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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Transformed Through Tests

The following is an excerpt of Assistant General Superintendent L. Alton Garrison’s message presented Aug. 3 in Phoenix at the 54th General Council of the Assemblies of God.

Most people don’t like being tested. Some don’t like going to the doctor or the dentist. They don’t like the physical examination, or the prospect of facing a drill. Whether it’s a teacher or a dentist or a doctor, they all want to evaluate you and see what’s wrong. They want to fix it. Like it or not, the first step toward health, or progress in a healthy life, is a test.


The invitation

No one had more experience with tests than Simon Peter. We’re introduced to him in a tiny fishing town called Bethsaida. He’s a simple fisherman. Looking at his background, his education, there’s no indication that he’s ever going to amount to much.

Then Jesus came. He gave Peter a chance to obey, asking if He could borrow Peter’s boat as a platform to teach from. After a long, hard day of fishing, Peter didn’t argue. He just got back in his boat and pushed it out from the shore.

I want to talk about being transformed through tests. Luke 5:4 says: “When [Jesus] had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch’” (NIV). There’s another opportunity for Peter to obey. Jesus didn’t just ask a question like, “Do you want to fish?” He gave a command to put out into deep water and let down the nets for the catch.

This time Peter was not quite as compliant. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5). He questioned, but he ultimately obeyed. When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to help, and they filled both boats so full they began to sink.

This is more than just a good day; it is the kind of day every fisherman dreams of. Yet when Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (v. 8). Note the change in how Peter addressed Jesus. Peter switched from “Master” before the miracle to “Lord.” Master is somebody you follow and respect. Lord is someone who is in charge of your life.

Peter realized he was in the presence of God, and he became aware of his own sinful nature. Then Jesus responded that He had a bigger partnership in mind than simply catching fish. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’re going to catch men” (v. 10). On the best day of Peter’s fishing business, Jesus said He had something bigger in mind for Peter. Peter got another chance to obey, and responded by leaving everything to follow Jesus.


The Rebuke

Now fast forward to Mark 8, where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (v. 27). Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (v. 29). You might expect Jesus to move into some inspirational teaching about their assignment, but verse 31 says He began to teach them that He would be rejected, killed, and then rise again. He was preparing them for difficult days of persecution, torture and death. It must have been a solemn moment for the disciples — well, most of the disciples. Peter’s habit of speaking before thinking took over in verse 32, as he did the unthinkable. He rebuked Jesus.

Can you imagine that? Jesus just declared that He’s the Christ. And Peter replied that he didn’t like His plan, in essence saying: If you’re the Christ you can’t be killed. You can’t suffer. This is the wrong plan. You have the power to prevent it. Choose a different path.

Peter, the guy with a foot-shaped mouth, claimed he knew better than God.

And Jesus whirled around, looked at His disciples and rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 33). Pretty harsh. Pretty public. Why was Jesus so reactionary?

Because Peter was trying to talk Jesus out of going to the cross. I don’t think He was referring to Peter as Satan. But He knew that the source of Peter’s thought was satanic. The enemy wanted to convince Peter that suffering wasn’t necessary. Peter didn’t like God’s plan because God’s plan involved pain. He didn’t want to pay such a high price. Peter was basically saying, “Hold on. When I surrendered I didn’t sign up for this.”

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but persecution is part of the deal. One of the unfortunate realities of life is opposition. You’re going to get it from Satan. You probably will get it from the world. If you haven’t faced that test yet, trust me. It could be in your future.

We have the same struggle as Peter. God’s plan doesn’t always make us comfortable. But we want the reward without paying the price. We want the Christ without the cross. We want our plan, not His plan because sometimes His plan is not comfortable or convenient. Jesus confronted Peter with the reality that if anyone is to come after Him, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow. That’s the deal.


The denial

Peter’s next test came at the Last Supper. Jesus predicted that one of His disciples would betray Him. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:31,32). We know that Jesus had renamed Simon, giving him the name Peter. In Matthew 16:18, He said: “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” When Jesus referred to him as Simon it was often a signal that he had done something needing rebuke or correction. Peter’s new name appears to be a reminder of who Peter could be and should be — a rock.

This new name, then, was a big change in Peter’s life, and it was also a subtle message. By calling him Simon, Jesus signaled that Peter was acting like his old self. So when Peter said he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death (Luke 22:33), Jesus offered a startling reply: “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (v. 34).

Peter thought he was stronger than he really was. The message to us is this: “Don’t be pride-filled. Don’t be arrogant.” First Corinthians 10:12 says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” If we don’t like tests, we’re certainly not going to like the self-assessment test.

Yet 2 Corinthians 13:5 says it clearly: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Test yourselves because during that time of testing you might need to assess what you’re doing versus what you need to do. Peter failed the trust test; he failed the persecution test; he failed the self-assessment test; he failed the crisis test. And in his most well-known failure, he even denied the Lord. (See Luke 22:54-62.)


The restoration

In our world, three strikes and you’re out. Fail this many times and it’s over. From “I’ll die with You” to “I don’t know You,” Peter was a failure. He went back to fishing. He gave up where he was and returned to the familiar. I think he failed the hope test. He gave up. He couldn’t make it.

You may not be where Peter was, but you might need a dose of hope today.

Look at John 21. God gave Peter another chance. You know the story. Jesus and Peter had their famous conversation. “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” (vv. 15,16).

“Yes, Lord,” came Peter’s reply.

And note Jesus’ response. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (vv. 18,19).

Jesus was telling Peter that he would someday pay the ultimate price for being His follower. All the tests Peter had endured now come full circle. Peter finally decided to surrender — and he knew what it would cost him. He didn’t walk away this time. He didn’t turn away. He understood the price, and he was willing to pay it.

Fast forward to the Upper Room in Acts 1 and 2. Jesus was gone and the disciples had waited. The Holy Spirit had descended, empowering the Church. A loud celebration of worship erupted. People on the outside were wondering what was going on. Hundreds gathered. Then Peter stepped from the crowd and began to preach. Three thousand got saved. He went from the guy who denied knowing Jesus to being in the center of the promise of the Spirit. What a change.

Your trust may be tested, too. You may face persecution and spiritual warfare. But if you pass the test, God is going to use you in a special way.


L. Alton Garrison is assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Editor’s Note: Communion followed the message at this General Council service. Brad Russell, worship pastor at North Little Rock (Ark.) First Assembly of God, played and sang “To Be Used by You,” a song he wrote specifically for the occasion at the request of Alton Garrison. For more information see www.bradrussellmusic.com.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.