We are in our worship series Recalculating. There are times in our lives when we think that we know exactly where we are going and why, but all of a sudden we are lost. We don’t even know how we got here, and we want to find a way out FAST. God may have recalculated our route to put us in this place and time because God wants us or needs us to experience something or learn something that is important for our future.
Today, we will be looking at one of the times when God was doing just that with Simon-Peter, the Rock. Jesus had told him that he was the rock on which Jesus would build his church. Our passage today comes from Matthew 26:31-35. Then, we follow Peter’s movements down to verses 69-75. This day he did not look like he would make a very stable foundation. It was the night of Jesus’ arrest. Jesus had just instituted the words that we remember when we take communion. “This is my body … This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26, 28) When we do this during communion, it is meant to be strengthening to our faith, empowering, reassuring in our life with Jesus. This was not the immediate effect with the disciples. They found it confusing and scary. He took a familiar ritual in the Passover meal, and he dramatically changed it. Then, he made predictions about how the night would unfold for them.
Matthew 26:31-35 Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [Zech. 13:7]
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Matthew 26:69-75 Peter Disowns Jesus
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When we consider the night of Jesus’ arrest, we tend to think about how bad it was for Jesus that night. Of course, it was in so many ways, but we don’t often look at what it was like for the disciples. Jesus is arrested. The disciples all flee for their lives, and then Peter follows Jesus at a distance. We highlight Peter’s failure by denying Jesus three times, but we don’t look at what got Peter to the courtyard of the high priest in the first place.
This was probably the worst night of Peter’s life up to this point. When Jesus and the disciples were still in the upper room, Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” (13:7) We read this knowing what happens to Jesus, going to his execution peacefully. He’s practically leading the way himself, almost daring the authorities not to do it.
But how do you think that the disciples heard it? Their expectation of the Messiah was as a political leader, driving out the oppressor, Rome. Even with Jesus’ disturbing predictions of his own death, they probably presumed it would be on the field of battle or at least in some physical conflict. No, Peter and all of them agreed. We will not run away from this fight. We will not desert you. We are willing to die with you.
When you think about it, it was a very brave thing for them to do, but it turned into a lesson of everything that could go wrong did. One of their group [Judas], who had been traveling with them for years betrayed not only Jesus but all of them. Here come the authorities to arrest Jesus. It’s the moment that Peter had been waiting for, and he was ready to fight. He was ready to fulfill his promise to Jesus, not to disown him but to stand and fight. He starts to protect Jesus, and Jesus stops him. If he sticks around now, he will be arrested too. He was ready to die in battle, but allowing himself to be arrested effectively would be committing suicide. That’s not what he signed up for. He, along with all the other disciples, flee. Dreams, expectations, shattered.
Jesus had the advantage of having some idea of what he was getting into that night, and he walked right into it. Peter didn’t know. Despite all the warnings Jesus had given. Even if he understood the warnings that their leader, Jesus, was going to die, he did not know the nature of Jesus’ death. He did not know how this would all play out.
That night God was doing a major recalculation and calibration of Peter’s spiritual GPS. This one was going to take days to complete, and it was not going to be easy. God was completely changing the destination of what Peter had in mind. He had been in training with Jesus for years. The foundation had been laid. It was a good sturdy foundation, but Peter had no idea of what the building of Christ’s church was going to look like yet. There was some purification to be done with Peter. In Luke’s version of these events, Jesus tells Peter that Satan had asked to sift Peter like wheat. Shake him up, so that all the impurities would be exposed.
Satan’s request had been refused, but God had his own purification process for Peter that was in full view that night. This purification is for preparation. Peter needed to be prepared to be a primary leader in the church. Purification is usually a painful process. God talks about this in different places in the Old Testament. Sometimes he refers to the impurities as dross, like in Isaiah 1. In verse 22 he says, “Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.” Then, down in verse 25 he continues, “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.”
Dross is a term from metalworking when you are trying to get a pure metal from an ore or an alloy. The metal is heated until it becomes a liquid. Then, the impurities float to the surface where they can be skimmed off. As this is done over and over, you are left with purer and purer metal. This is not a one and you’re done kind of process. Then think of this kind of heat being applied to our lives. Well, it might not be the most comfortable, but what remains is something that can be made into a useful tool or a valuable vessel.
Some of Peter’s impurities were being melted away that night. Peter was so self-assured, so prideful, so certain that he knew exactly what was going on and what his response would be. Jesus tells the disciples that they all will fall away, but Peter contradicts him. “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Mt 26:33) It goes to prove that God knows us better than we know ourselves. Peter thought that Jesus needed him to be successful, but he had to learn how much he needed Jesus. He tried to do it on his own. He tried to stay true, but in his fear, he could not. He weeps with his remorse. Yet, the experience makes him stronger. In the end, his faithless response by denying Jesus and the pain it caused increases his faith. It makes him a better leader.
Do you think that it was helpful for Moses to have lived in the wilderness tending his father-in-law’s sheep for many years before having to lead the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years? Do you think it was helpful for Peter to experience this great failure by denying Jesus to his future leadership in the church? In John 21 when Jesus reinstates Peter and tells him to feed Jesus’ sheep, he would be doing it as someone who has fallen and been forgiven by Jesus just before receiving this task. At this point he had been prepared and purified. His spiritual GPS had completed recalculating, and he was ready to head for his new destination. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t need tweaking from time to time, but it was very different from where he started on the Sea of Galilee in his fishing boat years before.
But what does that mean for us? Despite the testimony of the Bible, many seem to have the attitude that if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, this life will be “good,” whatever “good” may mean for you. It could mean a life without pain, emotional or physical, without financial trouble, or without strife, but this is simply not the case. When we experience things like that, especially physical pain, it is exhausting, though all of it is painful in one way or another. It can be natural to ask why? Why me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this? Is God punishing me for something? Why didn’t God protect me? Haven’t I done the right things?
It is a good time for prayer and self-reflection. There are times that we are suffering the consequences of our actions, but that is not the only reason that we experience trouble. Sometimes it is like with Peter here. We are being purified. We are being prepared for the purpose that God has for us. Think that God does not have a purpose for your life, regardless of what stage of life you are in? Think again. It is also part of our sanctification process, that process of being made holy, more Christ-like.
If the Good News means suffering, that doesn’t sounds so good, does it? The good news in not an insurance policy to make sure that nothing goes wrong. We live in a broken world. We can guarantee that things will go wrong. The good news is that when we do have to go through things, we are not abandoned. We don’t have to do it on our own. Peter’s lesson for us today is that we can’t do it on our own. When we try, we will surely fail. What we have to keep in mind is our goal.
“There was once a group of women studying the book of Malachi in the Old Testament. As they were studying chapter three, they came across verse three, which says: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled the women, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
“That week this woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
“The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot – then she thought again about the verse, that he sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.
“The man answered “Yes”, and explained that he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be damaged.
“The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”
“He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy. When I see my image in it.”
“If today you are feeling the heat of this world’s fire, just remember that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are refining you.”You are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.””(1)
God is our refiner and knows our ultimate destination. He is going to keep recalculating our GPS until we get there.
- From Dr. Kim West’s Facebook post of August 21, 2019 <https://www.facebook.com/makemyChristianlifework/posts/10156163075056046>