Redeemed From Devastating Failure

| Acts 4:8-13

The Point:  God can redeem us from even our worst failures.

Peter Denies Jesus:  Luke 22:54-62.

[52]  Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? [53]  When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." [54]  Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. [55]  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. [56]  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, "This man also was with him." [57]  But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." [58]  And a little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not." [59]  And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, "Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean." [60]  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about." And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. [61]  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times." [62]  And he went out and wept bitterly. [ESV]

“Jesus prophesied that His leading disciple would repudiate the very Christ he once confessed, denying Him three times before the first light of morning [Luke 22:34]. After Jesus’ arrest, Peter followed the arresting party down the Mount of Olives, back into the city of Jerusalem, and then into the courtyard of the high priest, where Jesus would undergo the first of several trials. The rest of the disciples had all scattered, but Peter and one other disciple were still with Jesus (presumably it was John). Peter wanted to see what would happen to Jesus, and he wanted to make good on his boast [33]. Even if the others fell away, he would go to prison with Jesus. He would even die with Jesus. Peter tried to prove it by following Jesus all the way to the high priest. Peter wanted to go further than anyone else down the road that Jesus walked to the cross. Yet all it took was one little challenge from a servant girl for Peter to say that he did not even know Jesus. Within a matter of hours he had denied his Lord – not once, not twice, but three times. How shall we describe this triple denial? Peter denied Jesus immediately, without the slightest hesitation. As soon as anyone said he was a follower of Christ, he claimed that he did not know Jesus at all. This, from the man who said he would die for Jesus! Peter denied Jesus timidly. Maybe he could sense that this trial would turn out badly for Jesus. Maybe he was afraid for his own live. Yet the servant girl was hardly a threat to Peter. The consequences for saying that he knew Jesus were merely social, not judicial. He probably did not even know the people accusing him, nor was he likely to see them again. Yet cowardly Peter gave in to the social pressure and said that he did not know Jesus. Peter also denied Jesus unconvincingly. When people took a good look at Peter’s face in the firelight, they knew that they had seen him hanging around with Jesus. He had a reputation for being a disciple because he was always with Jesus, and people noticed. Even his accent gave him away. The third man who accused Peter was insistent, and he had the evidence to back it up: Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean [59]. It was not simply the way Peter looked that gave him away, but also the way he talked. Everyone could tell that he was from Galilee, which is where most of the disciples came from. Then Peter denied Jesus comprehensively. It was not just once or twice that he denied Jesus, but three times. It was not just men who heard his denial; it was also women. Furthermore, Peter made this denial in three difference ways. First he said that he did not know Jesus [57]. Then he explicitly disavowed that he was a disciple. When someone said that he was one of them, meaning one of the followers of Christ, Peter said that he was not one of them at all [58]. The third time he pretended that he did not even know what people were talking about [59-60]. Afterwards, he would never be able to say that it had all been some sort of misunderstanding, that he hadn’t really denied Jesus. No, Peter denied the Christ about as thoroughly as anyone could. Finally, Peter sinned grievously: his sin was a very great sin. One of Jesus’ own beloved disciples – Peter, whose confession was the rock on which Jesus promised to build His church – denied his Lord. Peter did this after many warnings not to fall away, after celebrating the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and after repeated exhortations to watch and pray. Peter did this against Jesus Christ, the infinitely worthy Son of God. Unless it was confessed and atoned, this triple denial was a damnable sin, for Peter denied the only God who could save him. Yet at the very moment Peter was making his third denial, his sovereign Lord called him back to his senses: And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly [60-62]. What can we learn from Peter’s threefold denial? Consider three important lessons about sin, grace, repentance, and a life of humble obedience to God. The first lesson is this: the true test of discipleship is our witness to the world, and not just the promises we make to God. Peter was very presumptuous in the promise he made to Jesus: Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death [33]. This was not the first time he had said something bold. Peter was the one who confessed, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God [Matt. 16:16]. He was the one who said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life [John 6:68]. Then on the night of betrayal, he promised to follow Jesus to the very death. All of that was in private, however, not in public. It was something Peter said to Jesus when he was safely within the community of faith, but not something he was ready to say in front of the whole world. On the contrary, when Peter was out in the courtyard he had almost nothing to say for himself, and nothing at all to say for Jesus. We find the most verbose of all the disciples strangely at a loss for words. All he can say is that he does not know Jesus. The true test of discipleship is our witness to the world, and not just the promises we make to God. Does our own discipleship pass this test? People make many promises when they are alone with God – promises about living a better life, spending more time in prayer, or giving more money to charity. But the real test of our discipleship is what we say and do when we are under pressure to take a stand for Christ. What do we say then? Unless we speak up for what we believe, then we ourselves become the deniers of Christ. I deny Christ when I talk with my friends about being involved at church, but not about what it means to know Jesus. I deny Christ when there is so little that is distinctive about the way I live that people at work or school do not even know that I am a Christian. I deny Christ when I am so afraid about what people think that I shrink back from telling people the biblical truth about controversial issues like abortion, or homosexuality, or the unique claims of Jesus Christ as the world’s only Savior. I deny Christ when I say something a Christian shouldn’t say or do something a Christian shouldn’t do because I want to have fun or to be popular. But if I cannot speak up and say something for Jesus, then what kind of disciple am I anyway? Peter had an opportunity to take his stand the night that Jesus was betrayed, especially before his third denial. The real test was not what he said when they were alone in the garden, but when he was out talking to people who did not know Jesus. Peter failed that test. This was partly because he was so proudly confident of his faithful discipleship that he did not even pray for God’s help. How vulnerable we are to social pressure when we do not ask God to make us as courageous for Christ as we say we want to be when we are alone with Jesus. Let us never presume or think high thoughts about our own godliness. Instead, in our weakness, let us ask Jesus for the grace of a bolder witness, so that we can pass the true test of discipleship. As often as we sin like Peter, we can draw comfort from a second lesson he learned: Jesus knows our weakness, and even before we fall He has a plan to lift us back up. We should always see Peter’s triple denial in the context of the prophecies that Jesus gave him. Jesus specifically predicted that Peter would deny him: I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me [34]. Jesus told Peter when he would deny Him, and how many times, as well as the language he would use to do it. Jesus knew the weakness of Peter’s fallen nature, his propensity for falling into sin. He knew that at the very time He was suffering the consequences for that sin and all our sins by going to the cross. Not only did Jesus know that Peter would fall into sin, but He also knew what he would do to prevent His disciple from falling completely away. Jesus had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. He had also given him this command: And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers [32]. This command presumes that Peter’s faith would not fail, but would lead him to repentance. For when Jesus said that Peter would turn again, He was saying that the man would repent, turning away from his sinful denials to follow Jesus again. This repentance would be so complete that Peter would be restored to a place of leadership in ministry. In fact, it would become his special calling to help other sinners turn back to Jesus and follow Him. Jesus knew all of this in advance. He knew Peter’s weakness, and even before the man fell into sin He had a plan for his repentance and restoration. This helps to explain the famous “look” that Jesus gave Peter. At the very moment the rooster crowed, the Lord turned and looked at Peter [61]. Who can begin to describe everything that Jesus communicated to Peter simply by making eye contact? How remarkable it is that Jesus was even thinking about Peter at all. His own greatest trial had begun. Over the course of those awful hours Jesus was subjected to various taunts and insults, to say nothing of charges and accusations. As soon as Jesus heard the rooster, He turned and looked at Peter. His heart went out to His fallen disciple. At the very moment Peter was sinning, Jesus loved him and called him back to repentance. Here the wording of verse 61 seems especially significant: And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord. Jesus looked at Peter to remind him of what He had said. It was not simply what Jesus said about the rooster that Peter needed to remember, but the whole conversation, including what Jesus said about praying for his faith and restoring him through repentance. Jesus knew the man’s weakness. Even before he fell into sin, Jesus had a plan for Peter’s restoration and gave him the word that would lead to his repentance. If ever a man experienced sin’s costly cure, it was the apostle Peter. The rest of his story proves the grace of Jesus for fallen sinners and teaches us our third and final lesson: true repentance means more than feeling sorry for sin; it means turning back again and living for Christ. Here Peter is the perfect example, because he turned back almost as quickly as he turned away. The first thing Peter did after hearing the rooster was to go out and weep bitter tears [62]. Here Luke uses a word for intense emotion – the same word someone would use for grieving the dead. They were tears of disappointment, as Peter recalled his former boast and realized his failure to follow Jesus all the way. They were tears of shame, as Peter remembered his disloyalty and the penetrating look that Jesus gave him. They may also have been tears of sorrow, as he grieved what was happening to Jesus and everything he was about to lose. Can you relate to Peter’s experience? Have you ever gone out to weep the bitter tears of failure, disappointment, shame, loss, or sorrow? If so, then what have you done with those tears? The most important thing about Peter’s tears is what happened afterwards. This is always the critical question. Sooner or later most people feel sorry for something they have done, or at least about the consequences of what they have done. But not everyone repents, in the biblical sense of the word. Repentance is more than a feeling; it is a change of direction away from sin and back to God. This is why tears alone do not prove Peter’s or anyone else’s repentance. What matters more is what we do after our tears are dried away. Peter’s bitter tears show us the difference between repentance and remorse. Remorse is a feeling of regret that may lead to many tears, yet it never makes a lasting difference in anyone’s life. Repentance may also lead to many tears, but it does not stop there. It includes the life of obedience we lead after we have cried for our sins. What hope Peter’s example gives to anyone who has fallen into sin, or failed in the Christian life, or maybe even denied Jesus altogether. Your sin need not drive you to despair, but can be an opportunity for God to show His grace. Jesus wants to do the same gracious work in your life that He did in Peter’s life. If you do repent the way that Peter repented, you will not only be saved, but have the joy of helping other fallen sinners get up and start following Jesus more boldly than ever.”  [Ryken, pp. 523-535].

Peter’s Sermon, Acts 4:8-13.

[8]  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, [9]  if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, [10]  let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing before you well. [11]  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12]  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." [13]  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. [ESV]

“The apostles have been arrested and have spent the night in a prison cell [3]. The next morning they were brought before the Sanhedrin Council to be questioned. And what does Peter do? He does the same thing that got him imprisoned in the first place! He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, clearly and unapologetically [8-12]. This in itself is a wonderful example of boldness and courage. Something has clearly happened to Peter from the time we saw him at Jesus’ arrest. Filled with the Spirit, he puts his life on the line and proclaims the very gospel that had angered the Sanhedrin. This is Peter’s third sermon so far in Acts. There is a sermon in Acts 2, Acts 3, and now again in Acts 4. He was doing exactly what he will later exhort all Christians to do when facing trials and opposition: always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you [1 Peter 3:15]. For the third time Peter lays the blame for the crucifixion on the Sanhedrin Council [2:23,36; 4:10]. They had been responsible for the death of Jesus, and they needed to come to appreciate their guilt in order to discover the forgiveness that lay at the heart of the gospel. Unless this sin was first of all exposed, they would not see their need of a Savior – certainly not one who died such a death as crucifixion, a stumbling block to Jews. In rejecting Jesus Christ, the Jews had rejected the chief cornerstone of the kingdom of God, and thus they had doomed themselves to eternal ruin. Peter also asserts the exclusivity of Jesus as the way of salvation. There is no other name under heaven given to men except the name of Jesus. No other way of salvation is possible apart from faith alone in Jesus Christ alone [12]. Peter’s response is breathtaking. In the face of possible reprisals, he was fearless. This is how the early church viewed it: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished [13]. In this age, when we are pressured to dilute the message of the gospel in deference to our ecumenical friends, Peter’s insistence is something of which to take note. Peter then preached the same message he had preached before his arrest. He tells his captors that there is only one way a man or woman can be rescued from the guilt of sin and the certainty of the coming judgment. It is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. In doing so, he was making a very public resolve not to be intimidated by any threat made against him by the Sanhedrin Council. Peter will obey God and not men. When the Sanhedrin admonished him not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus, Peter responded by disobeying the commands of the authorities. Peter’s obedience to civil and religious authorities could not go beyond his obligation to obey the word of God. He could not obey this stricture because it violated something that is greater: the truth of God and of the gospel.”  [Thomas, pp. 97-100].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. How did Peter deny Jesus? Why did he deny Jesus?

2.         What can we learn from Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus? In what ways do you deny Jesus? What is the true test of discipleship?

3.         How do you account for the tremendous change in Peter from the Luke 22 passage to the description of Peter’s actions in Acts? What hope can you derive from the change that took place in Peter?

References:

Luke 9:51-24:53, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

Luke, vol. 2, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishing.

Acts, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

Acts, Derek Thomas, REC, P & R Publishing.