“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
- Mark 14:27-31
“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land,” declares the Lord,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
This third I will put into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”
- Zechariah 13:7-9
“There was love in that utterance [of Mark 14:29 when Peter swore that he’d not fall away], and so far it was commendable. But there was also much self-trust in it. And there was great presumption, for Peter dared even contradict his Master to his face; and, at the same time, he contradicted the inspired Scripture, for Jesus had told the disciples that it was written that the sheep would be scattered. Yet Peter boldly denied both what God had written and what Christ had said. God save us from such a proud self-confident spirit as that!
Peter was not alone in his intense, though rash, expression of attachment. [See Mark 14:21] All of them did intend to stand with their Master and die with him, as we too mean to do. But do we think we will carry it out any better than they? Not if our resolve, like theirs, is made in our own strength. Further, whenever a person who is called to be a leader goes astray, others are pretty sure to follow. It was so on this occasion, for when Peter made his boastful speech, all the rest of his brothers chimed in and so shared in his sin. But Peter was chief in the wrongdoing, for he led them all.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
The title of the post has an obvious answer. We have all sinned and fallen short. Sometimes we have been the leader that led others to follow. We screw up.
We know the story that follows about Peter. Peter cuts off an ear of one of those capturing Jesus. Jesus rebukes him, saying that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Then Peter follows while the rest run for their lives; they scattered. Then, as Jesus said, Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows twice.
Odd, most people think of the rooster crowing three times. Is that due to our poor math skills or is that misconception just one more example of hearing what we want to hear when the Scripture is read? A trivial point, but many of our misconceptions are far from trivial.
Jesus quotes Zechariah 13, in that the sheep will scatter. I included the next couple of verses to note a reversal in thinking. Zechariah prophesies that one third will be set aside and the other two-thirds lost. Then, the saved ones, not the lost, will be placed in the fire – to be refined. Yes, Revelation says that those with the mark of the beast will be placed in the lake of fire, along with Satan and his minions. But here, the saved are placed in a spiritual fire to be refined.
Peter had his need for refinement. He had been the most outspoken, at least when you read the Gospels. He was a profound extravert, often speaking before his brain was in gear. While Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, something the Holy Spirit put on his lips, the announcement in the Scripture above was one of those times that he should have thought first.
How badly did Peter fail? The first three problems are in the Spurgeon quote. He contradicted the Son of God to His face. He contradicted Holy Scripture that prophesied what Jesus had just said. And he led the others in this rebellion against Jesus and Scripture. Odd, Peter led a rebellion against Jesus thinking that he would be protecting Jesus. But then, Peter denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus had prophesied.
Then, in John 21, Jesus puts Peter on trial. “Do you love Me?” He asks three times. I have heard it said that in the social customs of that time that saying something three times is a form of rebuke. Peter was already broken. He had failed Jesus. Then Jesus asks him if he loves Jesus three times. It must have cut to the heart. Peter was not cast into the fire literally. The fire was nearby, cooking fish. But Jesus sent Peter’s soul into the fire to be refined. Peter’s boldness and willingness to say anything to anyone had to be restored. In this spiritual fire, the hurt of failing Jesus and the propensity to continue failing Jesus rose to the surface and was skimmed away from the precious metal beneath.
Have I ever failed a test? Oh, yes, big time, in graduate school. I was enrolled in a class on computer computations for engineers. Since I worked as a Computer Application Engineer, making computer computations for my own engineering projects and developing software for others to use for their computations, the course was a yawner, until the professor learned that I knew things that he did not know. As a result, he had me teach the class for a couple of weeks and he sat in the back, taking notes feverishly. But on the day of the final exam, I had been trained by the operators of the chlorine facility when I worked, thinking that the union might go on strike. (They didn’t on that occasion. And for those questioning a union worker training an engineer, we were the engineers at that plant. We were not considered scabs. The scabs were the guys from other company facilities who volunteered to help during the strike to make a quick buck.) In that training, the operator made a mistake, just as the wind shifted, and chlorine gas was released, with me downwind. I obviously did not get enough of an exposure to die, but I went into the test that evening having not studied and with a pounding headache. Yet, if the truth were known, the professor had something on the test that I was not prepared to answer. In missing my interpretation of his question, with a pounding headache, my grade was bad enough to lower my grade – not failing, but in graduate school terms, on the verge of being asked to leave graduate school if I got another bad grade like that. The professor called me into his office. I confessed to not being prepared for that one question. I told him about the headache. Then, he smiled and thanked me for my honesty, but he would look bad if he gave me a “B” for my semester grade when the other professors all knew that he had asked me to teach for two weeks. I got an “A” due to the mercy of a kind hearted professor.
Have I failed Jesus? Oh, we all have. It is early in my workday of reading and writing, but I have probably had wrong thoughts already. I am sure that I have been irritated by advertisements or articles on the computer news feeds. I am also washing clothes. Could I have set that first load on a smaller wash load and saved a little water? Probably. Please, don’t send the tree huggers to my house to have me arrested for wasting a couple of gallons of water. It was a judgment call… that I am still second-guessing. I think from the moment Peter denied Jesus three times until his encounter with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Peter probably second-guessed everything he had done since he started following Jesus. How else could it have been fresh on his mind when he talked with John Mark, who wrote the shortest of the Gospels from what Peter had told him (as most scholars think).
Thinking of that Mark, he had failed too. He ran home to Mommy right when the Apostle Paul needed him. Yet, that Mark returned to Paul, because Paul learned to trust him, and Paul needed him.
Peter was refined in a graphic way so that all could experience it. Mark was refined, but the details have been lost to time. And God refines us.
We are not left to simply believe and be saved. God refines us. He casts us into the fire to cause our impurities to float to the surface, so that they can be skimmed away. Oh, that is what they call it in the metals industry. When there is a layer of dross (impurities) on a molten bath of aluminum, they take a machine, or they take a large rake with a metal handle, and they ‘skim’ the impurities off to be discarded.
Have you failed? Have you fallen? Yes, but do not fear when the fire comes to your soul. It is there to refine you. It may not be pleasant, but with the dross skimmed away, you will be able to see God more clearly.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.