(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Matthew 26:69-75 – Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 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.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
73 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.”
74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 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.
Peter really should have known better than to do what he did. After all, Jesus had given him a very direct warning about this event. Earlier that night, Jesus had warned all of the disciples that they would all fall away that very night. And they certainly did. They all ran away in the garden. But Peter had adamantly denied that he would fall away. Peter declared, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). If only Peter could have been as bold in his actions as he was when he spoke those words. He did fall away. He couldn’t keep his promise that he had made to Jesus.
Even after Peter made that first statement, Jesus again tried to warn him. Jesus was more specific. He said, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Naturally Peter had an objection to that also. He stated, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35). More than likely, Peter wished that he could have taken those statements back. He did not follow through on his declarations. He fell flat on his face. He was not so bold as to put his life on the line for Jesus. Rather than dying with Jesus, Peter was too afraid to confess that he was a disciple.
We know Peter’s sins so well. We review this denial every year and we talk about it many times because it is a good illustration for how we too turn our backs on God at various times in our lives. From a human perspective, we understand why Peter committed these sins. He was afraid of what the people might do to him. He thought that perhaps he would be arrested if he told the truth. Maybe he would be tortured and killed if people knew that he was one of the disciples. Even though we understand the fear, it does not excuse the sin. Peter still turned his back on his Lord.
Peter sinned against a number of commands. He spoke lies all three times. He was trying to deceive the people by saying that he didn’t know Jesus. And then to back up his lies, he took the Lord’s name in vain. That’s what it means when it says that he denied it with an oath and called down curses on himself. He was basically saying something like this, “I swear to God that I don’t know Jesus.” The biggest command Peter broke is the first. He was serving the false god of himself. It was more important to him to protect himself than it was to admit that he served Jesus. He was turning his back on his God.
Before we look at our own denials of God, I think it would be interesting to think about this: what would have happened if Peter had admitted that he followed Jesus? We don’t actually know since it didn’t happen but I wonder about it. Would the people have persecuted him? Would he have been arrested? Or would it have created an interesting outreach opportunity? Perhaps they would have asked Peter why he followed Jesus. Then he could have talked about why he had thought that Jesus was the Savior that the Old Testament had predicted. Rather than persecuting Peter, they might have been impressed by his faith. They might have respected him for standing up for what he believed in.
It is an easy temptation for us to deny Jesus by remaining quiet when we really ought to speak up about our faith. We don’t face the same kind of situation that Peter faced. We aren’t really all that worried about being arrested or perhaps even killed because of our faith. And yet, we still remain silent when we have opportunities to speak up about Jesus. Think about how we miss all kinds of opportunities. If someone we know asks us how things are going or what we did this weekend, what do we tell them? Do we mention that we worshipped our Savior and our faith was strengthened or do we talk about other topics like sports or work or fun we had with our family?
Those topics are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but they can be topics that we speak about rather than speaking about what is eternally important. It is a way of denying our faith when we avoid speaking about God’s Word. We have the message of eternal life and yet we don’t want to share it. We easily become so wrapped up in the things and people of this world that we make them a priority over our God. We spend lots of time and energy taking care of our physical well-being but how much time do we spend focused on our spiritual well-being?
Think about what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-38. He said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Do we sometimes deny Jesus by doing exactly what he warned against in that passage? Do we show all kinds of love and affection to our family in earthly ways but then we avoid topics such as the ways that we have sinned against God and need his forgiveness? We need to fight that temptation to lay aside our faith. Don’t deny that you are a follower of Christ.
Once we admit that we have denied our Lord at times, we are truly amazed by the fact that he never turns his back on us. He keeps on reaching out to us. He keeps on pointing us back to the firm resolve he had to accomplish the salvation of souls that he carried out on the cross. Peter didn’t fully realize this grace until after the resurrection. It is hard for us to fully understand Peter’s shame and guilt because we have the perspective of being able to look back at the cross and resurrection. Peter didn’t yet know how things were going to turn out. He didn’t yet understand the forgiveness that Jesus was winning for him.
Peter definitely understood his guilt. He remembered that Jesus had warned him and then he wept bitterly because of how he had failed to remain faithful to Jesus. One thing that we don’t hear in the gospel of Matthew is the look of Jesus that Luke tells us about. As Jesus was being led through the courtyard, right after the rooster crowed, Jesus looked straight at Peter. Now this made Peter feel his guilt but the look of Jesus is much more gospel focused than we might realize. Jesus did not turn his back on Peter like Peter had done to him. Jesus was focused on what needed to be done to save Peter. Yes he was disappointed that Peter sinned but he was also firmly set on earning forgiveness for Peter’s sin.
We are reminded that Jesus is always faithful to us. Think about 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” He has promised to be faithful to us. He cannot go back on his promises. When we have been faithless by not standing up for him, he remains faithful. When we have disowned him by acting like we are not really his followers, he has never disowned us. Think about how amazing it is that he never turns his back on us. We don’t deserve his favor and yet he still gives it to us.
Peter finally understood this after the resurrection. The Come Follow Me video does a good job of showing things from the perspective of Peter. It is a great moment in the film when Peter finally understands that he cannot make up for his sin by doing anything. His forgiveness is all about what God has done. There is no burden on us about what we have to do. The burden was all put on Christ and that is why we can be absolutely certain of our forgiveness.
Because of Jesus’ unwavering faithfulness toward us, we are restored and given the strength and comfort that we need to live for Jesus. We pray that Jesus would help us to see the opportunities to share our faith. Think about how we could insert even small spiritual pieces into our daily conversation. If someone comes up to us on Monday and asks us about our weekend, we could easily mention that we worshipped our Lord. We can do it in a casual comment like this, “My weekend wasn’t too eventful but I did have the opportunity to be strengthened through worshipping Jesus. I really enjoyed being enriched through the message from God’s Word.”
It is hard to imagine that comment would incite the person to ridicule us. But even if they do brush us off, we shared our faith. Perhaps the person will be impressed by our faith. Perhaps they will wonder how they too can have a relationship with Jesus. They might see our faith and want to learn more. If our faith is so important that it is one of the first things we want to talk about, people will notice that. Take advantage of even the smallest opportunity that God gives you to share your faith.