Oculi, The Third Sunday in Lent March 18, 2001
149, 154, 346, 47
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. 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. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. 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 bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 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. Here ends the text.
In Christ Jesus, who said “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
If you pay close attention to current events, you may have noticed an interesting thing about people who are suddenly thrust into the national spotlight: they tend to be very forgetful about some of their former friends. When Pete Rose was being considered for inclusion in the baseball hall of fame, he did the best he could to keep his old gambling friends out of the picture. When politician David Duke was running for a seat in Congress, he tried with all his might to distance himself from his friends in the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan.
It’s an old story, isn’t it? We’re used to hearing about individuals who deny their association with bad people. On the other hand, the same individuals often go to great lengths to show off their association with good people. Today, however, we consider the interesting case of Simon Peter. Here was a man who was an intimate friend of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And yet, rather than show off his association with Him, Peter three times denied even knowing who Jesus was! For us Christians in the 21st Century, Peter’s case holds both a note of warning, and a note of promise. With Peter’s famous words ringing in our ears, we consider together the theme:
“What think ye of Christ?”—That’s a very important question. It was first asked of the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew. But more important, it’s a question that’s still asked of us today. Your whole future hangs on how you answer that question. What do YOU think about Jesus? Who is He? I’m not trying to insult you by asking; there’s no doubt in my mind that each of you here in church today would answer right away, “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The problem is, you’re not always here in church, are you? Most of the time you’re out there in the world, living among a lot of other people who don’t share your Christian faith. Out there, that answer can be a lot harder to give. It’s possible: we may forsake Jesus.
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” are the exact words Simon Peter once used, when Jesus asked him the all-important question. It was a beautiful confession of faith. I’m sure each of us wants to share that confession. But there’s a line between a firm faith in Jesus and a false faith in oneself—and that’s a line that Peter, unfortunately, crossed. A few short hours before the action of our text, as we heard in last week’s Passion History, Jesus made the astonishing prediction, “Assuredly, I say to you Peter that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” But Peter boasted, “I will never be offended because of You. Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” Matt 26:33,35. There in the upper room, alone with Jesus and the other disciples, it was easy to trot out those confident words.
Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, things got a little tougher. All of a sudden the prospect of being arrested with Jesus—and perhaps dying with Him—seemed a lot less attractive. When push came to shove, and the Roman soldiers were threatening, Peter forsook Jesus and took to his heels with the rest of the disciples.
Maybe it was his guilt about running away that made Peter slink into the courtyard of the High Priest in the wee hours of Good Friday morning. Perhaps it was pride, and the memory of his windy bragging that prompted him to try and blend in with that servants warming their hands by the fire. If he couldn’t actually be with Jesus, well, he’d be close anyway; maybe he could find out what was happening to Him. Maybe he could still help somehow.
But the devil had a hold on Peter. Satan was sifting him like wheat, and he was using those servants around the fire to do it. A servant girl thought she recognized him: Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. So much for blending in. He retreated to the gateway, but soon ran into another girl, who said in a little too loud a voice, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” This was getting serious. The soldiers weren’t very far away; he could still be arrested if he didn’t put on a convincing performance. “Again he denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the Man! ‘ 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 bewrayeth thee. His Galilean accent had given him away! What could he do? He was trapped! At any moment they might give the alarm! So …then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
We’ve had chickens in the yard of the parsonage lately—two hens and a rooster have come visiting from the neighbors’ house every morning. The rooster is as good as an alarm clock; his loud, distinctive crowing means that it’s time to wake up. Well, Peter certainly woke up, didn’t he? He heard the crowing, and he suddenly realized what he’d done. The rooster reminded him that the impossible was true—Jesus could be denied, and he had done it. The memory of Jesus’ prediction flooded over him; he rushed out of the courtyard. Alone in the dark, he began to sob. Peter wept bitter tears of repentance.
If only you and I had an alarm clock like that! Imagine if you could hear the faint crowing of a rooster in your ears every time you, by your words or actions, had denied Christ. Every time you had the opportunity to witness your faith to someone and missed the chance. Every time you betrayed God’s love for you by lashing out in anger against someone. Every time you gave in to the temptings of your flesh and did the things you knew good and well were an offense to your Savior. Well, you do have an alarm clock like that—it’s called your conscience. It’s the voice of God’s Law in your heart, and He put it there on purpose. Listen to your conscience. The example of Peter proves that Jesus can far too easily be denied in our lives. Beware it doesn’t happen to you!
That’s the first lesson of Peter’s denial. Yes, there is a danger. Yes, we may forsake Jesus; we have that dark power. But the experience of Peter brings out another, more important lesson—Jesus will never forsake us!
Let’s not get so wrapped up in the frailties and failures of Peter that we lose sight of where Jesus was during all this. He was standing before the Jewish Council, hands tied and under guard. He was suffering their abuse and listening to the lies of their false witnesses. He had already been mocked and beaten by a group of soldiers, and much more suffering was to come. In short, Jesus was, by His innocent suffering, already paying the price of the world’s sin. In the courtyard of Caiaphas, Peter was sinning. In the courtroom of Caiaphas, Jesus was suffering for Peter’s sins.—And for your sins and my sins as well!
There’s an interesting note in the parallel account of Luke. Evidently, Peter’s third denial took place just as Jesus was being led through the courtyard on His way to Pontius Pilate. At the moment the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. I’ve always wondered what was in Jesus’ eyes as He looked at His fallen disciple. Surely it was a look of sorrow, for Peter, his own beloved disciple, had just denied that he even knew Jesus. But it must also have been a look of love, a look of forgiveness. Peter went out and wept bitterly because of his terrible sin. He knew that he had forsaken Jesus—but he also knew that Jesus had not forsaken Him! Even in this darkest hour of his life, Peter knew and believed that, in Christ, he had forgiveness for all his sins—even this one.
How do we know? The Bible gives us clear evidence of Peter’s repentance and faith. It was Peter who was one of the first disciples to run and see the empty tomb that first Easter morning. It was Peter—yes! the same one who said, “I know not the Man!”—who later became a tremendous witness for Jesus. It was Peter who brought the Word of God to thousands in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And it was Peter who, by inspiration, would write these immortal words of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” I Pet 1:3-5.
For a moment there in the courtyard of Caiaphas, Peter gave up on Jesus. But Jesus didn’t give up on him, and He didn’t give up on you, either! Jesus went right on to His trial before Pontius Pilate. He endured the beatings at the hands of the soldiers. Finally, He even poured out His life’s blood on the cross. All of this so that He might declare you and me justified. All this so that you and I can be truly free from all the sins of our past! “Not guilty” before our Heavenly Father. Fellow Christians, let’s rejoice in our forgiveness! Let’s rejoice in the fact that we have a Savior who loves us in spite of our sins. He offers us forgiveness over and over again—simply for the asking. He provides all the good things in our lives, not because we deserve them, but because He loves us. The reason Lent is such a wonderful time is not because we see our own sinfulness reflected in the likes of Simon Peter—there’s nothing wonderful in that. It’s because it’s now, when we witness the sufferings of Jesus, that we see His boundless love for us more clearly than ever!
I said at the beginning that our whole future hangs on how we answer the question, “What think ye of Christ?”—On second thought, that’s not quite true—What our future really depends on isn’t our attitude toward Jesus, but His attitude toward us. And if you’ve got any doubts left about that, then Lent is the season to get rid of them. Because during Lent, the attitude of our Savior toward us sinners is written plainly for all to see. It’s written on the cross! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.