He was so sure that he would succeed where others failed. He could feel the zeal welling up within him. “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Lord, how could you say that we will all fall away? What an awful thing to happen! “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter said all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
What did Peter think of his own dedication versus that of others? He was sure that he would succeed where others had failed. That kind of optimism comes from an underestimated view of his own strength. If you’re older or have chronic illness, you understand this. At the start of the day, you are sure that you can take on the world, like you did before. You have 10 things on your list and you’re going to get them all done. By the time dinner rolls around, you realize that you only got a few things done and had to take a nap. But for Peter, more than anything, he was sure that he could rise above the Word of God speaking about the plan of God and the failure of His people. It seemed so obvious to him, so simple. Those who came before just didn’t try hard enough, or they lacked conviction. But Jesus was quoting the prophet Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’” (Zech. 13:7) That’s quite a tide to think you can stand against. It happened just as the Lord said it would:
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Peter wouldn’t be the last to deny His Lord under the threat of persecution. During the first centuries of the Church, the Roman rulers found various times to blame the Christains for their crumbling Empire—Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Valerian, Diocletian, and so on. Some bravely went to the lions or the pyre. Ignatius of Antioch wrote letters to strengthen the churches as he was brought to his execution under Hadrian. Later persecutions were not as noble. Under one in the 250’s AD, under the Emperor Decius, all Christians were compelled to prove their loyalty to the empire by offering incense to the pagan gods of the Empire. If you did, you would receive a libellus, a short note, which allowed you to escape arrest. Some Christians consented, others like Pope Fabian refused and were killed. Still others, desiring to save their life or that of their family, bought the libellus. Novatian of
Rome took great offense, and believed that such deniers should never be readmitted to the Church. It’s easy to look at others and judge their denials and see their faults.
What makes Peter’s denial that much more shameful is who it’s before. Not a powerful kings, nor a soldier threatening his children at knife-point. No, a lowly servant girl who has no more power over him than any other bystander. While Jesus is in the court, confessing under oath that He is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (Mark 14:61-62), Peter is outside taking an oath on the lie that he does not know Jesus.
This goes to show that it’s easier to sit in a comfortable pew among another Christians and sing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching off to war!” than to live it.
Today, how we deny Him is by failing to speak about Him when it could save someone’s soul. When someone says to us that they think all religions are about the same, we don’t say anything because we say we’re afraid of “ruining” the relationship. When someone says they’re joining a church body like the ELCA, which openly promotes ungodly living and says that people are saved apart from faith in Christ,1 we feel more comfortable to say “God bless you there” and leave them to the wolves.
We don’t defend His name when it’s blasphemed and tossed around like a dirty rag. Perhaps we are afraid of becoming a byword along with Him. Maybe they’ll think you’re a religious nut; maybe you don’t care because you’re already nuts!
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 10:26-28)
Jesus was denied by the Father, counted the greatest sinner. Even for the most first-class denier. With the Lord is plentiful redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Ps. 130). For Peter there was plentiful redemption, when on Easter he heard the general absolution (John 20)
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
, but one morning on the shore of Galilee, he had a personal reconciliation with the Lord (John 21:15-18).
“15 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.” 16 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.” 17 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.””
After that were many times where timid Peter boldly confessed Christ, on Pentecost, before the Sanhedrin, before strangers in Cornelius’ house.
You are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). He is able to put His Word in your mouth, give you boldness and confidence, and love for your neighbor. Love Him who has showed you unwavering faithfulness, even to the point of His death upon a cross. May He sanctify your hearts, minds, and lips to confess Him in all that you do in this life. Amen.