“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 cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Yesterday we finished by thinking of both of the rewards at the end of the discipleship journey and of key things that we need to learn on that journey. Some of us, however, occasionally imagine that we are ready for anything, that we have no areas of major weakness, nothing that needs dealt with, nothing we need to learn. Peter thought that once. And he was wrong!
After speaking of the future kingdom, Jesus chose that moment to announce that Satan was coming at them. No doubt it was comforting to know that Satan had to ask for permission to do this. But, Christ explained, permission would be granted. They were not to be shielded from his attacks. And they would on occasions be defeated.
What would sustain them both in the attacks and in their defeats was not their bravado, but Christ’s prayers for them. “I have prayed for you, Simon.” At that moment Simon Peter didn’t think there was anything he needed prayer for. He was wrong.
Let’s notice precisely what it wasthe Lord prayed for. “… that your faith may not fail.” He didn’t pray that his couragewouldn’t fail. Or that his witnesswouldn’t fail. Or that his self-controlwouldn’t fail. All these things did fail. The Lord prayed that his faithwould not fail. And that didn’t fail, despite appearances to the contrary. Deep down underneath the chaos of his failure, Peter never ceased to be a believer.
What was it that sustained Peter and kept him a believer, despite his failure? It was Christ’s intercession for him. There is great encouragement for us here. For the New Testament tells us that Jesus is not just our Saviour and King, he is also our High Priest. He makes intercession for us. And because he makes intercession for us, he will save us to the utmost extent, whatever failures we experience on the way.
Indeed, the Lord knew that Peter would fail. And told him so. Peter had a different assessment of himself. He thought he was ready for whatever trial came his way. It must have stung to hear Christ’s response: “you will deny three times that you know me.” His failure, when it came, would be a shock for Peter, but not for Jesus. The Lord is never shocked by us. He is never taken by surprise. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
Later, in the aftermath of his failure, it would encourage Peter to remember that the Lord had known all along that he would deny him. It would also encourage him to remember that the Lord had also told him that he would recover from his failure and that when he did so he would be in a position to strengthen his brothers on the basis of his experience.
The Lord committed himself to Peter and to the others knowing the very worst about them as well as the very best. It is the same with us. He takes us on as his disciples, fully knowing our sin, our character flaws and personality weaknesses. Then he takes the various trials and attacks Satan has designed to destroy our faith and he uses them to refine our faith and to train and develop our Christian character, enabling us in turn to strengthen one another.
The cycle of failure, recovery and strengthening one another will be repeated many times on our journey, supported by the intercession of our High Priest for us. This is the process. This is the second great principle of Christ’s kingdom: we grow through trial, supported by the faithful intercession of Jesus.