THE BACKSLIDING OF A PROMINENT PREACHER

He is most likely the most prominent preacher of the entire church age, ---none other than the apostle Peter.

PETER'S PROMINENCE

There are several times in the gospels where the apostles of Jesus are listed.  Peter's name heads every list.  That alone says much about his status among his peers.

Peter was always first to express his opinion on any subject.  There is no question that he was a man of deep and sincere feelings.  What he said he sincerely meant and what he believed he sincerely believed, even when he was dead wrong.

Jesus told the fishermen who had begun following Him to launch out into the deep and let down their nets for a great catch.  Peter answered for the group and said in effect, "Now, Master, we professional fisherman have fished all night and haven't caught anything: nevertheless, to humor you we'll do it."  When the net was filled with so many fish it began to break it was once again Peter who spoke.  He fell at Jesus' knees saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:11).

On a night when the Disciples were in a boat tossed by strong winds and high waves Jesus came to them walking on the water.  Peter spoke up and said something that did not occur to the others (and probably would not have occurred to any other man in all history). "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."  When Jesus gave that command Peter did walk on the water.

There came a climactic day when multitudes turned their backs on Jesus and walked away.  Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Do you also want to go away?"  Once again it was Peter who spoke for the group, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  (John 6:66-69).

To Peter was given the keys of the kingdom.  While walking a road in northern Palestine Jesus asked His disciples, "...Who do you say I am?"  Once again Peter was the first to speak, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied that that had been revealed to Peter by His Father in heaven.  Jesus declared Peter a rock and that on the unmovable strata of rock that He was the Son of God He would build His church.  Jesus added, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven..."  During the church age Jesus is calling people out of the world to be citizens of His kingdom.  To Peter was given the keys of authority to open the door to the kingdom to Jews at Pentecost and to Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. (Acts 2 and 10).

Truly, Peter was the most prominent preacher of Jesus Christ and yet every gospel records Peter's backsliding experience.  Here is the account of Luke:

"...Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail: and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, LORD, I am ready to go with YOU, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me." (Luke 22:31-34).
 

PETER'S SIN OF BACKSLIDING

Let's consider the sin Peter committed.  He denied Jesus.  The enormity of that sin is compounded by the facts that he denied Jesus in the shadow of Calvary,---with cursing,---and as the most prominent Christian alive.

Some have said "Backsliding is an Old Testament word.  It is not found in the New Testament."  The word may not be found, but the experience is, and Peter heads the list of those who had the experience.  John Mark, Demas, and the church at Ephesus are only a partial list of other notable examples.

The sad fact is that God's children can backslide.  Although God has made every provision for His people to live in victory it is an all too common experience for His people to relapse into walking in the flesh instead of in the spirit.

  • Noah was backslidden when he got drunk.

  • Abraham was backslidden when he lied about Sarah.

  • Lot was backslidden when he moved into Sodom.

  • Samson was backslidden when he lay in the bosom of a harlot and again when he laid his head in the lap of Delilah.

  • David was backslidden when he committed adultery with Bathsheba; tried to deceitfully cover it up and had her husband killed in battle.

  • Peter was backslidden when he cursed and denied Jesus.

It is encouraging to realize that Peter, nor any of these others, lose their salvation.  We know that Peter didn't lose his salvation because Jesus said, "I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail..."  (Luke 22:32).  Peter's courage and fortitude failed, but his faith didn't.  Although he lost fellowship, he did not lose his relationship.  He lost the joy of his salvation because the believer's joy comes from being in a proper fellowship with the Lord:  "Whom having not seen, you love:  Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory."  (1st Peter 1:8). "...That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full."  (1st John 1:3, 4).

When David backslid, one of his most earnest pleas following his repentance was, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation..."  (Psalm 51:12).

REASONS FOR PETER'S BACKSLIDING

The first reason that Peter backslid was because he was self-centered.  When Jesus revealed He must die Peter rebuked Him (Matthew 16:20-23).  Jesus was talking about crosses when Peter was thinking about crowns.  He had a better plan than God's and brazenly said so.

The second reason Peter backslid was that he was self-seeking.  "...They had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest."  (Mark 9:34).  Although Scripture does not identify Peter's words in the dispute he was, hands down, the champion mouth of the crowd.  We can comfortably surmise that Peter had has share of arguments as to why he should be the greatest in the kingdom of God.  The rebuke of Jesus was: "...Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant."  (Matthew 20:26).

The third reason Peter backslid was that he was self-confident.  "...Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble."  "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  (Matthew 26:33, 35).  The world may trumpet the values of self-confidence but hear God's word on this from Philippians 3:3, "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.".  The path to Christian victory is not through self-confidence.  It is through recognizing the weakness of our flesh and depending on the Lord for His strength to both keep the flesh under control and serve God successfully.

STEPS IN PETER'S BACKSLIDING

First, Peter was sleeping when he should have been praying. Luke 22:45 says they were "sleeping from sorrow."  Peter was sorrowful that his plans had been frustrated and things weren't turning out at all like he had envisioned.

Second, Peter became ashamed.  "He followed afar off."  Luke 22:54.

Third, Peter got comfortable in the fellowship of the enemy.  He warmed himself at the fire in the home of the High Priest who was seeking the death of Jesus.  Too many Christians seek to get comfortable when they find it necessary to be in the company of enemies of Christ.  Peter is a sterling example that when we are in the presence of those who hate Jesus we should plan to stay uncomfortable.  No one ever kept comfortable fellowship with Christ's enemies without being influenced by them.  Evangelist Billy Sunday used to say, "a dancing foot and a praying knee don't come on the same leg."

FORCES THAT BROUGHT PETER BACK

The most powerful force that brought Peter back was the prayer of Jesus Who said, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail..."  (Luke 22:32).  Thank God, Jesus intercedes for all believers.  "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."  (Hebrews 7:25).

The second force that brought Peter back was the providence of God.  No more had Peter denied the Lord the third time than the rooster crowed just like Jesus said.  At this Peter looked up and Jesus was looking at him.  "...And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord how He had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  (Luke 22:61).  When Peter tried to go back to the fishing business he couldn't catch a fish in his own strength.  (John 21).

The third force that brought Peter back was his own new nature.  "So Peter went out and wept bitterly."  (Luke 22:62).  Yes, Peter could backslide and walk in the flesh and deny Jesus in the flesh but he possessed a new nature that would be plunged into the deepest misery as a result.  Bud Robinson, the Nazarene evangelist, said, "When God saved me He didn't fix it so that I couldn't sin, but He did fix it so that I couldn't enjoy it."

The last force that brought Peter back was that Jesus sought him personally.  When Petered uttered his third denial, Jesus turned and looked at him.  Jesus was more concerned about Peter's spiritual condition than He was His own sufferings.  After Jesus rose from the dead the angel told the women, " ...Tell His disciples, and Peter..."  Especially denoting concern about Peter in his backslidden condition.  When Jesus met with the disciples beside Galilee He now delivered a rebuke, but also a call to renewed commitment, "Peter...do you love me more than these?  Then feed my sheep."  Yes, Jesus seeks His sheep until He finds them.  (Luke 15:4).

Preachers, and other believers can backslide, but they don't have to stay backslidden.  Like Peter, they can repent and be restored.  Fifty days after Peter denied Jesus he boldly preached Jesus.  On that occasion three thousand people got saved.
 

 

 


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