PEER PRESSURE (LESSON 4)
Tonight is another lesson on peer pressure. Peer pressure happens, basically, when we lose focus. Instead of focusing on God and listening to God's voice and being in touch with what God is trying to do in our lives, we start looking at those people around us. Then we start worrying so much about what other people do and what other people think that we let other people influence our actions. Ultimately we can even miss out on what God is trying to do with our life. So peer pressure happens when instead of going forward towards God, we get stuck trying to fit in with the world.
Let me ask you guys something: Are you being influenced by God or by your friends, those people you hang out with? Have you lost focus of the Lord and just become part of the world? Let's read a bible account that shows how one of Jesus' followers started off strong, seemed to be on the right track, but then temporarily lost focus and was influenced by the crowd. This man's name is Peter.
Peter was one of those kind of people who always spoke up. When he was with other Christians, he seemed to really love the Lord. He even promised Jesus in front of many others that he would never leave Jesus. Peter exclaimed that he was even willing to die for his faith. Yes, Peter said all the right things when there was no pressure, no distractions. Let's read. Matthew 26:31-35, "Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily, I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples."
As we just read, Peter and the other disciples made some strong promises to the Lord. And that's true of many of us Christians. It's easy to follow Christ when you are surrounded by other believers and when Christ is the center of your attention. For the hour that we come together and read our Bibles and talk, your faith is strong. When there's no one around you offering some kind of temptation or when you don't have the world forcing you to choose, there's no pressure. You feel as though there is no way you would betray Christ.
And that's great. That strength that you get from being around other believers is something that you should rely on. That is one of the reasons why it is important to be involved in church and to be involved with other Christians. We build each other up. But like we said before, the real test is going to come when you are outside of your Christian circles. Though you are sincere now in bible study, what about when you are back home with the same old sinful people in your old neighborhood? The Bible warns us that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:14).
Like Peter, how many of us have made big promises to the Lord, but later didn't follow through? Well, if you read this bible account before, you know that later Peter wasn't able to follow through on his promises. Let's see the mistakes that Peter made when the pressure was on, because they will show you why he ended up sinning and eventually denied even knowing Christ. So back to the Bible. The next thing that happened was a great multitude came with swords and clubs to take Jesus away to be tried and crucified. Let's see how Peter and the other disciples acted when faced with this test of their sincerity. Read Matthew 26:47-50, "And while he [speaking of Jesus] yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him."
Matthew 26:51-56, "And behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest, and smote off his ear. Then Jesus said unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him and fled."
At first, impulsive Peter grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of one of the guards. But Christ doesn't want us to take a stand for Him by using violence. God doesn't want us to kill people who don't share our faith. He doesn't want us to secretly blow up abortion clinics or do harm to those who are doing wrong. God wants us to courageously speak out against sin. God wants us to let our Christian faith be known even in those situations when it might make someone in a position of power not like us. Jesus wants us to stand tall for Him by our words and actions even when it means we might be crucified (figuratively or literally) because of it. A person that takes a stand for Christ against the world and doesn't back down no matter what the situation is, is more courageous than someone who uses a weapon to show how tough they are.
But, sadly, as we just read, the disciples weren't yet ready to take a stand for Christ against the multitude. Peter and all the rest of the disciples deserted Christ as soon as the going got tough. They lost focus. They forgot that Jesus is God. They forgot all the things he taught them, all the miracles they had witnessed. They forgot the declarations of love they had made, and they let the world influence them.
Again, is that what you are going to do? As soon as you are back on your block and back with your unsaved friends, are you going to bail out on Christ? The disciples left Jesus because they were afraid. Will you let fear make you desert Christ? (fear of being unpopular, fear of being misunderstood). I bet that breaks God's heart. Even though he knows that we are going to do it, I bet it saddens Him greatly when we let the world influence our actions and we desert Him.
Now back to the bible. They take Christ away, and all of the disciples have deserted him. But Peter did follow from a distance to see what they were going to do with Jesus. Luke 22:54 reads, "Then took they him, and led him and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off."
It says that Peter followed Jesus, but from afar off. And that's the second mistake that Peter made and a mistake that we often make. Even though we know that we are our strongest against the pressure of this world when we stay close to Christ and read our Bible and pray often, we sometimes let ourselves get into a pattern of following Christ from a distance. How? For example, sure, we own a Bible, but we seldom read it. We know the power of prayer, but we only pray after we've made a mistake. We love Christ and have faith in Him, but we treat him like a long-distance friend. After a while, we get to a point where we are spending all of our time with the enemy, and we forget about Christ altogether. And that's what Peter did next.
Read Luke 22:55, "And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them." What is Peter doing? First he ran when the going got tough. He didn't stand tall for Christ. And now he is following Christ from a distance and sitting down at the fire with the enemy, the very people who led Jesus away! And, remember, Jesus had even warned Peter that he would deny him. Let's see how that happens just like Christ said it would.
Luke 22:56-57, "But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not.'" Have you ever done that? Do you act one way at church? Maybe you are neatly dressed and polite and kind of respectful and quiet. Then when you get around people who aren't Christians, do you begin to try to blend in with those people and by your actions deny even knowing Christ? And then later, you maybe feel bad because of what you had been doing. But instead of getting away from those people who cause you to deny Christ, you make the mistake that Peter made and just stay right there even longer with the enemy.
So Peter has already denied knowing Jesus once. Let's see what happens next. Luke 22:58, "And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not." Here we have denial number two. And this guy Peter is talking to was a relative of the guy whose ear Peter cut off. But Peter still thinks he can get away with lying and denying. He's letting the pressure of the world dictate what he does. Let's read on.
Luke 22:59-62, "And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him; for he is a Galilean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly."
Why is it that we can see the trouble and we can know that we are making a mistake, yet we don't do anything to stop ourselves from doing something that we later regret? Can you imagine how sad Peter must have felt when he realized he had denied Christ three times, just like Jesus predicted he would? Have you ever done something because you put yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time, and then later you ended up weeping bitterly because you knew you had messed up and let the Lord down? Have you ever had to look in the eyes of someone who you knew you disappointed? Like Peter, have you ever been ashamed to face Christ?
Well, we can learn from Peter's mistake. Again, the mistake that Peter made was being at the enemy's fire in the first place. Why would someone put himself or herself in a position where they are going to be the most vulnerable? If you have issues with alcohol, don't go to happy hour or to that party. If you have sinned because of sexual situations, don't be over that woman or man's house alone late at night. Wherever the pressure comes from, avoid that situation!
And why didn't Peter leave after the first time he denied knowing Christ? It wasn't until AFTER Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would do that he left that pressure-filled situation. Why, oh, why can't we learn the lesson BEFORE we shame ourselves?
In closing, know that there are pressures in this world. The pressure comes from your peers, it comes from the media, and it's all around us. If you truly love the Lord, then don't follow Christ from a distance. Don't deny Christ by your actions. Read your Bible daily. Pray daily. Find a good church to fellowship with. And surround yourself with people who will help you to grow in your faith. And if you have been a liar or thief or violent person or drunkard or sexually immoral person in the past, TODAY can be the day when you see those sins the way God sees them, and turn from them. You can stop living like the rest of the world and start being a true follower of Christ!
And fortunately for us, God is so good that even when we've denied Him in the past and given in to the temptation of this world, he will still give us another chance. But only if we sincerely ask his forgiveness and admit our mistakes and turn from them.
Jesus gave Peter a second chance. After Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples. In front of everybody, Jesus specifically asked Peter if he loved him. And when Peter said, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you," Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-19). What the Lord meant by that was that he wanted Peter to take on the role of a leader. Jesus knew that Peter was truly sorry for denying Him in the past, and he showed Peter that he still believed in him and that he wanted to use him for great things.
And Peter went on to do many works in the name of Christ. He boldly spoke out and told others about Jesus and about the need for people to turn from their sins (Acts 2:38, 4:13). God allowed Peter to do great miracles (Acts 3:4, 9:34, 9:40). Peter took on the role of leader and rebuked his fellow Christians when they acted out of God's will (Acts 5:3, 8:20). These are just a few examples. Much of the New Testament tells of the things that Peter later did. Peter was without fear! He was thrown into prison. He was bound with chains. He was beaten. He eventually was even killed for being a Christian. Peter went from being someone who at first gave in to worldly pressure, to ultimately becoming someone God used in a mighty way. And God can do the same for you, but you have to make a choice: Jesus or the world.
When Peter was trying to stand with the world, he was lying and denying. But, oh, the great things God can do to and through those who boldly choose to acknowledge that they are followers of Christ and who are willing to be used! Will you come out from the crowd and be a true disciple?