In a professional fighting match there are two combatants in the ring with a referee trying to maintain order in the potential chaos. All of the training and experiences of the warriors all culminate in an intense battle which lasts but a few minutes. Blows are exchanged, the crowd thunders, stamina and endurance are tested to the extremes. Finally, there is a winner with his arm lifted high and a loser with his head hanging low.
After the match ends and the crowds disperse, what happens then? If the result was a rout, the very course of careers can change, either for good or for bad. The winner is on track for a bigger fight, a bigger status, and a bigger payday. The loser may be done. Having the right resources at hand after an epic failure can make a big difference in how the loser responds.
There was a spiritual fighting match in the Bible, in which Peter, one of Jesus’ key followers, fought the devil. While there were no crowds cheering the combatants and no money or titles on the line, the stakes were huge. Jesus was about to die. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends and the key leader who with the other apostles was to form the nucleus of the Christian communities as they carried out the mission of making disciples of the nations. There was a high pressure test Peter needed to pass before he could fulfill his calling.
Even though Jesus was not in the ring with Peter and the devil, per se, the Lord cared a great deal about Peter and this fight. It might be easy to imagine that Jesus was so occupied with other things like his trial, torturous sufferings, and the cross that directly awaited him that he couldn’t be bothered with Peter’s trial. After all Jesus had directly invested in Peter for three years. Jesus had patiently put up with Peter’s impetuousness and faithless failures. Jesus showed him how to live and taught him God’s truth. He encouraged Peter and challenged him to grow from an unstable fisherman into a man that lived up to him nickname which meant rock. Do you think Jesus wanted to be able to leave the rock to fight for himself as Jesus faced his own deadly dilemma? Does it seem like Jesus leaves you alone to fight your fights from time to time? You can find precious hope in seeing Jesus’ dealings with Peter before, during, and after his epic failure in his fight with Satan.
Before the brawl with the devil Jesus prepared Peter for the fight. He literally told Peter ahead of time that the battle was about to take place. He described the spiritual nature of the fight, the exact temptation, and assured Peter of his personal prayers for Peter’s faith. He told Peter that he would lose the fight, and when Peter proudly protested his devotion, Jesus calmly walked him through it ahead of time.
Here’s how the exchange went: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).
The night when Jesus was arrested all but two of his followers scattered. Peter and John trailed the Roman soldiers and enter the courtyard of the Jewish high priest as Jesus was on trial inside the house. The pressure inside the room was high, but another kind of pressure was escalating outside in the courtyard by the fire. One time, two times, three times people suspiciously accused Peter of being connected to the man on trial. One time, two times, three times Peter denied that he knew Jesus. In Jesus’ crisis point of his time on earth, his friends forsook him––Peter denied him three times.
As the rooster crowed, Jesus looked through the window and caught Peter’s eye. It had all happened just as Jesus said. Peter’s conscience was cut in two. Peter who had boasted of his devotion to Jesus even to death was bested by the devil. Jesus still cared, though. Although the terrible tumble of events that would lead to Jesus’ death had begun to spill, Jesus was still concerned for Peter’s soul.
After Jesus reportedly rose from the dead, Peter was one of two disciples that raced to the tomb. The tomb was empty, but at that point Peter’s heart must have been a mixture of marveling faith and hope, along with crushing guilt and bitter disappointment. When the angel at the tomb had told Mary Magdalene to tell Jesus disciples that their resurrected Lord lived, the angel mentioned Peter by name. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). The messenger conveyed the concern of Christ for his friend.
There were several encounters between Jesus and his followers during the days that followed his resurrection, but they were mostly between Jesus and groups of disciples. After a couple of these group encounters had occurred, Peter announced that he was going fishing. The Bible doesn’t say if he was intending to return to his old career path or just going out for a one-time fishing session. The Bible does say that a few of the other disciples joined Peter and that Jesus appeared to them on the shoreline. After another miraculous haul of fish, the disciples knew that it was Jesus, and Peter dove into the Sea of Galilee to get to Jesus as quickly as he could.
During that breakfast Jesus took Peter aside and asked him if Peter loved him. Jesus repeated the question two more times, once for each of the three denials. As Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, the Lord told him to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep, and to follow him. This corresponded with what Jesus had included in his warning to Peter before Peter denied him: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Your eyes can easily become restricted only the battle before you. You see the hard circumstances. You hear the lying temptations of your flesh and the devil. Jesus doesn’t seem to be in the ring. You wonder if he even cares about all that you are enduring.
He cares a great deal. Just like he dealt so tenderly with Peter in the trial Jesus knew Peter would fail, he tenderly cares for you in your massive time of testing. He prepared Peter. He encouraged Peter, in spite of Peter’s overconfidence. He looked beyond his own painful experience out the window to Peter at Peter’s exact moment of failing. He sent word to Peter by name after rising from the dead. He took Peter aside after the resurrection to assure him of forgiveness and future usefulness.
You are not alone in your hard situation. You are not alone in the mind of Jesus Christ. He cares for you, and his care is strong, active, and effective. Even if you have failed, he still knows you and cares for you. Your spiritual life is not over. He can forgive you and restore you. There is great reason to hope.