Far too often in life we think that as long as our intentions are good, everything is okay. You confront your kid about injuring his brother or sister, and they say, “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t do it on purpose!” You confront someone about gossiping, stealing, lying, or cheating, and they say, “I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.” But the truth is, good intentions or not, it is our actions and behavior that we must be responsible and account for! Good intentions don’t cut it. That is a lesson that Simon Peter had to learn.
After the scene in the Upper Room in which Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, the evening continued with Jesus sharing thoughts about the coming hours, days, even years. The biggest stir come when Jesus began talking about one of them becoming a traitor. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (Jn 13:21). The Twelve started glancing around at each other in disbelief, trying to figure out the mystery man. At one point, Simon Peter leans over to John, who was literally the closest to Jesus, and has him ask Jesus the name of the individual. Jesus practically spells it out for them by handing Judas Iscariot the sop (or morsel), but nobody seems to get it. Judas leaves and everyone else just thinks he is off on an errand since he was the treasurer. This sets the stage for the next significant moment in the life of Simon Peter. It is a moment in which he acts with good intentions, with zeal and passion, but shows that he still has a lot to learn. He illustrates for us the problem with good intentions.
There are stories in the Gospels that sound like the same event, but are actually two separate events (like cleansings of the Temple). The same is true at this point with Simon Peter. Luke and John record a conversation between Peter and Jesus in the Upper Room, while Matthew and Mark record a similar conversation after they leave for the Mount of Olives. As a college professor told me years ago, “A thing is what a thing is, and a thing is not what a thing is not” (Joe Patterson). These are actually two different scenes in which Simon Peter says the same thing. Notice:
Good Intentions In The Upper Room (Luke 22:31-34)
At this point of the evening Jesus turns to Simon Peter and lets him in on the fact that Satan himself had “desired to have” Peter (vs. 31; lit. to ask for one’s self, that one be given up to one from the power of another; i.e. “let me have him”). Just like with Job, Satan had gone to the Lord for permission to go above and beyond to test, try, afflict, persecute Peter. He wanted to “sift him like wheat”, shake him in the wind, see what his faith was made of – not a pleasant thought, if you’re the wheat!
You see, the devil is the adversary of all the saints (I Peter 5:8; Rev 12:10), but he especially sets his sights on the man of God, on pastors, preachers, missionaries, to cripple them, tear down their ministry. The more you strive to serve God, and have an impact on His eternal Kingdom, and the eternal souls of men, the more Satan puts you in his cross-hairs. He knew the potential impact of this man Peter.
But Someone was praying for Peter (vs. 32). Jesus began interceding then (Jn 17) and continues to this day as an Intercessor in Heaven (Rom 8:34). What an encouragement to know! Notice: Jesus’ request was not for Peter to avoid the trial or the tempter. It was for Peter’s faith to stand, not fail. Then after the test/trial (even failure and repentance), Jesus urged Peter to encourage the rest of the disciples. Converted: not just to turn from, but to return, turn about, turn back. Jesus was not referring to Simon’s salvation (or a loss of salvation), but to his rededication, recommitment, restoration, after failing the Lord miserably. You see, the other disciples would fail too – and God would use Peter, after failing and turning back to the Lord in repentance, to encourage others who would also fail the Lord.
But Peter was convinced that he was fully prepared to walk with Jesus to the bitter end (vs. 33). If it meant prison or even death, he was ready. He was convinced in his own mind. He had good intentions, zeal, and passion. No price was too high for him to sign on the dotted line. But before morning, Peter would deny even knowing Jesus (vs. 34). A strong warning!
Notice the account in the Gospel of John (13:33-38). Here again is Peter’s zeal: “I want to go with you now.” Jesus said, “Not now, later.” Like a child, Peter follows up, “Why not? I will even die for you.” And he meant it! He had good intentions! Jesus responds, “Oh yeah? Before dawn you will deny me three times.” Good intentions, but not enough.
Good Intentions On The Way To The Garden (Matthew 26:31-35)
As Jesus walked the night road with His disciples, He makes another startling statement: everyone one of them with be “offended” because of Jesus that very night (vs. 31). Gk. skandalizo – to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way; to cause to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey. Jesus says, “It’s going to happen tonight, to all of you.” Jesus even quotes Zechariah 13:7 which prophecied of the sheep being scattered. But notice: after the resurrection (which implied the cross, death), they would be reunited (vs. 32).
This is where Simon Peter speaks up yet again, making basically the same statement (vs. 33). Notice him use the word “never” once again (Jn 13:8). Jesus had already warned Peter the first time he made such a bold statement, contradicting the Master. Peter says, “Even if I’m the only one!” Again, his zeal, passion, and good intentions pour out all over the place.
But Jesus lays it out again, “Tonight you will deny me three times” (vs. 34). I wonder how many times Peter had to hear this for it to sink in? He just wasn’t connecting the dots. He didn’t get it. He still thought it was fine. He was blind to himself and to his own weakness (vs. 35). Peter says, “No way – even if it kills me.” Mark: “But he spake the more vehemently” (Mk 14:31). He became more and more insistent. But before you get too upset with Peter, notice that all the disciples joined in with the same bold, confident, well-intentioned statements. And they were wrong too!
Here’s the problem with good intentions: they are never enough. Simon Peter was desperately in need of God’s strength and power. Without them Peter was just as doomed to fail as anyone else. And so are we. Peter was being independent and headstrong, just like we are. He was making bold statements, just like we do. He was convinced there were lines he would never cross, just like we are. He thought he could handle anything, just like we do.
When it comes to good intentions, we need a wake up call! Don’t ever think you are too spiritual, committed, zealous, passionate to succomb to sin. Saying things like: I would never cheat on my spouse, view pornography, embezzle money, drop out of church, stop tithing or giving to missions, disgrace the Lord, reject the Gospel. Wake up! Look at Peter. He was headed there fast! “I am ready.” He thought he could do it all himself. “I got this!” He was totally blind to his weakness, limitations, depravity. During that evening in the Upper Room Jesus later clarified, “Without me ye can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). When we stand before God we will not be judged on our good intentions, but on our decisions and actions – first, regarding salvation, then regarding our service for God.
Too many of us Christians get stuck in the quicksand of good intentions. We intend to do all sorts of things for God, for the church, our family, spouse, co-workers, neighbors. We may make bold statements like, “I am going to do this or that.” Or we make adamant vows like, “I will never to do this or that.” The truth is, but for the grace of God, and the strength of the Spirit, we don’t stand a chance (John 15). If you want to stand strong in the face of temptation, if you want the courage and faith to take up your cross and follow Jesus, you need to begin by recognizing your absolute dependance on Jesus, and seek Him in prayer and in the Word every single day. Otherwise, you will sink like Peter.
But also, too many unsaved men and women get stuck in good intentions as well. One day we will repent of our sinful lifestyle and behavior. One day we will become serious followers of Jesus Christ. One day we will give our heart to Jesus and be saved. One day we will make Jesus the true Lord of our life. One day we will get back in church. One day we will raise our children and grandchildren to know the Bible and serve Jesus. But for millions of people, “one day” never comes. They die and are literally damned forever with nothing to say to the Lord but, “I didn’t mean to reject you. I was planning on getting saved one day.” Is that you? Are you waiting for that special moment, though you know you need to get saved today? “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Don’t let that be said of you. “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:7-8).