by William J. Stewart
I have always enjoyed discussing the apostle Peter. I believe he is a man that many today can relate to. His fervent desire to do the Lord’s will and to stand for the Lord is admirable. His faith in Jesus, and acknowledgment that there is none other to whom we should go is a pattern for us. And yet, with all the good we are witness to in the life of Simon Peter, a sober reminder of the possibility of straying from the Lord is present.
Let us consider Peter’s life during the Lord’s trial to help us understand the possibility of falling away from the Lord.
Watch Out For Overconfidence!
Assembled with His disciples, Jesus said, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night…” (Matthew 26:31). However, Peter spoke up boldly, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33). Peter was a confident individual. He often seemed to be the most prominent among the disciples (Matthew 4:18; 10:2; etc.). He was extremely close to the Lord, even among Jesus’ inner circle (Matthew 17:1ff; 26:37ff). Everything about Peter’s relationship and conduct with the Lord would indicate that he would be stand steadfast. His desire to serve the Lord is commendable. And yet this desire, perhaps mixed with a streak of arrogance expresses itself through the medium of overconfidence.
Regardless of our past accomplishments and the elite group of friends we may keep, we must always be aware of the possibility of falling. Even with the Lord expressly saying that all would be made to fall, Peter’s head seems too bloated to assess the present danger which threatened him. The apostle Paul cautioned the Corinthians, “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Overconfidence Breeds Carelessness
Peter certainly was not lacking for warnings of the great difficulty which would meet his faith. Jesus forewarned the apostle by name, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat…” (Luke 22:31). These words, intended to alert the disciple of the peril ahead, were met with the response, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). His overconfidence caused him to underestimate the influence Satan would wield upon him.
Years later, the apostle wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Peter could write with first hand knowledge of how Satan seeks to devour the child of God—the lion had formerly pounced upon him, when he lacked sobriety and vigilance.
Subtle Separation—The First Denial
Jesus was taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:13). We read, “…Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest,
and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ’You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ’I am not.’” (John 18:15-17).
Luke’s account tells us that she “…looked intently at him and said, ’This man was also with Him.’” (Luke 22:56). Being put on the spot by the servant girl, rather than boldly proclaiming his allegiance to the Lord (as was his plan). Peter separated himself from the Lord. And not simply before this servant girl. Matthew, speaking of the crowd which stood at the gate said, “…he denied it before them all…” (Matthew 26:70). Mark revealed that after denying the Lord, Peter “…went out on the porch…” (Mark 14:68). The situation had got too hot for Peter!
Peter’s denial of the Lord was a result of him distancing himself from the Lord. We see in his physical actions how he detached himself. Luke recorded that as Jesus was led to be tried, “…Peter followed at a distance…” (Luke 22:54). Rather than standing beside the Lord, as he said he would, “…Peter sat among…” those who had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard (Luke 22:55). However, his physical distance from the Lord pales in comparison to his spiritual detachment from the Lord at this point. He had denied the one whom he vowed to die with.
Further Away—The Second Denial
Peter’s faith is again challenged, as the servant girl on another occasion spoke to a crowd, “’This is one of them.’ But he denied it again…” (Mark 14:69-70). This time, he denied the Lord with an oath (Matthew 26:72). It is noteworthy, that with increased association with the people and things of the world (and indeed Peter was surrounded by those who would not claim to be the Lord’s), Satan will use such things to openly challenge one’s faith, as he did with Peter.
Further Than He’d Ever Thought—The Third Denial
About an hour passed by from the second to the third denial (Luke 22:59). And again, his faithfulness is challenged, “…Surely you are one of them, for your speech betrays you!” (Matthew 26:73). His Galilean tongue told his accuser that he had been with the Lord. Unfortunately, his tongue had much more to say, as “…he began to curse and swear, saying, ’I do not know the Man!’” (Matthew 26:74). These things, from the one who confidently proclaimed, “Even if I have to die with You…” (Matthew 26:35). What a difference a few hours made. It has been said, “Sin will take you farther than you ever meant to go, will keep you longer than you ever thought you’d stay, and cost you more than you ever dreamed you’d pay.”
Matthew continued, “Immediately a rooster crowed,” (Matthew 26:74). What an awful sound! Luke tells us, “…the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ’Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Luke 22:61). What could he do, as his eyes met the eyes of the One whom he had denied?
The Despondent Disciple
Mark writes, “…when he thought about it, he wept” (Mark 14:72). Both Matthew and Luke tells us that Peter went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62). Doubtless, Peter had fallen into the greatest despair he had ever known.
Let us be careful that we are not following this path away from the Lord. We too might be overconfident in our stand, and may become careless in our walk with the Lord. It may be that being put on the spot, we might follow the example of Peter, if we are not cautious. Let us secure ourselves in Christ, and be ever alert to times when Satan asks for us.
Next week, we will look at the rest of the story!