Peter, the boldest, most opinionated, outspoken of the disciples, was one of the “inner three.” He walked on water and witnessed Christ’s metamorphosis on the Mount of Transfiguration. He bore Christ’s rebukes after each of his arrogant, unthinking statements. At the end of his life He died for Christ.
On the night before Passover, the passion of Christ, Jesus continues preparing His disciples for His death. He tells them what will happen, what they are to do and to wait for. Peter hears only some of His words and allows his arrogance to rise. He declares he is ready to stand with Christ through anything and everything, even facing death.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” [Matthew 26:31-34 ESV]
Jesus rebuked Peter often. I have often wondered how Peter felt after each rebuke, every time Jesus challenged his intent, the thinking of his heart. I can only imagine hurt and since Peter is like most men, his pain turned into stubbornness, a form of anger. Did he say to himself “I will not fall away!” dejectedly and dutifully following his Master into a garden like he had done so many times before. This night would be different. This night they would have unwelcomed company. This night would begin a day of terror and suffering for Jesus.
Mark adds to the story.
But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. [Mark 14:31 ESV]
It is not until we read Luke’s account we discover a hidden element to Peter’s heartfelt declaration.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. [Luke 22:31-32 ESV]
Like Job, and how many other unknown followers of God, Satan squeaked into God’s presence, tolerated by a Holy and Just and Good and True God, and threw down a challenge. Satan cannot be everywhere since he is not God. He can direct those who are his, who speak and act in his name, to tempt and lie to those whose sin will grieve God deeply. God is not afraid of grief and agony and suffering. He decided from eternity past to embrace the agony of the cross as a sacrifice of love for those with whom He will have an intimate relationship. God uses Satan to test the obedience of those He loves so they will fail and relinquish control to Him and live. Yes, He expects us to fail. Only in our failure will we accomplish His will His way. He must be the One who works in us. It is the suffering of our failures which brings us the joy of God presence.
Peter belongs to God. Satan cannot have him.
John shows us what Peter’s devotion will cost him. Peter, like his fellows, will face unmerciful emotional suffering which will last until they see with their eyes the resurrected Jesus. Christ’s suffering is finished and ours is begun. Do not think for a moment our suffering is not experienced by God. We are hidden in Him, identified with His Son and filled with His Spirit.
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” [John 13:36-38 ESV]
Jesus knows intimately the heart of His disciple. Peter truly wants to be with his Master. Jesus truly wants Peter with Him. For this to happen, and it will happen, both must suffer the agony of the cross, one on the cross and one watching. Jesus must endure its physical trauma. Peter must endure its spiritual consequences. He must mourn deeply over the entire consequences of his sin bourn by his Master in his stead.
Do I want to be with God, where He is, to please Him, to love Him? This is hard. My gift will only please Him after I suffer with His Son. This is not something I am willing to face. But, God loves me and will bring me through what He has determined for me. I will never for eternity be out of His presence. Even when enduring the deepest, harshest suffering.