Most of us are aware of Peter’s denial, we may be less aware of Asaph and how he almost slipped away from his good relationship with God. In both cases, these two men succumb to the pressure of the crowd and both are saved from falling away by God. Now it is true that all Christians live within the safe place of God, we all are secure in him, but it is also true we can find ourselves in the same place as Asaph and Peter.
The word of God is quite clear that there is such a thing as a vantage point for Christians, and that is where they need to be. It’s the place where you’re able to see things clearly. When Asaph says that his foot had almost slipped this was the place from which he almost slipped. So where is the place? It’s the Sanctuary, psalm 73:16, the place of worship and the place where you hear the word of God – and this is where we are to be, lest we forget the God who we are to worship and end up slipping into the envy. Or like Peter where we succumb to the pressure of the crowd – it’s a real pressure, where not denying that, but that’s not where we want to be.
Envious of someone else’s dream
To become envious, as in the case of Asaph, and how that envy of others is often heightened by the truth that we are to love our enemies. When our enemies succeed in life, or at least someone we don’t know – where not too bothered by what they have. But when someone in the church succeeds, perhaps a friend of ours or at least someone in the same position as us – when they succeed it’s as if we have been wounded on the inside. There is a particular danger of being envious. That can lead us away from God because we want what others have, or we don’t want them to have it. To love our enemies when they seem to do so well in life without God – seems so difficult, but it really shouldn’t be.
When Asaph comes to his senses, concerning his envious state of others who do not belong to God. This is like becoming envious of someone who dreamt they were instantly rich. When you become envious of unbelievers who may have a lot but don’t have God, it’s like being jealous of someone who inherited a fortune in their dream. Listen to Asaph Psalm 73:20 “like a dream when one awakes, O lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms”.
In others words – Asaph is saying that he became jealous of people who are one day going to be woken up by God and find out that all that they had was as in a dream. Because there is no real riches outside a relationship with God. How does Asaph get back to seeing g things clearly? Psalm 73v17 by coming back into the sanctuary of God. He says v16 that when he thought to understand this on his own, he couldn’t, it was a wearisome task – until v17, I go back to the place of worshipping God and hearing his word.
Why worship? Remember, God is in need of nothing, he doesn’t need our worship, we need it. When we worship God it is that place where we remain secure, it is the vantage point where we can see things clearly. Asaph has something else to say, and it’s this that takes us to Peter’s denial. In psalm 73:15, he says this “if I had said, “I will speak thus” I would have betrayed the generation of your children”. In other words if I spoke of my envy of what others had to others who belong to God, I would cause them to do the same. Sheep follow sheep even when they have heard the shepherd. People don’t make as many decisions as they think they do – rather people succumb to the pressure of the crowd, we may think we have made up our mind – but what if that isn’t the case?
Both Asaph and Peter come to their senses – and that means that they were led into a place by not thinking about it. We have seen how it happened to Asaph, how he became envious of what others had – but what about Peter. Peter is told that he will be sifted by Satan, but that Jesus will pray from him – Jesus prayed that his faith not fail, and say when you have turned, which indicates Peters denial and then when he returns, he will strengthen his brothers.
There is of course a particular type of evil that attaches itself to temptation, but it appears in the most normal of all circumstances. It says that Jesus had been arrested and that He was brought into the High Priests house – Peter it says was following at a distance. Peter stays outside in the courtyard with the others who were there, – while he is there is gets recognised by a servant girl, here he denies knowing Jesus. Then he is recognised again, but this time as a disciple, he dines for a second time. Then he is recognised as a Galilean, in others words you’re not from around here, Peter for the third time denies it all.
What’s happening? – And why is it happening?
What happens when Peter who is identified with Christ as a disciple is now identified by the crowd, as Jesus is taken off to the high priest. He seems to go into hiding, and he does this by denying his identity as a follower of Jesus. In doing so, Peter begins to identify himself with the crowd who are not identified as followers of Jesus. In other words in order to fit in he has to deny the same thing they do – it’s in the denial of Jesus, that you begin to have a place in the crowd.
A man by the name of Rene Girard, said this is classic scapegoating. The pressure of the crowd is such that in order to remove that pressure Peter turns on the same thing they do – Jesus understood He would do this, He foretold this very thing. For Peter to join the crowd, to identify himself with the crowd, is for him to join the people who are crucifying Jesus. Remember what Jesus has to say to Peter after the resurrection – do you love me?
But here’s something worth considering – does Peter know what he is doing. Remember Asaph, he had almost slipped because he became envious of others, but it wasn’t until he came back in to worship that he understood this. The vantage point where it’s seen clearly. So did Peter know what he was doing? I think the answer is yes and no, here’s why?
When the rooster crows – it is then that Peter is reminded, of what Jesus said, it is then that it truly becomes apparent to him exactly what he has done, as if he sleepwalked into denying Jesus, as if he day dreamed in to denying Jesus. It’s as if when the rooster crows – he is woken up, brought to a greater sense of consciousness, brought to his senses. It seems he wondered into his denial of Jesus by denying that he was a follower of Jesus – because of the pressure of the crowd.
Asaph’s testimony is this – the pressure of the crowd and my envy of them was such that my heart failed, but God is the strength of my heart and so I came back in to the place of worship and the word. Peters testimony is – that I turned away from Jesus so as not to stand out in the crowd, I denied Jesus, but I was brought to my senses when the rooster crowed – remembering what Jesus said and how he would pray for me.