1. The Principle in the life of Peter
a. His Strengths
b. His Weaknesses
i. Mtw 14:28-31
ii. Mtw 16:21-23
iii. Mtw 17:24-27
iv. Mark 14:27-31
c. The Break
d. Have you learnt, Peter?
2. Aspects of the Break
a. A 'Break Up' not a 'Break Down'
b. An increase in the provision of God
c. The fragrance of Christ released
There comes a time in every christian’s life when certain old traits have to be left behind and new ones accepted and lived out. Sometimes, this can be so easy and simple that we wonder how we never were able to change under our own strength before we came to know Christ, even though the change is now ‘God-powered’ and directed by His Holy Spirit.
Other times, the change that God requires from us is extremely difficult for us to accept - not necessarily because we are struggling to rebel against the Lord’s will in our lives but because the way of living is so much a part of who we are that we just cannot conceive of having to give a certain thing to God or, sometimes, cannot even find the ability to give up certain attitudes and actions.
In those circumstances, there may well come a time when God must break certain areas of our lives in order that we be transformed into much more of the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Peter was one such person who had major flaws within him that were threatening to destroy the work God had prepared for him come the resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But, as it turned out, God allowed him to put himself into a position which so broke those areas of his life that he walked away from it a changed man, much more useable to God through subsequent years.
It is Peter, then, that we consider first and how God took what he was and removed those aspects of him that were unreliable and unsteady, before going on to look at some principles of ‘The Break’ through other unrelated Scriptures.
1. The Principle in the Life of Peter
a. His Strengths
Poor old Peter, he seems to have got rather a bad press within the Church throughout time. Though, I guess, he won’t be too bothered by it all if his weaknesses highlight problems in other believers’ lives that God is willing to deal with.
What we often forget to mention is that, for all his problems, Peter was quite some character who would have been an active member in just about any church in any age - even though the leadership of each and every one would probably tried to have put him down for being too demonstrative and over the top in his devotion to the Lord.
If we had a few more Peters in the Church today and, instead of putting them down because of the weaknesses we see, would use them in active service as Jesus did (for example, Luke 9:1-2), we would see a great work done within our own area and region for Christ.
We forget that, by the time a believer has risen to the role of leader in a church setting, he has usually mastered most temptation and got his life fairly stable before the Lord but, in doing so, has found himself in the unique position of putting down those under him that don’t conform to the image he has devised for himself which are, in his own opinion, the minimum requirements acceptable before God is able to use someone.
Despite all Peter’s flaws, then, he had some great strengths that we tend to ignore.
Firstly, he was a disciple who moved in revelation (Mtw 16:13-17, John 6:66-69) and he perceived the true matter of issues rather than just look on the outer image. Of course, he did get things wrong on occasions but, if there was a revelation about something to be had, it seems as if Peter was the first in line to get it. This is probably the singularly most annoying trait for leaders to witness in those who have not yet achieved some sort of stability in their own lives before Jesus - and certainly doesn’t endear them to a leadership who have long since been running on empty.
But receiving fresh revelation is a characteristic of those who follow after God and Peter certainly moved in it.
Peter was also willing to ‘go for it’ without trying to rationalise his experience or wonder whether he should be doing the things he was getting himself in to (Mtw 14:28-29). Certainly, he was the type of person who you’d expect to find in the middle of a gang of Hell’s Angels preaching the Gospel and telling them they were all destined to burn in hell unless they forsook their current way of life and turn to Christ.
A Peter isn’t the most respected member of the local church because he tends to live out the reality of who Christ is at the very cutting edge of life and will naturally get himself into a few scrapes and scuffles that the more mature believer has long since learnt how to successfully avoid - but you have to smile at people like Peter. These are the kind of people - if correctly nurtured - who will be the people who win entire communities for Jesus. As for the leaders and older christians who have settled for what they have and are happy to live within their boundaries, they may certainly help direct the church and be figureheads to younger followers but they’re hardly ever going to split the atom again, are they?
Finally, Peter was willing to give up everything he had for Christ (Luke 5:9-11, Mk 10:28). Even without Peter’s self-declaration that this was so, it can be perceived that having a fishing business and having to follow Jesus were two things that couldn’t live together in the same life - but good old Peter chose rather to follow who he believed was the Messiah rather than settle himself back down into a regular paid income after the excitement of finding the Messiah had subsided.
Today’s Peters are equally radical and will, no doubt, give up well salaried jobs for no better reason than that the employment is getting in the way of following Christ. Yes, mad aren’t they? But, if we condemn them, we condemn Peter - and if we condemn Peter, we reject the words of Christ who demands that we give up absolutely everything for Him and remove all obstacles that hinder our relationship with Him.
So, Peter had some great things going for him and, in the next section, we mustn’t think that his weaknesses disqualified from God being able to use him. We certainly would shy away from using the Peters who attend the churches where we go, but Jesus certainly has no hesitation in giving them specific jobs - much to our own annoyance.
But, having said that, we must remember that Jesus couldn’t leave him in the state he was in. While his positive characteristics were items that needed to be retained, there were certain weaknesses that needed to be removed from him before He was able to use him fully and more effectively.
And it is this that we must turn our attention to in the following section.
b. His weaknesses
Peter’s main problems were both over-confidence in his own ability and impetuosity.
There is a place in the christian life for self-confidence, but Peter thought of himself as being so reliable as to be almost impossible of making wrong decisions and performing wrong actions. Similarly, christians need to be impulsive people who react quickly with certainty when God begins to move but Peter seemed to step out on the words he received before he had engaged his brain to consider what the correct response should be.
But Peter still wanted to serve the Lord and to do His will, even though he had some flaws which Jesus needed to sort out.
As I’ve said previously above, these weaknesses did not disqualify him from being used by God even though, in today’s Church, people like Peter are often put down because they do not conform to the image of a believer that we have made for ourselves.
We’ll look at just four Scriptures to illustrate the weaknesses that needed to be sorted out:
i. Mtw 14:28-31
We may condemn Peter for finding that he didn’t have enough faith to believe that he could make it to Jesus in the midst of the storm, but which of the other disciples was as bold as he to even attempt such a thing and say to Jesus to let him come?
Sure, our brothers stumble when they step out to do something for God, but at least they had the desire to step out!
Better to launch out into the unknown and unexperienced to do the Lord’s bidding than to stay in the safety of what we know we can do and achieve nothing!
Peter’s problem here, though, is that it is only when he was walking on the water that he realised his situation and where he’d put himself. Instead of assessing the entire situation before he asked Jesus to cause him to walk on water and of determining whether he would be able to follow through with all that he wanted to do, he saw the possibility of the situation and went for it.
Peter’s problem actually came when he took his eyes off Jesus and placed them onto the hopelessness of the situation he found himself in (Luke 14:29-30). Had he been content to rely upon the revelation he’d just had that Jesus could sustain him no matter what the circumstances, we would have been reading that he made it to Jesus’ side unhindered.
But such was Peter.
ii. Mtw 16:21-23
Peter had just come out with a magnificent revelation of who Jesus is (Mtw 16:13-17) and been commended by Him as having received that revelation direct from the Father. His statement had been taken by Jesus as being the ‘rock to build on’ but his words in the cited passage become a ‘rock to stumble over’.
If Jesus was the Christ, God’s anointed King who was to rule over the nations - as Peter had just declared Him to be - then shouldn’t Peter rather obey His will and not rebuke Him? Peter, although he had received the revelation, hadn’t yet thought through the implications and reasoned them out.
I guess that this is one of the most annoying traits amongst present day Peters in churches worldwide - getting magnificent revelations of Christ and yet failing to apply them to their subsequent course of action.
But, even with the flaw in his character, it does not debar Peter from being used by Christ.
iii. Mtw 17:24-27
The half shekel tax spoken of here was a type of ‘poll tax’ paid when the Israelites were numbered (Ex 30:11-16). It was given to the Lord for the upkeep of the Tabernacle initially though, in Jesus’ time, it had become an annual event collected for the upkeep of the Temple. Rabbis were exempt from paying it.
If Jesus was compelled to pay a half shekel to God, it meant that the Father was taking a toll/tribute from His own Son - and no ruler taxes his own family, taxation being reserved for His subjects.
But, although Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Son of the Living God (see above), he had failed to realise the implication of what he’d answered when questioned by the tax collectors.
Maybe to protect his Master (and also to assert that he wasn’t following a ‘wrong’ teacher), he answered ‘yes’.
Jesus, unwilling to cause offence over a minor issue, teaches Peter the right answer by letting him work it out for himself (and we should, perhaps, take note that young believers need to think things through from themselves rather than be given laws which we expect them to obey) and then pays the tax miraculously.
iv. Mark 14:27-31
Peter never paid enough attention either to his own weaknesses or to the possible situation that he was about to find himself in. He thought that he was steadfast, immovable and would rise above any situation to defend and fight for the One who he had committed himself to follow.
While he believed that Jesus’ words were true of the other disciples, he staunchly maintained that his strength wouldn’t fail. His over confidence and pride in his own strength caused him to impetuously declare it - something that he was going to live to regret very shortly.
Yet, without the incident that was about to follow, Peter could never have been the believer that he was destined to become after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
c. The Break
Peter’s denial was the incident that so changed him from one of reliance upon his own strength to one who was now so unsure of his own ability that he began to doubt whether he could ever really be the person that he had always made himself out to be.
We’ll see that latter characteristic in point d but, for now, let’s note the incident that undermined Peter’s over confidence and self-reliance.
Though Peter had been the one who had sworn that, of all the other disciples, he was the one who could be faithfully relied upon (in the end, it would appear that it was only John who stayed until the very end - John 19:34-35), when it came to it, he was afraid even to confess Jesus before men in case they would take him away like they had Jesus.
When it happened, Peter recognised his own weakness (Mark 14:72) and realised how he’d betrayed the One who he had learned to love and trust. He became fully aware of all those things that had been undermining the things that God wanted to do both in and through him and, from that time onwards, something broke inside him.
‘Well, I told you he was heading for a fall’ the Church often responds to people like Peter when such things happen to them ‘They were so puffed up with their own self-importance that, sooner or later, they had to stumble’
However, if we’re like Jesus, we would rather go to the believer and try to help them recover from what they have just done wrong. If we did that instead of distancing ourselves from such believers, we’d have an army of disciples who had learnt the weaknesses which are within and the need of God’s strength within them to prevent them from making similar mistakes.
It appears that Peter needed a special visitation from Jesus after the resurrection (Luke 24:34, I Cor 15:5) and that this took place even before He came into the midst of the disciples as they sat at table eating. It would be wrong to conjecture wildly as to the contents of that meeting, but one of the most important aspects of that brief encounter would have to have been for Peter to have received and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness.
However, as we shall see in the next incident by the shores of Galilee, Peter still hasn’t come to terms with the weaknesses that he now knows are within him.
d. Have you learnt, Peter?
There is a difference in the Greek words here translated ‘love’ by the RSV which are not very often brought out by modern or ancient versions. Even commentators state that, though the writer has deliberately chosen to use two different words, he is not intending us to infer anything other than the same concept in each one. True, the words ‘agapao’ (Strongs Gk number 25) and ‘phileo’ (Strongs Gk number 5368) can overlap in meaning in the NT, but, where they occur together in close proximity, one would expect there to be a difference in meaning or else the same word would have been employed for each and every use.
It is best here, therefore, to translate the first word as ‘love’ and see in it’s concept the idea of being willing to lay one’s life down for something or someone whereas the second word should be rendered more like ‘care’ or ‘brotherly love’ and, though this may indeed be very deep, it will lack the necessary implication of the former.
Having said this, let’s go through the passage as it occurs.
Jesus first asks Peter
‘...do you love me more than these [other disciples]?’
It echoes Peter’s self-confident assertion in Mark 14:29 where he stated with absolute certainty that
‘Even though they all fall away, I will not’
It brings Peter immediately back to the night of his betrayal and, by the question, Jesus is trying to bring something out of Peter.
Peter replies not with the word ‘love’ but says
‘You know that I care for You’
Peter knows that, when he betrayed Jesus, his love didn’t stand up under trial and now he is unwilling to commit himself should he find himself in that sort of situation again. His proud self-reliance has been demonstrably broken by these words.
The second time when Jesus asks and Peter responds, the same words are employed - Jesus asking whether Peter loves him and Peter saying that he cares for Him.
The third time, though it’s different. Here, Jesus asks him
‘Do you care for Me?’
and Peter is grieved because the third time Jesus uses his own words and asks him directly whether that is a truthful statement or one that is based upon his own over confidence. But, Peter replies
‘Lord, you know everything; You know that I care for You’
But we mustn’t leave the conversation here. Jesus goes on in John 21:18 to speak prophetically concerning the end of Peter’s life and it’s just about the most loving thing that He could have said to His now doubting follower - that is, doubting his own ability to stand up for what he knows to be right. By this statement, Jesus is effectively saying
‘Peter, there is coming a time when your love for Me will overcome both your trial and your temptation and you will die for Me’
From Scripture, we know that Peter still made the odd mistake (for example, Gal 2:11-14) but, from Church tradition which I am willing to trust here, we know that Peter was martyred and that his faith held strong.
Had the incident not taken place in which Peter had so denied Jesus as to think himself cut off from being able to be used again, he would not have been half the believer that he turned out to be. Sometimes - indeed, very often - before a believer is ever going to be used powerfully in the Lord’s work, self-reliance and pride have to be broken so that the believer begins to doubt their own ability and looks to the Lord Jesus for their strength and provision throughout their lives.
But I must repeat myself here by pointing out that Peter was used by God both before and after the Break came even though he was obviously more effective after. The role of the mature believer in Christ is to ‘be there’ for the younger believers who will stumble and fall - maybe more than once - but who need restoring back into an active relationship with God and who can be encouraged to rely not upon themselves when it happens but upon the provision and power of God.
2. Aspects of the Break
Here, we’ll look at certain aspects of the Break in believers’ lives even though many of the Scriptures used are spiritualisations of the passages and, therefore, have not been taken literally.
a. A ‘Break Up’ not a ‘Break Down’
I mention this only in passing but it is important for us to realise that God does not break down a believer in order to destroy, but breaks part of a believer’s way of life in order that they might be built up into Christ.
The ‘break up’ is a work of the Lord and causes the believer to suffer a loss that is hindering their walk and relationship with God, whereas the ‘break down’ is a work of the enemy and is set opposed to what God intends for the believer.
As a comparison with the life of Peter previously discussed, see the life of Judas Iscariot. Satan used him in order to destroy the Son of man (Luke 22:3-6) and, after using him, Judas was broken and could never be restored back into a correct relationship with Jesus (Mtw 27:3-5).
Satan’s methods have not changed and we need to be warned in case we actively oppose the move of God in society and so break ourselves away from the will and purpose of the One who we confess we are trying to serve, just as Judas did.
b. An increase in the provision of God
Mtw 14:13-21 is a passage which deals with the feeding of the five thousand and, although I have no doubt that the passage records accurately an event in the life of Jesus, there are certain spiritual principles here which may be applied to our consideration of the break which God needs to implement in certain areas of a believer’s life.
By going through this passage step by step, we will begin to understand how a breaking can actually increase the provision of God to a believer so that he is able to go out and meet others’ needs:
i. Verses 15,17
Our natural resources are too minute to ever satisfy the resources of a needy world. Whatever we have that belongs to us will not be large enough to be distributed amongst all those we meet so that each can get even a ‘mouthful’, let alone that they might ‘eat and be satisfied’. But, when we recognise our dilemma - just as the disciples did in this situation and as Peter did in the situation previously commented on - then we know that Jesus will act and do something for us.
If Jesus sends us out into the world to meet the needs of those who we are to meet, He will always give the provision necessary that will be sufficient for each situation we encounter. As Abraham found out in the OT, God is the One who sees the need beforehand and who provides for it (Gen 22:14).
ii. Verse 18
When Jesus tells the disciples to bring the resources they have to Him, He is telling them to give over what meagre provision they have and which they have come to recognise is of no ultimate use in meeting the totality of the need.
This can only come through a revelation of what scant resources we have and is dependent upon Jesus requiring from us a part of our lives that needs to be handed over for His attention - it cannot be the result of a legalistic response that steps out beyond the boundaries that God has provided for us.
Similarly, Abraham was told what to give to God at the appropriate time (Gen 22:1-2) - he didn’t wake up one morning and think ‘I’ll offer my son as a burnt offering to God’ but, when God spoke that he required something from him, he responded positively even though he knew that his own future was tied up with the welfare of his son.
iii. Verse 19
Jesus is here seen to take up willingly what is being offered to Him and He blesses. The traditional Jewish benediction said over food runs
‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, who causes to come forth bread from the earth’
Although it would be going too far to say that this was what Jesus actually uttered, it is probably true that the ‘blessing’ was directed towards the Father and was not a prayer uttered over the bread in order to ‘bless’ the food which it has often been taken to imply. An entire tradition seems to have arisen from phrases such as these and is now quite widespread in the Church where the symbols of Jesus’ blood and body - the wine and the bread - are ‘blessed’, rather than the One who has provided them for us.
What we learn from this incident is that God is ‘blessed’ when we turn to Him for help in our situation and give to Him a part of ourselves that He requires from us that we might have our provision increased. Such an offering to God is a spiritual sacrifice for it denies our own self-worth and self-sufficiency and puts the onus onto the sovereignty of God.
After the blessing, Jesus broke the bread. That area of our life that is insufficient to meet the needs of the people is broken up by God. He destroys all self from it and removes its influence from our life. We often find that an area is broken in us in a ‘crisis’ experience for we often need to get ourselves into a position where we can find no way out other than God before we are willing to turn to Him.
That doesn’t always happen, it’s true, but we just seem to wait til the last minute rather than turn to God first when the need becomes apparent.
Jesus then gave the bread back to the disciples and the disciples fed the crowds. By the provision they now had, they were able to satisfy the needs of the people. Notice here that, although this passage is often called
‘Jesus feeds the five thousand’
Jesus does no such thing. He merely (!) increases the disciples’ resources so that it is, in effect, they who feed the multitudes. This is an important point and one that we should not understate - while Jesus will increase provision, it is the Church who meets the need.
The Church’s call is identical to that of the disciples, then. Through what we receive back from God, greatly multiplied, we are to meet the needs (whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) of the world. If you’re an individual fellowship in a specific area, it is up to you to meet the needs of the community in which you live (or wherever else the Lord may direct you) and not to leave it to any other well-meaning ‘organisation’ which has taken the place of Christ - ‘taken the place of’, incidentally, is the main meaning of the Greek word we translate as ‘anti’ and which prefixes Christ on a few occasions in the NT.
By allowing areas of our life to be broken, therefore, our provision to meet others’ needs will be increased.
There are other passages, though, which equally speak of the provision of God being bestowed upon believers when they ‘give’ of what they have themselves.
For instance, Luke 6:38 reads
‘Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down [to get more in], shaken together [to remove air pockets that restrict it being filled properly], running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back’
The principle here is one of judgment and Jesus is using it to illustrate that how we judge is the way that we ourselves will be judged, but the principle applies equally well to giving what we have to God.
Peter’s statement that both he and the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28-30) is met with the statement from Jesus that whatever is given up for Christ will be returned to the disciple a hundredfold in this life - but with persecutions! The passage has often been taken to infer that we can ‘get rich quick’ by giving away all our material possessions we have to God so that we might receive back a hundred times what we’ve removed from us, but provision for God is given not to remain with the believer but to flow out from the believer into all the world to meet needs - even the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is often thought to be for the believer) was spoken of by Jesus as flowing out from His followers (John 7:38-39).
The returned provision may not happen immediately and may require a period of waiting before we know the increase of what we have given up for Him (Eccles 11:1), but come it will. Abraham, after being committed to offering his son to the Lord on Mount Moriah (he was actually destroying the idol that had built in his own heart which had centred itself in care for his own son), received his son back with an additional promise that God had not, up to that time, ever given him.
Gen 22:17 records for us that
‘...[Abram’s] descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies’
God’s provision was increased for both Abraham and his offspring because he was willing to give over to God what He required from him.
c. The Fragrance of Christ released
There is a principle in Mark 14:3-9 (Cp John 12:1-8) which is similar to that which we saw in the passage relating to the feeding of the five thousand. Here, there is also a breaking, but its effects are somewhat different.
Spikenard was an oil extracted from an East Indian plant in the Himalayas and which bore the same name as the plant. It was very costly because of the expense of importing it from India and, to transport it to foreign lands, it was sealed in alabaster jars that were only broken and the fragrance released when it was to be used.
This oil was certainly not for ‘anyone’ but was normally reserved for special guests when some wealthy landowner or some other dignitary wished to bestow a great honour on them.
The significance here is that, although there was the promise of a beautifully pungent perfume contained within, it was only when the flask was actually broken that the aroma flooded the room. So, too, the principle is that, until areas of our lives are broken by God, the fragrance of Christ will not be able to be fully appreciated by those around us.
The ‘aroma’ is a picture of something pleasing to the Lord which runs throughout the Bible. In Gen 8:21, the Lord smelled the pleasing odour of the sacrifice and spoke a blessing upon the earth and mankind. Even in the sacrificial system, the rising smoke is spoken of as being ‘a pleasing odour to the Lord’ (Lev 1:9) that the offerer might find acceptance before Him. It wasn’t that the dead animal’s burning flesh was a sweet smell but that the accompanying attitude of heart in the offerer caused the sacrifice to be acceptable, the Lord using the imagery of an aroma ascending to Him so that the Israelites could picture the process which was taking place.
In the NT, the smell or aroma is spoken of concerning both Christ and His followers.
In Eph 5:1-2, we read that we should
‘...be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’
The question that remains here is how are we to imitate Christ and so walk in love? The answer is that we should allow our lives to become sacrifices - just as He allowed Himself to be sacrificed - and become a fragrant offering to the Father as our offering ascends to Him.
When we gladly and willingly lay down our lives to God as Christ laid down His life on the cross for us, we release the fragrance of Christ both in and through ourselves. The OT sacrifice released a pleasing fragrance to God when it was harmonised with a correct attitude of heart in the believer - so, too, does the NT one.
As Rom 12:1 urges believers, they are to
‘present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [their] spiritual worship’
and II Cor 2:14-16 which speaks of believers as being the aroma of Christ to God. The twofold formula works here which sees, firstly, the sacrifice as being when we surrender an area of our lives to God that He asks from us and so offer a spiritual sacrifice upon God’s altar (defined above as ‘the Break’) and, secondly, the release of that aroma which is the fragrance of Christ made known by the fire of trial both in us and through us.
As II Corinthians says, believers are spreading
‘...the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere’
When you love someone and come close to that person, you know what they smell like (SofS 4:9-11). Jesus knows the smell of His bride because she smells like the ‘scent of Lebanon’. God is well-pleased with our spiritual sacrifices for, in them, He smells the smell of His Son, Jesus.
We have seen how God will use believers (and, to a certain extent, even the unsaved) in spite of the weaknesses that cross over from our old way of living, but that God will need to break those things from us before He will be able to use us more fully. It has sadly been the experience of the Church that it has put down those believers who have had even the slightest flaw until they reach a place where they can project an ‘acceptable’ image into the world around them.
Unfortunately, when this time actually comes, the believer has been so stifled in their life before God that they are rarely able to be used by God and tend to perpetuate the same image they portray which is one that knows neither the power or life of God as an experience.
It is time for the Church to put these things to one side and allow God to use whoever He chooses, placing restrictions rather upon the legalistic observers of the covenant - the Pharisees and Sadducees - who Jesus actively opposed throughout His earthly walk.
Of course, this is unlikely to happen - the present day Pharisees and Sadducees hold power over those whom God would use. But, if the present trend continues within certain denominational settings, it will not be long before God chooses to move within believers regardless of the Church’s established leadership in order that His will might at last be done both within the present generation and, out through them, into the world.