Peter: The Fail of Denial
We are now halfway through a series called Failblog in which we have already seen that as much as we shoot for the win, we are all subject to the fail. We all fail; even the best of the best fail. We are now examining the lives of some of the best, some Biblical giants, some heroes of the faith, some men of renown and we are taking a look at some epic fails.
First we looked at Moses. As awesome as Moses was, the prophet, the leader, the author of much of the torah, he failed. God told him to speak to the rock but he struck it twice and failed to honor God as holy in the sight of the people, losing his privilege of taking the people into the Land. Last week, Lanny marched us right into the life of David. As awesome as David was, king, author of many psalms, slayer of the giant, commander of troops, a man after God’s own heart, it is noted in 1 Kings 15:5that David followed all of the lords commands all the days of his life except his one epic fail in the case of Uriah the Hittite and as a result the sword would not depart from David’s household.
Now this morning, we are going to take a look at a man that made his mark on history. This man was part of Jesus’ posse, his entourage, his group of disciples, not the crowds, not the 72, but the twelve whom he designated apostles, one of those who spent day after day with Jesus. Not only that, he was part of Jesus’ inner circle, the three that he would often take aside and go even deeper with. This man witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount. This man wrote two books in the New Testament. People used to bring the sick into the streets and lay them on beds and mats so that at least this man’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by (in order to heal them, Acts 5:15). This man has churches and cathedrals named after him. He is considered by some circles to be the first Pope.
Anyone know who we’re talking about this morning? That’s right! Peter.
Now, in light of everything I just shared with you about Peter – and I could have continued the list, as amazing as Peter is, he, like you and I…failed and his fail was fairly epic.
I want to share with you a story this morning that is in every single one of the four gospels, but we are going to look at Matthew’s version. Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 26.
At this point in the story, Peter and the disciples, had been with Jesus for about 3 years. The religious leaders have come up with a plot to kill Jesus and it was time to execute. So Jesus has one last meal with his beloved disciples, has a large upper room prepared where they can partake of the Passover meal together. After the meal, they sang a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives and that is where we will pick up in the story beginning in Matt 26:31.
Matt 26:31-35 31 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.’ [this very evening would be a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zech 13:7]
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Now, imagine hearing Jesus say this. You have been loyal to Jesus. In fact you have left everything to follow Jesus. If you’re Peter, you’re thinking, I left my career to follow Jesus. Even when Jesus did the crazy talk about drinking his blood and a bunch of people fell away and stopped following him, not you. So Jesus tells you tonight you will all fall away. You’re thinking they might, but not me. My allegiance is with Jesus. My loyalty lies with Jesus. After everything I have seen, everything I have heard, there is no way I am falling away. So how does Peter reply to this?
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
Peter – as he was in the habit of doing – said the very thing everyone else was thinking. Even if ALL fall away on account of you, I NEVER will. Jesus, I’ll never fall away. Strong words.
34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
Now, he addresses Peter’s bold declaration. Peter, as a matter of fact, not only will you be among those that fall away, you will disown me, not once, not twice, but three times, Peter. Before the rooster crows. Nonetheless, Peter remains resolute.
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.
Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you. There he goes again with that never. I will never. Even if I die, Jesus. Disown you? Over my dead body. Not happening, it would NEVER ever happen.
I am inclined to think that “never” is a strong word that we should use sparingly.
In fact, when I do premarital counseling with couples, one of the things I encourage them with is to never say always and never say never. Now that has to do with accusations like, you never listen to me. We never go where I want to go. Or you always put things in the wrong place. You always track mud in the house. But I believe the same could be applied to making firm declarations and bold assertions about oneself.
It’s funny. Early in our marriage I told Breann, we will never own a cat. Ask me what our first pet was. A cat. We will never own a male dog. Ask me what our second pet was. A male dog. We will NEVER own a minivan. Yep. Never say never.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not giving a legalistic decree that you should literally never say never. But, I would encourage you with a general sense of caution. More than anything, an encouragement toward humility with regard to fails.
We tend to, like Peter, think we are immune to certain fails. There are certain things we feel that we would NEVER fall prey to. We would never stumble in that way. But be careful with that kind of attitude. The attitude sort of props ourselves up as having the corner on the market in certain areas, the attitude that feels invincible in certain arenas. The attitude that comes across as infallible. The attitude that says something like I am never late. Don’t be surprised if God humbles you and the next important appointment you have…you’re late. I never take the last of the water without refilling it. Don’t be surprised if the next time, you have every intention but get interrupted. I never exceed the posted speed limit. I never. Or I never would. I would never do that. Don’t be surprised if God humbles you and you just happen to do the very thing that you would never do. And this kind of humility will add a measure of grace to our attitudes in our relationships with others because, while we all fail, our fails are no big deal. They’re just specks of sawdust. They’re not like the planks of other people. I mean they do some stuff that we would NEVER do, right. But we have to be careful with that because you never know; you just might do what you say you would never do. And when you do what you would never do…then who has the plank?
We tend to think that we are immune to certain fails but we are not.
And that is what Peter does here. He makes a firm, emphatic, resolute, definitive statement about what he would never do. Even if all fall away on account of you, I NEVER will. Disown you, Jesus? I would never do that. Even if I have to die with you, Jesus, I will NEVER disown you.
But what does Jesus tell him? Before the rooster crows, you will do the very thing you said you would never do and you will do it three times.
So then Jesus and his disciples head over to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus tells the disciples to keep watch and pray and yet they keep falling asleep. Eventually, one of the disciples, Judas, who betrayed Jesus and sold him out, came forth leading a crowd armed with swards and clubs. They step forward and arrest Jesus.
Jesus said to them (Matt 26:55-56), Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled. And speaking of fulfilling prophecies, how about that Zech 13:7? V56 Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Remember what he said? All of you will fall away on account of me. Well, the other ten, except for Peter fled, right? No, v56 says ALL the disciples deserted him and fled. They ALL fell away, including Peter who said, I will never. Even if all fall away on account of you I never will. Sure enough Peter fell away; he did the very thing that he said emphatically that he would never do. Fail. Peter could have learned a valuable lesson from one of the wise men of our day, Justin Bieber: Never say never MEME.
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.
Why is this blasphemy? Because God is the one who stirs up nation against nation and brings judgment on a land. Here is a mere man claiming to do what only God can do, so they call it blasphemy and blasphemy is deserving of death according to their Law. Aha. They have him now.
66 What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
69 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.
Wait, Peter. What happened to even if all fall away on account of you, I never will? What happened to even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you?
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!”
This time with an oath. Peter. What happened to I will never?
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 rooster crowed. 75 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.
FAIL. EPIC FAIL.
Now Luke’s account of this incident has an interesting detail. Luke 22:61 says right after the rooster crows, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word…”
Wow. Can you imagine looking into the face of Jesus after you emphatically declare, NEVER, and he tells you not once, not twice but thrice you will disown me before the rooster crows and then you do that very thing.
In each one of our messages in this series we have noted that these fails have consequences. Moses didn’t get to enter the promised land. The sword never departed from David’s house. And there are consequences here for Peter. Peter’s consequences are internal.
Peter immediately goes outside and weeps bitterly. This grown man, this big tough guy Peter, cries like a baby. I don’t know about you but I would NEVER cry.
When we make a firm declaration and fail to keep our word, we fail to live up to our own standard, we violate our conscience, and the result is extreme sorrow, shame, and guilt.
The result for Peter is the same. He wept bitterly. Can you imagine?
So Peter, who fell away, felt the guilt, shame, the burden of having denied his lord three times, in a sense needs to be reinstated. And, as EPIC as that fail is, there is grace and redemption for Peter, a restoration, if you will. And his time is coming.
So after the Lord is crucified, he is laid in a tomb and rises from the dead on the third day. He appeared to his disciples on a couple of occasions here and there. Now, at the end of John’s gospel, in the last chapter, we read of the third time that Jesus appears to the disciples.
Peter and some of the other disciples go fishing one night and they catch nothing the whole night. So it’s early in the morning and they’re getting ready to call it quits. But there is a figure on the shore. A voice calls out to them, (John 21:5), “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” No, they answered. He said, throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then, one of the disciples (likely John) said, “It’s the Lord.” As soon as Peter heard that, he jumps into the water and swims to shore to meet with Jesus.
Jesus threw some fish on the fire and they had breakfast.
In John 21:15ff
15 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.”
16 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.”
17 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.”
I wonder why Peter was hurt by Jesus asking him the third time. I wonder if Peter thought to himself, there was this one night, not long ago when I had three opportunities to display my love for Jesus…and I FAILED. Jesus is asking me if I love him three times, once for every time I disowned him. I wonder if he had a flashback of that night when he sat and wept bitterly.
His response, Lord you know all things. You knew that we would all fall away. You knew that Zech 13:7 would be fulfilled that gloomy night. You knew and you even told me that I would deny you three times before the rooster crowed. You knew where to let down the nets to catch the fish. You know all things. You know that I love you.
Look at how gracious Jesus is here. Imagine the things that Jesus could have said to Peter. Peter, you lame loser, I told you. I told you you were gonna fail, you lack intestinal fortitude; you’re weak, Peter. You have no loyalty, Peter – no allegiance. And to think I was going to let you lead my church – forget that now! No. Jesus is gracious with us in our fails.
Three times, once for every time that Peter perpetuated this epic fail, Jesus gave him an opportunity to counter it with a declaration of love for Jesus. And three times, once for every time Peter denied Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a directive, a responsibility, he commissions him to oversee his church, to shepherd his flock, to feed his lambs and take care of his sheep.
Now that Jesus has risen from the dead and reinstates Peter, calling him to feed his lambs, take care of his sheep, something happens to Peter. He is suddenly transformed. The man who fled with the rest of them and denied Jesus 3 times, the man who got shaky in the knees when push came to shove, who had no courage, no intestinal fortitude, is suddenly fearless. He begins to proclaim the name of Jesus and the gospel message with boldness. I would encourage you to read the first several chapters of the book of Acts where you can see Peter’s boldness.
What changed for Peter? The resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity. If Jesus never really rose from the dead, if this whole Christianity thing was just a sham, just some made up lie to try to get people to be good, or to control the masses, then why on earth would Peter go from “I don’t know the guy. Never heard of him. Don’t know what you’re talking about. I swear” to look you bunch of jerks, you crucified the Messiah and you need to repent. If Jesus never rose from the dead, wouldn’t Peter have just faded into history quietly with his mouth shut and tail between his legs? So this story of Peter’s fail, when seen in the context of the big picture, actually lends force to our faith, reinforces the truth of what we believe.
Peter’s fail actually gives greater credibility to the truth of Christ’s resurrection and thus the gospel message.
Let me ask you: Why would Peter even deny Jesus? After everything Peter saw and heard. All the miracles, all of the teachings, the parables, the power. After all of that, why would Peter deny Jesus? Fear. Peter denied Jesus out of fear. Fear of imprisonment, fear of suffering, and ultimately fear of death.
So Peter, who said he would NEVER ever fall away or disown Jesus, falls away and disowns Jesus because in fear, he tried to avoid imprisonment for the name of Jesus, suffering for the name of Jesus, he tried to avoid death for the name of Jesus.
And ironically, the very thing that Peter tried to avoid by disowning Jesus he experienced anyway. And what did he learn in the process? It is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.
In Acts 4,we see that Peter along with the other apostles are put in jail because they were preaching the name of Jesus. (Again, if he had never seen the risen Lord, he would have never done that. He would have stopped preaching in the name of Jesus. In fact he never would have talked about Jesus again in his life if Jesus died and stayed dead).
But Peter who tried to avoid imprisonment and suffering because of the name of Jesus suffered and went to prison because of the name of Jesus. As soon as he was released, the same religious council that had Jesus killed told them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and Peter who once said I don’t know the guy is now saying, “I’m not gonna stop talking about the guy; I have to obey God, not men. Come what may.”
Peter and the apostles continue preaching Jesus and healing and performing miracles and the same jealousy that played a part in Jesus’ murder had Peter once again persecuted and imprisoned in Acts 5. Once again, they were told stop preaching in this name. You’re making us guilty of this man’s blood and Peter’s like you made yourself guilty of this man’s blood and once again, he says, “we must obey God rather than men.” One of the wise men in the council persuaded the leaders not to put them to death so they were flogged, beaten, they suffered. The very thing that Peter was at one point trying to avoid by denying Jesus, denouncing Jesus, he is now experiencing. And look at his response.
He didn’t say, I should have kept my stupid mouth shut so I could avoid persecution and prison.
He didn’t say I should have maintained my silence and held my ground that I never knew the guy.
He didn’t say, I should have listened and stopped preaching Jesus.
Look at his response after being flogged. Acts 5:41-42.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
They left rejoicing. They saw it as a blessing. They felt that they had been counted worthy of something special.
And then v42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Not gonna stop. Can’t deny him. I once did. Well, I thrice did in order to avoid this. But not again; this…this suffering for his name. I rejoice in this. He learned that it is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.
Now later in his life, Peter wrote a couple of letters that made their way into the NT. By that time Peter knew a little bit about suffering because of the name of Jesus. So in his first letter he takes the opportunity to share some of those insights with his readers.
Look at what Peter has to say in 1 Peter 4:12-16 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Now, it would have been easy to dismiss Peter’s words if Peter never went to jail because of Jesus, if Peter never got flogged because of Jesus, if Peter never suffered for Jesus. Easy for you to say, Peter. You haven’t been there done that. But Peter is speaking from experience. Peter is saying, look, I know it doesn’t seem like fun to suffer period, much less, to suffer for proclaiming truth and doing the right thing. In fact, I once tried to avoid suffering by disowning and denying Jesus. But the only thing that resulted was that I was full of shame, sorrow, regret, grief. I wept bitterly. But since then, I have seen the risen lord, been restored, reinstated and I proclaim the name. And because of the name, I have been imprisoned at least twice. I have been flogged. I have suffered. And take it from me. It’s no surprise. It’s not strange. Jesus was persecuted and Jesus suffered. Rejoice that you participate in his sufferings. If you suffer as a Christian, praise God that you bear that name. It is glorious, you are blessed.
Looking back on his experience, Peter had learned that it is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.
Peter watched Jesus get flogged, beaten, on the verge of death, have his hands pierced by nails, hang on a cross for hours in agony with the sin of the world upon his shoulders. Not an exciting way to die. And if Peter wanted to avoid that, he had an opportunity to do so by keeping his mouth shut and if he never saw the risen Lord, if the resurrection never happened, then he would have kept his mouth shut.
But tradition says that Peter was crucified for the name of Jesus. And tradition says that Peter said, nope. I don’t deserve the honor of dying in the same manner as my Lord, Jesus. So let’s do this upside down.
So the very thing he tried to avoid by denying the name of Jesus, he experienced because of the name of Jesus. He learned that it is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.
In that moment, perhaps he was thinking remorsefully, this is what I was trying to avoid. I’m here anyway – even though I fell away, even though I denied him, I still ended up here. If I could go back to that moment when that little girl asked me, I would say, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m one of his closest companions.” And I wouldn’t have this regret, remorse, this shame and guilt. It is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.
In the epic fail of Peter we find encouragement, to strengthen our faith that we aren’t just perpetuating some fabrication, that we aren’t believing some made up fable, that we aren’t embracing a man-made religion, but we believe in a Jesus who truly has risen from the dead and appeared to Peter. For if he hadn’t, Peter would have kept his big mouth shut and the name of Jesus never would have graced his lips again and Peter may have died a peaceful death at old age free of persecution, prison, and suffering.
But he didn’t. He experienced the very imprisonment, persecution, suffering, and even death that he tried to avoid by denying Jesus. And as he looks back on his life and encourages others, he encourages them to rejoice in their sufferings for Jesus. Because it is better to suffer for the name of Jesus than to deny him.