Summary: When we see an apparently strong Christian face a spiritual defeat, we tend to think, "I would have expected that to happen to anyone but him." Peter’s denial while keeping warm at the enemy’s fire creates a similar surprise.
Title: Keeping Warm at the Enemy’s Fire
Text: "Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them" (Luke 22:54-55 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:31-34, 54-62
When we see an apparently strong Christian face a spiritual defeat, we tend to think, "I would have expected that to happen to anyone but him." Peter’s denial while keeping warm at the enemy’s fire creates a similar sur¬prise. Peter was a strong individual, a great leader, and a dynamic Christian.
I. Peter: a person of strength.
A. Strength of leadership. Whenever the disciples are listed, Peter’s name comes first, reflecting the disciples’ view of his leadership. Peter was one of the inner circle of disciples privileged to share in special experiences with Jesus, such as the transfiguration. On the Day of Pentecost it was Peter who stood to preach.
B. Strength of spirit. Peter had no timid spirit. He was a bold spiritual adven¬turer. Once he tried to walk on water, and later he ran to the tomb.
C. Strength of body. As a fisherman Peter had developed his muscles by row¬ing boats and casting heavy nets. He showed his physical strength in the garden; he was strong enough to take on the entire mob.
In spite of all these qualities, Peter denied the Lord. "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" (1 Cor. 10:12 NIV). No Christian is immune from "the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph. 6:16 NIV).
II. Peter: vulnerable to sin.
A. Blind to his weakness. Peter, a typical human, had strengths and weak¬nesses, but he seemed to be blind to his weaknesses. Peter confidently told the Lord, "I am ready to go with you to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33 Niv). This was a noble expression and a wonderful assurance— apparently uttered in ignorance of his fleshly potential for succumbing to sin’s temptation.
Victor Hugo wrote, "I feel two men struggling within me."
The apos¬tle Paul also had a realistic view of the tension between good and evil that rages in every soul:
"For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:19, 23-24NIV)
B. Satan attacks the vulnerable spot. Jesus warned Peter of Satan’s impending attack: "Satan has asked to sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31 NIV). The evil one caught the strong disciple in a vulnerable moment—surrounded by the enemy and separated from the other disciples. He will sift us until he finds the most vulnerable place at which to hurl his temptation.
"Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12 NIV) .Jesus taught us to pray for deliverance from the evil one (Matt. 6:13). We say with Paul, "Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:25 NIV).
III. Peter: the pressure to conform.
A. The pressure of men. What was the vulnerable spot for Peter? He let himself be guided by those around him. Is this entirely wrong? A healthy concern for what others think is an asset. But Peter went beyond this concern and allowed his actions to be molded by those around him.
A dialogue between Jesus and Peter, recorded in Matthew 16, illustrates this peer pressure. Jesus was talking about his coming rejection and death when Peter strongly reacted, "Never, Lord!... This shall never happen to you!" (v. 22 NIV) .
Peter’s concept of the Messiah did not include Jesus as the Suf¬fering Servant. Instead, Peter subscribed to the popular concept of the victorious Messiah conquering the Romans and re-establishing the throne of David. Jesus rebuked him: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (v. 23 NTV).
Peter again exhibited a tendency to reflect the prevailing social pres¬sure on a later occasion, which Paul described in Galatians 2. "Before cer¬tain men came from James, [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumci¬sion group" (v. 12 Niv).
Peter knew the Lord was no respecter of persons, but he was afraid to resist the pressure of a strong group in the church. Peter was a strong man but not strong enough to stand against the values of immature Christians—even though they were against God.