Has there ever been a time in your life when you denied Christ? That doesn’t just mean blatantly denying him, as Peter did. There are many ways in which we deny Jesus:
- By being ashamed of him
- By not speaking about him in public
- By our silence
- By our lifestyle, which does not match our profession
We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards religion and specifically Christianity. Christians are painted as morons and idiots (or worse – intolerable bigots) who believe in myths and fairy tales. Out of fear of being mocked and ridiculed, we shrink back and clam up. We don’t confess Christ. And by not confessing him, we – like Peter, deny him. So, I think this little story about Peter’s denial of Jesus speaks to each and every one of us.
Peter was ready to face anything for Jesus. Or so he thought. He pulled out his sword to take on the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (he even got one good swipe in, taking off poor Malchus’ ear). He followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest when Jesus was facing his trial. He boldly went where no other disciple would go and boldly said what none of the other disciples dared to speak. None of the others acted so courageously as Peter. Yet Peter did the one thing he vowed he would never do: he denied that he knew Christ – not just once, not twice but on three separate occasions.
Avoiding the Pathway of Failure
When it came to the crunch, Peter crumbled. He fell, and he fell badly. So, what can we learn from him? What happened to Peter was no accident. It could have been avoided (from a human standpoint). There were five fatal mistakes that Peter made:
1. He boasted in his own strength
Earlier that night, Jesus warned all the disciples that they would fall away because of him (Matthew 26:31). But Peter somehow thought that did not apply to him. He was above that. He was tough; he was determined. He would stand strong. “Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33)
What’s his problem? He did not really know himself. He did not understand the deceitfulness of his own heart. The Apostle Paul warns us of this in 1 Corinthians 10:12
“So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.”
The one who thinks he cannot fall into sin is in the most precarious position of all. Don’t think that you are above temptation. Don’t think that because of your age or your wisdom or your experience or your bible knowledge that you are above some sin. You’re not. Apart from God’s empowering grace, you are nothing.
I need to remind myself of this daily. How easily I can be self-deceived! I see other very well-known Christian leaders fall into sin and I say to myself, “That wouldn’t happen to me. I wouldn’t do that.” The moment that happens, I am in serious trouble. Beware of pride and self-deception. Beware of over-confidence. You are not above any sin – even the sin of denying the Lord Jesus.
2. He failed to heed God’s warning
Jesus clearly warned Peter about what would take place that night. Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times (John 13:38). Peter was warned. Yet that warning went unheeded. He did not take the words of Jesus to heart.
If we are to avoid falling into sin, if we are to steer a wide path around temptation, we must give heed to Scriptural warnings. And there are plenty of them for Christians. There are warnings about sexual sin, warnings about ungodly influence, and warnings about spiritual apathy. And yet time and time again I see Christians completely ignore these warnings, as if somehow they don’t apply to them.
3. He fell prey to the fear of man
This slave girl who was at the door, she is not someone Peter needed to fear – right? So why does he fear her? Because Peter, at that moment, was living in fear – the fear of man. And the fear of man is a snare, Proverbs 29:25 tells us. Fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, or in Peter’s case, fear for your own life will trap you and ultimately paralyze you.
The antidote to the fear of man is the fear of God. Fear of God drives out all other human fears.
“The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” (Proverbs 29:25).
Peter learned his lesson. Many years later, he wrote: “Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:13–15)
When we reverence God properly in our lives and realize that His opinion is the one that ultimately matters, we will avoid the snare, disability, and paralysis that comes from cringing before the potential disapproval of man.
4. He allowed his sin to go unchecked
At the first blow of sin, when he lied to the servant girl, Peter should have stopped and recognized his sin. He should have dealt with it right then and there, by confessing and repenting of it and then seeking God’s grace to stand strong next time. But he didn’t. He let his first sin go unchecked. And whenever you let sin go unchecked you will fall headlong into the same sin soon after.
5. He warmed himself at the wrong fire
At first glance, it seems innocent enough. It was a cold night, Peter was shivering, he needed to warm himself. But he chose the wrong place. These were the enemies of Jesus, and he was trying to blend in with them, to act like them, and pretend that he did not know Jesus.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time with unbelievers. That’s what we are supposed to do. But not for the reason of trying to be like them. Our purpose for being among unbelievers is to give evidence of the power of the gospel in our own lives. How can we do that when we are trying hard to look like them? Learn the lesson of Peter! Don’t go warming yourself at the wrong fire.
If the story ended here, it would indeed be a story of failure and defeat. But it doesn’t. It ends instead, at the end of John’s gospel on a beach, on another cold morning besides another fire. There Jesus, following his resurrection, fully restores Peter and commissions him to the be leader of his new church. There is an important principle at work here. A bone that is broken often becomes stronger after it is healed.
The same thing is true of our failures. God can take us where we are broken and make us stronger than we were before.
That’s what happened to Peter. His guilt was turned into grace; his shame into sympathy and his failure into faithfulness. Is there proof of this? There sure is! Read the first few chapters of the book of Acts. The once loud, boisterous and cowardly Peter becomes a strong, dependable and courageous leader of the church. He was the same man, but he was different. In the hands of the Master Potter had been reshaped and refined.
Hope for The Fallen
There is hope for all of us—the best of us, the worst of us, and the rest of us. There is hope because all of these sins – sins of failure, sins of regret, sins of disobedience, and sins of shame, have been born by Jesus on the cross. They can be forgiven and wiped away. Not only that, but the resurrection power of Jesus is available for us to give strength to live differently. This is the good news of the gospel; fallen sinners can be restored and made new. They can become useful again.
Take heart and believe the good news. If He did it for Peter, He can do it for you.
Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John. You can listen to the full audio on our website here.