Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don't know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don't know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
John Calvin said, “The fall of Peter is a mirror of human infirmity and a memorial example of God’s goodness and compassion.”
What we see in Peter’s denial is our own weakness in temptation and the danger that at any moment we too might deny Jesus just when He needs us most. In many different ways every day, Jesus continues to be denied by the very people who bear His name.
Christian discipleship is not easy, and forgetting the promises we have made to Jesus can happen to us, just as it happened to Peter.
However, when we sit down and take stock of our walk with Jesus, we will realise that there are many warning signs of denial. We can only imagine how hurt Peter must have been when Jesus predicted his denial. But the warning signs are often there for us, and we need to be aware of them.
So just what are these signs?
Prayerlessness is a warning sign of denial. Jesus said to Peter, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
That night, of all nights, Jesus needed the prayers of those closest to Him, but they couldn’t pray. When our prayer life suffers, our conviction to be faithful to God suffers. Just a few weeks earlier Peter had made a wonderful confession of his deep conviction about Jesus. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
But prayerlessness now had cut the heart out of this conviction. Peter discovered that he lacked the power to stand up in front of non-believers and proclaim once again that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Of course, we know the eventual outcome, and how the Spirit made Peter even more bolder than before, but for now he had lost his conviction and dedication to Jesus. Had he stayed awake and prayed, things might have been very different.
Indifference is another warning sign of denial. When Jesus asked His disciples to watch and pray, He wasn’t simply telling them to stay awake, but to remain mentally alert. Christianity is a matter of the heart, but it is also something we take into our minds. The Bible often speaks of loving God and learning about Him with our minds. Being faithful to Him is not simply an emotion – it is an intellectual, conscious decision we need to make.
The call to Christian discipleship, and how we choose to respond to that call is without doubt the most important decision we will ever make. The danger comes when we begin to take our salvation for granted. It’s when we become indifferent – when we fall asleep mentally – that we find our faith is far weaker than we at first thought. It is so easy for us to deny our belief in Jesus when our faith is rocky.
If we look at the example of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane again, they had drifted off to sleep and were indifferent to the threat of satan. They didn’t even know that Judas and the Roman soldiers were approaching. They were supposed to keep watch, but it was Jesus who said “Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer.”
Another warning sign of denial of Jesus is self-confidence. Paul warns us about this in Ephesians 2: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”
“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” This was a bold statement for Peter to make, but in truth this was the beginning of his downfall. When we think that we have made it as disciples, that is when we face the biggest danger. Even after Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, in his self-confidence and pride he said “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
We need to remember that Peter made these two statements in front of the other disciples. What was he really saying? “I am better and more faithful than them.” Those who are the most self-confident are often the people who look down on others, questioning their spiritual sincerity and maturity. Spiritual pride is so dangerous.
But there was another side-effect to Peter’s pride and confidence. In verse 35 we’re told “All the other disciples said the same.” The warning here is clear: When we base our faith on the faith of others, rather than looking to Jesus, we are heading for trouble. People, however sincere and genuine they might seem, cannot be trusted. The American TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart was one of the most popular evangelists in the early 1980’s. He had a huge following, but was involved in two sex scandals in 1988 and 1991. We can only wonder at the effect this had on the people who regarded him as their hero. Closer to home, many South Africans became Christians purely because Hansie Cronje, our own blue-eyed boy was a Christian, but when he fell from grace, how many of his fans’ faith was shipwrecked?
God has given us people to lead and teach us. That is one of the tasks of our Church leadership. But don’t look to us as examples of how to live your life – look to Christ.
There is another important lesson we can learn from Peter’s life. Verse 58 says “Peter followed Him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.”
Peter had for three years been one of Jesus’ closest companions, but now he had drifted away, and followed Him from a distance. And where did that lead him to? The courtyard of the high priest and the Roman guards – the very people who were directly responsible for putting Jesus to death.
If we are apathetic in our faith, it won’t be long before we’ll find ourselves following Jesus at a distance, lagging behind, and in the company of His enemies. Every moment of Peter’s silence brought his denial closer. He had three opportunities to stand up for Christ, but he missed them.
How many opportunities have you and I had, just during this past week, but instead of speaking the truth of Jesus, we have denied Him by what we did or didn’t say and by what we did or didn’t do?
We need to remember that this life is a spiritual battlefield, and the Truth of Jesus Christ is being challenged today more than ever. Each time we fail to make a stand for the cause of Christ, the cause of satan gains more ground.
We claim quite rightly, that we are new creations in Christ, but each time we miss an opportunity we lessen the impact of the Gospel of Jesus. Those of you who have been on the Walk to Emmaus weekend will know that at the end of the weekend you are given a cross. On the back of that cross are the words “Christ is counting on you.” I think we underestimate the responsibility we have as Christians. Basically, each time we deny Jesus – each time we fail to speak the truth, the lies of satan go unchallenged.
Jesus has called us as His Church to be salt and light in the world, and the question is, are we taking that call seriously enough? When Peter failed Jesus, it broke his heart, and we’re told that he “wept bitterly.”
Now this would be a very bad place for me to stop! My task is not to put us all on some sort of guilt trip. The sad truth is that we remain sinners, and consequently we remain unreliable witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus. But this is not about us. It’s about Him. Jesus offered grace and forgiveness to Peter, and He continues to do so for you and me today.
In Luke’s account of this same episode, Jesus says to Peter even before He predicts his denial, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” What an incredible statement to make, and how encouraging it is for us to know the same grace of God is offered to us too. I have given up counting the number of empty promises I have made to Jesus. I’m just grateful for His grace and love which will not let me go.
We can only imagine how Peter must have felt when we read Luke 22:60-62. “I don't know what you're talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
One look from Jesus cut deeply into Peter’s heart. Peter was convicted of the awfulness of his denial and he repented because of it. Sincere repentance on our part is always met by loving forgiveness on the part of God. This crisis was the pivotal point in Peter’s life. He was a new man after this experience. We have the benefit of knowing the end of the story. When Jesus forgave and restored Peter, he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter became a mighty warrior in the early days of the Church. He became a man of courage, faith, and loyalty, but these characteristics were no longer his own doing – it was the power of Christ at work through him.
That same man, who despite his empty promises to Jesus denied Him not once, not twice, but three times in one night was totally transformed by the grace and love of God.
In Acts chapter 4 Peter and John are hauled up before the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities, and are told not only to stop preaching, but they weren’t even to mention the name Jesus. What was Peter’s reply? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
One of my favourite passages of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6. You can sense the boldness in Paul’s words when he writes “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”
I won’t ask for a show of hands, but have you let down Jesus by failing to take opportunities to make a stand for Him? Have you denied Him despite your best intentions? If you have answered yes to those questions, then you need to know this: God’s grace and mercy is far greater than your failures. Look at how He transformed Peter’s life. He longs to do the same for you. That quote from John Calvin again: “The fall of Peter is a mirror of human infirmity and a memorial example of God’s goodness and compassion.”
I want to leave you with the last 3 verses of Psalm 30: “Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”