Toward the end of the book of Luke, Jesus told Peter that Peter was going to deny Jesus before the rooster crowed that day.* I imagine this hurt Peter, because in that moment, Peter believed that he was willing to die for Jesus. When the test came, Peter failed. He did exactly as Jesus had said he would. Peter gave into fear and denied ever knowing his friend, Jesus who was on his way to be mocked, beaten, and killed. For Peter, it was easy to claim that he would follow Jesus even into death while things felt safe and good. But when things actually became tough, he folded. When life gets tough or scary, we easily fold as well. The Bible is filled with fearful people who imperfectly, slowly move forward by faith into the promises of God’s grace. I think the Bible is filled with these kinds of people because the world is filled with these kinds of people, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are also fearful, imperfect, and often unfaithful.
Aside from Peter’s relatable inconsistency, there are two other things I noticed in reading this. The first is that even when my faith is being tested, God is still sovereign. This gives me hope knowing that he will never allow me to be snatched from his hand. The second thing I see is that saving faith is not the same thing as perfection.
1. When Our Faith is Tested, Our Good God is Still Sovereign
Sifting wheat involves violently shaking it to separate the usable parts from the chaff. Satan wanted to violently shake Peter and cause his faith to fail. It reminds me of the story of Job where Satan approached God and asked to test Job’s faith, and God allowed him to as long as he didn’t kill Job. I’ve always had some trouble with this. Why would God allow us to go through so much intense suffering? Sometimes it feels like our faith is bent to the point that the slightest bit of pressure would make it snap. Honestly, I don’t have an answer for this question because it would eventually lead to the problem of evil, and no one has a completely satisfactory response to that issue.
However, I think I focus too much on the fact that Jesus allowed Satan to sift Peter like wheat rather than the fact that Satan can’t do it unless Jesus allows him. In the story of Job, Satan had to ask God to test Job’s faith. I could be upset that God allows suffering, or I could find hope in the fact that a good God is sovereign over my suffering. Any time I do suffer, a good, sovereign God has allowed it into my life. He isn’t surprised or confused about my suffering.
2. Saving Faith Does not Mean Perfection
But what if I fail? What if when I am tested I mess up, and my faith isn’t strong? What if I buckle under pressure and sin? This story of Peter shows that saving faith, faith that doesn’t fail, is not the same as perfection. Peter didn’t fail because he denied Christ. Instead, he was successful because of his repentance. Jesus didn’t pray for Peter to be perfect, he prayed that his faith wouldn’t fail. It wasn’t Peter’s ability to withstand temptation that made him a success. It was his faith in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus that made him a success. He wasn’t perfect, but his faith didn’t fail.
Judas on the other hand did fail. When Judas realized what he had done, he didn’t turn to Jesus in repentance. He didn’t run to grace and repentance. He fell into despair. When Peter realized what he had done, he was remorseful and received forgiveness.
Though we may be sifted like wheat and have our faith tested like Job, God is sovereign over it all. Successfully enduring the test does not require perfection. Instead, successful endurance requires a reliance on the work of Jesus. Our success is not based on our work but on the work of Jesus alone. Saving faith is not the same as perfection.
While they were eating the Passover meal, Jesus told his disciples that the bread represented his body which would be torn and crushed for our sins, and the blood represents the blood he was going to spill for his people. He was the true Passover lamb whose blood would mark us as one of his beloved people so that the wrath of God would pass over us.
Jesus knew this was his mission, and even though he knew what Peter was going to do, he still went to the cross to die for the very man he knew would deny him. In fact, all of his disciples abandoned him. When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his disciples to pray for him, but they kept falling asleep. When he was arrested, all of his disciples fled in fear.
Jesus knew all of this would happen, and yet he still went to the cross to die for the very people who would abandon him and deny him.
Jesus died for us not because we had something to offer. He didn’t die for the people he thought had potential. He didn’t die for the good people. Instead, he died for us because we had nothing to offer, we had no potential without him, and because we are not good people.
*I always though that there was something mysterious and theological about Jesus saying Peter would deny him before the rooster crows. However, all he meant was that Peter would deny him three times before morning.