“He went out and wept bitterly.” These are significant words, describing Peter’s response to the realization that he had just denied Jesus. They are significant because they reflect a broken heart, they reflect, in his case, repentance and sorrow over obvious sin and betrayal. They are also evidence of the preservation of faith in the face of great failure. Peter’s faith was safeguarded by God and that fact ought to encourage our own weak and often fumbling faith.
Peter’s denial had been foretold by Jesus. At the mention that all of the disciples will fall away, Peter responds with gusto and aplomb: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (v. 33). But in truth, Jesus reveals, Peter will fall away in an even more pronounced fashion than the others. He states:
Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (v. 34)
Peter’s boldness is revealed, only it is revealed in the audacity of his denial. This is not a small failing, it is a pronounced failure. He denies Jesus as His Lord and Master is being falsely accused only feet from Him. In fact, with Peter’s final denial he makes eye contact with Jesus (Luke 22:61). Peter’s sin is bold, intentional, and serious.
Yet, for all the seriousness of his sin the Scriptural record acknowledges the great depth of Peter’s faith too. He was a leader in the church after the resurrection, and tradition says a man willing to even die for that faith. That is even after his denial of Jesus, Peter returns with great faithfulness and great faith. How do we account for this seeming imbalance of epic failure and preserved faith? The answer is found in Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial, for there he mentions not simply the prediction but His prayer for Peter.
Jesus prays for the preservation of Peter’s faith. So, in Luke 22, we read:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (v. 31)
Jesus acknowledges that Peter will fall, for he mentions “when you have turned again.” The implication, then is that Peter will “turn” away. But Jesus is, nonetheless, confident that Peter will “turn again” back to Christ. So confident, in fact is Jesus, that he has a strategic plan for Peter after the return: strengthen the brothers. The key to this confidence is that Jesus rayed for the preservation of Peter’s faith. Satan wanted to “sift” Peter, but Jesus prayed against that. He prayed specifically the text says, that “your faith may not fail.” Imagine this scenario: God praying to God for the preservation of his faith. The Son asks the Father and the Spirit to keep Peter’s faith from failing. God prays for Peters! And what he does for Peter we can be encouraged He does for us too. In fact, that’s what Peter communicates to the Christians in Asia Minor when he seeks to “strengthen” them.
In 1 Peter 1:3-5 the apostle introduces his letter with great hope and encouragement, giving the Christians every reason to hope in their bright future. He says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Notice what Peter says to these Christians to incite their confidence in the future. He states they are “being guarded through faith” by “God’s power.” They are being guarded, kept, and preserved by God himself. Of course Peter was writing these words from experience. He had first-hand knowledge of the preservation of his own faith by God himself. As Jesus had prayed for Peter’s faith not to fail, he turns to strengthen the brothers by insisting that God was guarding their faith too!
Most of us can readily acknowledge how feeble and fleeting our faith is. We can recognize that if preservation is up to us we will all wander. But we have hope and confidence in the preservation of our faith. We have hope because it doesn’t all depend on us. There is, of course, much in the Bible that calls us to “fight the good fight of faith” and to work hard to keep ourselves in the faith, yet our confidence doesn’t rest there. Rather, our confidence should rest in the knowledge that God prays to God for the preservation of our faith, and that God answers His own prayers by safeguarding our faith. Rejoice in God’s preserving love. When you doubt, rest in the prayers of Jesus.