The Dealings of God With Peter: 7. In the Gospels

Luke 22:50‑62  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
I have chosen the account that is given in the Gospel of Luke rather than that of Matthew or Mark, because the Spirit of God presents it very particularly in its moral links. In John, on which I shall dwell afterward, all turns upon the person of the Lord Jesus, and we shall find, I think, this difference, when we come to look at it. But here the human heart is opened more; there the glory of the One who was making Himself known. Now the results of what we have already had before us begin to appear. The temptation has come, and Peter enters into it. We always do enter, where we are not found in prayer before the temptation. Then we are surprised. The Lord, on the contrary, had been in prayer, and He only makes the difficulty and the trial, when it came, an opportunity of manifesting the grace of God. Hence, therefore, when one of the persons that came to take the Lord—one of the servants of the high priest—presented himself, he became an object for one of the disciples. This was Peter. His very love for the Lord—his indignation—broke forth. It is not that the others were not just as ready to fall as Peter, for that is the solemn thing that appears. Our very love for His person, our very fervor of spirit, instead of being a preservative power, where there is not self-judgment, exposes one to go farther astray. Here it was, first of all, in the shape of violence. “He smote the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.” Thus the Lord's warning fell entirely powerless upon Peter; and in such a state of mind—and that is the importance of it—one perverts the word of God.
I do not doubt myself that Peter thought the sword was in his hand for the purpose. Had not the Lord spoken about taking a sword? And so, you will find, we are as dependent upon God for the use of His word. We cannot do without it. just as much as we need the word, so do we need the Spirit of God; but this is never given unless there be that dependence upon Him that goes forth in prayer, and, I repeat, in prayer not at the moment. Indeed, the moment was come for action or suffering. To Peter it was a question of action: to the Lord it was suffering. The Lord bows. It was no question now of any action, except, indeed, of repairing the mischief that Peter had done. This the Lord always does; and so He touched the servant's ear and healed him. And this is a statement admirably finding its place in the very Gospel from which I have read, because Luke shows us the heart of man, or even of a saint, that is searched and found wanting where there has not been self-emptiness, where there has been self-confidence; and undoubtedly this was the case. And further, too, I am not in the least denying spiritual feeling and affection. They were sleeping for sorrow, but why? Why sleeping? The sorrow was all well, but why sleeping for sorrow? They ought to have been praying in sympathy with our Lord. They ought to have been in fellowship with Him. Not so; they found a sort of resource and relief in going to sleep when the Lord was calling them to watch, if it was only for the one hour. But there was no watching at all, any more than prayer: they went to sleep.
Now, when the Lord goes forth, in the calmness of one who had gone through the trial with God before the trial came, He is perfect calmness. Yet we know what was before Him. We know how He had felt it. There was the One that had been in the agony. There was the One that had been sweating, as it were, great drops of blood. Not a trace of it now. He had gone through with God. Satan now was to go through with Peter. Satan had carried completely away in the case of Judas. I do not mean that he was to carry Peter away as he had done Judas, but certainly it was to sift. As the Lord Himself said, Satan desired to have him that he might sift him as wheat; and this was now going on, so that Peter shows out himself. His way of sheaving his love for Christ was by taking a sword to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Poor Peter! Not an atom of fellowship with the mind of God at that moment, nor, indeed, at any moment, as far as the Lord Jesus was concerned. It was entirely out of the current of the thoughts of God, and yet we cannot doubt that he might have found a sort of reason for it, as I have said, in a misuse of the very word of the Lord.
And this is a solemn lesson to us that the word of God itself will never guide a person aright until the spring of self is broken; until a person has judged himself before God, and is found, above all, with the loins girt with truth before he takes up the sword. When it is taken up afterward it is the sword of the Spirit, and not a material one to cut off an enemy's ear.
Now here, then, we see the difference, first of all, but there was a far more solemn one afterward; for they go a little farther. When the elders and captains and the rest take the Lord, and lead and bring Him into the high priest's house, Peter follows. We are told in the Gospel of John that he was not alone. Nay, John tells us; and it is beautiful that it should be so. How lovely are these traces of grace! He had seen the One that was full of grace and truth. What was the effect of it? A spirit of grace in himself. But it is John that tells the story of his own folly, his own selfishness, his own worldliness, for John went there rather in the capacity of a friend of the high priest—an acquaintance at any rate than as a follower of the Lord Jesus. That does not come before us here; indeed, it was reserved to himself to tell it. Now, was not that like the way of God? It had been a long time. Why tell a story that was so old? Perhaps there was not a single person in the whole world that knew it then—none but John. But John lived long enough to bring this out himself in his own word.
Here, however, we have the story of Peter pursued. “Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them.” It was a little of that same spirit that we have the Lord warning against eating and drinking with the drunkard; that is, it was an association with the men of the world when they were set upon deepest enmity against the Lord Jesus, and with motives, in some respects, a little like themselves. I do not mean as regards the Lord, but all that was secret in his heart towards the Lord was entirely unknown. And who was the person that concealed it? Peter. He feared the world. He feared the men among whom he found himself. It was the spirit of the world. There is nothing that so destroys confession as fear of the world, and it is evident that this was the case. He had got with the world on its own ground. He wanted, no doubt, to see what was going on. I do not say that there were not deeper and better things at the bottom of his heart, but he did it in concealment. He was off the ground of faith. Here was another fruit of his not watching even one hour—of his failure in prayer when the Lord called him to pray.
And so the trial came—a new kind of trial, not now of patience; but here the question was, Would he confess? The occasion soon came. “A certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him and said, This man was also with him.” Now there was nothing violent; there was no strong language; but it was too much for Peter. It was—what? beloved friends. Association with Christ? He was ashamed of his Master. Oh, what a solemn thing! It was not that he did not love his Master, but he feared even this servant-maid. So mighty is the spirit of the world when we are off the ground of faith, and when we have failed in prayer before the temptation comes.
So he denied, saying, “Woman, I know him not.” It was not only a failure in confession: it was a lie! I know there are many Christians who think that a believer never can tell a lie. I pity them! One's feeling always is, You are going to fail in that which you think impossible. You are going to fall into a lie yourself, and just because you do not believe it possible. “Woman, I know him not.” Nor was this all. “And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. And about the space of one hour” —for God did not permit all to come in a few moments. No, He will have it made most plain. He would have the awful consequence of neglecting the word of the Lord in prayer. He would have a total humiliation of His servant; and so it was, for now it is bitter aggravation that, although, of course, conscience must have been at work, he must have known perfectly the sin against his Master, and the lie, as a mere question of morality. “And about the space of one hour after, another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilan. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest.”
Oh, beloved friends, what are we apart from Christ? The worth of every Christian is just the measure in which he has Christ, practically, as his life. I am not now speaking of a person being brought to heaven by blood. No doubt the two things go together; but I do say that all that is precious in a saint of God—all that one can speak of as giving pleasure and satisfaction—is that which gives pleasure and satisfaction to God. And we must remember this. It is no question of character: you cannot trust flesh. Character you may count upon in a man of the world, but never trust it in a Christian. God will not allow character to reap the praise. God will not sustain a person according to his character. Who would have expected this from Peter? Peter may never have been guilty of anything of the kind in his life, even about the common transactions of the world, or about other persons. It is quite evident, from what we see of him in his ordinary ways, that Peter was in no way a man of deceitful character. If one looks at Rebecca, one is not surprised that the sister of Laban should be full of her plans and tricks and ways. And one is not surprised, again, that Jacob should savor of the family character. One sees that there were ways that were unworthy, bearing a most suspicious resemblance to his mother. Well, there, I say, it is his natural character; but not so with Peter; and I think that these two things are of great importance; that is, that natural character has a great deal to do where it is a question of the enemy, but natural character is a very small thing with the Spirit of God.
[W. K.]
(To be continued)