Bible · Christ · Death · Easter · Jesus · Sin

The Story of Peter’s Denial of Christ

While Jesus was being interrogated after being arrested,

“Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. 70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. 71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. 72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. 73 And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. 74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:63-75)

One of the most difficult things in all the world to do, is to admit that self has done something to be ashamed of. The more horrendous the act, the greater the attempt is made to cover up the dreadful deed. The sad story unfolds concerning the death of young Jon Benet Ramsey. Beautiful and talented, charismatic and confident, in December, 1996, six year old Jon Benet was brutally molested and strangled. In all probability the person, or persons who killed her, knew her well. And, according to one police expert, her killer experienced a moment of regret, for the little body was covered up after the action was done. It seems as if the perpetrator could not look for very long upon the evil that had been wrought.

Our thoughts are turned to another sad spectacle. It is the story of the denial of Christ by Peter. The sin of Simon is so sad, for it was he who had boasted of being loyal. Peter had even taken out a sword to defend his Sovereign. But after that he fled in fear.

Following the sudden arrest of Christ in the darkness of the night, Simon Peter had fled, lest he too be arrested and crucified. Down the rocky road, Peter ran in terrified haste, looking over his shoulder to see if any soldier was pursuing him. Sweat poured from his body as his heart beat wildly. Fear was now his constant companion. It was only when Peter realized that he was not being followed that he stopped running.

And then he did something which surprised himself. Peter began to backtrack, and follow the flickering firelights of the mindless mob which had seized Christ. The torchlight procession seemed to be going towards the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Remembering his boast, and ashamed of his present behavior, Peter found new courage as he quietly entered into the courtyard of the high priest, just one among many. In Palestine, the homes of the well to do were built in a hollow square around an open courtyard. The various rooms opened off of this. A large courtyard could hold many people, such as those who had taken Christ.

Desperately hoping he would not be recognized in the chaos of the crisis, Peter entered into the courtyard and sat with the servants of Caiaphas, who had gathered to discuss what the sudden excitement meant. In his heart Peter knew there was no hope for Jesus. He only came to see the end. For Peter, the end of many things had come. It was not just the end of the Lord’s life that Simon thought he was about to witness; it was also the end of an exciting ministry, filled with miracles of healing, and a message of hope. Peter was finding it difficult to accept the reality of the present situation as he sat with the servants. It was only five days ago that all of Jerusalem was shouting, in glorious excitement, as Jesus made a grand and glorious entrance into the city on the back of a donkey. People had thrown palm branches down, while shouting

“Hosanna, Blessed is he that
cometh in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest!”

Hundreds and thousands of people had tried to touch Jesus as word spread. This is the Messiah. This is the Son of David. This Man is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Just five short days ago Peter was filled with excitement, as he danced with delight beside the donkey. The future was fantastic. Now, he was crouching in fear, waiting to see the end of all Messianic hopes and dreams.

As he reflected on these things, Peter was suddenly jerked back to reality. Someone was talking to him. It was a young girl. She was not asking a question. She was making a statement. “Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.”

Because of his early and long association with Jesus, Peter had become a well recognized figure. He could hide under his clothing, but his face was distinct once he was uncovered. People immediately recognized him as the most prominent follower of Christ.

Once more tremendous emotions took grip of Peter’s heart and mind. He had to make a decision. He could either acknowledge the truth and risk arrest, or he could deny any association with Jesus. Heads were turned towards Peter. In the dim light of the campfire ears strained to listen carefully what he would say.

But Peter denied before them all, saying “I know not what thou sayest.”

Though his words were forceful, they did not have the ring of truth to discerning ears, for some observed Peter’s highly emotional state. And they noticed that Peter did not just respond to the damsel’s charge, but he jumped to his feet, saying loudly enough, for many to hear, as he protested, “I know not what thou sayest!”

Following these words, Peter quickly left the circle of the servants as he moved towards the porch. There he stopped, for the attention of others had been turned elsewhere. Peter was still afraid, but he stopped, for love would not let him go too far away from Jesus. Though he tried to blend into the milling masses of curious people, while standing in the porch area, Peter was not successful, for another maid saw him. Now, this young woman did not speak to Peter directly, but called unto others that were there. Pointing to the distraught disciple, she cried out, “This man was also with Jesus of Nazareth!” as if that were in itself a great crime.

Under other conditions, such an accusation would have brought honor and glory to Peter’s heart. For three and one half years there was no greater privilege than to be known as one who was with Jesus of Nazareth. But now exhausted and excited, depressed, and filled with despair, broken in spirit ,and terrified in heart, Peter did not want to be associated with Jesus, and so for a second time he denied Jesus. But his second denial gave him away. It was clear from Peter’s speech pattern that he was a Galilean. The Galileans spoke with a burr. Many Jews considered their accent so ugly, that no Galilean was allowed to pronounce the benediction at a synagogue service.

Because several people had heard Peter’s exchange with the second damsel, a small crowd gathered around him. Peter felt threatened, especially when he heard a hostile voice call out, “Surely thou art one of them: for thy speech betrayeth thee.”

Almost, without thinking Peter spoke back, and for the third time he denied Christ, but he did so with words of profanity, crying out “I know not the man!” And the holy angels had to cover their ears at such an unholy, outrageous denial. Of all the sins of the saints, this is one that is among the worst. Some sins are committed against the body. Other sins are committed against the soul, and thus they are far more serious. Peter’s sin was against the soul. The body can heal itself, and the pain can go away. But the sins against the soul are of a much deeper nature, for they touch the essence of human integrity. It was a terrible thing which Peter had done. He cursed, and denied Christ, and the cock crowed.

While the rooster was crowing, it was possible that something else happened at that precise moment. The hour of 3 AM was called cockcrow by the people of Palestine, and for this reason. At that hour, the Roman guard was changed in the Castle of Antonia, and the sign of the changing of the guard was a trumpet call. The Latin for that trumpet call was gallicinium, which means cockcrow. It could be, that as Peter made his third denial, the cock crowed, and there was the blast of a trumpet from the castle battlement.

Man and nature caused Peter to remember the words of Jesus, and he went out and wept bitterly. The tears of Peter are significant, because we learn three things.

First, we learn of Peter’s humility. The reason why we know Peter wept, is because he told his story to John Mark, who told Matthew. It was Peter who shared with others how he denied Jesus. He never did try to cover up his sin.

Second, we learn that Christians can commit serious transgressions. But if there is a willingness to humble ourselves, confess sin, and weep, God’s grace is still greater than all our sins.

Then third, we learn that though Peter’s iniquity against Christ was great, his love for Jesus was also extravagant. William Barclay reminds us that, it was love which riveted him in the home of Caiaphas. in spite of the fact he had been recognized three times. It was love which made him remember the words of Jesus. It was love, which sent him out into the night to weep. And it was love, which covers a multitude of sins.

The life of Peter reminds us that the best of men, are but men at best. It is possible to find ourselves sitting with the servants of the world cursing and covering up our faith, instead of being loyal to Christ. It is possible for us to deny Christ at major moments, but also in little ways. For example: If it is the custom to pray at the family dinner table, do we hesitate to pray in a more public setting?

When the opportunity presents itself to share the gospel, are we not tempted to be silent? When the opportunity for Christian fellowship comes, and the privilege is given to listen to the preaching of God’s Word, are we not tempted to choose the company of the world’s entertainment? If we can identify with Peter in his acts of denial, by the grace of God we can identify with him in the hour of repentance. The Bible has a lot to say about repentance.

First, there is a repentance that leads to a certain and fearful judgment. That is the repentance of Judas. The Bible tells us that Judas also wept over what he did to Christ. Judas repented of his betrayal of Christ. But his repentance did not change his heart. He went out and hung himself, and went to his own place (Acts 1:25).

Second, there is a repentance that needs to be repented of. It is the superficial repentance characterized by Pharaoh. As long as things went well for the ruler of Egypt, he would not say he was wrong. It was only when the fury of God’s wrath was turned against him that he repented. But it was superficial. It was as shallow as those individuals who get sick, and tell God they will honor Him more if they can get well. The Lord is gracious. Health is restored, but the heart grows hard, and God is forgotten. There is a repentance that needs to be repented of. It is a repentance that leaves us in sin, and shame, without regret. In contrast, there is also a repentance that is of divine origin. It finds its source in God. This genuine repentance is characterized by several things.

First, there is recognition that self is a sinner, and is in need of salvation and sanctification. The smugness of the professing elect is just as offensive to God as the self-righteousness of the non-elect. God’s people do not just have noble thoughts of repentance because of great theological truths, but they experience repentance in the depths of their beings.

Second, biblical repentance is associated with tears. Peter wept bitterly. David wept bitterly. Charles Spurgeon and Robert Murray McCheyne knew the value of tears, as did Mary Magdalene. Spiritual renewal will come in part, when God’s people ask Him to grant contrition of the soul, manifested by tears of sorrow.

Third, biblical repentance is a turning from one direction to walk in another. There is a radical change in behavior and belief. When Catherine Marshall was sick with tuberculoses, she had time to learn about, and experience, genuine repentance.

First she came under conviction. There was distress of the heart. Then she began to cry godly tears. Finally, one day, she picked up a pen, and began to write letters, confessing sins that extended into her childhood. She reached out to others to ask for their forgiveness.

When St. Augustine wrote his Confessions as a mature man, his heart was broken over memories of a childhood incident in which he stole apples. The apples were taken, not because he was hungry, but simply because he wanted to steal.

When I was discussing the Confessions with my philosophy professor in college, he asked with a smirk, if Augustine had not overdone his repentance? The answer is “No!”

When God grants deep repentance, the heart cries out, “Lo! I am an unclean man and I dwell in the midst of an unclean people.” When God grants genuine repentance, the heart cries out in soul agony. We cover our mouths. We bow our knees, and we begin to plead afresh,

“God, be merciful to me the sinner!” Have we ever known this part of redeeming grace as a church? Have we ever felt sorrow for sin after salvation? Have we ever wept bitterly with Peter? Have we ever confessed, “Lord, I have sinned. Please forgive, and grant me gospel repentance”?

May we renew our commitment to be found sitting with the Saviour, and not with the Servants. Ultimately, that was where Peter was found. According to infinite mercy, he was finally discovered sitting with the Saviour in sweet fellowship once more, for after His resurrection, the Lord sought Peter out. As the Lord wills, let us seek to know something about leaving the servants who are against our Saviour, to weep tears of gospel repentance.

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