“Well, we could see that coming.” How many times have you said that about something that had just gone wrong? You watch children running through the house, laughing and having a great time, and soon one comes crying because she’s been hurt. “We could see that coming.” Someone buys something that we know will fall apart, wasting their money. “We could see that coming.” We see what is happening and we just knew it was inevitable.
We have been looking at Mark’s account of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Mark has been highlighting Peter throughout. Peter boasted that he would never leave Jesus. Peter said that if Jesus had to die, he would die with him. Now we see what happens to this brave disciple who decided that he would be with Jesus no matter what. Let’s read Mark 14:66-72.
I. Let’s look first briefly at this familiar story of Peter’s denial.
Peter had followed Jesus from Gethsemane from a distance and has come to the courtyard of the high priest. Peter is allowed inside the courtyard where the servants are gathered. They are all standing around the fire, warming themselves. Then the confrontations and the denials begin.
Finally, everyone’s suspicion is aroused because of his Galilean accent and they accuse him: “Surely, you are one of them!” There were many Galileans in Jerusalem at Passover time, but they would certainly not be among the high priests servants in the courtyard. Peter again denies it, but this time with curses and oaths. He vehemently denied that he knew “the man!” Peter is too ashamed to even say the name of Jesus. He says that God may curse him if he is lying, although it’s also possible that Peter may have actually cursed Jesus himself in saying this. And just like that, Peter has rejected any knowledge of Jesus three times!
But what Mark wants to emphasize is the timing of Peter’s denial. In verse 54, remember that Mark had mentioned that Peter was there in the courtyard. He then proceeded to describe the Jewish trial of Jesus. This ended with Jesus being found guilty of blasphemy and being beaten. Mark wants to contrast what is happening to Jesus with what is happening to Peter. At the same time, both are being asked about Jesus’ identity. Jesus boldly says that he is the Messiah. Peter denies that he even knows “this man.” While Jesus is being beaten up by the Jewish leaders, Peter is lying in order to save himself from physical harm, which would likely be minimal. At the precise time when the leaders were heaping abuse on Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the prophecy that Peter would deny him was being fulfilled.
Just as Peter denies Jesus the third time, the rooster crows and Peter remembers. The words of Jesus come flooding back to him: “I tell you the truth, today - yes tonight - before the rooster crows twice, you yourself will disown me three times. When Peter realized the accuracy of Jesus’ words he broke down and wept.
But what must have really hurt Peter as he remembered this was his response to Jesus’ prophecy about his running away. Peter had said, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Right at that moment Jesus was being beaten and was condemned to death. And right at that moment Peter says that he doesn’t even knows “this man.”
Imagine this scenario: your daughter borrows your car for the night and the next morning you can’t find the keys. You start grilling her and she insists that she put them right where they are supposed to be, but they aren’t there now. You yell at her for being irresponsible and losing those keys and tell her that there is no excuse for it and she’ll have to grow up! And just then you feel them in your coat pocket where you put them when you looked for something in the car last night. How would you feel? Awful at being caught and it was your doing! No wonder then when the rooster crows, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
II. How could Peter do this?
Perhaps Peter was afraid of what might happen to him. He was one of Jesus’ closest followers and here he was right with the enemy. This was not an ideal place to be identified as a disciple of Jesus. He may have been afraid of being arrested. Although this doesn’t really make sense. The ones accusing him were only servants and would pose no real threat to Peter even if he would say that he was a disciple of Jesus.
The problem may also be one of pride and disillusionment with Jesus. It was perhaps embarrassing to admit that he followed this man, Jesus. Jesus appeared to be a weakling who not only submitted himself to this brutal injustice without protesting but rebuked Peter for fighting back! This is too embarrassing and so Peter denies his Lord.
But Peter’s denial of Jesus is really the result of a gradual slipping away from trusting in Jesus to relying on his own strength and abilities. It began already when he made his rash statement that he would never leave Jesus. When he made that bold statement, he did so with some degree of scorn toward the other disciples: “Even if these all fall away, I will never leave you.” “I’m too strong to allow that to happen.” He was relying on his own strength rather than on the Lord.
Then he slipped a bit more in the Garden of Gethsemane when he couldn’t stay awake while Jesus was praying. It showed his weakness in that he didn’t really understand what Jesus was doing. When Jesus was arrested, he had taken a courageous stand then, but in doing so he misunderstood who Jesus was. He tried to display his courage by trying to kill the priest’s servant. But then Jesus rebukes him and willingly goes with the mob! What kind of Messiah is this anyway? He becomes so confused and frightened that he runs away.
Finally, he came slinking back to where Jesus was but did not go forward. Instead of being at his master’s side, he was huddled by Jesus’ enemies. There he saw Jesus being beaten and he was not defending himself! He must have asked himself: “What kind of Messiah is this?”
All of these things make his denial almost inevitable. It started a long time ago when he began to rely on his own strength rather than the Lord’s strength. And it started when he saw Jesus as an earthly messiah and not a Savior.
But now God is forcing Peter to make a decision. Peter now must take a stand with or against Jesus. God lays it out very clearly in front of him. Each accusation in the courtyard was an opportunity for Peter to go forward in God’s strength, but instead he falls backward. It’s like when we are tempted for each time we are tempted, it’s an opportunity to resist and grow closer to God and stronger in him. But each time we give in to that temptation, we slide a bit further away from God. Each time was an opportunity for Peter to affirm Jesus but he missed them all. He missed his opportunity to grow and instead broke off his relationship with Jesus.
III. What can we learn from this?
First, we must always be prepared for times of trial. Mark’s readers in Rome were facing severe persecution as well. The Roman government wanted to stamp out this unwanted sect. This is Mark’s way of telling them that just making a bold and strong statement of faith does not guarantee faithfulness. They cannot rely on their own strength and confidence as Peter did or they will certainly fall as Peter did.
How can we be prepared for the trials in our lives? Do we just assume that we will be strong enough? That is what Peter thought and he fell very far and hard. Rather we must continually be getting stronger in the love and grace of our Lord.
If we realize that we are living day after day in God’s strength and power, we are more likely to stand when the day of trials come. We need strength that will help us and that comes only from the Lord. It won’t come from friends or co-workers or even our spouses. The strength that we need to grow in the love of God comes only from the Lord and we must trust in God’s strength and grace alone.
But the most important thing to remember is that when we slide, we can be forgiven. We cannot minimize the fall of Peter for Peter had disowned Jesus. He said that he never knew him and had nothing to do with Jesus. Imagine if a teenager went to a party and for the first time in his life had too much to drink and was arrested for drunk driving. The parents are called and they go to bail out the son. But instead of bailing him out, they look at their son sitting in jail and say, “I’m afraid there’s been some mistake. That is not our son.” What a terrible feeling on the part of the son and what a tragic thing on the part of the parents. That relationship would be seriously damaged by this. But that is what Peter did; he broke off his relationship with his Lord.
But the beauty of this is that there is forgiveness in Christ. Even though Peter had done this, Jesus would forgive him and restore him. Peter starts the process of forgiveness by falling to his knees in repentance. One tradition says that from then on, whenever Peter heard the rooster crow, he would fall to his knees and ask the Lord to forgive his sins.
Jesus forgives Peter and also restores him at the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. Repentance was the beginning of restoration for Peter. If we fast-forward to the end of Mark after Jesus’ resurrection, we read that the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples.... and Peter... to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus would restore Peter when Peter knew that he had to trust in God alone.
The same is true for us as well. For even when we cut ourselves off from the Lord, when we stubbornly resist his power and try to do things on our own, even when we fail miserably... If we repent and confess our sins and trust in Jesus’ love, Jesus forgives us. And Jesus will restore us for that is exactly what Jesus came to do for us. Forgiveness and restoration! What amazing gifts from our amazing Lord!