The Trial of Faith
Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not. (Luke 22:31)
Many a sermon has been preached about Peter and these words spoken by Christ. I don’t know how we would feel if Christ had spoken them to us before a trial of faith. I’m not sure how Peter reacted; I think in some ways it maybe went over his head but came back to him afterwards. And I also think that we can very easily misjudge Peter. His denial of Christ is one of the best-known facts of the Christian story, as is Christ’s forgiveness of him. But Peter had come into a desperate hour. He came into deep waters beyond our knowing. Christ could have prevented it happening. He could have engineered circumstances so that Peter was nowhere near that judgment hall, nowhere near that hour when his weakness showed. That wasn’t part of the plan of God, or His plan for Peter and for the future. If you yourself have ever been in a dark place or a very difficult place where you could not find God, you could not immediately feel His help or His comfort, a place where you’re dependent on naked faith, you will know how difficult that can be, and how all the faith that you had and all the strength that you had can seem almost like nothing in your hour of trial and danger.
So it was for Peter. We know that in a difficult moment he denied Christ. I think that was just the spontaneous reaction of a panicked hour, and for Peter I think that a lot of the trial of his faith would be in the afterward. He found himself then in a dark and desolate place, terribly alone. No one could help Peter. We know that he wasn’t necessarily physically alone, because we find him coming with John on resurrection morning; it’s not that he was being ostracised by the other disciples. But he would be in his own spirit desperately alone. I wonder if he remembered sinking in the waves when he’d walked on the water, and how Christ’s hand had saved him. But there was no hand of Christ now: Christ was crucified. Who could help Peter? Surely these words of Christ must have come back to him: “Peter, I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.”
Have you ever been in any circumstance where you’ve come to the end of your own faith, and that whisper from Christ has come upon your ear, upon your spirit: I am praying for you. We know that we are not making that up, because we read that Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. You see, I think Peter had come to the end of human strength. A few hours before that, we have seen Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, and His strength, humanly, was at an end. It was the divine strength of the Son of God that brought Him through, and brings us through: Not My will, but Thine, be done. And so for Peter, he’s at the end of human strength, and he is flung out into a place where he becomes totally dependent on the prayers of Christ. The prayers of others might have been around him – but I think that their agony would be increased, having seen what had happened with Peter. I don’t think they deserted him, but they were in desperate need themselves. It is only the prayer of Christ that could intervene and save Peter in such an hour of such inner aloneness. And what comfort we find, because we will undoubtedly find as we follow Christ – and in fact the closer we are to Christ the more we will find – that there are hours when we are desperately alone in our spirit and there is nobody to help but Jesus Christ. We are dependent on a miracle, and we begin to find out what faith actually is: the faith that trusts when there seems nothing to trust, and no one near.
Peter comes through the whole experience, we know. We know the afterwards, but he didn’t know it at the time. And we can look and say: “Why did Christ allow him so to suffer?” There could be many reasons not known to us. Part of it is probably for our sake and our benefit. But what we do know is that Peter emerged from there with a compassion and a tenderness for others. He was particularly used in healing afterwards. And we know that he had that compassion, because Christ was able to entrust not just His sheep to Peter, but His lambs.
But the second thing, it seems to me, that Peter discovered was faith. He thought he had faith before, but he had really discovered the faith of the Son of God, the faith that Christ had in his Father – something of that, I think, came into Peter. He had found the faith of that Faithful Witness on high who speaks for us, who pleads for us. And to us that door opens also. Do not be panicked in the difficult hour, in the dark place of your soul, but rather listen for that whisper: I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.
The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
And it delivered Peter. Somewhere alone on resurrection ground Christ found Peter, There is an interview, an appearing to Peter that we know nothing of, save the fact that it happened. What a moment! He appeared just to Peter, very early on resurrection day. And moments like that come to us also – just Christ. There is no one like Christ. There is no faithful friend like Christ. There is no one who stands by us as Christ does. Samuel Rutherford says: “No one knows all that lies between me and Christ.”
And as I was thinking of this matter, every daily reading that I happened to be looking at this morning had something about faith (not necessarily for this morning – it may have been the day before). Again I quote from Samuel Rutherford:
Faith has sense of sickness [that is, is conscious of its infirmities], and looketh like a friend to the promises; and looking to Christ therein, is glad to see a known Face.
Blessed be His Name.
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