Today’s passage, of course, is talking about Peter’s denial of Christ. Peter was the preeminent disciple and apostle, partially chosen by Christ and partially self-chosen for that spot. Jesus picked him along with two others (James and John) as a sort of “inner circle” who were witnesses of events that no one else (including the other nine) was even aware of (like the Transfiguration). But his personality caused him to sometimes push himself to the front of the crowd as well. When the Twelve wanted a spokesman to speak to the Master about something, he usually fit the bill.
Then we come to a night that was at the same time one of his worst and one of his best he’d ever experienced. The Last Supper was a time of intimate fellowship, a good meal, and a solemn celebration. But despite the positive atmosphere there hung over everything a. . . feeling that something was wrong. The Master kept on talking like this was their last time together. He was enigmatically referring to a “traitor” in their ranks. He warned them that all of them would abandon him when the crisis arrived. All of them, of course, reaffirmed their full commitment to him and assured him that they'd never do something like that. But Peter went beyond all that. Looking the Master straight in the eye, he swore that even if everyone else ran, he would die by Jesus’ side. That’s when Jesus made the prediction that cut Peter’s heart in two. No. He couldn’t really mean that. There was nothing on earth that could make him disown the Master. Not once, not twice, but three times? Never!!!!!!
And naturally everything happened just as the Savior had predicted. He was betrayed by one of their own, arrested, and all the disciples fled into the dark like frightened children. Yes, even Peter. Now we have to grant that he did try to defend the Master with a sword, and even cut a man’s ear off. But with a word of rebuke, Jesus put a stop to any physical defense and healed the wound. That apparently drained all the strength out of the would-be defender, and he fled like all the rest.
Why am I going into all this? There is a point here, I promise. Peter was, without a doubt, Jesus’ foremost apostle at that time. John might've had a more intimate relationship with Christ, but Peter was the most prominent one. He made the biggest promises. He did nothing half-way. And in his own strength, he only ended up falling that much harder.
He ended up denying that he even knew Jesus’ name. Not once. Not twice. Three times. A servant girl scared him out of his wits. He was in the middle of solemnly swearing that he had no acquaintance with this Jesus of Nazareth when the rooster crowed. Just as Jesus had predicted. And Luke records that at that very moment “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Apparently as he was being moved from one trial to another, the Savior glanced over and caught Peter’s face—with the denial still on his lips.
So what can we learn from this? As Alistair Begg puts it, “The best of men are men at best.” Jesus taught us to plead with the Father “Lead us not into temptation,” and we really need to pray that! The best and brightest among us, the most committed follower of Jesus can fall so badly that you don’t even recognize him.
But we should let Peter’s story be a comfort as well as a warning. Today’s passage certainly isn’t the last time we hear about him. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, and apparently there was one time in which he reserved a one-on-one appearance just for the broken apostle. He was forgiven and restored. Failure was not the end of Peter’s story, and it doesn’t have to be yours either.
Lord Jesus, how many times has my mouth made promises I didn’t keep? I keep failing, and you keep forgiving. Thank you. You are so good to me.