Springs without water

Series: 1 & 2 Peter

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Have you ever gone on a long hike, and in your excitement you packed the chips, biltong, sweets and cellphone, but you forgot the water bottles? I have! It’s fine in the Cape mountains where there are plenty of mountain springs to drink from, but in the dry Bushveld of Gauteng, it’s a fatal mistake! The snacks in my backpack soon made me nauseous, and who wants to share pictures on Facebook when you’re dying of thirst? My heart felt sick every time I came upon another dry river bed. It was so full of promise, yet so empty and unsatisfying. Soon all I could think of was a cool, clear stream to quench my thirst. But there was no water to be found, just empty mirages.

Waterless springs.

Waterless springs. This is one of the powerful pictures Peter uses to describe false teachers who will ‘secretly’ infiltrate the church and lead people away from the real Jesus and his true, life-giving gospel. Similarly, Jude calls them “shepherds who feed only themselves…clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13). Ponder on Peter’s emotive warnings for a moment:

“These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’” (2 Peter 2:17-19).

Like Israel’s false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, these false teachers in the Church promise people salvation and sustenance, but their teaching is actually a mirage. It’s empty. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16). They teach what is palatable and accommodating, but not what is true, “filling people with vain hopes” (Jer 23:16). Ezekiel said that they paint over people’s broken lives with ‘whitewash’ (Ezek 13:10-12). They don’t lead people into freedom, but further into slavery.

Living Water.

But, in contrast to waterless springs, the real historical Jesus offers authentic, life-sustaining water that quenches our deepest soul thirst. He tells the Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). And about the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”(John 7:37-39).

But the real Jesus of the Bible also calls people to the ‘narrow door’ of salvation. He tells us that there is a high cost to being his follower (Luke 13:2414:33). The real Jesus calls us to repent of our real sin and to submit to him as Saviour and King (Luke 13:35). The ‘water’ he offers is the only water that can wash away our sin and quench the deepest thirst of our soul (Heb 10:22Eph 5:26-27). Christ’s living water is not just for now, but for all eternity (Rev 21:6Rev 22:1).

But, in stark contrast, false teachers promise their followers freedom and a good life now. In the words of Jeremiah, “They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you,” and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jer 23:141617). They give people false security and false hope. Mirages.

According to Peter and Christ himself, the end of false teachers isn’t enviable (2 Peter 2:4-91321-22Luke 13:26-29).

Enemies from within.

But enemies from within are always hard to spot. Peter uses words like ‘secretly’, ‘entice’ and ‘appealing’ in his warnings. He says that they “seduce the unstable” (2 Peter 2:14). And Paul says that this subtlety shouldn’t surprise us, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

Lest we be offended by Peter’s harsh language or dismiss him as a conspiracy theorist, an un-neighbourly bigot or a paranoid fear-mongerer, consider this question:

How would you feel if you were a parent and saw a pedophile sex offender enter your house and start to groom your young children? This is the anger and outrage behind Peter’s impassioned warnings. These false teachers were twisting the gospel and threatening the eternal welfare of growing Christians. They were belittling the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, encouraging people to care for the here-and-now, without any proper fear of God or an eternity separated from his love. They were closing off the only road to salvation and offering a detour to hell (Luke 11:52).

Actually, far from being paranoid, Peter is showing the oversight that all spiritual shepherds should practice when they see teachers seducing Christ’s flock with false assurances and changing the gospel (1 Peter 5:2).

Jesus gave exactly the same warnings, motived by the same loving protectiveness:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:15)… For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (Mark 13:22-23)…

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:11-12).

If we find Peter’s warnings unpalatable, then we must dismiss Jesus and the other New Testament writers too.

Peter gives many red flags to help Christians identify waterless springs and stay away from them.

Red flags.

  1. False teachers are empty talkers (2 Peter 2:17-193), often sounding impressive and appealing. They make up clever stories to manipulate people.
  2. They are boastful, bold, rebellious and arrogant– A law unto themselves. They have no fear of God and despise the leaders God has placed in authority over them (2 Peter 2:10181912-14Jude 11).
  3. They often gather a following (2 Peter 2:2).
  4. They cause disgrace and destruction to the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:1132).
  5. They exploit ignorant and unstable people for their own ends (2 Peter 2:3).
  6. They celebrate and accommodate worldly pleasures and sinful desires (2 Peter 2:1813-14).
  7. They are motivated by greed (2 Peter 2:31415).
  8. They ‘wander’ away from the truth of Christ, (which suggests a gradual falling away) (2 Peter 2:15).
  9. They eventually expose themselves (2 Peter 2:20-22).
  10. Their end game is not to bless, but to bring harm to God’s people, as in the example of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15Num 22:4-20).

Different clothes, same lies

False teachers haven’t changed their tactics or half truths since the first century, or the days of Israel. They’re new teachers, but they still proclaim an old twisted lie and produce bad fruit. In Peter’s day, they were lawless and all-embracing, openly celebrating sin as if it were normal and right behaviour. They loved money and the trappings of pleasure and power. They scoffed at the idea of God’s final judgment. They were people- pleasers, with no fear of God and his holiness (Luke 6:26).

And today, false teachers continue to accommodate the culture in their distorted ‘gospels’. It’s not my place to name names, but they are in abundance in today’s churches. They teach a Feel-good Jesus; a Revolutionary Jesus; a Blessor Jesus; a Mystical Jesus; an Ultra-grace Jesus; a Motivational Jesus; a Tuckshop Jesus; a Morality Jesus; a Marxist Jesus; an Inclusive Jesus; a Nationalistic Jesus; a Rockstar Jesus…

They continue to bend the truth of the gospel to exploit people’s thirst for money, status, sex, health, beauty, community, justice, pleasure, hope, certainty, freedom, purpose and peace. Nothing has changed since the false prophets of the Old Testament:

“They have misled my people, saying “Peace” when there is no peace.” (Ezek 13:1016). “You dishearten the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life (Ezek 13:22).

In an age where we can listen to sermons on demand, Christians are easy targets. There’s only one way to guard ourselves against false teachers and their plausible half truths. Peter says the antidote is to go back to the salvation story told in the inspired Word of God, from beginning to end. This is a book that doesn’t have its origins in man’s imagination, but “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Bible isn’t just a collection of fables or human ideas about God (2 Peter 1:16). The Jesus described by eye witnesses and foreshadowed by the Old Testament, offers the only life-giving water that exists. He provides the only true cleansing for sinful humanity and offers the only truly good news. And Jesus Christ is the ‘morning star’ who will return to earth to rule in his full glory.

But until that day, we have the Bible as a light and the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture for us (2 Peter 1:19). We have God-fearing teachers and pastors to faithfully teach us his Word, leading us to the Living Water that satisfies our deep soul thirst. If we want to be discerning instead of gullible, we need to refresh our memories and become firmly established in the truth  (2 Peter 1:12-15). We cannot just run from mirage to mirage. We must be like those noble-minded Bereans, who “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, to see whether the things were being taught were actually true” (Acts 17:11).

This song by Shane and Shane is officially my best song ever! It reminds us that the Living Waters are found in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why a Christian can’t just ‘let go and let God’

Series: 1 and 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

“I’ll never change the patterns of the past.”

“I’ll never be free of my addiction.”

“People must learn to accept me as I am.”

“I’m just going to let go and let God.”

Do we have the power to change destructive habits and thought patterns?

I’ve often heard Christians speak with defeat and resignation about stubborn sins, desires and habits that are causing misery in their lives and harming their loved ones. They argue that the brokenness of our fallen world means that they can’t change their basic impulses and will never be free to flourish in the Christian life, growing more joyful, loving, patient, self-controlled, stable and kind as the years roll on.

I’ve seen other Christians just “let go and let God”, waiting for a spiritual breakthrough. The implication is that because we can do nothing without God, we must simply wait for him to do the work of transformation in our lives. “Be still and know that I am God” is a verse often misquoted in support of surrender.

But look with me at what Peter says about the power to change and grow in his second letter to Christians living in AD67, amidst unimaginable obstacles and atrocities:

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:1-4).

Divine power.

There are many superlatives in this passage! The Apostle Peter is convinced that if we’ve been born again, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. Christ’s divine power and his great promises provide us with everything we need to live a godly Christian life! God allows us to ‘participate in the divine nature’ in order to keep us from sin and help us live for him. Grace and peace are ours in abundance, despite our circumstances!

These privileges and promises of our precious faith are not some pipe dream for a select few special Christians. They were purchased for every child of God by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:193:18). CH Spurgeon reminds us how staggering this promise of divine power is for every Christian, without exception:

“These things come to us through His divine power! What stupendous issues are grasped in that term, divine power! It was this which digged the deep foundations of the earth and sea! Divine power! It is this which guides the marches of the stars of heaven! Divine power! It is this which holds up the pillars of the universe…”

In fact, the same divine power that God used to raise Christ from the dead is available to every believer to live the Christian life. In Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, it is on the basis of the “power of the resurrection” that the apostle declares “I can do everything through him who gives me strength! (Phil 3:104:13) There’s nothing defeatist or resigned about Paul’s conclusion.

Jesus has risen! Do we fathom what this means for the Christian life? It’s the basis for our ‘new birth’ and ‘living hope’ (1 Peter 1:3), our brand new identity and new destiny (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are no longer who we once were!

Divine paradox.

But as Christ’s royal priesthood and holy people, we cannot live the Christian life in neutral gear, waiting for God’s divine power to propel us forward via a lightning bolt or weekly emotional fix! No, Peter commands us to “make every effort to add to our faith….to make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:5-710). We bear the responsibility to strive, run, add and wrestle for our faith. Surrender is not an option!

Yes, it is God who works in us by his grace to will and act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13), but our self discipline is needed to persevere (Phil 2:12Eph 2:10). We do have to run the race that God has set before us (Heb 12:1-2). We do have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We do have to use the means of grace God has provided—his Word, prayer and his people (Phil 4:6-72 Tim 3:14-17Heb 10:25Heb 3:13). We do have to take up the armour of God and stand firm in the evil day! (Eph 6:13). On auto pilot, we will surely drift away (Heb 2:1).

This a paradox we must embrace if we are to live godly, useful lives.

Knowing and growing.

Knowing God is key to living a godly life (2 Peter 1:2-3). Peter repeats the word ‘knowledge’ three times in this passage, because growing comes through knowing. But this is not just head knowledge or information. It is knowing God personally and growing in relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like ‘knowing’ someone on social media.

Lydia Brownback describes this deeply intimate knowledge of God as “a personal, committed relationship in which our deepest satisfaction is found in God’s presence—talking to him in prayer, worshipping him with other believers, and studying all he says to us in his word. This is the knowledge Peter wants for his readers.” (Lydia Brownback, Living Hope in a Hard World).

We are powerless to change if we ‘look within’ or ‘follow our heart’, because our hearts have no power to transform us (Jer 17:9). But, by knowing God and growing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we are empowered with everything we need to live an effective and productive life, even as we face many obstacles and adversities (2 Peter 1:84).

No matter where we are in life, we need to persistently know and grow in Christ. Then we will be able to look beyond our troubles and recognize his victories of grace in our lives, and be thankful. We will love Jesus more and more in response to his goodness and grace to us.

Make every effort.

Precisely because we’ve been forgiven from past sins, and because God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, Peter goes on to describe the active process by which believers change and grow. He gives us the regimen for our faith to flourish, and it involves concerted effort and determination on our part. We are not passive passengers:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-10).

Reading through Peter’s letters, it’s clear that God’s moral yardstick hasn’t changed. What God hated in the Old Testament, he still hates. What God expected of his people before, he still expects of us today (1 Peter 2:91:16-174: 2-3). Our sin is still a chronic condition that will attack our faith until the day we die.

But our sin has also been defeated and our chains have been released! “Through Christ’s death, those who turn to him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin” (1 Peter 2:24-25). To ensure that we don’t fall from our secure position, Peter concludes, “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God” (2 Peter 3:14-18). According to Peter, laziness is just blindness and ‘letting go and letting God’ is not an option. Nobody can live the Christian life for us—we must ‘make every effort’. Peter says it three times to make sure we’re clear about our personal responsibility.

Fruitful faith.

So, you see, faith is never just believing a set of doctrines, though it is that. It’s a living faith, which either grows and flourishes, or withers and dies. Faith needs to be exercised daily in godly actions and character, in the practice of moral discipline.

After all, didn’t Jesus say that the seed that falls on good soil always produces good fruit (Mark 4:8)? And his brother James wrote, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead…I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:1718). Dick Lucas expressed this connection well:

“The man or woman who makes an effort is a man or woman of faith.”

Although these virtues are fruit of the Holy Spirit, they don’t come to us automatically. They are built brick by brick through our effort and willing co-operation. They are not optional, but necessary– like eating well, brushing our teeth and making our bed is necessary for a productive life. They are not stagnant virtues, but more like budding, growing, ripening fruit. We never master one and then move onto the next, but work on all of them at the same time. Our work has always mattered to God (1 Cor 3:13-15Gen 1:262:15). Let us be good bricklayers!

If you do these things…

In the months leading up to his death, Peter implored suffering Christians to “make every effort” to build on their faith foundation: To know God more and more (knowledge); to act with virtue and excellence (goodness); to govern themselves personally (self control); to nurture a steadfast character (perseverance); to act with love (mutual affection) and to imitate God’s holy character (godliness) (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Jesus, too, told believers to keep seeking persistently the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. To keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking…For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened (Luke 11:9-10).

Let’s be encouraged by Peter’s assurance: “for if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. (2 Peter 1:10-11).


Father, thank you for your limitless grace and the Holy Spirit. Although we’ll never be perfect, you’ve given us your divine power to grow in goodness every day. Thank you for the small victories of grace we see in ourselves and those we are praying for: the calmer response to stress and illness; the ability to overlook a wrong; kindness to a person who needs our help. We treasure you as the One who gives us victory day by day. When we’re overwhelmed with troubles and our sinful impulses, help us to know that you’re working in us, giving us your strength to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Today we trust in your great and precious promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.

Listen to this song by King & Country, which reminds us that the Christian life is anything but passive.

Shepherding God’s people

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Last week we looked at the amazing sunrise fish braai, when the risen Christ restored Peter, commissioning him to shepherd his people (see Before the Rooster CrowsJohn 21:15-19). Thrice Jesus asked Simon, “Do you love me?” And thrice Jesus commissioned him as shepherd: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). This encounter with Jesus was to become a defining moment in the Apostle’s life.

That’s why, thirty years later, when Peter gave detailed instructions for church leaders, his life had been radically hammered out by Jesus’s words to him. Simon the fisherman had become Peter the shepherd, willing to die for Christ’s name. Against this backdrop, he wrote to the first century church leaders:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

For Peter, power dynamics and self promotion have no place in church leadership. Instead, Church elders are to lead God’s people the way shepherds lead their sheep. Shepherding is a divine trust, an urgent and important business for which leaders will give account to the Lord Jesus himself. They will be rewarded and judged based on how they fed, tended and protected God’s people. Christ identified himself as God’s long-awaited Shepherd, and hence, he has the right to set the criteria for Christian leadership (John 10:11-16Ezek 34:10-24).

If we have been entrusted with leadership over people, whether it be over a large Church, a small Bible study or a family, it is good to know what faithful Christian shepherding looks like.

Christian shepherds are humble people.

There is humility in how Peter identifies as a ‘fellow elder,’ ‘a witness of Christ’s suffering’, and a ‘partaker in the glory to be revealed’. Notice that Peter doesn’t give himself a grand title like ‘Bishop of Rome.’ He reserves the title of ‘Chief Shepherd’ for Christ alone.

Rather, he identifies himself as a fellow worker, serving alongside other elders in shepherding God’s people. Every spiritual leader should grasp that Jesus is gathering his people from every nation and generation, “so there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This should manifest in an attitude of collegiality rather than competition towards fellow leaders and other ministries.

Remember too, that when Peter wrote his letter in about 62AD, Rome ruled the world with an iron fist and status meant everything. Yet, the Christian church was to be radically different from the power-obsessed culture in which it operated. Jesus had impressed upon Peter that in God’s kingdom, authority is based on service, not on power (Mark 10:42-45). That’s why true shepherds are always humble people.

Three contrasts.

Then Peter gives a rubric of contrasting character traits for shepherding:

Not under compulsion….but out of willingness.

Not for personal gain…but out of eagerness.

Not domineering…but by example.

These contrasts harken back to the terrible spiritual leaders in Ezekiel’s day (the ‘shepherds of Israel’) who fed only themselves, not the people. They were negligent in their spiritual duties.  They ruled God’s people with harshness, scattering and leaving them as prey to wild beasts. These bad shepherds were at best neglectful, passive and weak. At worst, they were predatory and domineering.

Peter has a lot to say about false shepherds and ‘waterless springs’, which we will explore in the coming weeks. But for now, he instructs his fellow elders to be godly shepherds who lead from the front and serve their flock.

Here are two practical needs of the flock that every shepherd must meet:

  1. Feed the sheep!

First and foremost, sheep need to be fed! Emotional gimmicks and talking points will not nourish your flock. Give your people Bible-based expository teaching as their staple diet, because people crave plain biblical truth. If your sheep are to flourish in a hard world, they need shepherds who nourish them with rich pasture and clear water, not snacks of Scripture here and there to support the leader’s own opinions (Ezekiel 34:18).

This has become clear in recent years, especially since Covid has turned the world upside down. Many in the flock are feeling let down, because their leaders are timid of the truth. Many leaders water down the Bible to attract people to their ministries. They revise it to stay relevant, or apologize for it to make Christianity more mainstream.

Many leaders are afraid to teach with the raw Bible for fear that their congregation will lose interest. They’ve lost confidence in the word of God to change hearts, minds and lives. But Peter reminds us in the previous chapter: If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). There’s no better way to do this than to stick closely to Scripture.

Shepherds, please do not give up on the Bible! You and the sheep entrusted to you are transformed only one way: by the renewal of our minds. And we transform the world around us when we speak the plain biblical truth and do not compromise (Rom 12:2). So, whether you’re a parent, a Bible teacher or children’s worker, remember that the Bible is God’s word that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, useful for everything in life (Heb 4:122 Tim 3:15-16). It doesn’t need to be helped along or adapted, because it is the “living and abiding word of God that remains forever” (1 Peter 1:23). “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). It is the only word that can save and sanctify people.

The Bible is as relevant today as in Peter’s day, because it’s simply the truth. But if men, women and children are not properly fed with God’s word, they will soon become malnourished and easy prey for Satan’s lies. Shepherds, train your sheep and lambs to be like newborn babies who crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. That’s the only way they will grow up in their faith and learn how to live healthy, holy lives in this generation (1 Peter 2:2).

Truth is like cool water in a hot desert, and recent studies are showing that Bible-centred churches are thriving, whereas liberal churches are dying. A leading study concluded that “while 69 percent of pastors at declining churches believe Christian beliefs need to change over time to stay relevant, not one pastor at a growing church says the same.”

  1. Watch over your sheep!

Shepherds, have courage to answer the big questions of our day, so that your flock will not be confused or deceived by the many false teachers who are muddying the waters of Scripture with their feet (Ezek 34:18). There are many hot-button controversial topics that you know will draw fire. You will never be able to keep everyone happy. But people will respect your courage to address a subject from a straightforward biblical perspective, even if they disagree with you. Controversy is unavoidable when you deal with truth, as it was with Jesus’s perfect teaching. The crowds who heard Jesus were always divided (John 7:43Acts 14:4). When Paul preached, he too caused revivals or riots. It’s what the truth does.

Jesus tackled the hard questions of his day too:

“What do you say about fasting?” (Matt 9:14)

“Should we work on the Sabbath?” (Matt 12:10)

“How often should I forgive someone?” (Matt 18:21)

“Is divorce allowed?” (Matt 19:3)

“What is needed for eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)

“What will signal the end of the world?” (Matt 24:3)

“Should we pay taxes?” (Matt 22:17)

Although it’s a messy, risky business, shepherding is a trust from God– a noble and vital commission. If you are a shepherd in any sphere, serve your flock faithfully and live as their example. You can’t shepherd from afar. Engage biblically with their real life issues and lead them to pure water. Feed the sheep, bind up the injured, seek the lost, bring back the strays, strengthen the weak, heal the sick and protect your sheep from predators (Ezek 34:2-9).  Anything else?! Yes, remember,

“You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ex 34:31)

This song by Keith and Kristyn Getty is a wonderful reminder that Jesus is our tender Shepherd. Leaders cannot hope to shepherd others unless we ourselves are being shepherded daily by Christ.

Before the rooster crows

Haven’t you noticed that a person’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness? No one illustrates this better than the brave and confident apostle Peter. His Achilles heel was fear of man.

Peter’s fall.

On the night of Jesus’s arrest, the eager, impetuous, quick, ready, brave disciple thrice denied having anything to do with Christ. Simon Peter was over-confident in his own ability to remain steadfast under temptation. After all, he was the favoured disciple that had been praised for his bold declaration that Christ was the Son of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

But even after Jesus’s repeated warnings, Simon Peter proved to be weak and cowardly in the face of pressure. In his self-confidence, he succumbed to fear of man. His betrayal of Jesus was brutal.

At first, his denial to the servant girl was evasive: “I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Matt 26:70). Later, he cursed and swore to convince them that he was not a disciple of Jesus: “I don’t even know the man!” (Matt 26:72Mark 14:71John 18:26-27).

‘The man’ he hung out to dry was his friend, the same Lord and Master that Peter had eagerly confessed as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Luke 22:54-62). Imagine the hurt and pain of Jesus, who, at that moment, was being beaten and mocked within hearing distance of his disciple and friend. Peter, one of the three most favoured disciples, fell spectacularly just two or three hours after his bold declarations of loyalty:

“I will never disown you!”

“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matt 26:31-35).

Most of us would prefer to gloss over Peter’s denials and focus on his restoration in John 21, when the risen Christ re-instated Peter as shepherd of his flock, to feed and care for his sheep and lambs. After all, didn’t Peter repent and become the fearless leader of the church in Rome, a bold evangelist, the author of two New Testament letters, and a brave martyr of the faith in 64AD? Isn’t that the bottom line of Peter’s legacy and the focus of his funeral eulogy? Isn’t that the inspirational story we enjoy so much?

But the New Testament writers don’t allow us to gloss over his fall that quickly! Peter’s detailed denials are recorded in all four of the gospels, because there are warnings embedded in them for every Christian.

The flesh is weak.

Firstly, the gospel writers made sure that future readers would be under no illusions about Christianity’s historical heroes. Even the best men and women are frail, weak and fallible, in desperate need of grace and redemption. Actually, the Bible is littered with failed and fallen saints, as if to make the point that it’s foolish to put any human being on a pedestal. Even Peter fell to temptation on the very night that Jesus forewarned him on the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30). The only real human hero is Jesus.

In Gethsemane, Jesus again warned the sleepy Peter: “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:40-41). Peter’s fall into fear and sin was aggravated by the fact that Jesus had forewarned him of his weakness.

We need to remember Jesus’s warnings for ourselves: Watch and pray. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Fear of man.

Secondly, fear of man was the reason why Peter denied Jesus.

The first time he was asked about his relationship with Jesus, Peter tried to dodge the servant’s question and avoid creating a scene (Matt 26:70). Then his denial progressed to cowardly betrayal. That’s how sin progresses when we fear man more than God.

And fear of man is the reason why so many of us disown Jesus and his ways when the pressure is on. We are tempted to be silent or evasive for fear of what friends will say behind our backs if we admit that we believe in Jesus and his Word. We are scared of being the butt of a joke; or being scoffed at; or cancelled on social media, because we dare to lift our head above the ‘offence’ parapet by saying something unpopular and counter-cultural. We are afraid of what people can say or do to us.

Years later, Peter committed exactly the same sin in Galatia when, for fear of the Judaizers, he denied the power of the gospel to demolish the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2:12-14). It was fear of man all over again. Fear of man is every Christian’s Achilles heel. It is what makes us weak in our time of testing.

The blindness of self-confidence.

Thirdly, Peter’s confidence in himself blinded him to the dangerous threat of Satan. Luke describes how at the Last Supper, Jesus forewarned Peter of his dangerous adversary: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

One cannot help thinking of Satan’s part in Judas’s temptation (John 13:27).

If Peter had understood how weak he truly was, he would have relied on God, not himself. He would have watched and prayed in the Garden, as Jesus had asked him to. But because he was self-confident, Satan caught him off guard.

Just imagine how painful it must have been for Peter to hear the rooster crow, and to see the bloodied face of his Lord turning and looking straight at him (Luke 22:3460-62). He was instantly convicted of his sin and the terrible pain he had caused Jesus. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 

“Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Before the rooster crows.

Peter’s painful season of sifting warns us to have no grand delusions about ourselves and our strength to resist temptation. As a much older, humbler man, the Apostle warned scattered Christians in the first century that there is a real Satan who is still our adversary. He likened the devil to a roaring lion that seeks to devour God’s people. For this reason, Peter still urges us today to stay alert and sober minded, ready to resist Satan, standing steadfast in the faith and committed to prayer (1 Peter 5:8-91 Peter 1:131 Peter 4:7). Before the rooster crows, we must put our confidence in God alone, for “let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

“It is the Lord!”

But, by God’s grace, Satan did not have the final say in Peter’s life. My favourite scene in the whole Bible is the breakfast on the beach after Christ’s resurrection (John 21:7-13). His disciples had gone back to fishing and caught nothing all night. Then the miraculous catch of fish! And then John and Simon Peter recognized their Lord standing on the shore!

“It is the Lord!” exclaimed John.

“As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:7-13).

Spontaneous, eager, impulsive Peter doesn’t think twice about jumping in the Sea of Tiberius in his underwear! His exuberance is palpable. In this beach scene, Jesus completely removed the shame of Peter’s denial. Three times Peter had disowned Jesus. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and commissioned him to be the shepherd of God’s people:

“Feed my lambs…Take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17).

Peter’s repentance was the beginning of his transformation. His sifting by Satan did not destroy him, but became a defining moment in his life. It purified his faith, exposed his fear of man and humbled his heart. His identity changed from impetuous Simon, to Peter the ‘rock’. His career changed from fisherman to fearless evangelist and protective shepherd. The elderly man who authored 1 and 2 Peter was indeed a courageous shepherd of Christ’s church amidst Nero’s terrible reign of terror against Christians.

Jesus’s first words to Simon Peter were “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were “You must follow me” (John 21:22). Even though Peter stumbled, he turned back to Christ and was restored, whereas Judas kept walking on the path to destruction.

Peter’s trajectory gives every weak and fearful Christian hope that we are never beyond redemption. Although we may sin, backslide and even fall dramatically, we can still choose to turn back and follow Christ. Every day of our lives, the Holy Spirit is there to help us choose Peter’s trajectory of repentance, forgiveness and eternal life, rather than Judas’s trajectory of hypocrisy, deceit and death. This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Which trajectory are you on?