Sunday 23rd April 2017 PETER’S DENIAL AND RESTORATION
This well known story is an important part of the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The story has been much written about and portrayed in art and music down through the centuries.
It begins when Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. This takes place between the inauguration of Communion, as the new covenant, and Jesus’ arrest. The story ends with Jesus restoring Peter when he appears to his disciples after his resurrection.
So beginning with the denial, the most detailed account that we have is in Matthew.
(Matthew 26.31-35) Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ 33 Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’ 34 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’ 35 But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same.
Jesus quotes from scripture, from Zechariah, when he says “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” The coming of Jesus is prophesied in several Old Testament writings.
Just before this event, the disciples had shared the “1st Communion”, ushering in the New Covenant on a positive note. Yes he’d told them that one of them was going to betray Him, but then he’d finished by sharing the bread and the wine and then they’d sung a hymn, before leaving the house to go to the Mount of Olives.
So, having been somewhat reassured, Jesus then tells them, well actually, you’re all going to turn your back on me as prophesied by scripture.
Peter is the first to respond, saying even if everyone else turns their back on you, I won’t, I’ll be there. Peter was full of confidence; he’d been one of the three disciples who’d witnessed Jesus’ Transfiguration, along with many other signs and wonders. Sadly, this confidence had become a kind of false pride. So, instead of listening to, and taking in, the warning that Jesus was giving; Peter tries to get Jesus to put His confidence in Peter’s loyalty and courage.
Even when Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows, Peter is dismissive and doesn’t listen saying, “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”, – and then all the other disciples said the same. They couldn’t do much else, could they?They couldn’t let him get away with saying, in effect, I’m the best disciple here, don’t worry about the others, I won’t let you down. So, in a way, Peter is partly responsible for dragging the other disciples along his slippery slope.
Well, as the book of proverbs tells us “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” Often this is shortened to ‘Pride comes before a fall’. The consequences of decisions made under the influence of pride will catch up with us.
Moving on in the story, soon after this, Jesus is arrested and taken before the High Priest. Peter had followed along at a distance and sat outside in the courtyard to await the outcome.
(MATTHEW 26.69-74) 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 servant-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; your accent gives you away.’ 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
In Luke’s account of the same event we read of another discourse which took place during this event.
(LUKE 22.24-32) A dispute also arose among them (the disciples) as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’
This shows that there was jealousy and rivalry among the disciples, and also that Satan was at work. Peter was going to fail initially, due to his pride, but ultimately his faith was to be restored.
After Jesus was arrested, Peter, the disciple who’d presented himself as having unswerving loyalty and courage, just wanted to fade into the background. He follows the arresting party at a safe distance. Then whilst waiting in the courtyard, when asked if he had been with Jesus, or knew Him, he says no. “don’t know what you’re talking about”, then it’s no again with swearing, then more curses and oaths followed by “I don’t know the man”.
And then the cock crows – Peter remembers Jesus’ words, he’s confronted with himself, a poor and wretched man, overcome by fear, unable to find the courage that he needed to live up to his word when the moment came. And as we know, he weeps.
In many ways, he was no worse than any of the others, they’d all run away. But Peter had been the first to say that he never would.
Did he believe that his rash declaration would never be put to the test? Was he just caught up in the moment and couldn’t resist an opportunity to boast and try and look good in front of the other disciples? Or did he genuinely believe that he was the indispensable disciple, stronger and more capable than all the others, who would always stand up for Jesus and never fail?
We could lean towards the third one which, at least, gives him the benefit of the doubt as far as his intentions are concerned. But we don’t really know? We know simply that he gave in to pride. In his mindset he had the ‘I know best, I can deal with this’ syndrome.
Jesus knew he’d have to face his ordeal alone. The best response from the disciples would have been prayer, not proposals for action that they’d never be able to carry out in practice. Perhaps if there hadn’t been this distraction of rivalry among the disciples, they would all have been more attentive to what Jesus was saying, as well as more prayerful, and Peter wouldn’t have been so foolish. Satan’s influence had done it’s work.
So, do we see anything of ourselves in Peter’s behaviour? Have we ever made rash statements or commitments of any kind that we couldn’t live up to, or didn’t really want to when the time came? Do we find ourselves having to back out of something that, realistically, we should never have agreed to in the first place?
Do we consider ourselves indispensable in some areas of our lives, perhaps work, or sport and recreation or something else? Pride causes us to make these kind of mistakes. As frail human beings we need to be needed and we seek our place in the world, striving to be as good as, or even better than those around us. In the fallen world that we live in temptation is always there, jealousy and rivalry easily take hold.
Also, in today’s world, over committing ourselves, saying yes to too many things so that everyone will be pleased with, us or because we are the ‘only one who can do it’, is just another side of the same coin. Cemeteries are full of, very proud indispensable people, many of whom died before their time.
Jesus knew that Peter’s pride had to be broken. Once this was accomplished, and humility came to the fore, then he could be restored and released into his ministry. The good works that God had prepared for him to do. So, moving on to John chapter 21. This is the third occasion where Jesus appears to his disciples after His resurrection. This is where they’d been fishing all night long in the Sea of Tiberias and hadn’t caught anything. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. Their net became filled with fish, they went ashore where there was a fire burning, and Jesus cooked them breakfast. We’ll pick up the story after they’d eaten.
(John 21.15-18) When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep. ’The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus asks him the question three times; “do you love me”.
Peter replies in the affirmative on each occasion. We are told his feelings were hurt when Jesus asked the question for the third time. Probably this was just part of what he had to go through in dealing with Jesus confronting him, albeit in a seemingly gentle way, with his denial.
Each time Peter replies Jesus tells him to get on with the job of leading the Church. Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep and finally, after a prophetic warning that he would pay the ultimate price in this world for doing so, Jesus says “follow me”. (Tradition tells us that Peter was probably crucified upside down in Rome.)
So how did Peter behave after this encounter with Jesus? Had his ‘pride problem’ been dealt with? It’s worth just reminding ourselves that it was Peter who had received a direct revelation from God the father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. You can read this in Matthew 16 where Jesus asks his disciples “who do you say I am”. Jesus then goes on to say “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. God raises up people like Peter to help Him build his Church.
So we can see that God had always had a plan and purpose for Peter. We know from the book of Acts that he stands up and addresses the crowd on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes. He takes the lead and explains what’s happening to the crowd, people are not drunk, God said He would pour out his spirit in the last days. He tells them to repent and be baptised. Peter has regained his confidence and faith, he’s still a powerful character, but he’s able to abandon his pride and ego so that he can work under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was, of course, restored by the grace of God. This is ongoing in the lives of Christians, it needs to be. Peter needed it to be so. We can see this in his letters, 1 and 2 Peter. We can even see some of the lessons he learnt from his ‘denial experience’. So we’ll finish with these verses.
(1 Peter 5.5-11) All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
(2 Peter 1.3-11) His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is short-sighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.