BACKSLIDDEN INTO BITTER TEARS
Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MAY 8, 2016
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. ’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath:“I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
— Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75, ESV
We have all said what Peter said. We have all done what Peter did. We have all stood where Peter stood.
Often it is flash of unholy lightning, a feeling of hatred, a look of lust, or some other quiet compromise of our Christian faith. Other times it is more protracted, albeit still subtle, like missing a month of Sundays, failing to share with others, or letting the Bible collect dust. Occasionally, it makes headlines, especially when a confessing Christian is the murderer, adulterer, or thief.
It is called backsliding. It backs away from a close walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. It slides away from loving obedience to the word of God. It is a temporary madness that grieves the Holy Spirit, embarrasses the church, and brings out bitter tears from a true believer.
Peter, in this Gospel episode told four times, is the poster child of backsliding. He was a true believer, one of the very best. He truly denied the Lord, three times, with the Lord looking at him. And, he was truly broken up inside because of it.
Is anyone sick and tired of being sick and tired with a sick and tired walk with God? Then retrace Peter’s steps with me and see where he went wrong. Recognize the pitfalls. Dare not to repeat them. Then let the Master’s hand dry your tears.
Listen to the Lord
Peter’s first problem is that he did not listen. He was a man, after all. Jesus plainly told Peter and the other disciples what was going to happen. The Messiah would be betrayed and arrested, the disciples would run for cover, but everything would be all right. Jesus would die, Jesus would rise again, and Jesus would meet them in Galilee. This was the gospel plan, this was the word of the Lord, thanks be to God!
But Peter did not listen. He tried to argue with the Lord and belittle Scripture. He wound up in a place Jesus never told him to go. There he stood, having not listened to God, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. The one who once proudly proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” backslid and said, “I do not know the man.”
Please, listen to the Lord. All creation calls out His name. Holy Scripture is the Holy Spirit speaking from person to person. The gospel is your personal invitation to follow Christ. Once you hear Him call your name, however, you must cultivate a listening ear. Worship weekly where Elders and Pastors preach and teach the word of God. Get for yourself a literary best friend, a good study Bible. Let God have the first and last word in your life, and even at the pressure points in between your life will not deny the Lord.
Put Away Your Pride
Like the Proverb says, pride goes before a fall. Before Peter backed off his confession of faith in the Lord, he slid into the oldest sin in the book. As Haddon Robinson said of the proud, praying, Pharisee, Peter had one eye upon himself, one eye looking down on his friends, and no eye left to see God.
Jesus began His public ministry with a collection of sayings we call “the Sermon on the Mount.” It encourages true faith and genuine spirituality by launching a scathing attack upon personal pride. We would do well to read it often, and to pray unceasingly for the strength of God to overcome the evil attitudes, which lead to sinful actions, which cause us to belittle our brothers and sisters and deny our Heavenly Father.
When Peter’s pride fell him, he felt worse than words can say. He would have given anything to get those self-righteous words back into his mouth. He would have rather been anywhere besides that courtyard where he criticized and denied the Lord.
A pagan or a hypocrite believes God wants them to be happy, therefore they can justify any sin. But a true Christian knows God wants us to be holy, and pride that leads to a backslidden fall brings the utmost anguish, embarrassment, and pain. So, put away your pride and embrace grace. Lean on the Lord at all times and you will never fall.
Love the World without Loving the World
The world is a wonderful and wicked place. It is full of the grace and glory of God. It is full of the greed and graft of men. “For God so loved the world …” that He told us, “Do not love the world.” So which is it, and what does it have to do with backsliding?
Peter denied the Lord three times. The first time, it was to get into a place in the world where he did not belong. The second time, it was to enjoy some creature comforts offered by the world. The third time, it was to escape the persecution this world often offers to followers of Jesus Christ.
This interpretation is accurate, instructive, but complex. This is our Father’s world, filled with beauty, food, drink, and pleasures God wants you to enjoy, as long as they can be grabbed with one hand while holding the gospel with the other. Otherwise, you are in danger of denying the Lord. This is the devil’s den, and sometimes like Daniel we find the lions asleep; other times, like Peter surrounded by Malchus’ kin, the swords are being drawn. What are you going to do when confessing Christ comes with a cost, and the only way to go free is to deny Him?
What if Simon Peter had stood his ground? He could have faced death, something he would bravely do in the years to come. He certainly would have given up the glimpse of worldly comfort he had attained. He might have been beaten up, probably made fun of, but he would not have “went out and wept bitterly.”
Backsliding is bitter business. It is best not to do it. Learning from Peter’s mistakes — listening to the Lord, putting away your pride, holding on loosely to this present world — is a good way to avoid backsliding into bitter tears.
The Master’s Hand
In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need,
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed,
There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair,
Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break,
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand,
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.
— Bob Dylan
Let me speak now to all who have made a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all who have been baptized into His church, all who expect to find Heaven as their next home. If days turn into years without a hunger and a hearing of the word of God, you are not backslidden. If you feel you are acceptable to God because, after all, you are better than most people and can please God on your own terms, you are not backslidden. If you love the pleasures of this world and take them outside the parameters of Holy Scripture, without a care or a single tear of repentance, you are not backslidden. You are lost and undone and awaiting the wrath of God. Repent and believe the gospel today!
If you are truly saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, please know that even when you backslide, you are never alone. You may have been ashamed of Jesus, but He is never ashamed of you. You may have let go of God for a season, but not for a second has God ever let go of you. Reach out and take the Master’s hand. Tell Him three times, like a repentant Simon Peter, that you love Him. Resolve that it would be better to die for Him than to deny Him, which requires great faith. But great faith is a gift from God, a gift that will keep you from backsliding into bitter tears.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org