Summary: A lesson in true repentance.
In the Bible, the weakness of God’s servants is held aloft as an example for all to see. The account of Peter’s denial of Jesus is a humbling reminder that even the best of men is vulnerable to the wiles of the devil, if he allows himself to be caught off guard.
Temptation has a way of creeping up on us, especially when we least expect it. Peter and the other apostles had walked with Jesus and listened to His teachings for three years. They had just attended the first ever service of communion, and yet this was where Peter’s downfall began. This should warn us to be on our guard at all times.
There were several steps which led to Peter’s denial of Jesus.
First, there was his SELF-CONFIDENCE.
Jesus had warned the disciples that they would all be offended because of Him (Matthew 26:31). Peter replied that even if everyone else was offended because of Jesus, yet he would not be offended (Matthew 26:33).
It is easy for Christians to speak courageous words when we are safe and secure, and feel the nearness of Jesus. The real test comes when we are persecuted, and must give an account of the hope that is within us.
If we are depending upon our own strength to see us through the challenges of life, we will surely fail. We must look to God for strength.
Second, we find Peter SLEEPING IN A TIME OF PRAYER.
Jesus took Peter and two other men with Him whilst He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a solemn occasion, yet when Jesus came back he found all three disciples sleeping. Our Lord rebuked them, addressing Peter in particular: “What, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:39-40).
A second and a third time Jesus prayed, and each time He returned the three disciples were sleeping. We all know that it is easier to sleep than to pray!
The third step towards Peter’s denial of Jesus was COWARDICE.
All the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56). Peter was not alone in his fearfulness, but where were his bold words now? How different things seem when we are confronted with the reality rather than just the threat of persecution.
This cowardice was further aggravated by Peter KEEPING AT A DISTANCE FROM JESUS in His crisis hour (Matthew 26:58). It is so easy to distance ourselves from the cause of Christ when persecution comes.
Then Peter found himself in UNSYMPATHETIC COMPANY (Matthew 26:58). We must be careful to surround ourselves by the right kind of companions. The scene was being set for the last stage of Peter’s downfall.
It was here that he would be accused of being one of the disciples of Jesus, and three times deny it. It was here that his cowardice would be reduced to cursing and swearing (Matthew 26:70-74).
Let us not doubt the SERIOUSNESS of Peter’s sin.
Sin first brought death into the world, and for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to deny his Master is a sin against the light of the gospel.
It was sin that made it necessary for Jesus to die so that we might be forgiven. Will we deny the one who has loved us and given Himself for us? We should know better!
Sin also has CONSEQUENCES.
Just as it first separated man from God, and brought death into the world, it grieves the conscience of the believer. Bold Peter was at last reduced to bitter tears (Matthew 26:75).
The peace which Jesus had left His disciples in the upper room was shattered. Peter had chosen to keep at a distance from his Lord, and now he could no longer enjoy the closeness of communion with God. This is the lowest point in his experience.
Yet Peter’s tears were TEARS OF REPENTANCE.
We might weep because of our sin. Our tears might be on account of sadness at the pain we have caused. We might cry out to God because we know we have offended Him and fear His judgment.
All this is good, but it might amount to no more than the whimpering of Esau when he regretted having sold his birthright: ‘he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears’ (Hebrews 12:17).
Peter’s tears amounted to more than regret. Unlike Judas, Peter did not go and hang himself. Peter felt a sorrow which led him to true repentance.
Paul calls this ‘repentance unto salvation’ (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
The proof of Peter’s repentance comes in Peter’s RESTORATION.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the angel told the women at the tomb to go and speak to his disciples - ‘and Peter’ (Mark 16:7).