With Easter being a few short weeks away our focus begins to shift to Jesus' death and resurrection. When Jesus began to inform his disciples about this one of them became a little indignant. You may be wondering if the sermon title has a typo. You know about Peter denying that he knew Jesus after Jesus' arrest but that's just one of Peter's denials.
1) Peter denied God's plan.
Matt. 16:21-26, "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Peter hears Jesus talk about being handed over and suffering and being killed and he's like, "I don't think so". I don't know if the 'raised to life' part escaped his notice or not but it's obvious his focus was on Jesus' torture and death. On the surface, it looks like Peter is just expressing his sorrow over his close friend having to endure such agony and then death. So why did Jesus rebuke Peter?
First of all, I don't believe Jesus is calling Peter Satan. Jesus is addressing the one who's behind Peter's behavior right now. Jesus said Peter didn't have in mind the things of God but of men. While I'm sure there was a part of Peter that was emotionally stricken over hearing what would happen to Jesus and so he expressed his heartache accordingly, there was something else going on here.
For Jesus to say what he did to Peter, it showed that Peter was not considering the will of God but only the will of Peter. Peter didn't consider what Jesus' death and resurrection would accomplish, his only concern was losing his friend. I believe another reason Peter was adamant that this wasn't going to happen to Jesus was because he thought, 'if you're gone what will that mean for me?'
Jesus' torture and death did not fit with Peter's plan. I don't know if Peter thought like some other people did, that Jesus was going to reestablish an earthly kingdom and restore godly order to the land; which no doubt meant that Peter would become a high-ranking official in king Jesus' court. But regardless, Peter wasn't thinking of the big picture; just his picture.
And then Jesus says, if anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. Peter's mindset at the time would have been to avoid suffering. Not that we should want to run head-first into it, but Jesus' point is that sometimes God's will includes taking risks and suffering for the faith. If we have the attitude of Peter we will not do the will of God; we will not come out of our comfort zone. In that we will have in mind the things of man; not the things of God.
Doing the will of God is going to challenge us; it's going to pull us into unknown territory. This is what faith and trust is all about. This is what growing and becoming stronger in our walk is all about. God's purpose in challenging us isn't because he likes to see us full of anxiety; his purpose is to shape us into the image of Jesus. We can be like Peter and resist God's plan. We can deny God having his way in us or we can submit to God's plan and purposes and not be a stumbling block to God or others.
2) Peter denied Jesus' prophecy.
The scene is the Last Supper. Here Jesus reveals a prophecy concerning his disciples and again, we have Peter vocalizing his resistance.
Matt. 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.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same."
Peter thought he had unwavering devotion to Jesus. It was inconceivable to him that he would fall away. Even after Jesus, the speaker of truth, his Lord, tells him he will deny him Peter refuses to accept it. He might as well have called Jesus crazy for saying it.
Peter’s pride caused him to dismiss Jesus' prophecy. When we’re in pride we don’t listen. We don’t listen to the Holy Spirit, we don’t listen to wise counsel, we don’t listen to God speaking through his word. When Peter denied that he would fall away it showed that he was in denial. Peter fell into this trap because he thought he was more solid than he was.
1st Cor. 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Peter thought he was standing firm but he was wrong; as we will see shortly. His pride and arrogance fueled his being in denial. He attributed Jesus words to everyone else but him. "They might all fall away, but I won't".
We might make the same mistake today. We read warning verses in scripture and we think, "This doesn't apply to me. I would never do this." In 1st Cor. 10 Paul used Israel's sins and consequences to warn the Corinthian church not to set their hearts on evil things as they did (6). He said in verse 11 that these things serve as examples for us. Then the warning in verse 12.
We can think we’re solid in the faith and that nothing can shake us but what ended up happening to Peter serves as a warning for us. We might think we're so strong in the faith that nothing could cause us to doubt. We might think we're not susceptible to certain temptations. But that can be when we're most vulnerable. When we don't take it seriously enough we let our defenses down and become a prime target.
In Eph. 6 we're told to put on the armor of God. That goes for everyone, regardless of how strong in the faith you are. We will never get to the point where we won't need every piece of that armor; every day. You might be someone who has overcome certain temptations. You may be someone who doesn't get shaken easily. That's great, but don't allow that strength to become a weakness. Don't allow your solid faith to convince you that you're invincible. God may just allow something to happen to cause you to be humbled.
Muhammad Ali was considered by many to be the best heavyweight boxer of all time. Ali was well known for having a high opinion of himself. One of his more famous lines was, "I am the greatest". One day Ali was in flight to a major city when the plane began to experience some major turbulence. The captain ordered all passengers to return to their seats and buckle their seatbelts.
One of the flight attendants noticed one of the passengers had not buckled his seat belt. It was Ali, but the flight attendant did not recognize who he was. She approached him and said "Sir, the captain has ordered everyone to buckle up." Ali did not respond but just glared straight ahead, ignoring her. So she confronted him again and he continued to ignore her.
Finally, she reached down to buckle his seatbelt herself. He quickly and firmly grabbed her hand, glared into her eyes and said, "Superman don’t need no seatbelt". To which the young attendant responded, "Superman don’t need no airplane either, now buckle your seatbelt".
When we have a high opinion of ourselves, when we're in denial about where we're really at, God will do what he needs to do to bring us back down to reality. Peter was overconfident...but not for long.
3) Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Jesus has been arrested and is now going through his unfair trial. Peter and John had followed at a distance into the outer courtyard. John goes off somewhere and leaves Peter by himself.
Matt. 26:69-75, "Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly."
Peter was warming himself by the fire. He was surrounded by people who were not followers of Jesus. “You’re one of his disciples!” "I'm not", came the reply. Before we jump all over Peter we have to ask ourselves, 'what would we have done'? We can say we would never do that but didn't Peter say that a few hours before?
When we're around people who don’t follow Jesus what do we say? How do we act? Say you're at work or school or hanging out with friends and someone starts mocking Christians and everyone starts laughing. Then someone notices you're not laughing. "Hey, what's up with you? You're not one of those born-again Christians, are you?" More laughing. How will you respond? You have to say something because your silence will be interpreted as a 'yes'. Do you cave into fear; not willing to suffer the backlash?
Peter caved into fear. Which is quite interesting. How does one go from pulling out a knife and cutting off an ear to being afraid of a little servant girl? For Peter everything had changed. In the garden, Peter thought Jesus would fight for himself and them. Peter didn't think Jesus would allow the Roman soldiers to arrest him and take him away.
But now, as he's warming by the fire, reality has started to set in and his head is spinning. He's dealing with the fact that his protector is in the hands of the religious leaders and he is left to wonder what will happen to him. So, in the heat of the moment, he decided to save his skin by denying Jesus. He didn't want to end up on trial. He didn't want to possibly have to go through what Jesus was going through so he took the easy way out. Then the rooster crowed.
In Luke's version of events we see something quite surreal take place. After Peter's third denial and the rooster crowed Luke 22:61 says, "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter." Can you imagine denying that you knew Jesus and then turning to lock eyes with him?
Peter sees Jesus, already battered and abused; going through his unfair trial. He remembers Jesus’ unwavering devotion which now stood in blazing contrast to his denial. In Jesus’ piercing eyes Peter sees the pain of betrayal along with the reality of knowing this was going to happen.
Have you ever betrayed someone and then you had to face them with the reality of what you’ve done? Do you remember the look of pain and disappointment in their eyes; the look that pierced your heart and caused you to understand the seriousness of what you did?
Peter felt that sting. Peter was no longer prideful and arrogant; his denial had vanished. He was stricken with the grave reality of what just happened. Jesus was right; Peter was wrong. But this was much more than being right or wrong; this was about betrayal.
Peter denied knowing the one who had rescued him when he began to sink in the sea after he had walked on water. He denied knowing the one who had shown him unwavering love. He had denied knowing the one whom when asked, "do you want to leave too", answered, "where will we go? You have the words of life". Peter’s deep conviction and sorrow drove him away to weep in shame and bitterness.
4) A happy ending.
This story of betrayal has a happy ending. After Jesus resurrected he was with his disciples having breakfast on the shore.
John 21:15-17, "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly 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 truly 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."
Peter denied Jesus but he was convicted and had godly sorrow. Even so, I have a feeling Peter hadn't stopped thinking about what he had done. I’m sure part of him didn't even want to look at Jesus after what he had done. Jesus reinstated Peter by asking him three times if he loved him to “make up” for the three times he denied him.
Peter was hurt because he realized what Jesus was doing. When we betray someone even their forgiveness can hurt. We're embarrassed and guilt-ridden. Jesus didn’t rub it in, though. We don’t see Jesus scolding Peter; he didn’t have to. Peter felt bad enough as it was.
Although Jesus didn’t scold him he didn’t coddle him either. Peter was hurt and Jesus let him be hurt. Jesus didn’t soft-peddle, he said what he had to say because Peter needed to hear it. Peter needed to get the point. “If you truly love me, then you will…”
Maybe you’ve denied Jesus in word or deed. Maybe at one point in your life you acknowledged that you knew Jesus but have drifted away, living a life of denial. Maybe you loved other people or things more than Jesus. But then you felt convicted and you were sorry that you betrayed your Savior. But will he forgive you after what you've done?
Peter's happy ending can be your happy ending. Jesus wants to reinstate you. If you're like Peter- having the combination of conviction and godly sorrow, that will lead you to repentance and restoration.
Peter wasn’t brought to conviction until he locked eyes with Jesus and he recognized that he had sinned against his Lord. David did the same when confronted with his sins of adultery and murder. Godly sorrow comes when we realize not merely that we have sinned, that we have broken the command of God, but more so when we realize that we have sinned against the person God.
Peter went on to become a dynamic servant of God. He wasn't perfect, but he was changed. He learned from his experience and he was bold and courageous for the cause of Christ. Peter went from denying Christ to denying self in taking up his cross and following Jesus. And in this happy ending, Jesus' prayer was answered.
Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Peter probably thought to himself, "what do you mean 'turn back'? I'm not going to turn away." Which is why Peter responded with, "Lord, I'm ready to go with you to prison and to death." Little did Peter know that his over confidence would lead to his downfall.
But, in the end, Peter's faith did not fail. He did turn back and he did strengthen his brothers. He did feed the lambs and he did take care of the sheep. Peter's victory can inspire us; knowing that if we fall short and betray our Lord he is ready and waiting to welcome us back if we repent. Then the matter is closed and we can rebuild and move forward in the power of the Spirit. There's no denying that.