By Kevin Quartell
One of the most striking names of God in the Old Testament is the “God of Jacob” (Gen. 49:24). As we read about Jacob in the book of Genesis we might well marvel at the patience of God. How slow Jacob was to learn the lessons God was seeking to teach him – to learn to cease from relying upon himself and to rely wholly upon His God. Yet, in amazing grace, God never gave Jacob up. He continued working as a Master Potter shaping the stubborn and resisting clay until at last, at the end of Jacob’s life, we see the divine workmanship shine. In those closing scenes he is found as a blesser, a worshiper and a prophet (Gen. 47-49). Isn’t it comforting to know that in a similar way our Father will never give us up until He has formed us to be like His blessed Son (Rom. 8:29)?
The New Testament equivalent of the “God of Jacob” might be the “God of all grace,” which is found in Peter’s first epistle (5:10). Peter himself had need, like Jacob and each of us, to learn of this grace and of the God of all grace in the circumstances through which he passed. Like Jacob, he also had to learn to stop trusting in himself and to lean completely upon his blessed Lord. Have we learned that lesson?
Let’s briefly consider Peter’s denial of the Lord and his subsequent restoration as given to us in the Gospels. Our intention is not to pick on Peter but to shine the light into our own hearts and ask if we have learned the lessons Peter had to learn. Perhaps even more importantly, we want to see the dealings of the Lord Jesus with Peter and learn more of His heart of love and grace that warns, rebukes and restores His failing disciple. As the writer to the Hebrews assures us, our blessed Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). His love as displayed in Peter’s life is just the same as seen in His ways with us today.
Peter had walked with the Lord for the three and one-half years of His public ministry. His brother Andrew had first introduced him to the Lord (Jn. 1:40-43), and a short time later the Lord Jesus called Peter to leave everything in order to follow Him (Lk. 5:1-11). What a wonderful experience that must have been! We have the four Gospel accounts of how the Lord “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38 KJV), delivering men from the physical effects of sin and, more importantly, from sin’s spiritual effects. Peter, along with James and John, was privileged to be with the Lord when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Lk. 8:41-56). Also, he and the two brothers were alone with the Lord when He took them up into the mount and was transfigured before them (Mt. 17:1-8). For a few moments they saw His glory shining forth! Peter witnessed all this, and we know even on certain occasions he was given power by the Lord to heal and to preach. Yet, despite all this, Peter proved through sad circumstances how little he knew either himself or his gracious Lord.
It was at the end of those wonderful years of our Lord’s public ministry, on that very night in which He was betrayed by another disciple, that He gave Peter a special warning: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you [literally “you all” – in other words, all the disciples], that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not” (Lk. 22:31). How solemn were the words of the Lord Jesus. The fact that the Lord twice used his natural name, Simon, should have alerted Peter to listen closely. It is comforting to know that in all the pathway of our life every test and trial is fully seen and known by Him, even before we encounter it! And it is a great comfort to know that He prays for us.
Yet we may ask, “Why did He not pray that Peter would be kept from this test? Why did He pray instead that Peter’s faith would not fail in the midst of the test?” Is it not because our blessed Lord, fully knowing Peter’s heart, knew that he needed to be sifted – that the chaff of self confidence would be beaten out and the true wheat, the reality of God’s work in Peter’s heart, might shine out more brightly? Peter’s response to the Lord’s words show that this was in fact the case.
Slow To Believe
In his gospel, Mark tells us how strong Peter’s reaction was: “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I” (14:29). All others might leave the Lord, but he never would. The Lord then plainly tells Peter that he was going to deny Him: “This day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice” (Mk. 14:30). These are the words of the One who is the Truth, the One who is the God who cannot lie (Ti. 1:2) and the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. However, so often like us, Peter did not believe what the Lord was saying about him. Peter repeats more vehemently, “If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise” (Mk. 14:31). How many of us, in a similar way, have been slow to believe the Lord’s words? Consider these two examples:
- “Without Me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5) – in other words, nothing for the Lord. If we have not yet learned the helplessness in ourselves to do anything good and right for the Lord, we will not be able to appreciate the other side of the truth, which is in our next verse.
- “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Peter was a true believer and His love and devotedness for the Lord were very real, yet he still had to learn these lessons. He also had to prove that those who do not learn of themselves from the Lord’s own Word in His presence must learn it through grievous failure away from Him.
Sleeping, Not Praying
We read next that the Lord and the disciples arrived in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-41). The Lord took Peter, James and John with Him farther than the others and expressed to them the sorrows He felt pressing on His holy soul. He knew all that had been prophesied in Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and many other Scriptures was about to have its fulfillment. Well may we rejoice in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20)!
The Lord warned the disciples to “watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation” (Mt. 26:41). He did not ask them to pray for Him, but for themselves. Three times the Lord went to pray to the Father and, as the perfect, dependent Man, He committed to Him all that was about to happen. After each prayer the Lord returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. Perhaps if Peter had only followed the example of His blessed Master he would have been spared from his fall. May we learn from His example and be men and women of prayer, committing all our circumstances into the hand of our God and Father. Unlike our Lord, we do not know what a day may hold. But that should make us realize all the more our need and dependence, causing us to turn to Him in prayer!
After the Lord’s third prayer in the garden, He was betrayed by Judas, arrested and eventually taken to the high priest Caiaphas’ house, where He was questioned. There, as the Lord had told him, Peter denied three times that he knew the Lord Jesus:
- To the maid who kept the door (Jn. 18:17),
- As he stood with the servants and officers around a fire of coals (Jn. 18:25), and
- When he was questioned by the kinsman of the servant of the high priest, whose ear he had cut off (Jn. 18:26-27).
Would Peter ever have thought he would deny his Lord before a young servant girl, the maid who was keeping the door? Yet we expose our own self-confidence when we think that we are prepared for any situation that we may face. May a greater sense of our own weakness drive us to the Lord to find in Him everything that we need in order to face every circumstance here!
“And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter” (Lk. 22:61).
We considered Peter’s denial. Now we desire to consider how the Lord restored His failing disciple and learn, too, how He restores us when we fail. We read in 1 John 2:1 that the Lord Jesus is called our Advocate: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins.” As our great High Priest the Lord Jesus intercedes for us to sustain us in the midst of the trials and temptations that we endure. However, when we sin He is there in heaven as our Advocate so we might be restored to fellowship with the Father.
If we sin we do not lose our salvation. Our verse in 1 John tells us that the Lord Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation means that God is satisfied. Through the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross God has been once-for-all satisfied as to our sins. If we sin now as believers it is a family matter, as disobedient children towards our Father. That is why the Spirit tells us that the Lord is our Advocate with the Father rather than with God. We can never lose this relationship, but our fellowship with the Father and with the Lord Jesus Himself is interrupted when we sin.
As our Advocate, the Lord restores us. Here with Peter we see an example of how the Lord works in restoration: a prayer, then a look. The Lord had prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail in the testing. Then after Peter’s denials the Lord looked at him and brought conviction of his sin. Peter went out and wept.
How does the Lord bring conviction in our conscience today? He uses His Word. One example in the Word of God is the washing of the disciples feet in John 13. The Lord said of the disciples (except Judas) that they were already “clean every whit” (v.13), they did not need an all over cleansing again, but they did need to have their feet washed. Similarly as believers, the Lord washes us with the water of the Word (Eph. 5:26). He applies His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit that we might be brought to see that in some point, thought, word or deed we came short of His glory. This is another important reason for daily reading and meditating on the Word of God.
“He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:3). This verse should be a great comfort to us. The Scriptures do not teach that if we fail we need to restore ourselves, clean ourselves up, brush off the dirt and then present ourselves to the Lord. No, Heis the One who restores our souls. If we are conscious of having failed in something we should immediately turn to the Lord Jesus. We came to Him just as we were as sinners to be saved. If we fail as believers we need to come to Him just as we are as sinning saints and let Him restore our souls. He is the Savior and the Restorer!
From the records in the Gospels it appears that the Lord Jesus spoke with Peter alone before He met with all the disciples in the upper room (Lk. 24:34). We have no record of what happened in that meeting but we believe that one lesson we can learn is how much the Lord loves each one of His own. Do we sometimes fail? Does this change the attitude of the Lord Jesus towards us? Does He cast us away? Did He cast away Jacob or Peter? No, by God’s grace we can say that He loves us still and His desire is to restore us to communion with Himself and the Father. If we resist, He may have to chasten [correct] us, but even that comes from a heart that loves us with an everlasting love!
Peter’s Heart Searched
We have seen that Peter’s restoration began with the prayer of the Lord for him even before he failed. It continued with the look of conviction followed by the Lord’s own personal meeting with Peter on the Resurrection morning. The last step in Peter’s restoration, what C.H. Mackintosh has well described as a “restoration of heart,” took place beside the Sea of Galilee. There the Lord began to probe Peter’s heart: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” (Jn. 21:15). Peter had boasted as much in saying that even if all others denied Him, he would go to death with the Lord. Peter replied, “Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Now he does not claim to love the Lord more than the others. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, and three times the Lord Jesus questioned Peter as to whether he loved Him. The depths of his heart must be searched out and the root of self-confidence which caused the sin be fully exposed.
The Lord desires the same for us that we would not simply repeat the same failure again and again. Whatever the root may be in our hearts, the Lord desires to expose it to us that we might be delivered from it. The Scripture records that Peter was grieved when the Lord had asked him the question a third time. His reply, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee” shows that the root of self-confidence in Peter’s heart had been reached. He says as it were, “Lord, You know everything, and even if the love in my heart is so small that no one else can see it, You know that I love You.” Simon Peter had been humbled and, rather than trusting any more in his own estimate of his love for the Lord, he was resting in the knowledge of the Lord’s own estimate.
Fruitful For The Lord
“O Lord, Thou has searched me and known me” (Ps. 139:1). What was the result for Peter? Humbled and broken before the Lord, leaning on the Lord and not on himself, Peter was able on the Day of Pentecost to preach the first Christian gospel message and see 3,000 people become saved.
We may truly say that the Lord, the God of Jacob, had worked in a marvelous way in Peter’s life. And beloved reader, He is working in your life and mine today, in His wondrous grace, to teach us not to lean upon ourselves but to lean upon Him – to cease from confidence in ourselves and to place all confidence in Him. May we learn the lesson for His glory and our blessing!