The Final Appearance of Peter
January 22nd, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE FINAL APPEARANCE OF PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-22-78 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It is with infinite gladness that we praise God for radio and for television. Even when days are inclement there will be no less thousands and thousands who are listening to these services by means of these broadcasts. So on the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio KCBI of our Bible Institute, we welcome you sharing this glad hour with us.
Could I also say it would surprise you how many people are here this morning? And I am the number one to be surprised. It is a beautiful and precious gathering of God’s children. And I am even more surprised at the great number of visitors that we have. All of us would extend to you our deepest gratitude for your presence.
Tonight as the announcement was made, tonight will be one of the sixteen sermons, my favorite sermons. It will be sponsored by our senior high, and the title of the message is What Shall I Do With Jesus Which is Called Christ? All of the messages are evangelistic, and we are praying that God will no less work with us in saving grace than He has every night that these messages are delivered.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are concluding now chapter 12, and in concluding chapter 12 we are bidding adieu to the chief apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 12:11-17]. This is the last time that you will see Simon Peter; the one brief exception is in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts at the Jerusalem conference [Acts 15:7-11]. Peter is there, but the center of the stage – even in the Jerusalem conference – is Paul, and Barnabas, and the Gentiles, and the fruit of their first missionary journey [Acts 15:12]. So we can almost say that this is the last appearance of Simon Peter [Acts 12:11-17].
This is the story of the execution of James, the brother of John [Acts 12:1-2]. It is the story of the arrest of Simon Peter, of his incarceration against the day when he is to be executed. Because of the Passover they delay his slaughter and in the nighttime, the angel of the Lord smites him – awakens him. His chains fall off; the doors of the prison open, and he is led forth into the freedom of the preaching of the gospel of Christ [Acts 12:3-17].
Then Peter disappears from the story; Luke no longer refers to him. Thereafter Luke follows Paul on the missionary journeys and finally to Rome itself [Acts 13:1-14:28, 15:35-28:31]. So I thought today, in this hour, that we would speak of this big fisherman, Simon Peter. That is, I think, an apt description: the big fisherman – big in every way and almost certainly big physically. You have got several fine intimations of that from the stories in the Gospel. In the twenty-first chapter of John there are six apostles who are struggling with that miraculous drought of fish. But the story says Simon Peter went down there and pulled that net up himself; six men struggling with it, he does it himself [John 21:7-11]. He must have been a gargantuan man.
You get another intimation of the physical size of Simon Peter in the third chapter of Acts when that poor man with his hand extended, expecting an alms – Simon Peter at that leverage – man! If I were to lift up a man, I would have to get underneath him with all my strength and then struggle around to raise him up. Simon Peter took that fellow by the hand and bodily raised him at that leverage; he must have been a tremendous man, physically [Acts 3:1-7].
But the reason all of us somehow are drawn to Simon Cephas is because of our identity with him; he is literally "Mister Great Heart." We identify with his fall and with his rising again; by far he is the most often reproved of our Lord. Paul is somehow beyond us. Ah! He was just so above anybody that we have ever studied after. Even Moses had some tremendous faults; kept him out of the Promised Land [Numbers 20:7-12; Deuteronomy 3:23-28, 34:1-7]. He was volatile in his spirit; but Paul, he was a creation of God; separate, and unique, and apart. It is hard to identify with the apostle Paul, but all of us can with Simon Peter.
So in our last message about Simon we are going to look at it and follow his life – a most beautiful and interesting story for us. Number one: somebody led him to Jesus; he is a trophy of personal witnessing. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been the one to win that man to Christ, to have introduced him to the Lord? Well, Andrew did that down there listening to John the Baptist preach, opening his heart to the gospel of the forerunner, baptized in the Jordan River. The Bible says the first thing he did was to find his brother, Simon, and bring him to the Lord [John 1:40-42]. That is great! And no one ever does anything greater than introduce somebody to the Lord Jesus. If you could give them a million dollars, or a fortune beyond it, it would be nothing comparable to bringing them to the Lord.
I think of your children. I suppose it is a part of human nature to try to endow our children with everything we possibly can: fine education, to leave them our estates, and otherwise to hedge them about with everything of which we are capable. But of all the things in life, together the summation of them would not compare with bringing the child to the Lord, that he come to know the Savior and grow up in the admonition and nurture of Christ Jesus [Ephesians 6:4].
So, Simon Peter is a trophy of personal soulwinning; just as we are going to dedicate ourselves to a great outreach in this city, personally inviting people to Bible study and to know our Lord and His living Word. Simon Peter is that. He is a trophy of individual soulwinning.
Second: he is a fisher of men in the making. It was an unusual thing, his call into that assignment to be a fisher of men [Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:16-17]. He had a boat and the crowd so pressed the Lord on the sea that He asked for the privilege of sitting in Simon Peter’s boat. And the Lord talked to people, preached to the people from the boat [Luke 5:1-3]. Then, after His message was done, He asked Simon Peter, "Go out into the deep." And that is a good sermon, "Deeper with God"; "Go out into the deep, and let down your nets" [Luke 5:4]. And Simon Peter was a fisherman all of his life; and he said "Lord, there is no need to do that. We have toiled in fishing all night long and there are no fish: but at Thy word I will let down the net" [Luke 5:5]. And they caught a great school of fish! [Luke 5:6]. And when Simon saw it, he fell at the feet of our Lord saying, "Lord, I am not worthy to be in Your presence. Depart from me; I am a sinful man!" [Luke 5:8]. And the Lord said, "Simon, hereafter you are going to catch men [Luke 5:10] – a fisher of men" [Matthew 4:19]. And for that purpose did the Lord train him and teach him to be a spokesman, opening the door into the kingdom of God.
Number three: He is a rock in the making. The Lord changed his name from Simon to Cephas [John 1:42]. That’s Aramaic, cephas; the Greek is petros; the English is "rock." He changed his name to "Simon Rock," Simon Cephas, Simon Peter – "Simon, the rock." Well, he was a bold kind of a fellow. When the Lord was walking on the water, it was Simon Peter who said, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee." And the Lord said, "Come." Anytime anywhere there is exhibited tremendous faith, the Lord honors it; He just does. He was delighted when Simon Peter said, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee," walking on the water! "Come, just according to your faith be it unto you" [Matthew 14:28-29]; the Lord always says He honors tremendous commitment and tremendous faith. Well, it’s too bad that instead of keeping his eyes upon the Lord, he began to listen to the wind, and to watch the roaring waves, and began to sink [Matthew 14:30-31]. As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he was walking on the water; as long as we keep our eyes on the Lord, we’ll never fail. Bold! And of course the incident that brought to Him the unusual passage of the building of the church, "Who do men say that I am?" [Matthew 16:13].
"Ah! Some say You are Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Some say You are John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Some say You are one of the others like Isaiah."
"Well, who do you say that I am?" [Matthew 16:14-15].
And Simon Peter is the spokesman for the whole Christian world, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16].
And the Lord replies, "On that rock," on that rock, the deity of the living Lord, "on this rock I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18]. Simon Peter, as he writes in his epistle, is one of the rocks on the great foundation of Jesus Christ [1 Peter 2:4-5].
Now Simon Peter, fourth: in his privilege. The Lord had a little inner circle; Peter, James, and John – and of the three Simon Peter was first. When Jairus’ daughter was raised, those three – Simon Peter and the two brothers – were with Him [Luke 8:41-42, -51]. When the Lord went into Gethsemane those two brothers and Simon went a little further, watching in prayer [Matthew 26:36-46]. When the Lord prepared the Lord’s Supper, he sent Simon Peter and John to make the arrangements [Luke 22:7-8]. And on that Mount of Transfiguration, Simon Peter is there with James and John on the mount of privilege [Mark 9:2-7]. Ah! What a place near to the heart of God; and all of us can share it close to the blessed Jesus.
Number five is failure and his fall; so much of Simon Peter’s life is thus identified with a human weakness. Here is one, "Lord, I do not want to go down there to that valley. I like it up here with You on this mountaintop. Let us build three cottages and just stay here: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah [Mark 9:5]. Let us just stay. Not down there in that valley, where that demented boy is – and those disciples are having real trouble [Mark 9:14-18] – Lord, let us stay up here!" [Mark 9:5]. Well, I wish it were that way. We will rest by-and-by; heaven will be a place of superlative and infinite rejoicing; everything perfect, but not here not here. There is work to be done, and a lot of it is toilsome and laborious, but that is Simon Peter. And that is just as we are, "Lord, Lord, wish I could stay."
You see him again in his weakness. The Lord asked Simon Peter, James, and John to watch and pray while He agonized in Gethsemane. When He came back, were they watching? No. Were they praying? No. Were they sound asleep? [Mark 14:37-41]. Yes. Oh, dear! Isn’t that we? [There are a] thousand instances in our lives where we ought to be at it and with it; we are not at it or with it. When he ought to be praying, sound asleep – Simon Peter. And of all things, when the Lord announces, "You will all deny Me tonight," Simon Peter is the one who says, "Now Lord, John here may deny You, and James may deny You, and all these others, they may deny You; but not I. Lord, I will lay down My life for You." That is what he said. And the Lord replied to Simon Peter, "Simon verily," truly, amen, "I say to you, before the cock crow twice," that is midnight and then the dawn, "thrice will you deny that you even know Me" [Matthew 26:31-35, Mark 14:27-31]. And Simon Peter once again disavowed the thought of such a repudiation and denial.
Surprise you if you ever really get to know yourself; it will surprise you how many streaks of weaknesses there are in you. It sure is no good sight to look inside of us; all kinds of weaknesses, all kinds of faults and failures. That is why I think the best thing for anybody – psychologically, psychiatrically, healingly – is to get out of themselves. When you look at yourself and start living inside yourself, you are going to get psychic, and neurotic, and filled with all kinds of unholy despairs. What you need to do is, following the Christian faith our salvation is always objective; it is on the outside of us, it is in Jesus. It is not in us, it’s in Him, and if we can just look to Him; just look at Jesus, just keep our eyes on Jesus, ah! There is balm, there is healing; anything except just to look at yourself. Well, that’s Simon Peter. Colossal weakness; just as all of us have them, colossal weaknesses.
So when the time came, surely enough! Out in the courtyard and the Lord there before the Sanhedrin, that little maid came up to the big fisherman and pointed her finger at him; a little girl, a maid in the household of Caiaphas, pointed her finger at him and said, "You are one of His disciples." And he said, "I am not." And she pressed it, "But you talk like Him." That is a compliment, isn’t it? "But you talk like Him."
He says "You think I talk like Him? You listen to this." And he cursed and swore "I never heard of Him." And while he was swearing and cursing the Lord turned, the Lord turned and looked upon Simon Peter [Matthew 26:69-74; Luke 22:56-61].
Did you ever read this beautiful sonnet of Elizabeth Barrett Browning? I think that you haven’t. For I rarely, if ever, hear anyone refer to it. "The Meaning of the Look," one of her most beautiful sonnets, is written about Jesus looking at Simon Peter while he was cursing and denying that he ever knew Him. This is the sonnet:
I think that look of Christ might seem to say –
‘Thou Peter! Art thou then a common stone
Which I at last must break My heart upon
For all God’s charge to His high angels may
Guard My feet better? Did I yesterday
Wash thy feet, My beloved, that they should run
Quick to deny Me ‘neath the morning sun?
And do thy kisses like the rest betray?
The cock crows coldly. Go and manifest
A late contrition but no bootless fear!
And when thy final need is dreariest
Thou shall not be denied, as I am here;
My voice to God and angels shall attest,
Because I know this man, let him be clear.’
And that’s so true. What Jesus could see in a man, it is marvelous! It is wonderful, and what He can see in you, "I know this man – cursing, denying, repudiating." But the Lord, turning looking [Luke 22:61]; how do you think He looked? With resentment? With bitterness? With hatred? I think He looked with infinite compassion; He understood, and He always understands. The only thing that destroys our relationship with God is when we are bitter. But when we are hurt or have failed, He understands; He understood then.
Seven is restoration: the angel said to the women, "Go tell the disciples and Peter" [Mark 16:7]. Why pick out Peter? "Go tell the disciples," he was one of them, "Go tell the disciples and Peter," especially Simon Peter. Then the twenty-first chapter of John; there is no chapter in the Bible more filled with the human and the divine – God’s love, and grace, and the response of a human soul – than the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John.
"Simon Simon, lovest thou Me?"
"Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee" [John 21:15].
Three times the Lord was denied by Simon Peter [Matthew 26:70, 72, 74]. And three times the Lord asks him. And three times does Simon Peter avow his love for God [John 21:15, 16, 17]. Man, everything’s all right, finally, if you love the Lord. Finally, it will work out. You can’t stumble into so deep an abyss that His gracious hand cannot lift you up. Bless His name.
Then comes the bold emissary of heaven; what I’ve been preaching through these last years now, he is the preacher at Pentecost [Acts 2:1, 14-40]. He is the bold exponent of Christ before the Sanhedrin [Acts 4:5-21]. He is the emissary to open the kingdom to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-25]. He is God’s preacher to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles [Acts 10:34-48] – finally to us. And he is here liberated from prison that he might go to the diaspora [Acts 12:2-10], to whom he wrote his two letters [1 Peter 1].
And of course the Gospel of Mark is the gospel of Simon Peter. In the first chapter of the second epistle of Simon Peter, he says that, "I will endeavor to have these things written down for you before I die as the Lord has prophesied" [2 Peter 1:12-15]. And Mark wrote it down. He calls Mark – in the first epistle in the last chapter – he calls Mark "my son"; that is, "my son in the ministry." And when you read the Gospel of Mark, you are reading the gospel of Peter.
Then his death: the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John prophesies the death of [Peter], how he shall die – that is, by the stretching out of the hands [John 21:18], which is a reference, an imagery, of crucifixion. Jesus prophesies that Simon Peter will die by crucifixion. Then he adds a word that is remarkable: John says, "This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God" [John 21:19], which is an astonishing thing! We glorify God in our crucifixion, in our suffering, in the tears, and the sobs, and the brokenness of life; is that the way we glorify God? "This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God," that is by crucifixion!
My answer to that; the best that I can read the Book and the best that I can observe the witness of the Christian faith, yes. The world laughs when the people laugh with it, and they are up when the world is up with it, but it is in the hour of death, and of sorrow, of brokenness, that the Christian shines – singing his songs in the night. Ah, the witness of the Christian! In an hour of persecution, or trial, or heartache, or frustration, or illness, or suffering, or death, "This spake He, signifying by what death," that is crucifixion," he should glorify God" [John 21:19]. And tradition has it that, when Simon Peter was crucified, he asked that he be crucified head down; that he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord was crucified.
This week I followed through a Christian’s testimony to the grace of God in suffering and in death. As some of you know, all this last week I have been preaching through the State Evangelistic Conference of California. Heretofore, they have had them, two: a conference in the South, a conference in the North. Because of a providence, they put both of the conferences together this past week, in Fresno in the center of the San Joaquin Valley, in the center of the state. And because both of them [were] there, the conference was about twice as long as most evangelistic conferences are; and every night I closed the conference with a message.
What happened was, after I had preached and had brought the closing address, there was something every night that followed my preaching. And it was this: the first night there was care, burdened, concern. The young preacher and his wife who lived on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas – his father, Dr. Royal, a professor in Golden Gate Seminary; the young fellow and his wife were crossing the High Sierras in a little one-engine plane. And the evening had come, that first evening, and he hadn’t arrived. And there was care; so after my message, why, in the benediction it was mentioned that they prayed that nothing tragic had befallen. That was the first night. The second night, the plane had not appeared and they were in deepest concern. So, in the prayer that night, "certainly something tragic has befallen," they prayed for the young fellow and his wife crossing those high Sierras. That was the second night; the next night the announcement was made when I got through preaching – each time this is the way the conference closed. The next night, "The wreckage has been found and they think that maybe one of them is still alive," so they had a prayer for that one that might be alive. The next night the announcement was made that he was alive and she was dead, and they were taking him to the hospital and her to the morgue; and then prayed. And the last night, they had written down a word from him from his hospital. That was one of the most unusual words I have ever heard. They had called him and asked him to say something to the conference to which he was on his way. First, his plane had fallen because the wings had iced over and he couldn’t go back, and he couldn’t go forward. Heavy ice had formed on the wings of the plane and they had gone down in those High Sierras in the snow – below zero! That’s why his plane had fallen. Then he said, "I held my beautiful girl in my arms and watched her go to sleep in the Lord, frozen to death." What a beautiful witness! "I held her in my arms and I watched her go to sleep in the Lord," that is Christian! That’s what it is to love Jesus.
Then he said, "The doctor has just now told me that he must amputate, both of my legs – frozen." Ah! I just think of that: what an announcement: cut off both of your legs! "The doctor has just now made the announcement he is to amputate both of my legs." Then his last word: "But brethren, pray for me. When I am up, and well, and able, I will be carrying on the work of the Lord." That’s great! That’s the way we glorify the Lord, and that’s the difference that Jesus makes. It is life in Him; promise, beautiful and gracious.
I realize that in a congregation like this, practically all of us – maybe all of us are in the kingdom. We’re in the fold. We have been saved, we have been baptized, we belong to the church. We love the Lord; we are going to die in that faith. But there may be one somebody you who today would give himself to the Lord Jesus. "This day I accept Him as my Savior." "This day I’m coming into the fellowship of this church. This day is a day of commitment for me. And here I am, pastor, I’m on the way."
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing, a family, or you here, a couple, could it be you? Or just one somebody, while we sing this appeal, come. "Today I accept the Lord. I give my heart to Jesus." "This day I’m putting my life in this wonderful church," if that somebody is you, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FINAL APPEARANCE OF PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Angel of the Lord frees Peter from prison
B. Outside brief reference in Acts 15, Peter drops from the story
C. The big fisherman(John 21, Acts 3)
D. We identify with Simon Peter, his weaknesses
II. Simon Peter
A. A trophy of personal soul-winning(John 1:41)
1. Launch into the deep
2. What Jesus could see in a man
C. The rock to be
1. His boldness (Matthew 14:28-31)
2. Declaration of Peter, "Thou art the Christ" (Matthew 16:18-19)
D. On the mount of privilege
1. The inner circle of three at the transfiguration(Matthew 17:1-2)
E. His failures and his fall
1. On the mount of transfiguration(Matthew 17:4)
2. In the Garden of Gethsemane(Matthew 26:40)
3. His denial(Matthew 26:33-35, 74-75)
a. Poem, "The Meaning of the Look"
F. His restoration(John 21:1-22)
G. The dynamo in Acts
H. His gospel and letters(Mark, 1 Peter 5:13, 2 Peter 1:15)
I. His death(John 21:19)
1. Dr. Royal – plane crash, death of his wife