Let's pray: Lord, as we come to Your written word now, we pray for Your help, and we pray, Lord, that You will really come and meet with us in a very definite way. We need You, Lord, we need You. We ask that You will deliver us from sermons, and programs, and just going through ritual - Lord, we want to meet with God! So, Spirit of the Living God, come, fall afresh on us now. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, and everybody said 'Amen'.
I want you to turn with me to John chapter 13, John 13. John 13 verse 36, and we're going to be reading into chapter 14 a verse. So, John 13:36: "Simon Peter said to Him", to Jesus, "'Lord, where are You going?'. Jesus answered him, 'Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward'. Peter said to Him, 'Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake'. Jesus answered him, 'Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me'".
Who knows that all of the Bible that you hold in your hand at this moment is not inspired, entirely? I'm going to get thrown out before I've even started, I know! What I'm talking about is the numbers, not the book of Numbers, but the little numbers at the beginning of your chapter and at the start of the verse - they are not inspired. Now, having said that, the boys that put them there did a very good job, it has to be said. They got it almost entirely right, but not completely so. Imagine what it would be like if the numbers weren't there, it would be a headache reading the Bible, and certainly preaching, directing you to different places - so we're very thankful - but there is every now and again where they unnaturally interrupt the flow of what is being said, either in a narrative or in something that is being spoken, even by our Lord Jesus here. I think this is one of those cases. You may never have seen this before in your life, I certainly didn't before my attention was drawn to it. Look at the end of chapter 13, verse 38, Jesus answers and says to Simon Peter: 'Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me'. There is no interruption between verse 38 of chapter 13 and verse 1 of chapter 14.
Now, I know the 'you' in the original language is in the plural, so Jesus is speaking to all the disciples in the Upper Room; nevertheless, Peter was included within that. In fact, when we come to the cross, we find that all His disciples fled from Him, deserted Him, they all did - not just Peter. Yet, our Lord Jesus Christ, in His grace, His mercy, and His never-dying love, says to them: 'Peter, you're going to deny Me' - the inference is that the rest of you are going to desert Me - 'But don't worry about it'. Now, that's a head-scratcher right there, isn't it? 'Don't worry about it'. What?
You know, if we were to say something like that, if a pastor was to say to one of his members: 'You know, you're going to backslide, but don't worry about it' - we'd all be up in arms! What kind of a pastor is he? That's not what we expect a pastor to say! But here's the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to Peter, who would deny Him, and effectively betray Him, and He's saying: 'Don't worry about it, keep believing in Me, keep believing in Me'. Really what we're seeing here is that Jesus already knows what's going to happen - and that's not a licence to just go out and do anything, you know that, don't you? But He knows what's going to happen, so that means you cannot surprise Him. He also - and this is vital to understand, because you could get the one half there that He knows what's going to happen, and not get this second-half - He knows what's in our hearts. That's why He could say to Simon Peter: 'Keep believing in Me'.
What am I talking about? Well, turn with me then to Luke 22, and we're getting another piece of the jigsaw of this denial of Peter and what is going on between him and Jesus. Luke 22 verse 31: 'And the Lord said, 'Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren'', your brothers. Now what the Holy Spirit is doing for us here, as was Jesus for Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples, it's as if He's lifting the veil of the eternal realm or the spiritual dimension to let Peter - now, the penny would not drop by the way, for either him or the disciples - but so that with hindsight they could look back upon this and realise what was going on. Jesus is lifting the veil away, so that they might know what is going on in the spiritual dimension. Sometimes God does that, it's very interesting to me and instructive that the first book that was ever written in the Bible was not the book of Genesis - you know that, don't you? It was the book of Job, and it's a very mysterious book. I don't claim to understand all that is in it, but one thing I do know is: right at the very beginning of the revelation that God brings to mankind through Holy Writ, God pulls back the veil on the eternal sphere, the spiritual dimension, and gives us an idea that there is more going on behind the scenes than we have ever realised. Yes?
Here He does this for Peter, and He says: 'Peter, Satan has asked to have you'. How many of us would take a panic attack if we got a memo this morning in church, a word of the Lord: 'Satan has asked can he have you'? Maybe put it another way: how many of us have ever felt that we have been in Satan's sieve? Maybe that's you right now? Sometimes we have this misconception that because we are born-again, because we are blood-bought - and I'm not going down this road - but the devil cannot touch us. It's wrong. But what I want you to see is: Jesus told him, 'Satan wants to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you' - that's the memo I want! Jesus is praying for me! That's incredible!
I mean, I've got some spiritual heroes - and most of them are dead, but some are still alive, which probably tells you a lot about me - but some of them are still alive, and if I got an email or a text message (if they even have my phone number, which is unlikely), but imagine getting a message from one of your existing spiritual heroes, and they say 'I'm praying for you every day in my quiet time'. What would you feel like? 'Wow! So-and-so prays for me!'. Jesus is praying for you. You've got glass doors down there, imagine if you could see the Son of God down on His knees in that other room, imagine if you could hear, just faintly hear Him crying your name to His Heavenly Father in intercession? Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said something like that, and he says 'But nevertheless, Christ is' - even if that's not what you hear, or not what you see - 'Christ is praying for you'. That should give you a spiritual blood transfusion right now, to know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is praying for you! Jesus says to Peter - do you remember - 'I'm praying for you that your faith does not fail', that's what He was praying for him.
Now, come with me for a moment. I don't know what you do as a profession, but imagine you're on the work floor in the morning, the factory floor, you're in the office or in the shop or wherever, or you're in school, or college, or university - OK? There's this boy, let's say he's a deacon, or he's a youth leader, or he holds some kind of position here in Ballymena Elim - OK, don't spread it about, but that's where he goes, and he's not just a seat-warmer, he's got a position. You see - he doesn't know you're watching - but you see somebody come up to him and start to lambast him, start to argue and want to pick holes in his Christianity. You see this guy step back and say: 'Woah, wait a minute, that's not me anymore! In fact, I want absolutely nothing to do with - not just Christianity - I want nothing to do with Jesus Christ', and do you know what? He peppers his expression with expletives, curse words. What would you think? Come on now! What would you think? I know what I would be saying: 'Phew, Ballymena Elim? Is it any wonder the country is in the state that it's in, if that's what's leading us in the churches?'. I would start to think: 'The Lord knows them that are His, but I would put a guess on the fact that that man could never be a child of God, to say the like of that. If he was a child of God, boy, I don't know what he is now. He's maybe a backslider, but there's another word in the Bible called 'apostasy' or 'apostate', and it simply means 'one who steps back from Jesus Christ'; in other words, one who used to be all out for Jesus, but they have taken a step away and disowned Him. That's what I would be thinking, I'm just being honest with you. Can you imagine the talk that would go around the place too? It wouldn't come from me, of course!
You see, Jesus takes the veil back - any of us would have said: 'Do you see that guy, Simon Peter? He wasn't there in the first place, but if he ever was, that's him, he's crashed and burned'. We certainly would not, for one moment, have considered that there was faith in his heart - but Jesus says: 'I'm praying for you, that your faith does not fail'. Isn't it incredible? There's a lot of lessons we can take out of that. One of them is: shut your mouth! Seriously, and stop commenting on things that you don't know about. You might say: 'Oh, but, by their fruit' - aye, by their fruit. We are to be careful, and we are to take note of people's fruit, but we're not to make judgements upon their character, and we're certainly not to make judgements upon what's in their heart - because only God knows that.
Well, back to the message - I could get carried away there. You know what happened, don't you? You look down the rest of chapter 22 to about verse 54: 'Having arrested Him, they led Him', Jesus, 'and brought Him into the high priest's house. But Peter followed at a distance. Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, 'This man was also with Him'. But he denied Him, saying, 'Woman, I do not know Him'. And after a little while another saw him and said, 'You also are of them'. But Peter said, 'Man, I am not!'. Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, 'Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean'. But Peter said, 'Man, I do not know what you are saying!'' - and of course, the other Gospel tells us that with oaths and curses he denied. 'Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned', He was coming out of the courtyard, 'turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times'. So Peter went out and wept bitterly'.
Don't you love Peter? A lot of preachers are going to have to apologise to Peter when we get to heaven, because we've given him such a bad press - the reason being, he was so vocal. You know, he was bombastic in his defence of Jesus at times - remember he chopped the boy's ear off in Gethsemane, the soldier, Malchus. But you remember that he kept saying: 'I'm going to die with You, Lord Jesus. I'll never deny You, Lord Jesus'? We've got to give him credit, he was the one that put the leg over the side of the boat - OK, and we all fault him for sinking and taking his eyes off Jesus, when we need to wise up and ask which of us would have put our foot over the side of a boat in the middle of a storm and even took one step, let alone a number of steps, before he started sinking - that was amazing! No one had ever done that before or since, apart from Jesus, so let's not be too hard on Peter. But, do you know what Peter's problem was? There were a lot of problems, but he was not self-aware, he was not self-aware. Doesn't Jeremiah tell us the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? He didn't know himself, so this is who he thought he was. Often when you get people who are very demonstrative, and appear to be confident and vocal about things, and opinionated, you find that it's overcompensating for insecurity.
All of a sudden, in this moment of crisis, his insecurity shows. He denies the Lord Jesus, and as far as he is concerned life is over - and certainly his testimony is over, certainly his Christian witness as an apostle is finished. How could God ever use him? I feel that there are people here today, and that's where you're at. I know this isn't a direct message to do with the Mission that is coming up, but you have exempted yourself already from involvement in evangelism because you messed up. There is something in your closet, that skeleton that you haven't got over, and I know people's memories in Ballymena are long and they haven't forgotten it either. You have concluded that your life for Jesus - you can come and slip in quietly and out again on a Sunday, and say your prayers and try your best (or maybe you're not even doing that) - but as far as doing anything public for Jesus, it's over. God has a message for you today.
I want you to see Peter's return, look at Mark chapter 16. Mark 16 verse 7, this is the resurrection, and the two Marys and Salome have come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and they meet an angel there. The angel gives them a message, verse 7: 'But go, tell His disciples; and Peter; that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you'. Now, why would the angel single out Peter in that command? 'Go, tell the disciples; and Peter' - I'll tell you why: because if Peter had heard, among the rest of the disciples, that the angel said 'Go, tell the disciples', where he was in his insecurity and his low self-esteem at this very moment would be to say: 'Well, I couldn't be included, because look at what I did! So I'm not among the disciples any more, I'm a failure'. Because the Lord knew that, the message was sent: 'Go, tell His disciples; and Peter'. Isn't that lovely?
Not only was there this word of hope from the tomb, which is intrinsic - and you've got to hear and understand today that the Lord wants you to have hope for your present and your future, whatever has happened in your past. That's what the empty tomb signifies! Yes? Hope, whatever the darkness is! Yet Peter did have to face himself. If you go to John 21, and this is where we will spend the rest of our time, if you go to John 21 - he had to face himself. Verse 1 says: 'After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing'. They said to him, 'We are going with you also''. Now please note that this is after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has been showing up in His resurrected form. Peter got the message from the empty tomb, but more than that: he got actual post-resurrection experiences with the Living Christ, alright? But he still, when he looks at himself, sees a failure, a train wreck of a child of God! So 'I can't do this any more!', he says, 'I'm going back to the only other thing I know, I'm going fishing!' - and the rest of them feel that way as well.
But this is actually a good thing, because finally Peter had given up on himself - because he's the fellow who always felt he had what it took 'I'll never deny You, oh, I'll defend You, even with the sword. I'll die for You!'. But now he realises: 'I don't have what it takes', it's as if he's dying out to self - it's a bit like Moses, I think. You remember Moses, I believe his mother, who was his nanny, was whispering to him who he really was, and of God's people under bondage. Then he tries, with the arm of flesh, to deliver an Israelite from an Egyptian, and slays him and buries him. Then he ends up in the wilderness for forty years because he tried to execute in the flesh what God wanted him to do in the Spirit. Then, when God does show up to him in the burning bush forty years later, he's an old boy of 80 now, and God says: 'Right, I want you to go and deliver My people'. He says: 'No, not me!', and he makes all the excuses, and the final one is: 'You send whoever you like, but I'm not going!'. That's basically what he says - and so, when he thought he had what it took, he did it wrong; and now, when God actually comes to him and says 'You're ready!', he thinks 'I ain't got what it takes!'. That's interesting, isn't it? That's where Peter is now, that could be where you are.
He had to confront his old self - if you look at verse 15 of chapter 21 - Jesus calls him 'Simon, son of Jonah', isn't that interesting? 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?'. He didn't call him 'Simon Peter', and He changed his name - so why does He call him 'Simon'? Because it's his old nature, He's addressing who he was, not who Jesus was to make him into. Why does He call him 'Simon, son of Jonah', or 'son of John', but it's literally 'Jonah'? I'll tell you why: because Jonah was the fellow who was sent by God to a Gentile people, and he went the other way. When you come to Acts chapter 10, who is it that ends up going with the key that Jesus gives him, opens the door of the Kingdom to the Gentile peoples in Cornelius' house? It's 'Simon, son of Jonah'!
Now, I want you to see his return to the Lord, but it came through renunciation - and this is vital. I want you to look at verse 3, where we left off: 'Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing'. They said to him, 'We are going with you also'. They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus'. Now, I don't have time to go into that, but that's interesting to me. Look at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and see how the disciples who had been with Him three-and-a-half years didn't recognise Him. Either their eyes were blinded, or Jesus appeared in different forms after His resurrection - I think that could be the way it happened.
'Then Jesus said to them, 'Children, have you any food?'. They answered Him, 'No'. And He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some'. So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!'. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord' - this is weird - 'he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea' - most people take their clothes off and jump into the sea. I don't know why that was, maybe respect for the Lord. 'But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread' - this is beautiful. 'Jesus said to them, 'Bring some of the fish which you have just caught'. Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fiftythree; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, 'Come and eat breakfast'. Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, 'Who are You?'; knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead'.
Pause there. Understand what Jesus is doing. Jesus, who said to Peter 'You're going to deny Me three times, but don't worry about it, keep believing in Me. Satan wants to sift you, I have prayed that your faith does not fail - and when you are converted, when you've done your turnaround, you'll be able to strengthen your brothers'. This is now the turnaround, but see how the turnaround comes - because Jesus is resurrected, He spoke those words before He died, and was buried, and rose again; and Peter still can't get over his failure. Do you know what the problem is? He can't get over himself! Sometimes we possess something in our country - especially in Christendom here - called 'false humility'. Really, what it is is inverted pride, where we say - this is how we think: 'Oh, I should have done better than that, I am better than that. I've let myself down, I've let the Lord down'. Sometimes we can't get over ourselves to get through to God, because of inverted pride.
Jesus had to bring Simon Peter to this beach, to make breakfast for him - and I want you to understand what He's doing here - He is reconstructing the very scene in which Jesus was betrayed by Simon Peter. Where do their eyes meet? Across a fire. There is the heat of the fire, there is the crackle of the fire, the sound of the fire, there is the smell of the fire, there is the stinging of the eyes from the smoke. They look eyeball to eyeball through the smoke, just the way they did on the night Peter denied the Lord. Was there a cock crowing here? It doesn't say, but when do cocks crow? Morning. Answer me: how many times did Peter deny the Lord? Three. How many times does Jesus ask him: 'Do you love Me?'? Three. Do you see what is happening here? He's inviting him to step into the scene, to go back, if you like, to a memory that has tied him, incarcerated him in the past, so that he can't move on. He's asking him to renounce, three times, his denial of Him.
Can I say to you: you can't properly move into your future unless you deal with your past. 'It's all under the blood', is one of those cliches that robs us of God's best. When we think that just by being born again, everything is sorted, we are deceived. Also, even by consecrating our future to the Lord, it doesn't necessarily fix what is in our past. Sometimes, with the help of the Holy Spirit hand-in-hand, we have to go with Jesus into our past and be unhooked from some of those things, especially some of the things that we have said. There is a myth, because we are so materialistic in our thinking, even as Christians in our land, that words - 'Ach, sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt'. The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue, 'With the heart man believes, but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' - that's how important our words are. Some of us have spoken words about ourselves, over ourselves, over our lives, over our destiny, over our gifts or lack thereof, over our testimony, over our mistakes; other people have spoken those things over us as well, and sometimes we're just echoing what they have said - but there comes times in our lives where we are tied to those things, and the Lord requires us, He invites us into the past to renounce what we have said.
Can I say to you: that applies to churches as well. I don't know what way you work here, and that's probably a good thing because I can speak into it without knowledge - but I don't know if you have business meetings or not (don't nod or shake your head), but I've been involved with churches that do have business meetings; and there are some things that are said at business meetings that are from the pit of hell! We think because we are Christians we can get away with it, but I'll tell you another thing we think: we think that it's inconsequential, and you shake your hands, give the fellow a pat on the back on the way out, and everything will be all right. I'm going to tell you something to the contrary: those words hang in the atmosphere. Pastors can change, sessions can change, decades can pass, but if you think those things just disappear, you're foolish. They don't, and the enemy still uses them. Even in church contexts, some things need to be renounced, some things need to be declared and proclaimed and undone.
Look at what the Lord Jesus asks him, three times: 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?'. Now, the words are different in the Greek, let me show you this - and I'm not going to go on too much longer, will you give me ten minutes? Is that OK? 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?'. 'Agape' was the word there, it's the word for 'love of God', 'agape', it literally means 'all-giving, unselfish love'. 'Simon Peter, do you agapao Me more than these?'. 'These' might be the disciples, because he thought he loved Jesus more than the disciples, it could be the fish that he has gone back to, we don't know. He said to him: 'Yes, Lord, You know that I filio You' - that's the Greek word for 'friendship love'. Do you see it? 'Peter, do you love Me with everything?', 'Lord, You know I'm Your friend'. So Jesus asks him again, after saying 'Feed My lambs', verse 16: 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you agapao Me?'. He said to Him: 'Yes, Lord, You know that I filio You, You know I'm Your friend!'. He said 'Tend My sheep'. Then verse 17, 'He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you filio Me? Do you love Me as a friend?'. This is the reason why Peter was grieved, because He said to him the third time, 'Do you filio Me?'. 'Are you even My friend?', and he said back to Him: 'Lord, You know all things, You know that I filio You'.
Peter hadn't got there yet, but he was getting there. Later he would realise what Jesus was asking him to do, to renounce the things that he had said about Him and about himself. I think the Lord is inviting you to do that today. Let me quickly finish by turning you to Acts chapter 3 very briefly, Acts 3 - have you ever played 'Where's Wally?'. You know the thing where you look for the wee guy with the hat and the scarf. Well, if you're in this crowd and you were playing 'Where's Peter?', I don't know whether you would find him here, knowing what you know about him. Look at verse 13, this is the second Pentecost sermon, and it's Peter! Look at his theme, verse 13: 'The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied' - Peter, hold on a wee minute! 'You denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you'.
Now, what are you thinking? 'That's rich, Peter! How long is your memory?'. Now listen, we're not talking decades here, do you know what we're talking? Days! How many? Forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, ten days between the ascension and Pentecost, fifty days - you're talking about a month and a half, and this man is totally changed. Is he a hypocrite? No, he's not a hypocrite! Do you know what he is? He is a man who has died out to self, who has lost his self-confidence, who has gone down, broken at the feet of Jesus. He has renounced the things in the past, he has come face-to-face with the living, resurrected Jesus Christ as Lord - and he has allowed the Lord Jesus to do deep surgery in the brokenness of his heart. At Pentecost he has got filled with the Holy Spirit after waiting ten days in the Upper Room, pleading the promise of the Holy Ghost. So this is not Simon, this is a different man!
It's like Samuel said to Saul: 'Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man' - and that's what we need, all of us. We need restored, we need to renounce certain things perhaps, and we need to be recommissioned by the Lord - but we need the power of the Holy Spirit. You can't tell me that just because you're an Elim Pentecostal Church that you're all filled with the Holy Spirit - I know you're not. I know you're not all walking in the power of the Spirit. Maybe the reason why that is, is because you can't get over your past.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Ballymena Elim Church in Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Denial And Return Of Peter" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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