A. The year was 1779.
1. He was a loyal patriot, a prosperous businessman, a natural leader and an obvious choice to be captain of the Connecticut State Militia.
2. He proved to be a good military leader.
3. He received much praise and acclaim, but when Congress created five new generalships he was passed over for political reasons.
4. It was only the urging of his good friend, General George Washington that kept him from resigning his commission.
5. And though he stayed on in his role, he was never able to recover from this slight against him.
6. In time he would become commander of West Point.
7. But still resentful and seeing an opportunity he made a deal with the British.
a. He would deliver West Point into their hands.
b. The price for his betrayal was 20,000 pounds sterling (1 million dollars in today’s value).
c. He was to receive half if he failed, and fail, he did.
d. His British contact was captured by the Americans, who then discovered the plot.
e. He however, escaped aboard a British ship named “The Vulture.”
8. Perhaps by now you’ve figured out who I’m talking about.
a. When Benedict Arnold made his betrayal, it not only struck at the heart of the American forces, but it struck even deeper at the heart of his close friend, George Washington.
9. History records that when General Washington learned of the betrayal he at first showed no emotion.
a. He sent Alexander Hamilton off with a detachment of soldiers to try to intercept Arnold.
b. He ordered his staff to defend the fort.
10. Then taking only his confidant Lafayette with him, he left the room.
a. Out of sight and earshot of others he finally vented his emotion.
b. Lafayette said, “Washington threw his arms around Lafayette’s neck and began to weep.”
c. Lafayette said, “It was the only moment in the entire war when he witnessed Washington weeping.”
11. Why did Washington weep? Because he had been betrayed.
a. He had completely trusted a friend and that friend had failed him.
12. I’m sure that Benedict Arnold felt justified in selling out his country.
a. He owed it to himself.
b. If Congress wouldn’t put him on top, he’d have to get there by himself.
c. People always have an excuse for their betrayal.
B. I’m sure Judas felt many of the same feelings during his betrayal.
1. And Peter did likewise in his denials.
2. Whether it was 20,000 pounds, or 30 pieces of silver or simply denying in order to live another day, it was the same focus on self that brought about the betrayals.
C. Today, as we return to our sermon series on the life of Peter, we come to those critical parts in the story of Peter, when Jesus was facing His most difficult moments of persecution, and then crucifixion and death, some of Jesus’ closest disciples let him down.
1. Like Washington, I’m sure Jesus felt the sting and sorrow of Judas’ and Peter’s betrayals, but unlike Washington, Jesus knew they would happen and had predicted their occurrences.
2. Since this series is about Peter, rather than Jesus or Judas, let’s focus on how this happened in Peter’s life and how he was able to come back stronger after his fall.
I. The Story
A. In our last sermon from our series on Peter, we witnessed the moment when Jesus washed Peter’s feet and Peter learned a lesson about serving.
1. The parts of the story that we want to examine today, occurred that same night during and after the last supper.
2. As you recall, as they ate the meal together, Jesus left the table, took the basin and the towel and washed their feet.
3. In the midst of that meal, the first bombshell that Jesus dropped on the disciples was that one of them would betray Him.
a. They wondered who it could be? They couldn’t imagine how anyone of them could do it.
b. Jesus identified the betrayer as the one who dipped his bread in the sauce at the same time He did.
c. Judas was then identified as the betrayer and Jesus said to him “What you are about to do, do quickly,” and Judas then left the upper room.
B. The next bombshell came when Jesus revealed that all the disciples would desert Him.
1. Matthew records the event with these words: 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (If you are keeping stats, this is the third time Peter said “never.” Never would Jesus be killed. Never would Jesus wash his feet. And never would he fall away) 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:30-35)
2. Can you imagine being there and having Jesus, your highly respected and beloved teacher tell you that you are about to abandon Him? What a punch in the gut!
3. I can imagine needing to deny that possibility, just as all the disciples did.
4. I am not sure that I would proudly boast as Peter did, saying, “I can see how these other guys might desert you, Jesus, but I never will!” – How’s that for presumption and arrogance?!
C. In Luke’s account, he gives us more of the conversation that occurred that night.
1. Luke included this dialog, Jesus said: 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)
2. As Alan pointed out in our Wednesday night class this past week, in the Greek language this passage reads, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift y’all” (that’s the southern version of you, plural). Satan was working at sifting all the disciples, not just Peter, but Jesus said that He was praying for Peter (you in the singular), since Peter is the one who would verbally deny knowing Jesus. (Peter needed more prayer!)
3. All the disciples were going to abandon Jesus, but Peter was going to deny Him.
D. After that bombshell, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a more remote place in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to pray with Him.
1. As you know, they fell asleep, and Jesus prayed the same thing to the Father three times, each time returning to the disciples and finding them asleep.
E. After that time of prayer, Jesus awoke the disciples because the mob sent to arrest Him, led by Judas, had arrived in the Garden.
1. Luke records what happened next: 47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:47-51)
2. The Gospel of John identifies the disciple with the sword who cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest as none other than Peter – are you surprised?
3. Peter was ready to fight to protect Jesus – but protection is not what Jesus needed.
4. Can you imagine the power of that moment for everyone involved?
a. Peter tried to take off a man’s head and only got an ear.
b. Jesus stopped the violence and miraculously healed the man’s ear.
c. How do you arrest a man who can do that?
F. But the soldiers went ahead and arrested Jesus and all the disciples fled.
1. Peter and John hid in the shadows and followed the arresting mob at a distance.
2. The Gospel of John reveals that John somehow knew someone at Caiaphas, the High Priest’s house, and so John and Peter were able to gain access to the inner courtyard where Jesus had been taken.
3. It was there that Peter was tested and failed.
4. Luke records the events with these words: 54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” (John’s Gospel reveals that the third questioner of Peter was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off – I think he would have recognized and remembered Peter from the garden incident.) 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62)
5. I cannot imagine the pain and heartbreak Peter must have felt at that moment!
a. The shame must have been unbearable!
b. That look from Jesus must have shattered his heart!
c. The Greek word used to describe Peter’s tears that day is one that means to “sob heavily.”
d. When Jesus wept in John 11 at the grave of Lazarus, the Greek word used there was for the kind of tears that slowly roll down our cheeks.
e. However, the tears of Peter were uncontrollable, they were gut-wrenching, heart-breaking sobs – not a trickle of tears, but a flood of them!
II. The Application
A. Now that we have looked at the story, let’s learn some lessons from Peter’s failure.
1. This story resonates with us because we understand it and we can see ourselves in it.
2. All of us wonder if there is hope for us when we have blown it.
3. We wonder if there is hope for us even when we have denied that which we know to be true and live contrary to what we believe.
4. One important thing we learn from what Peter did and then what happened to him later is that there is always hope, even when we have blown it, because God loves us and forgives us.
B. In some respects, we could boil the lessons learned from Peter down to these:
1. Peter boasted too much (not appreciating his own weaknesses).
2. Peter prayed too little (we wonder how things might have turned out differently had he prayed rather than slept).
3. Peter acted too quickly (he was always too quick to respond without thinking).
4. Peter followed too far from Jesus or followed too far into danger.
5. And Peter thought too little and late about what he was doing (consider how much time there was between each of the denials – an hour between denial #2 and #3!).
C. One of the ironies of this story is that Peter denied Christ to a servant girl, and another servant of the High Priest.
1. Peter didn’t deny Christ to a soldier with a sword to his throat, or to the High Priest himself.
2. I wonder what would have happened if Peter had been confronted by someone important and with authority.
a. Would he have been more ready to stand for Christ in an official setting, like in a court room?
3. Did part of his fall have to do with being caught off-guard, and in minimizing the people involved?
D. One of the most encouraging things we learn from Peter is that no matter how many times he fell, Peter always got back up – Peter never quit.
1. And one of the reasons that Peter never quit on himself is that Jesus didn’t quit on Peter.
a. How awesome is it to know that Jesus personally prayed for Peter.
b. Jesus is our advocate and mediator between us and God.
c. As our High Priest in heaven Jesus prays for us – how encouraging is that?!
2. Jesus prayed for Peter because Jesus knew about Peter’s denial long before it happened.
a. Jesus knew what Peter would do, but Jesus also knew the kind of man Peter would become because of his experiences.
3. There’s an important principle at work here – a bone that is broken often becomes stronger after it is healed.
a. Something in the healing process actually makes the break point stronger than it was before.
b. The same is true with our failures – God can take us where we are broken and make us stronger than we were before.
c. Although we may fall and fall again, and though our faces are covered with the mud and grim of defeat, by God’s grace and with God’s help, we can rise up and move toward victory.
4. It is important to point out that falling doesn’t always lead to a rising back up.
a. Both Peter and Judas fell, and both were sorrowful over their failures.
b. The tears of one led to repentance and restoration, and the tears of the other led to death.
E. Peter allowed God to do a work of restoration in his life, such that his guilt was turned into grace, his shame turned into sympathy, and his failure was turned into faithfulness.
1. Think about the kinds of things that Peter lost or gave up in his failure.
a. He was stripped of his vanity and pride.
b. He had to come to grips with his self-confidence and his impulsiveness.
2. In his failure, he learned humility, and he learned the need to place his confidence in God rather than in himself.
3. Peter also gained a willingness to use his experience to help others.
a. This story of Peter’s denial is recorded in all four of the Gospels.
b. Peter could have attempted to hide this failure.
c. John was with Peter at one point in the courtyard, but was John there for the whole thing? (We don’t know)
d. Obviously, the Holy Spirit of God can make known the unknown, but I like to think that Peter was the one who first shared what had happened that night when he denied Jesus.
e. After Peter was restored, he wanted everyone to know how much God had done for him – someone who had failed so miserably.
4. We too can learn much and share much from our failures.
F. So to whom does this story apply?
1. First of all, it applies to those who are being tempted, who feel the pull of circumstances conspiring to draw them away from the Lord.
a. Do you feel weak and confused? Peter felt that way, too.
b. Are you discouraged about your life? Peter felt discouraged, too.
c. Do you feel backed into a corner? So did Peter.
d. This story is for you.
2. Second, this story is for those who have fallen.
a. Perhaps you gave way under pressure this week.
b. Perhaps you carry a load of guilt from some thoughtless words spoken in haste.
c. Perhaps you denied the Lord by keeping quiet at work when you should have spoken up.
d. Perhaps you have used vile language this week—even if only spoken under your breath.
e. Perhaps you have been where you ought not to have been.
f. Perhaps you have found yourself in a relationship that you know is wrong.
g. Take heart! Peter not only felt like you, he also fell like you.
3. Third, this story is for those who are coming back to God.
a. Perhaps you know all about weeping bitter tears.
b. Do you feel as if God is far away from you?
c. Does it seem as if you are trudging across a vast desert all alone?
d. Do you feel embarrassed and humiliated by the things you did and said that got you in the mess you’re in?
e. Take heart! Peter felt that way, too.
4. No story in all the Bible gives us more hope.
a. If Peter can fall, anybody can fall.
b. If Peter can come back, anybody can come back
5. Peter still speaks to us today, saying, “If you think you’ve fallen short, if you feel like you’ve denied him, look at what happened to me. Do not despair. God still loves you, and He loves you so much that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. If God can forgive me, He can forgive anybody. He loves you, He always has and He always will.
6. And so, there is hope for all of us—the best of us, the worst of us, and the rest of us.
a. If we have fallen, He can pick us up again.
b. If we are broken, He can make us whole again.
c. If we have failed, He can make us useful again.
d. If we have lost our courage, He can give it back to us again.
7. Let us take heart and believe the good news – What God did for Peter, He can do it for us.
a. We can be forgiven and set free to continue to walk with Jesus and to work for Jesus.
b. Praise God there is hope for the fallen!
The Life of Peter, F.B. Meyer, Edited by Lance Wubbels, Emerald Books, 1996
The Apostle Peter, James Houck, Xulon Press, 2009
Before the Rooster Crows, Sermon by Ray Pritchard
From Regret to Restoration, Sermon by Erwin Lutzer
Betrayal, Forgiveness and Restoration, Sermon by Ken Kersten, SermonCentral.com