Every believer can sympathise and identify with some aspects of the life and experiences of the apostle Peter. This changeable, volatile, impetuous, lovable man loved his Lord and Saviour. Peter was courageous and dedicated to the Lord. He failed his Lord but was truly "exercised" (Heb 12.11), and benefited by the chastisement he experienced as a result of his failure. This taught him the danger and folly of self-confidence, pride and boasting. As a result of his failure and the restoration which took place later, Peter learned more of the love and grace of the Lord. He was graciously restored to a life of Spirit-filled service, based on love and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, faith and confidence in God, and reliance on His power.
Peter had been privileged to have wonderful experiences and revelations. Notwithstanding the fact that he had to be saved by the Lord when, having taken his eyes off the Lord, he began to sink, Peter had, at His command, climbed out of a boat and actually walked on water towards Him (Mt 14.29-3 1). Peter had been with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17.1-9), at the raising from the dead of Jairus daughter (Lk 8.41,42,49-56), and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14.32-42). It was to Peter that God revealed the truth that the Lord was "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16.16). When the Lord asked the twelve disciples if they would desert Him as others had done, it was Peter who answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life" (Jn 6.68).
When the Lord told the disciples that there would come a time when all would desert Him, Peter, full of love for the Lord, and with courage and self-confidence, proudly said, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I" (Mk 14.29). The Lord, who understood all men (Jn 2.24,25), knew Peter better than Peter knew himself, and told him that "before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice" (Mk 14.30). Peter reacted strongly and, meaning what he said, protested vehemently, saying that he would not deny the Lord but was prepared to die with Him, and so said all the other disciples (Mk 14.31).
Despite his self-confidence, the time came when Peter denied his Lord and refused to be identified with Him and witness for Him. The Holy Spirit has caused Peters denials of the Lord, his restoration and service to be recorded for our spiritual edification and benefit. The denials took place in the courtyard of the high priests palace during the unjust, farcical trial proceedings to which the Lord allowed Himself to be subjected.
The disciples had deserted the Lord and fled (Mk 14.50), just as the Lord had said they would (Mk 14.27). Peter and John, however, returned to follow the Lord, but Peter followed Him "afar off" (Jn 18.15; Lk 22.54). When Peter was in the courtyard, a servant-girl came up to him and said that he had been with Jesus. Peter denied this and the cock crowed (Mk 14.68). Peter does not seem to have reacted to this first warning crow of the cock. It did not bring the Saviours words to his mind. Shortly after this, another young girl saw him as he went out into the gateway and she told those around that Peter had been with the Lord. This time, Peter denied with an oath, and said, "I do not know the man" (Mt 26.72). A little later, some of those standing by claimed that Peters accent identified him as a Galilean. Peter cursed and swore and denied that he knew the Lord. It was then that the cock crowed for the second time and Peter remembered the Lord saying that before the cock crowed twice he would deny Him three times (Mt 26.69-75; Mk 14.66-72; Lk 22.61; Jn 18.17,18,25-27).
John tells us that Peter stood with others in the courtyard warming himself by a coal fire (Jn 18.18,25). He had first followed the Lord at a distance and then joined the enemies of the Lord around the fire.
Luke tells us that when the cock crowed the second time the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Lk 22.60-61). That look conveyed to Peter the Lords grace, His unchanging love for him, and the sorrow and hurt the Lord had felt when Peter refused to be identified with Him. That look broke Peter down and he "went out, and wept bitterly" (Lk 22.62). Peter repented with bitter tears, his self-confidence and self-sufficiency were destroyed, and he was now in a condition to be restored to the Lord who was shortly going to die for him.
The Lord had prayed that Peters faith would not fail (Lk 22.31,32). Peters faith did not fail although his courage did, and later he was graciously restored and used of God to strengthen his brethren.
Causes and Consequences
Peters three denials of the Lord were the result of self-confidence, pride, and the fear of man (Prov 29.25). The progress of events which led to his downfall have been recorded in the Word of God for our benefit and instruction. Peter, the man who seemed willing to fight for the Lord against overwhelming odds in Gethsemane (Jn 18.10), behaved so differently when he denied his Lord. Pride and a sense of self-sufficiency led to a lack of dependence on God and a consequential lack of prayer. When the Lord had found Peter, James and John sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, He told Peter to "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation". He graciously added, " the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26.41).
Peter followed the Lord but followed Him "afar off". If we do not follow the Lord closely, seeking and obeying His will as revealed to us in His Word, we shall backslide and gradually drift away from our Lord and Saviour. As believers, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6.19) to teach us, lead us, and empower us. If we ignore His guidance or rely upon ourselves then we are sure to fail the Lord.
Peter settled down to warm himself with the Lords enemies: he "sat down among them" (Lk 22.55). Peter "followed afar off", then stood, then sat among the ungodly. It was rather like the downward progression into sin depicted in Psalm 1.1 which speaks of walking, then standing, then sitting with the ungodly. A backslider who continues on the downward path will become less sensitive to sin and go further and further away from the Lord. Believers are warned that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (Jas 4.4). Despite being attracted by all that the world has to offer, a backsliding believer will never be completely at ease in the company of unbelievers. Neither will the backslider enjoy the company of believers. Peter was away from the Lord, but he was being loved by Him, and Peter loved the Lord.
To be continued.