Testing is Normal and Necessary
The Bible indicates that a normal part of life as a Christian is testing. This does not refer to testing in the sense of pass or fail. It is a kind of testing that has as its purpose revelation. The revelation not so much of the Word of God, but of our hearts.
God tested Adam in the garden, calling out to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). God tested Abraham when he was commanded to take his son, Isaac, up to the mountain and offer him there as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2; cf Hebrews 11:17). God tested Israel for 40 years in the desert (Deuteronomy 8:1-4) not so that God would find out, but so that they would find out! Moving forward into the New Testament we see that the Father even tested His Only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by means of 40 days of fasting and aloneness while being tempted to sin by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us:
A Father’s Discipline
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
One such son was Simon Peter. This man, named “Rock” by the Lord Himself (John 1:42), would go on to become the pillar of the church, alongside James, the Lord’s brother (James 1:1), and John (Galatians 1:9; 2:2, 6). But, Peter needed to be tested first. Why? Because, as he was, he was not fit for ministry. His life was filled with pride, sectarianism, and spiritual short-sightedness. However, God had chosen this man to become a foundation-stone to their group, the apostles (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:19-20). He had the highest service toward God, and therefore had the furthest to go as it relates to testing. Since he would be used of the Lord to such a degree, the Lord needed to expose his own heart to him in the deepest way.
Simon was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew (John 1:40-42). Once Simon saw Christ, and Christ saw him, the Lord prophesied that he would have his name changed to “rock.” That would be a description of this man. But, right now, he was simply same-old Simon. As the Lord’s ministry wore on, with tremendous power and conflict, this man, Simon, didn’t seem to change much. However, that was not the point of the Lord’s ministry. Although the Lord would have expected these men to change, He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:23-25). No one needed to tell Him what was going on in their minds at any time. However, Simon did not know what was in his heart. And that ignorance would keep him away from effective service to Christ. If the Lord is going to call you to service, He must first reveal you. And since He already knows our hearts, He only needs to reveal our hearts to us! The years of preparation for service, the laying of seeds of teaching and example, as it were, did not sprout during the Lord’s ministry. It would almost seem that nothing took root. However, the watering of testing, pressure, needed to be applied first before the condition of the soil and seed could be made evident. The moment of water applied to the soil and seed came in the courtyard where Simon and the Lord Himself was being tested respectively.
Our Lord is arrested, betrayed by the Satan-filled betrayer, Judas. Judas, already having it in his heart to do evil, is led by Satan to betray Jesus to the Jews and the Romans. In doing so, it would seem that the hopes of the kingdom are destroyed. The three years of following, watching, learning, practicing, ministry with Jesus now dashed. Peter is told to bear a sword (Luke 22:35-38). He attempts to use the sword to fight for Jesus at His arrest (Luke 22:49-51). Jesus rebukes him, because he was apparently operating outside of the will of the Father (v. 42). Peter did not see that, as he did not see much of a spiritual nature (see Matthew 16:21-23). Peter, along with the rest of the disciples, flee the scene.
Peter is now in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire (Luke 22:54-62). He is asked three different times by three different people if he was with Jesus. He denies that he even knows the Man. The last time, defending his own hypocritical innocence against the accusation that he was with Jesus, he does so with vehement curses (Matthew 26:74). Peter, horrified by the accompanying shame of having been with the Jesus who is, as he speaks, being tried and beaten, denies that he was ever an acquaintance of the Lord’s. At the end of the last denial Jesus, being within viewing distance to Peter, turns and looks Simon in the eyes without a word. He didn’t have to speak-he already had.
At the end of the final meal that the Lord would eat on this unredeemed earth, having eaten it with the disciples, Peter assured Jesus that even if everyone else would fall away from the Lord, there would be no possibility of him falling away and denying Him (Matthew 26:31-35). Simon was willing to die with Him. However, when it came down to it, the Scriptures were true-Jesus would be denied three times by this self-confident man. What happened? How could Peter have done this? Sure, Peter was self-assured. Sure, Peter had no idea what he was in for. Sure, Peter was ashamed of Jesus Christ, when push came to shove. But what was really going on behind the scenes?
Behind the Scenes
Luke tells us the behind the scenes scenario of this event, a devastating, but necessary one, in the life of this leader. He needed to be humbled. He needed to deny himself, not Christ. He needed to see his own weakness, and the Lord’s mercy. And that he did.
Satan, the arch-enemy of Jesus Christ, is a murderer (John 8:44). He cannot help himself, nor does he want to. According to the Lord, Satan has demanded from God, and has obtained, permission to sift Peter like one would separate wheat and the chaff. Peter would be devastated by Satan’s ravages, and God has granted permission to Satan for that very purpose. Thus, we understand that Satan is a target for Peter. This makes sense, since Peter would become the rock, or pillar, of the church in Jerusalem and beyond.
Satan obtains permission. Unlike Job, Peter at least was told it was about to happen. Yet, Jesus also mentions something more. Jesus said,
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;
32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
“Listen up, Simon, Satan has demanded, and obtained from the Father, permission to sift YOU! You are a target of Satan, Simon.” However, Peter would not be left in that horrible condition. At some point, Peter would turn back. And once being turned back, he is then responsible for strengthening his brothers, i.e. the other apostles. So, Jesus Christ, since He prayed for him, believed that God would answer His prayers and that Peter would be granted repentance and would be useful again for the apostleship.
How did Satan do it? How did Satan sift Simon? He did it through unredeemed people around him. Remember, three people instigated a conversation with Simon at the fire which brought out of Simon’s heart the hidden shame toward Jesus that he was feeling. There were no riots, officers, or clubs. It was only the accusation of the servant-girl and a couple others at the fire. Peter did not know that he was ashamed of Christ. He did not know that he was so distant from the plan of God. But he needed to know.
When Jesus Christ turned and looked at Simon at the crowing of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done. He was devastated. He was destroyed. Consider him sifted. Satan did it. Goal accomplished. He ran out of the courtyard absolutely distraught (Matthew 26:75).
But wasn’t it gracious of God to show Peter what was in his heart? Sooner or later the shame of Christ that resided there would get in the way of ministry. He needed to have it exposed and led to repentance. And he was.
It was a few days later and Peter and the others were in a boat fishing. They had gone back to fishing assuming that their fishing-for-men days were done. After all, Peter had denied the Lord, the Lord knew it, and there appeared no remedy. I can only imagine how often that scene played itself out in his mind.
The Lord appears on the shore and calls out to the men. No one recognizes Him except John (no doubt by the Lord’s sovereign choice). John exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). The ensuing conversation is the power of God. “Simon,” the Lord asked, “Do you love me more than these?” Whether it is a question of loving Him more than the fish and his fishing occupation, or more than the rest of the disciples, it is hard to know. However, Peter’s answer was less confident than his denials a few days earlier. If Simon actually loved Jesus, then he would “Feed [His] sheep.” The Lord asks him a second time, “Simon, do you love Me?” Simon again answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You.” This is very different from what was in his heart a few days ago. If Simon really does, then he would show it by shepherding His lambs. The third time, “Simon, do you love Me?” Simon, apparently irritated, or frustrated, answers, “Yes, Lord, you know all things. You know that I love You!” Again, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus was calling Peter back to love for Him. Maybe, which is probably more accurate, Jesus was continuing to purge Peter’s heart because Peter was still not completely sanctified in his love for Jesus Christ as is evident in his frustration for asking a third time. Besides, the first two times the Lord asked Peter if he “loved” Him, the Lord used the word that refers to a love that is sacrificial and submissive apart from reciprocity. It is a love that reflects God’s love and does not consider the worthiness of the object of love. However, the third time, Jesus seems to even question Simon’s affection for Jesus as He then uses a different word for “love.” One that refers to an affection for something. It is, after all, the fulfillment of the Law to love the Lord your God with all your heart. Again, Peter appears to teeter on the line between complete love and simple self-produced affection for Christ, but no absolute subjection to Him.
Fact of the matter is, our hearts (and minds) are never really capable of being really worthy of serving the Lord. The reality is, we will always need our “feet cleansed” (John 13:1-20). Satan was God’s instrument, with all of his diabolical fury, for the cleansing of this self-confident, and loveless apostle. With Peter learning his lesson, and by the ministry of the Spirit of God in this man, he is now able to be a strengthener to the others. How do I know? Simply read Acts 1-15.