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Peter's Three-Time Denial

We are continuing our meditation on the arrest of Jesus and the subsequent events of Jesus' trial. There in the courtyard of the High Priest, Peter made his first denial of the Lord. A young girl came up close to look at his face in the light of the fire. Matthew wrote that the fireside denial was before others:

69Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. 70But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said (Matthew 26:69-70).

Luke tells us that the servant girl looked closely at Peter seated in front of the fire and accused him before others, saying, "this man was also with him” (Luke 22:56). This sudden accusation is the way temptation often comes to us. We give the enemy an inch, and he takes a foot. We give him a foot, and he takes a yard. We give a yard, and he takes a mile. We must be aware not to compromise an inch of our lives to the enemy of our souls. Likely, Peter was now afraid he was discovered and needed to get away from the fire in the courtyard. Matthew tells us that he moved to the gateway, trying to find an exit:

71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" (Matthew 26:71-72).

Nothing tells us that the household servants would have done anything to Peter. He was pressured to deny the Lord out of his fear. Be careful when fear comes knocking on the door of your life, for “Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt” (George Sewell). It is only the fear of God that can deliver us from the fear of man (John Witherspoon). Luke wrote that an hour passed between the second denial and the third and last. About the time of the third denial, John gives us a bit more information, perhaps, because he was also in the courtyard and recognized the one challenging Jesus as a relative of Malchus, the one whose ear Peter cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane. Those around the fire now had a witness that made Peter lose his composure. John wrote:

One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" (John 18:26).

The picture is of several people suspiciously looking at Peter. The pressure of the witness, together with a few of the servants around him, made Peter call down curses on himself, wishing himself a violent death at God’s hand if he was lying about knowing Jesus:

73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." 74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:73-75).

Luke gives us more insight into what finally broke Peter’s heart and caused him to weep bitterly:

59About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." 60Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:59-62).

How painful it must have been for Peter to hear the cock crow and remember what he said to his Lord, and at the same time lock eyes with the Lover of his soul. How hard it is to disappoint the One we love. Thank God for His mercy to all of us who have failed on the day of trial. May you walk in Christ’s forgiveness and love. Keith Thomas

Taken from study 61 in Luke: Peter, the Broken Disciple


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