Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Mediator's Grace in Our Darkness

“‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan [a Hebrew title meaning, “adversary”] has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ But he said to Him, ‘Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!’ And He said, "I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me’” (Luke 22:31-34).

The absolute sovereignty of God the Son, especially in the day of His suffering, is something we should not take for granted or overlook in the great drama of the narrative. Though Jesus tells “the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders” that “hour and the power of darkness” (22:53) belongs to them, He is still in total mastery of the moment. He has not laid that lordship down. In fact, as He is at the right hand of the Father, He has been given “all heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). I need this reality as both my foundation and covering every day. So do you.

It’s not this sovereignty, though, that has astounded me afresh this week. I’ve been blessed and – yes – amazed at the grace that comes through the mediation of the great High Priest Jesus Christ.

The adversary, as he did with Job and does with innumerable saints, has demanded the right to test Peter’s faith. This is what he exists to do to the glory of God. “...the Satan’s job, as God’s submissive opposition, is to search men and women to see if there is anyone who is genuinely godly and pious...Satan has a ministry; it is the ministry of opposition, the ministry of insisting that the genuineness of the believer be tested and proved genuine. It is a hostile and malicious ministry, but a necessary ministry for the glory of God...the apostles are to be sifted by Satan, to see if their faith is genuine. And their faith will prove genuine, not least because God the Son prays to God the Father for Peter, and then Peter becomes the instrument to strengthen the faith of the others.”[1]

Peter’s betrayal, the arrest, and the adversary’s sifting of the Lord’s disciples, are all serving the Triune God to His ultimate glory. In every moment.

I taught from this “sifting” passage last month during a memorial service for a death I knew would be a trial to many believers, "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11). We need to be aware of what is happening to us and through us in the darkness. Scripture alone reveals this to us.

The adversary must still ask for permission from the Lord to test believers. Just as we see with Job, the Lord defines the exact parameters for the sifting operation of the adversary. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter that the adversary’s request has been denied. The “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5) has prayed that Peter’s “faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” He doesn’t pray for Peter’s comfort, ease, health, wealth, or anything Peter himself might request. He prays for that which is eternally and salvifically important – Peter’s persistent faith. Peter benefits from this, of course (and still is, and always will), but the goal is the Church: “...strengthen your brothers.” It’s about Jesus loving His Church. He intercedes for the saints to the benefit of the saints not for the individual but for the Body.

Peter betrays Jesus three times, just as Jesus foretold (22:54-60). What happens at the end of this narrative is what I want us to see.

There are only two times in Luke-Acts where “the word of the Lord” is “remembered.” At both times Peter is the one remembering, and the difference between the two circumstances is the beautiful testimony to the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

After Peter denies the Lord three times, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, ‘Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (22:61,62). The Lord’s word is verified, and Peter is utterly broken. It is “the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is not comfortable, fun, or exalting (by prideful or worldly standards). But this is the “will of God” achieved through the mediation of the Son. Remembering the Word of Christ in the midst of sin results here in brokenness and repentance which leads to (because of the mediatiorial prayer of the Son) salvation by unwavering faith. This is the first time “the word of the Lord” is “remembered” by Peter in Luke-Acts. It’s a great statement of grace. After all, Jesus taught the disciples, “he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (12:9). The only thing that can save Peter is grace, and that is abundant through Jesus Christ. Soli gratia.

As marvelous as that event of “remembering...the word of the Lord” is, the second is even greater. Peter has returned to Jerusalem after seeing God bring salvation to Cornelius’ house through the preaching of Christ. This is a new thing; the new covenant Church began out of Jerusalem among the Jewish people. Though Jesus hinted and clearly proclaimed numerous times that it would overflow these ethnic boundaries unto the ends of the earth, it’s still a shock to the Jewish Christians. So Peter addresses the Church in Jerusalem: “...Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, ‘...I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?”’” (Acts 11:4,16,17).

The second time Peter “remembered the word of the Lord” it resulted in this: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’” (11:18).

God is glorified, and the Kingdom of God begins its unstoppable spread through the world and all generations.[2]

Behold the grace of God: the first time Peter remembers the word of the Lord, it brings him to bitter tears; the second time Peter remembers the word of the Lord, it is as he is being used to bring salvation to the nations.

Jesus is still praying for His people:
  • “Christ Jesus is He Who died, yes, rather Who was raised, Who is at the right hand of God, Who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).[3]
  • “...Jesus...because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 8:24-26).

It is the same prayer. We are sifted in this world to show our faith to be true. Peter, who learned this lesson recorded for this long age in the pages of holy Writ, teaches this principle to us in his first letter: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6,7).

We are sifted and refined through the constant saving prayer of the heavenly High Priest, Who uses even the wicked adversary for our salvation and God’s ultimate glory. Also through His Word, we do not stand alone or for ourselves. As our faith is hardened into the unwavering might of the triumphant saint, we strengthen others, as well. By the Father’s grace through the mediation of the Son, the Church grows not just in spite of the adversary’s work, but instrumentally through it.

God is great, and His grace is amazing.
Rembrandt (1606-1669), The Denial of Saint Peter (1660)

[1] Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 42,45,55.
[2] When we read the Kingdom parables of Jesus (and their roots in passages like Ezekiel 31:6; Daniel 4:21), this is the message: it starts small but spreads throughout the world.
[3] I was concerned with the “where” of the Holy Spirit in my last post. We should give attention, as well, to the “where” of the Son in our thinking, praying, singing, and theology. Without Him at the right hand of the Father, His continuing work as High Priest and Mediator is ignored. This is a serious problem, for it is from there that we “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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