Peter’s repentance led to his restoration because each of Peter’s three denials (as well as all the rest of his sins) were nailed through Jesus to the cross. The eternal and sinless Word gave Himself as a ransom for Peter’s sins. And for our sins. The only complete triumph over sin comes through Christ our Champion. He alone is the true hero of the ultimate Story. Indeed, in many ways, we are the villains of our own lives, the authors of our own destruction. But Jesus came not to slay us but save us, to rescue and redeem us, to say to the Father and Judge of all the earth: “Take me instead.”
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:66-72 ESV
Through the Bible, we find over and over again that even the greatest heroes of the faith were deeply sinful. Noah got drunk after being preserve with his family upon the ark. Abraham let Sarah be taken as a concubine twice in order to save himself, not to mention the whole incident with Hagar. Jacob’s name sounds like deceiver in Hebrew, and he lived up to that name. Moses was a murderer. Aaron shaped the golden calf for the Israelites. Samson was as weak for women as he was physically strong. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon was an apostate. The same is true of the New Testament as well. In our present passage, we read of Peter’s lowest moment. J. C. Ryle sets what ought to be our chief lesson from these verses:
These things are written to show the church of Christ what human nature is, even in the best of men. They are intended to teach us that, even after conversion and renewal of the Holy Ghost, believers are compassed with infirmity and liable to fall. They are meant to impress upon us the immense importance of daily watchfulness, prayerfulness, and humility, so long as we are in the body. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’
At A Distance & At A Fire // Verses 54
The opening words of our text, And as Peter was below in the courtyard, ought to take us back to verse 54, which said: “And Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.”
As we noted last week, Peter ceased running from Jesus’ arrest at some point and decided to follow the crowd, though he did so at a distance so that he would not be noticed. However, when he got into the courtyard, he sat beside the guards in order to warm himself at the fire. This is significant because the fire would have certainly illuminated his face, which certainly leads to his recognition. I think Ryle is right to say:
There was no wisdom in this act. Having once forsaken his Master and fled, he ought to have remembered his own weakness, and not to have ventured into danger again. It was an act of rashness and presumption. It brought on him fresh trials of faith, for which he was unprepared. It threw him into bad company, where he was not likely to get good but harm. It paved the way for his last and greatest transgression,–his thrice-repeated denial of his Master.
Furthermore, his risk of warming himself by the fire is similar to his inability stay awake in prayer at Gethsemane. His actions were being governed by his comfort. Jesus was standing boldly before the scorn of rulers, while Peter could not stand the cold. How like us! Indeed, how often do we set ourselves up to sin by our desire to be comfortable? David’s decision not to ride with his armies into battle paved the way for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. In this life, we will face plenty of unavoidable temptations; thus, let us take care that we do not add to that number temptations that we have invited by our own actions.
The First Denial // Verses 66-68
Returning to our text, we read:
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”
Perhaps we would give Peter more credit if his denials of Jesus came after a guard threatened him with a sword. But that is not what happened. Although Peter sat down with the guards, they apparently did not recognize him or simply did not pay attention to him. Yet this servant girl did, and under her questioning, Peter collapsed. Although he first affirmed Jesus as the Christ, although he alone of the disciples walked on the water out to Jesus, although he was one of the three to see Jesus transfigured upon the mountain, and although he cut a man’s ear off defending Jesus, here Peter could not withstand the simple declaration of his identity as a disciple of Jesus from this servant girl.
This again is a pattern throughout Scripture that many who do great things for God fall into sin through what appear to be insignificant temptations. So it was with Noah. The man who had enough faith to survive God’s destruction of all of humanity except for his family was overcome by wine. Samson could not be defeated by any army, yet loving a treacherous woman left him without strength and blind. The kingdom was ripped away from Saul because he did not fully obey God’s commands but thought that he knew better how to secure God’s favor. Likewise, we should not neglect the danger of respectable sins (as Jerry Bridges calls them), that is, sins like unthankfulness, discontentment, impatience, covetousness, etc. These “little sins” are just as damning as the “bigger” ones.
When looking at Peter’s response, we should first note how irrational sin makes us. In his effort to disassociate himself from Christ, Peter does not merely deny being one of Jesus’ disciples; he denies even knowing who Jesus is. If the girl had any doubts, such denial would have certainly cleared them up, just not the way that Peter intended. After all, remember that the religious leaders could not arrest Jesus while He was publicly teaching each day in the temple because they feared His popularity with the people. Surely everyone in Jerusalem had heard of Jesus, so for Peter to make such a statement was entirely unbelievable.