16. Peter Denies Jesus
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22: 31-34
Judas’ story of temptation is quickly followed by the story of Peter’s temptation, yet another man who knew the Lord intimately, with whom he talked face to face and who witnessed the Son of Man and knew he was the Son of God. Satan is very powerful and seductive. How did he win Judas over? We can assume it was the money. How does he plan to sift Simon Peter? I think it is through fear. Peter will be afraid for his own life if he is found to be associated with Jesus. It’s important to understand that Satan, though powerful, is not God. He is wily and clever but he does not know the future. He was not present in the beginning. He doesn’t understand that he is already defeated, that he was defeated before time was ever even created. But he does have the power to break his Lord and creator’s heart.
Because of Satan, and our dual nature as humans, Peter will break Jesus’ heart as Judas did. As the disciples scatter from their beloved friend as he is being tried by the Jewish leaders, Satan believes that they are not the spiritual seed that Jesus sought to gather. And Satan will think that he has won as God’s beloved people put the Son to death on the cross. Through his sifting the disciples as wheat, Satan will believe that they will have become as chaff and simply blow away after Christ’s death. Satan will reason that they are not the first fruits of Jesus’ harvest, they will not spread his Word. The kingdom of God is not like chaff that is useless. The kingdom of God is not like men who do not come to the aid of a dear friend.
Remember the Transfiguration? He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter has seen Christ in all His glory. But Jesus’ prophecy will be very soon revealed in all its horror. Do you remember that Jesus had renamed Simon? Jesus had given him the name, Peter, meaning rock, because of his faith. This faith of Peter is what the new church was to be built upon but here, so close to his impending death, Jesus calls him by his old name, Simon. Jesus knows that this dear friend will not be strong but will fail him not once, but three times:
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22: 54-62
After the Exodus, after promising his Presence, after 40 years of wandering in the desert, after providing for this stiff-necked people, and after the Lord had delivered them from slavery and led them into the promised land, this beloved chosen people begged for an earthly king:
“We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8: 4-22
Saul is appointed king of this new nation of Israel but he proves to be a weak, paranoid leader. We know the story of David. He is the youngest of the sons of his father, Jesse. A shepherd of sheep and a harpist, David volunteers and slays the giant, Goliath. Upon Saul’s death, the Lord chooses David as the new earthly king so demanded by this people:
“Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” 1 Samuel 16: 13
But listen to what follows this anointing:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. .. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”...
Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord. 2 Samuel 11
This is such a horrible story...”the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward...” This is profoundly disturbing. David is chosen by God, anointed, and filled with the Holy Spirit and yet he breaks most if not all of the Ten Commandments.
In the passage above, King David seems to act completely alone in his decisions regarding his lust for another man’s wife. Where is the Holy Spirit’s voice and guidance? David is so far removed from God. Think how far we, humanity, have fallen. God seemed to speak to Cain face to face. But David, God’s beloved, is so very far removed from “the Lord.” It is as if he has shut him and his Spirit out. As if he has closed a door and turned a key. God must resort to Nathan, the prophet, to talk to his chosen, divinely anointed, beloved “son.” The Lord sent Nathan to David. Nathan tells his king a story, a parable about a wealthy man who took and killed a poor man’s only beloved lamb.
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” Upon David anger regarding this theft, Nathan rebukes his hard hearted king:
“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” 2 Samuel 12: 6-14
And the child died. Bathsheba, the victim in this chapter of God’s Story, was violated by her king, lost a loved husband, Uriah, her home, and a son in less than a year’s time.
David was sleeping all day, feasting, and taking another’s wife as the Lord’s ark and his men fought a holy war. What picture does this paint in your mind of David? Where is that young, brave boy full of the Holy Spirit? Why does God love this sinning David? Listen to David’s despair:
Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin... Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me... Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51:1-11
Remember Cain and his distress? Cain cried, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence. And listen carefully to David, “Do not cast me away from your presence.” Can you hear both Cain and David in their despair, of their need to be in the presence of the Father, God.
But David’s ownership of his sin and his shame and repentance are so unlike that of Cain. David remains in God’s heart and in his presence because of this reconciliation of their relationship. David understands his dual nature, that he was born in sin but he asks for his heart to be circumcised and his spirit to be with the Spirit again. Can you hear John the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus:
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3: 16-17
Cain and David, such complicated and wretched men.... as wretched and complicated as Judas and Cain, men who walked alongside and face to face with the Lord. My heart aches for all of them.
The Lord warned Cain, Judas, and Peter about the enemy, Satan, who crouches outside our door and prowls and desires to enter into us and lead us into frustration and death. But the Lord offers us another righteous choice: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7: 7-9
Simon, renamed Peter, Christ’s rock, does fail as do we all, but he will be refined as silver when Christ returns triumphant over death. He will be blessed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, his dear friend’s promised “Comforter.” After the ascension, the repentant Peter, warns the new church, the redeemed children of God: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. ...1 Peter 5:8
The 29:11 Story
Remember, Peter’s place on The 29:11 Story is a brown bead that looks somewhat like a rock. Along with James and John, he has witnessed both Jesus as a Son of Man and Christ, the Son of God when he was transfigured.
On the 29:11 Story, King David is represented by a purple bead as is God. Purple signifies royalty and divinity. This is high praise that a man could wear this color, the robes of God. But, a small red bead follows the King David’s purple bead. Remember, red symbolizes sin. Every time I read the 29:11 Story to someone new, I ask them who they think this small red bead is. The answer is always, “Bathsheba?” No, this is David’s sin against Bathsheba, and Uriah, and his unborn son. And it is David’s sin against God.
I have been homesick my entire life. Even in the best of times here on this earth, I have felt a longing for something more. I ask my high school students if they can grasp what Heaven must hold for them. This is an impossibility. We have no idea what perfect harmony and contentment would feel like. So I ask them to be quiet and reflect on a perfect time in their life regardless of how long that little slice of heaven lasted. Then, we get to talk about those lovely times. Then I ask them what broke that little time apart. Maybe it got too cold to keep sitting on the dock at the lake, or maybe it got to be time to go home, or go in, or go forward. The point is, we have all had little slices of heaven. That perfect slice of life here is impossible to hold onto. It always dissolves into the future that is often rife with brokenness. I think Heaven is all about dwelling in that perfect place and time and never having to leave it.
Like Peter and David, there was a time when I betrayed God, when I silenced Him.