The Final Appearance of Peter
January 22nd, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
THE FINAL APPEARANCE OF PETER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-22-78 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Last Appearance of Peter. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we have finished the twelfth chapter. And in finishing the twelfth chapter, outside of a brief reference in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, Simon Peter drops from the story. He is never heard from again.
Dr. Luke, beginning with chapter 13, follows the ministry of the apostle Paul on his great missionary journeys, and finally to Rome itself [Acts 13:1-28:31]. The only reason Simon Peter is mentioned again in chapter 15 is because of the controversy that arose around Paul and Barnabas and their missionary journeys [Acts 15:7-11]. In effect, therefore, our last sight of Simon Peter is in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 12:18-19]. And that gave rise to the title of the message: The Last Appearance of Simon Peter.
This appearance, as you know, Herod Agrippa I, finding it advantageous to persecute the church, slew James the brother of John [Acts 12:1-2], the cousin of the Lord, and incarcerated Simon Peter, to execute him after the Passover [Acts 12:3]. But the night before the execution Simon Peter, fast asleep between the Roman guards, is awakened by the angel of the Lord, who smote him on the side, raised him up, and his chains fell off [Acts 12:6-7]. And the prison doors opened and Simon Peter is free now to preach the gospel [Acts 12:10-11]. And he went to the diaspora, the Jewish scattered [1 Peter 1:1] – the Jewish people scattered over the eastern part of the Roman Empire, to whom he addressed his two letters, 1 and 2 Peter.
It is right that he be called "the big fisherman." There are several intimations in the Bible that clearly delineate, and describe him, as a tremendous man. He was that inwardly; he was also that outwardly. In the twenty-first chapter, for example, of the Gospel of John, there are six of those apostles that are struggling to bring the miraculous draft of fish to the land [John 21:8]. But John says Simon Peter went down, and he pulled that great, vast net by himself [John 21:11]. What six men were struggling with, Simon Peter did alone – a big fisherman.
You get another intimation of the size of the man in the story in the third chapter of the Book of Acts: this beggar with his right hand held forward asking alms [Acts 3:1-2]. It would take all of the strength that I had to get underneath a man and lift him up. With all of my strength, I’d have to get with both of my arms underneath him and raise him. That great big man Simon Peter took that cripple, who all of his life had never walked, he took him and at the leverage of an arm’s length, he raised that man; raised him up [Acts 3:7-8]. I just can’t imagine a man with that kind of strength. He is the big fisherman. We could call him also Mr. Great Heart. We identify with Simon Peter.
He had such colossal weaknesses, like us. His falling and his rising again is a story reiterated in our own lives. We have experienced it many times. It’s hard for us to identify with the apostle Paul. He is sublime. He just lives in another world. But all of us can identify with Simon Peter; he’s like us, and we’re like him. And the hurts and the heartaches, the foibles and faults of Simon Peter is the story of our own lives.
So let’s begin. Number one: he is a trophy of individual personal soulwinning. He was won to Christ by his brother Andrew. Down there, listening to John the Baptist preach, Andrew repented, was baptized, and being introduced to the Lord Himself, "he first findeth his own brother, and brought him to Jesus" [John 1:40-42].
Wouldn’t you have loved to think that you had introduced somebody to the blessed Savior like Simon Peter? But wherever or whoever or however, it is a great thing to bring somebody to the Lord. I don’t think [there’s] anything greater in the world than to introduce a friend or a family member to the blessed Jesus. That’s why, in my humble persuasion, out of all of the things you can do for your children – you can give them a splendid education, you can endow them in trust funds, you can leave your estate to them – but if you were able to give them millions of dollars and to bestow upon them the finest scholastic achievement that mind could think for, all of it together would not be comparable to bringing those children to the feet of the Lord and rearing them in the nurture and admonition of our blessed Savior.
It’s great, I say, anytime, anywhere, to lead somebody to the Lord. Now Simon Peter was that; he was brought to the Lord through a personal introduction, through personal soulwinning. That’s one reason we are praying the Lord’s infinite blessing upon this outreach ministry that we call "Action." Wherever people are – friends, neighbors, business associates, folks down the street, up the street, over on the other side – we’re going to try to enroll them in Bible study, that they might come to know Him whom to know aright is life, here and in the world everlasting to come.
All right, number two: not only was Simon Peter won to the Lord, he’s a trophy of personal witnessing, but he is a fisher of men to be. Do you remember the story of his conversion, of his call, and of his commitment to the Lord? He is on the seashore and his boat is tied up, and the Lord asked if He might sit in the boat and teach the people that crowded Him into the water, the press of the multitude. So from Simon Peter’s boat, He speaks to the people on the seashore [Luke 5:1-4]. And then after the message is over, He tells Simon to launch out into the deep.
That’s a good sermon: to launch out into the deep. Don’t stay in the shallows, either in your own study of the Word of God, or in your own devotion to the Lord, or in your own ministries for Christ. Go deep. Go out into the deep. "Launch out into the deep," said the Lord, "and let down your net" [Luke 5:4]. And Simon Peter said, "Lord, I have been a fisherman all my life, and we have toiled all the night long, and there are no fish to be caught." Then he added a little addendum, "Nevertheless, at Thy word I will do it" [Luke 5:4-5].
So launching out into the deep, dropping the nets, they enclosed a great school of fish [Luke 5:6]. And when Simon Peter saw it, convicted, he fell at the feet of the Lord Jesus in the boat and said, "Lord, Lord, I am not worthy to be in Your presence. Depart from me. I am a sinful man" [Luke 5:8].
Do you know anyone who feels that when in the presence of God? When a man boasts of his goodness, he’s far away from the throne. The nearer you get to God, the more the black carnality of your life shines forth. Ah! Isaiah said, "Woe is me!… For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" [Isaiah 6:5]. When John saw the Lord in the Apocalypse, he fell at His feet as dead, fearing [Revelation 1:17]. That’s the truth about any man. When you feel yourself good, worthy, you’re long way off. But when you draw nigh to God, you’re unworthiness and unholiness become an awesome conviction. Falling at His feet, "Lord, I am a sinful man" [Luke 5:8].
And the Lord said to Simon Peter, and in a gesture that is frequently referred to; I would think He put His hand on his shoulder, "From henceforth, Simon, you will catch men" [Luke 5:10]; a great fisher of men.
Well, you notice in third: as a rock to be, as a rock to be, his name is Simon, son of Jona, Simon. But the Lord changed his name and said, "You are going to be called" – in Aramaic Kēphas, in Greek, Petros, "Peter," – in English, a rock, a rock to be [Matthew 16:18; John 1:42].
Well, that’s an interesting thing about Simon Peter and that name: Rock. Rock. Some of these actors, you know, love to use that name like Rock Hudson or Rock so-and-so. They’re sure little pebbles to be called Rock; Rock. Well, he was bold, and that’s great. For a man to be bold in the Lord is a strength. When the Lord was walking on the water, Simon said, "If it be Thou, Lord, bid me come unto Thee" [Matthew 14:28]. And did the Lord say, "Simon, that is too bold," or, "That is too great a faith," or, "That is too vast a commitment"? He never says that. Any time a man evidences tremendous commitment, or tremendous faith, or boldness in the Lord, Jesus says, "Come. Come" [Matthew 14:29].
And Simon Peter climbed overboard, and as long as he looked at the Lord, he walked on the water. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to watch the winds and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink [Matthew 14:29-30]. The Lord honors a man in his boldness. He will honor any faith that you will ever offer to Him, even to the removing of mountains [Matthew 21:21].
Then, of course, at Caesarea Philippi is possibly the most famous incident in the life of our Savior outside of His passion on the cross. He said to His disciples, "Whom do men say that I am? Who do men say that I am?" And they replied, "Some say You are the weeping prophet, You cry so much. Some say that You are John the Baptist raised from the dead, You are so mighty" [Matthew 16:13-14].
"But whom do you say that I am?" [Matthew 16:15]
And Simon speaks for them and for us, "We say that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16]. And the Lord replies, "Simon, on that rock" of the deity of the Son, "on that rock of the great confession of faith, on that rock I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18]. And Simon Peter is one of the stones, as he writes in his first epistle, in the building up of the temple of the Lord [1 Peter 2:5].
When you look again at Simon Peter on the mount of privilege – the Lord had a little inner circle of three: Simon, and the two brothers James and John, His cousins. Their mothers, Jesus’ mother and the mother of James and John, were sisters [John 19:25], and they were cousins. And that little trio, Simon Peter, James, and John, were so oft with the Lord. He took those three alone and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead [Mark 5:37-42]. He sent Peter and John to prepare for the Lord’s Supper [Luke 22:8]. He took those three with Him into the garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed in agony [Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:44]. And of course, they were the three who were with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration when His deity shined through the veil of His flesh [Luke 9:29].
And when Moses and Elijah spoke to the Lord about His coming death [Luke 9:30-31], Moses saying, "Lord, I am here representing the law, on the pledge of Your atonement for my sins." And Elijah says, "Lord, and I am here representing the prophets, on the basis of the promised atonement for my sins in Your coming death." Oh, what a marvelous revelation of the deity, the glory, and of the heavenly purpose of the coming of our Lord into the world! And Simon is there, and as always, he is talking; and as always, he is reproved for what he says [Luke 9:35]; but a great, holy, and heavenly hour on the Mount of Transfiguration – the mount of privilege [Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36].
Then follows his faults, his failures, and his fall. How many times in the life of Simon Peter do we see him failing the test? Almost always. For example, up there on the mount he says, "Lord, Lord, let’s stay. Not down there in that valley. Look down there, that demonic boy, those sterile and unfruitful disciples, all of the hurt and sorrow and heartache and trouble. Let’s stay up here. Let’s stay up here" [Luke 9:33, 37-42].
Well, we can sympathize with that, I tell you. Who wants to get his hands dirty in the mess of this world? And who wants to find himself involved in all of the ceaseless, insoluble problems of human life? "Lord, let’s stay up here."
That’s not right, and that’s not the purpose of our calling. As long as there is somebody sick, we are not well. As long as there is somebody in prison, we are not free. As long as there is somebody lost, we are not saved, and as long as there is someone who needs God, we are not delivered. Wonderful to fellowship with the Lord: it’s glorious to be with Him on the mount. But our assignment is always in the valley.
Well, look at Simon Peter again. He chose him to go with Him into the garden of Gethsemane and said, "Watch and pray. Watch and pray" [Matthew 26:41]. So the Lord comes and finds Simon Peter sound asleep [Matthew 26:43]. That is we; sound asleep when we ought to be praying; falling into indifference and forgetfulness when we ought to be walking by the side of our Lord. That is we; sound asleep, we ought to be vibrantly awake; indifferent, when we ought to be so deeply concerned and committed.
Finally, of course, his denial of the Lord Himself; can you believe that? Came about like this. The Lord said at that Passover supper, "Verily, verily, truly, truly, amen, amen," it is in Greek, "amen, amen. All of you tonight will deny that you even know Me. All of you will forsake Me" [Mark 14:27]. And Simon Peter looks at the Lord and says, "Now, Lord, John there, he may deny You; and James over there, he may deny You; and Matthew and Philip and Bartholomew and all the rest, they may deny You. But not I, Lord, I would never deny You" [Mark 14:29].
And the Lord says, "Simon, Simon, before the cock crow twice" – that is, at midnight and at dawn – before the dawn, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny thrice that you even know Me" [Mark 14:30]. And Simon Peter hurt, said, "Lord, Lord, You do not understand me. Lord, Lord, I would lay down my life for Thee." Wonderful; that’s great.
Then a little maid came up to the big man in the courtyard of Annas and Caiaphas, and the Lord was right there, being examined before the tribunal of the Sanhedrin. A little maid, a girl came up to the big man and pointed her finger at him and said, "You, you are one of His disciples."
"I am not."
And she says, "You, you talk like Him. Your speech is like His."
And he replies, "You think I talk like Him? Then listen to this." And he cursed and swore that he never knew Him, never saw Him, never heard of Him [Mark 14:66-72]. And in a strange providence of life, at that moment, while he was cursing, denying the Lord, from the tribunal inside, the Lord turned and, through the door, looked upon Simon Peter [Luke 22:61].
Have you ever read, or do you remember, the beautiful sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poet wife of Robert Browning, "The Meaning of the Look?" Do you remember that sonnet? A beautiful piece of poetry, and deep spiritual sentiment; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet, "The Meaning of the Look." She writes,
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 foot 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 shalt not be denied, as I am here;
My voice, to God and angels, shall attest,
Because I KNOW this man, let him be clear."
That’s right. What kind of a look do you think the Lord gave to Simon Peter when He turned and Simon was cursing and denying? Do you think it was a look of hatred or of bitterness, one of coming judgment and condemnation? How do you think the Lord looked when He turned and looked upon Simon Peter denying that he ever knew Him?
I think it is one of infinite compassion. I do. I think the Lord is that way with us. Not that we don’t need condemning, we do. Not that we don’t need judging, we do. Not that we don’t need chastening, and we do. But His look, I think, was one of infinite compassion, love, forgiveness. "And He turned, and looked upon Peter" [Luke 22:61].
And that brings me to his rising again, to his contrition, and confession, and restoration. In my humble persuasion, there is no chapter or story in the Bible or in literature more moving than in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. And the Lord says, "Simon, Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?" And three times Simon had denied the Lord [Mark 14:68, 70, 71], three times does the Lord ask him that question [John 24:15, 16, 17]. And each time, in deepest contrition, Simon says, "Lord, You know all about me. You know that I love You."
Isn’t it a wonderful thing what the Lord can see in a man, can see in us? More of the good, more of the better, more of the best, more of the hoped for; what we could be, and by His grace, pray we shall be. And Simon Peter is restored to the Lord.
Then follows Simon, the dynamo for God, God’s great, bold, fearless, lion-like preacher. He is the preacher at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-42]. He stands with infinite commitment and courage before the Sanhedrin [Acts 4:5-12]. He is the preacher opening the door to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-25]. He’s the preacher using the keys, opening the doors to the Gentiles and to us [Acts 10]. And he’s the preacher here in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Acts, incarcerated, awaiting death; but at peace in the Lord, resting in the promises of God [Acts 12:3-6].
And he is the author of those two tremendous epistles [1 Peter, 2 Peter]. He said in the first chapter of his second epistle, "After my decease, I shall have made it possible that you can read these things" [2 Peter 1:14-15].
And Mark, whom he calls his son in the ministry, in the fifth chapter of the first letter [1 Peter 5:13], Mark’s Gospel is the Gospel according to Peter: The Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Dr. Luke – the Gospel according to the sainted apostle John, Mark is the Gospel according to Simon Peter.
And then last, his death. In the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord predicts the death of Simon Peter, that he should die by the stretching out of the hands, that is, he should die by crucifixion [John 21:18]. Then John adds the most amazing but the most deeply Christian sentence in this world. After Jesus predicts that Simon Peter shall die by crucifixion, then John adds, "This spake He" – this spake Jesus – "signifying by what death he should glorify God" [John 21:19]. What an astonishing delineation and description of the Christian faith! We glorify God in our crucifixion, in our suffering, in our agony, in our sobs and tears, and in our death.
How different is the world. The world is at peace with itself when everything is going their way. That’s when the infidels sing, and that’s when they carry on, and that’s when they have their carousals, and that’s when everything is up. But to the Christian, God is glorified in the witness and faithfulness in our times of sorrow, and sadness, and agony, and crucifixion, and death: singing songs in the night, believing God against belief, trusting in the Lord.
I lived through something like that this last week. As some of you know, this last week, I have been preaching through the state evangelistic conference in California. The length of the conference is twice as long as usually they are. They have a conference in southern California and a conference in northern California. But this time, they put both of them together because of a providence, and held it in Fresno in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, in the heart of the state. And I preached through that conference, bringing the closing message every night. Every night after I had preached the message, and we came to the conclusion of the conference, there was something that continued throughout the meeting. First, the first night, some of them just privately expressed and then in the closing benedictory prayer, prayed. Dr. Royal, professor at Golden Gate Seminary, has a young son and his wife. And the young preacher is pastor of the church about ninety miles north of the Mojave Desert near Death Valley. And he and his wife were flying in a little monoplane across the high Sierras to Fresno to attend that state convocation. But they hadn’t arrived, and there was a murmur of quiet concern.
So the first night they prayed. The second night, he had not arrived; and there was deep concern on the part of all of those thousands of people there; hadn’t been heard from. So in the prayer that night, they prayed earnestly that the hand of God would sustain him wherever he was lost. The next night, the announcement was made: the plane and its wreckage had been discovered, and it seemed to be that there was at least one who had survived. And they prayed.
The next night, rescue workers had reached the site up there in those high Sierras. The wife was dead, frozen in that awesome temperature. And he was critically hurt, but was in the hospital. The next night, the last one, they had talked to him from the hospital bed, and he had given this message, and they had written it down to read to the conference.
First, he thanked them for praying. Second, he said, "I held in my arms my beautiful girl," a precious reference to his wife. "I held in my arms my beautiful girl until she went to sleep in Jesus"; frozen to death. Only a Christian could say that. Only a Christian would say that: "until she went to sleep in Jesus."
"As for me," he said, "the doctor has just now told me that he must amputate both of my legs," frozen. Oh, what an announcement that would be! To have both of your legs cut off. "The doctor’s just now told me that he must amputate both of my legs." Then he closed, "But when I am well and when I am able, I’ll be again at God’s work and with you. Amen." That’s what it is to believe in the Lord, and to love the Lord, and to give your life to the Lord. Whether we live or whether we die, we’re His. "This spake He signifying by what death," crucifixion, "he should glorify God" [John 21:19]; all of the riches of His grace, the blessedness of His presence, and the preciousness of His promises to us.
And that is our invitation to you today. In a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the blessed Lord; to come into the fellowship of His church; to answer the Spirit’s call with your life; while we sing this song, while we pray and wait, if that bidding is to you, would you come? "This day I accept Jesus as my Savior." Or, "This day I am coming into the fellowship of this dear church." Or, "This day God has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life." On the first note of the first stanza, come. And may angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.