(Photo: Harvest via The Christian Post)
Pastor Greg Laurie delivered a sermon filmed in Israel this past Sunday. But instead of retracing the steps of Jesus, the pastor from Southern California walked in the footsteps of Simon Peter, explaining the six steps that caused the lead disciple to deny his Savior.
While preaching onsite at the actual locations of the events in the Bible, Laurie, the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., emphasized that Peter's image of denying Jesus "can be you or me if we're not super careful." He titled his message "Fallen, But Forgiven," and preached at the Garden of Gethsemane, Garden Tomb, and other biblical sites. His sermon is based on Matthew 26:31-75, from Jesus' prediction of Peter's denial to its fulfillment.
"You know, don't ever boast of your love for God at the expense of someone else," Laurie advised in the video. "Effectively saying 'I love God more than them,' you don't know what is going on in their heart. That was Peter's first step down: self-confidence."
Using the disciple Peter as a biblical example, Laurie walked the audience through the six steps that led to Peter denying Jesus, stressing that these steps also apply to modern-day Christians who can backslide in their faith.
After Peter's initial step down – self-confidence – his next step is seen in Matthew 26:39-41. Peter fell asleep when Jesus asked him to watch and pray when they were in Gethsemane.
"I think the lack of prayer is a direct result of self-confidence," said Laurie. "Think about it, when do we usually pray? Answer: when we are in trouble. If things were reasonably well – the bills are paid, the health is good, there is no problem on the horizon, at least that we are aware of – we might not pray all that much. But when crisis hits, problems come…"
In contrast to Peter, Jesus in Gethsemane didn't have a strong, self-confident image, Laurie pointed out. Jesus cried "and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:39-46).
"Isn't that amazing? Doesn't that show the humanity of Jesus that he asked someone to just be there with him?" the Harvest church pastor asked. But instead Jesus found his disciples sleeping rather than praying.
A person can then spiral farther down by trusting human efforts instead of God's power, following at a distance from the Lord, and being with the enemy.
In Matthew 26:51-53, Peter used his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter was sleeping when he should have been praying, and fighting when he should have been trusting, Laurie noted. "He was using the wrong weapon. We are in a spiritual battle, if you want to fight in a spiritual battle, you fight fire with fire."
"What is the weaponry that God has given us as Christians? One: prayer. Two: proclamation of the Gospel."
Peter then follows Jesus at a distance when he was being hauled away to be interrogated by Caiaphas the high priest. By this time, Peter had forgotten that Jesus said he would rise from the dead and his explanation for his death.
"You show me a believer who is trying to get away with stuff and still be a Christian and I'll show you a person who is well on his way to backslide," said Laurie. "It is not a good thing when a Christian asks, 'Can you still do this and technically be a Christian,' or 'Can you do this other thing and still go together?' Wrong question. The real question should be because I am a Christian, because Jesus Christ has come into my life, forgiven me of my sins, how can I get closer to him? How can I discover more the plan and purpose for my life? But Peter was at a distance.
"Do you ever watch those nature programs where the lion will go after a certain animal? It is always an antelope that is about 10 feet behind the pack that gets picked off. In the same way in our lives, when we are at a distance from God's people, when we are at a distances from the church, when we are at a distance from God, we know that trouble will ensue and it sure did for Simon Peter."
After walking at a distance, Peter then warms himself at the enemy's fire (Matthew 26:69-74) and then finally denies Jesus three times (Matthew 26:73-74).
But there is hope for Peter because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Peter's self-confident image changes after repenting of denying Jesus. Unlike the self-confident image of Peter in Matthew 26, the Peter in John 21 is humble. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, he used the Greek word "agape," which is used to mean the love that chooses to seek the best for other and is associated with the love of God and that of a mother for her child. But Peter replied using the word phileo, which is translated to mean brotherly love today. Loosely translated, Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" And Peter humbly replied, "I like you." Unlike before when Peter was boasting about his love and loyalty to Jesus, he is now humble in his response.
"No matter what you've done, no matter what sins you've committed, there's always room for forgiveness," Laurie encouraged listeners. "God says to turn your backsliding children and I'll heal you. Maybe you're in a backsliding state right now, you've just hit bottom like Peter did, and you don't see a way out. There is always a way out. It's a way up, it's through Christ. It's where you take his hand and you accept his forgiveness as you turn from your sin.
The six steps to backsliding:
1. Self-confidence and Pride
3. Trusting human efforts instead of God's power
4. Following at a distance
5. Warming yourself at the enemy's fire