Study 3 PETER: HIS TRAGIC DOWNFALL
(Scripture Portion: Luke 22: 31-62)
It seems too bad that of all the wonderful things we are told about the apostle Peter we should choose for our study the one incident which shows him up in his worst light! However we have chosen this particular study in order that it may prove to be a warning to us, for we are all in danger of failing as Peter did. No-one is immune from the possibility of a spiritual downfall.
If Peter is the best loved apostle, (as he is to many), surely the reason is that he was intensely human, as we are! He was impulsive and impetuous, as we are! He made mistakes and spoke unwisely, as we do! These very things about Peter, the unlearned, rather rough, clumsy fisherman, are the very things which attract us to him.
What sad reading Luke 22:31-62 makes, for it tells of Peter’s downfall. Read it carefully and remember two things:
- Peter did not expect to deny his Lord. In spite of the Saviour’s warning (verses 31 and 34), to deny his Lord was the last thing that he thought he would do. We do not intend or expect to deny our Lord, do we? - and yet by His grace, we need never do so - but let us be careful and take heed to the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12.
- Peter’s fall was gradual. No-one falls suddenly; that is to say, backsliding is a process; it takes place in stages, a step at a time, gradually. What were the steps downward which led Peter to his final three-fold denial of the Lord?
1. The First Step: SELF-CONFIDENCE
Does not verse 33 suggest over-confidence? And Peter said this in spite of our Lord’s warning to him - see verse 31. It is always very dangerous to be too arrogant, and it is always fatal for a Christian to boast of what he is going to do. We see this same characteristic of impetuous self-confidence in Peter when he tried to walk on the water to go to the Lord (Matthew 14:28-31). Let us beware of self-reliance in every shape and form, for it always leads to failure. Look up Proverbs 28:26, and ask yourself if you are trusting in yourself and in your own wisdom and strength, in any way.
2. The Second Step: PRAYERLESSNESS
Read verses 40 and 45. Self-confidence and prayerlessness usually go together. What need is there to pray if we think ourselves to be strong enough already? Prayer is an admission of weakness and insufficiency, and probably the reason for 90% of spiritual breakdowns is prayerlessness. If you are following the Lord “afar off”, ask yourself now if the main reason for the declension in your Christian life is not due to a neglect of prayer and Bible-reading.
3. The Third Step: CARNALITY
Read verse 50, and compare John 18:10. To be carnal is to live and act in the energy of the flesh instead of in the power of the Spirit. It is always an indication that we are out of touch with the Lord when we say and do rash and unspiritual things. A carnal Christian so quickly brings dishonour upon the name of the Lord. Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, and notice that the chief mark of carnality is a state of protracted infancy! Peter acted like an undisciplined child when he struck off Malchus’ ear. Christian, do you ever speak or act in this way?
4. The Fourth Step: PETER FOLLOWED AFAR OFF
Read verse 33 again - and then verse 54. What a contrast! How sad to be missing just at the time when the Lord was needing his moral support! These are days in which the Lord needs His people to be living in close touch with Him. Are you following afar off? - look up Luke 9:62. You used to go regularly to the prayer meeting, but now you are following afar off! You used to seek the lost, but now you are following afar off! Is that true of you?
5. The Fifth Step: WORLDLINESS
Read verse 55 - and compare Psalm 1:1. When our Lord was being tried, Peter, who had promised Him so much, was identified with the world which was rejecting Him. Are we like that? Worldliness is anything and everything that leaves the Lord Jesus out. Peter “sat down” with the world. Do you? Alas, many Christians do! Are you warming up by the world’s fire? If so, it is a sure sign that you have lost something of the fire of the love of the Lord Jesus in your life - look up 2 Timothy 1:6, which literally reads, “Stir up, fan the flame, rekindle the embers and keep burning… ”
6. The Sixth Step: INCREASING INSENSITIVITY
As things went from bad to worse, it seems that Peter became more and more insensitive to the Lord and to what He had said to him in warning him of the terrible denial which was to follow - look up and prayerfully read verses 31-33, and 40. This is what happens when we backslide; we literally slide more and more down the slippery slope from self-confidence to prayerlessness, to carnality, to following afar off, to worldliness - and then we become so insensitive that we can actually end up by denying the Lord. There is no prayer that we need to pray more frequently than the prayer that God will graciously prevent us from ever getting into a position or a place where we become insensitive to His voice and the knowledge of His will for our lives.
7. The Final Step: OPEN DENIAL
Read verses 56-60. Not once or twice, but three times Peter denied his Lord. Oh, how solemn, that a Christian can fall so far! Thank God we can conclude this study by pointing out the wonderful way in which Peter was led to repent of his backsliding and to return to the Lord. Read verses 61 and 62. What a “look” that was! How sad, how loving, how forgiving, how melting! It seemed to say to Peter - “Peter, come back!” Read John 21:15-17, and look up Psalm 139:23-24.