October 23, 2014.
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.”
This is a familiar story to most Christians. It is the moving narrative in which we watch Peter’s confidence in his loyalty to Christ get crushed by the fear that was to come. Peter, one of the apostles that had been closest to Jesus, walked in His inner circle and made bold claims in the name of the Messiah, had so much confidence in himself that he would follow his Lord, even to death. But Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew that Peter would succumb to fear, even to the point where he called down curses. Peter didn’t. Peter even argued that he would never do such a thing. Peter’s character was definitely zealous, but it seemed to be easily swayed at times, at least before the resurrection. The story continues with crushing events.
“Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”
There is one account of this story where the author records that Jesus looked at Peter as soon as the rooster crowed. Can you imagine that look? Can you imagine the burden of betrayal that Peter must have felt? Sometimes we read through these stories unlike we would a narrative that we would read for fun. We read in a dry manner, without emotion. But I would imagine that there was so much emotion in this moment, as Peter went out and wept bitterly. He knew what he had done, he knew that Jesus had told him it would happen and he knew that he denied it outright. Yet he still denied the one who had come to bring salvation to the world, the one he had been with constantly over the past three years or so. He had been in the garden when Judas became a traitor and I’m sure he, along with the rest of the apostles, looked at Judas with deep disappointment and anger. Yet Peter, by denying the Christ these three times, had in some way become a traitor too. And for this, he went out and wept bitterly.
It has been pointed out multiple times that this context gives a heart wrenching insight to the conversation that Jesus and Peter have some time after the resurrection. The Lord approaches the shore while Peter and some of the other apostles are out fishing, and much like Jesus’ first call of these apostles, he has them cast their nets on the other side of the boat only to haul in so larch of a catch that their nets couldn’t hold the number of fish. They recognize their Lord, and Peter puts on his outer garment and dives into the water. As they eat breakfast, Jesus asks Peter a simple question.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
It’s a simple question, but it has so much meaning. The implications are deep. Peter had denied Christ three times. Jesus asks Peter this question three times. This is possibly why Peter was grieved when he asked the third time, for it might have brought back those scaring memories of just a few days before. Jesus asks three times so as to say that words have no meaning without implementation. Jesus did not reject Peter for denying Him these three times, but rather gave him another opportunity to follow Him, instructing him to feed His sheep. What love that Christ shows!
Judas was there to betray his Lord, Peter was present to deny his Lord and the mockers were under the cross to spit on the Lord, but we were not physically present. So the question is, can we deny Christ today? Do we deny Christ today? It is obvious that we can deny Him, by not confessing Him before men (Matt. 10:32-33) or even by saying blasphemous things, but I would venture to guess that most Christians do not explicitly do this. Are there other ways to deny Him? When Paul writes his letter to Titus, he says to him,
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”
This statement may sound harsh if you have not read it before, but its tone does not make it any less important or true. Remember that words without implementation do nothing profitable. They are but wind. Vain. Thus, it is possible to confess Christ, but not walk in the Spirit, following Him. We can deny the Christ, we can deny God, merely by our actions. This should get our attention. It’s not all about what we say, but it is about what we do. It is about the example we set before men and the reputation we reflect on our Lord. If we are to be ambassadors for Christ on this earth, the world is going to look at us and get a picture of Him, whether we paint the true picture or a false one. We may not have been present in the garden, but we still hold the power to deny Christ. Peter didn’t see it coming, and neither do we most often.
When Peter realized his sin, he went out and wept bitterly. I believe this shows the true difference between living in sin and struggling in sin. When Paul writes back to the Corinthian church after sending a strongly worded message rebuking them and revealing their sin, he comments on how he almost didn’t want to send the letter because he knew that it would cause them grief and he loved them so much. But he rejoices that he sent it, for the letter did what it was supposed to:
“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
(II Corinthians 7:9-10)
Peter was grieved into repenting, just like the church at Corinth was. This is why Jesus gave Peter another opportunity, because He knew his heart. When we operate outside of the will of Christ, by doing the things contrary to His nature and sinning against Him, we deny Him. What’s more is that this denial is often a public denial, not one that is out right, but one that brings shame on the Lord. We should never look at this lightly. We should not brush it off like nothing happened. We have just denied our Lord and Master.
And he is looking back at us, for the rooster has crowed. Will we go out and weep bitterly?
Oh come, come repenting, soul that has wandered far away from the fold. Oh come, come repenting my soul as well. Come back to the Father who makes us all whole, His steadfast love never can fail.
Have you denied Christ lately?
Suggested Daily Reading: Luke 22, John 21, II Corinthians 7, Titus 1.
Come home, come home if you need to today.