- Feed my Sheep. Feed my lambs.
There will be others that need to be cared for, get the word of God…to have their physical needs met, to look to someone to lead them. I need you to feed my sheep.
- Jesus had confidence in Peter.
And Peter, though he still made mistakes later on in ministry, perhaps stumbling here or there never stayed down for the count. He kept getting back up. And when the world needed him most, this redeemed man stood up in front of a confused crowd to explain why they were hearing the Good News of Jesus in their own foreign tongues.
He was willing to see that God was in control of the situation and would feed his sheep.
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”Acts 2:38-39 NIV
15. You see, Redemption is available. You just have to accept it.
Peter did accept it. He didn’t turn away after he messed up. He may have felt as if he’d fallen out of God’s good graces, but Jesus never saw him that way. Jesus knew Peter would return. He was needed to strengthen the other disciples and give direction to this movement of Christ. Movement of the Holy Spirit.
What are you waiting for? Do you believe you have stumbled and fell so far that you can’t get back up? Have you tried? It’s much easier if you have someone to help you up.
- Stumble? Get back up.
- Feel down for the count? Ask for Help.
- No one is beyond Jesus’ redeeming power.