Address Seventy-three Peter's Failure And Repentance

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“Then took they Him, and led Him, and brought Him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with Him. And he denied Him, saying, Woman, I know Him not. And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with Him: for he is a Galilean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly”—Luke 22:54-62.

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In relating these life-stories it is characteristic of Holy Scripture to give us, not only the evidence of the love and devotion, but also something of the mistakes and sins of the friends of God in the Old Testament, and the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New. The reason is, I believe, that God would have us learn how to avoid their failures as well as to imitate their virtues, and follow them as they followed Christ. We might think that it would have been best to have told us only the good things and to have covered their blunders, but then we would be likely to come to the conclusion that these servants of God and our Lord Jesus Christ in past centuries were quite different from us; that they were men superior to us, and they did not fail as we do. So we get the whole story. Many souls have been warned and helped by the account of Peter’s failure and, thank God, his repentance. The whole life of Peter as we learn it from our Bible is most interesting and instructive: this sturdy fisherman who, from the time he first met the Lord Jesus, lost his heart to Him. His first meeting with Jesus was on that occasion when, as we read in John 1:41, his own brother, Andrew, sought him out and brought him to the Lord after Andrew and John, the author of the fourth Gospel, had spent the afternoon with the Saviour. From that time on Peter’s heart was won for Christ, but he did not immediately leave all for Him; he was not called to do so. Afterward the Lord was preaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd thronged Him. Jesus looked about, and there was Peter’s fishing-boat near the shore; the Lord asked for permission to enter it, and Peter gladly received Him. Jesus told him to thrust out a little from the land; and using Peter’s boat as a pulpit He taught the people. This was easy to do. Anyone who has been there will recall how the land along the shore rises upward, forming an amphitheater. The throng could have stood or sat on the ground and looked at the Lord as He preached the Word. Possibly the message did not really reach the heart of this man Simon; but afterward when the crowd dispersed, Jesus turned to him and said, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” (Luke 5:4). Peter was surprised at this, for the sun was shining; it was a most unlikely time for fishing, and he said, “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” Now the day was no time for fishing, but Peter said, “At Thy word I will let down the net;” and immediately they enclosed a great multitude of fish. You know the rest of the story. The interesting thing is this: when Peter saw the fish they had caught at that time of day he knew he was in the presence of the Creator ,of the fish, and he fell down at the feet of Jesus and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And yet he took Him by the feet, as much as to say, “While I know I am not fit for Your company, Lord, You shall not get away from me if I can help it.” The Lord never turns away from a sinner’s confession. He spoke words of encouragement to Peter, assuring him of His confidence in him and saying, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). Jesus called Peter into full-time association with Himself; so he left the fishing business to become a fisher of men. Later on Peter made his great confession of faith: “He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: s,ome, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” Answering for all the disciples, Peter replied with holy enthusiasm, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:13-17). It is always a divine revelation when one is brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ in the true mystery of His Person. Then the Lord said, “I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (the rock of this confession) I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). I do not think Peter ever rose to a greater height in his experience while the Lord was with him on earth than at that time. But have you noticed that his backsliding began almost immediately afterward? We need to heed the important warning: “Let him that thinketh he stand-eth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). The Lord had just spoken of the wonderful revelation given to Peter and then went on to tell them of His approaching death on the cross, to be followed by His resurrection; and Peter, exalted undoubtedly by the abundance ,of the revelation, turned to the Lord and dared to say to Him, “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee” (Matt. 16:22). He was correcting, or attempting to correct Jesus for saying He was to be delivered to the Gentiles and be crucified. Peter declared that nothing like that should take place. The Lord immediately turned to him and said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23). What a rebuke to be given to the prince of the apostles, and that so soon after he had made his great confession! Evidently he had become exalted by spiritual pride, and Satan led him to say that which, if acted upon, would mean that we would have been left without a Saviour and our sins unatoned for. It was only by going to the cross that the propitiation for sin could be made.

We do not read much concerning the experiences of Peter after that, but we do know that he never reached such a high spiritual point again. On the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elias of His decease which He would accomplish at Jerusalem, Peter felt he must say something—though he knew not what to say— and so he blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:4, 5). As much as to say, “Peter, do not put anybody on the level with My Son; He must have the pre-eminence in all things.”

Scripture passes over the rest of Peter’s history until the night of our Lord’s betrayal. Then we see him with the rest of the disciples in the upper room. The Lord said, “All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matt. 26:31). Self-confident, yet loving the Lord and meaning every word, but failing to realize his own weakness, Peter said, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I” (Mark 14:29). “I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33). He was to go both to prison and to death in after years for Christ’s sake, but he was not ready at this time. The Lord said to him, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me.” And He who knew Peter so well, also said, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

They went out to the garden of sorrow; and there Peter failed with the others: for the Lord took Peter, James, and John into the garden with Him. Ere He went a little farther to talk with His Father, He said to the three, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). And He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). And when He rose from His knees He found the three disciples sleeping for sorrow; it was the weakness of the flesh. Peter was asleep when he should have been alert, watching and praying. The Lord aroused them from their sleep and again bade them watch and pray; and He went away the second time, praying the same words, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” When He came the third time and found that Peter was still asleep, He said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45). Then came Judas and the rest, and Judas said, “Hail, Master; and kissed Him.” They came and took Jesus, and Peter became enraged. He was alert now, and he turned and drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest. The Lord said, “Put up thy sword,” and He healed the man. This was the energy of the flesh on Peter’s part. He, who before had been asleep when he should have been alert, was now roused up and active when he should have been passive and quiescent. They took Jesus away, and we are told that “Peter followed afar off.” This was a further evidence of his backslidden condition: instead of keeping close to Jesus and letting all see that he was identified with Him, he fell behind; his love would not let him leave entirely. Finally he reached the high priest’s house. There in the court a fire was burning, for it was a cold night; and Peter went in and sat with others around the fire. Again we see him drifting: in company with the ungodly while his Lord was on trial. “A certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied Him, saying, Woman, I know Him not. And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with Him: for he is a Galilean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest.” The more he opened his mouth the more he got into trouble. The Galileans had their own peculiar accent, so that the Judeans recognized Peter immediately as one from the northern province. His speech betrayed him. Evidently because he was overcome with fear, Peter began to curse and to swear, saying, “I know not the Man.” “And immediately the cock crew.” The Saviour’s words came back to Peter as Jesus looked upon him. Peter had gone down, down, down, until he had denied all knowledge of Christ. But now, oh, how he wept as Jesus gazed sadly and reproachfully upon him! That was the beginning of the work of restoration. Repentance had commenced. If we follow the record we find that the Lord had a private interview with Peter after the resurrection. We are told that the women who arrived at the tomb early on the resurrection morning were instructed to “Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). I am sure Peter must have been greatly distressed during those three days and nights; he felt that he had lost all contact with Jesus. But the risen Lord acknowledged him as a disciple still. When the two Emmaus disciples returned to the Eleven, they said, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). Undoubtedly Peter was fully restored at the time of the Lord’s private interview with him. His public restoration took place on the shores of Galilee shortly after, on that morning when the Saviour cooked Peter’s breakfast and served him and his fellow-disciples after they had toiled all night and again had caught nothing. Three times the Lord put the question to Peter: “Lovest thou Me?” Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him this question three times, but he had denied his Lord three times. Having restored him, the Lord said to Peter, “Feed My lambs… feed My sheep.”

Oh, the infinite grace of our blessed Lord! We have failed Him, but He never has failed us. I can call upon all who believe and trust in Him to bear witness. God grant that as we face the difficulties of the coming days we will lean more completely upon Him; that we will faithfully acknowledge Christ, our blessed, risen Lord. Let us be careful not to trust in our own strength, but distrusting ourselves to rely wholly on Him, that we may ever be true to the trust committed to us!