Grace and Peter in his denial of Jesus

Matthew 26:33-35 – “But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.”

Mark 14:27-31 – “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.”

John 13:37-38 – “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.”

Luke 22:31-34 – ““Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission/obtained by asking, to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

I’d like to share how God’s grace is revealed in this situation with Peter, and as the text shares, all the rest of the disciples. All four gospel accounts recall this situation with great clarity and similarity. Only Luke adds this incredible statement about Satan asking permission to sift Peter like wheat. It reminds me of Job and how Satan asked God permission to attack Job’s family and body. The word demanded actually means to claim back for oneself. There was a fight going on surrounding Peter and the rest of the disciples that I believe Jesus wanted us to know about. In Colossians 1:13-14 Paul shares this insight, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus had not yet died for the sins of Peter or the world, hence, they were all in the domain of darkness in some respects. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but their sins had not yet been fully forgiven. Satan wanted them all for himself.

What I notice in the situation with Peter and the rest, is that they, and especially Peter, were boasting that they would never, ever deny, reject, or abandon Jesus. In fact, in Luke’s account, there was a dispute going on about who was going to be the greatest in God’s kingdom just before Jesus said what He did. They all had a pretty good ego – don’t we all? They all wanted to outdo the others in their faithfulness to Jesus. It’s just pride – plain and simple. But as I meditated on this, I saw that this declaration of human loyalty was nothing less than the law. Let me explain: Romans 7:8-9 states, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind, for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive/revived, and I died…” The purpose of the Law is to make us conscious of our sin and therefore our need for salvation from sin. It was God’s own design. It was not given to justify us before God – it cannot. It was given to drive us to our knees and to show us we need a Savior. If you read the rest of Romans 7 you will read how Paul explains that if you go to the Law for strength, holiness or anything else, it will fail you at every point. We’ve all experienced making some pact to yourself that you will either do this or that from now on, or, you won’t do this or that from now on, etc. Just stating this, even if just to yourself, is the start of a downfall. It’s the law in action and it’s just what Satan desires us to do – fall.

I believe, once Peter made the statement that he’d never fail Jesus, and even die for Him, this is exactly why he fell. Satan can only get us through the law – where there is no law he cannot trip us up. I think the principle of the law was exactly what Jesus meant when He said Satan had asked permission to sift him like wheat. Satan wanted Peter to feel strong, mighty and able to protect Jesus. Satan wanted Peter to feel puffed up and be seen as better than the rest and rely on his own power. And everyone else chimed in too, so it wasn’t just Peter who felt this way. Satan wanted Peter to rely on his own efforts, which is the basis of the law. We’d like to pat ourselves on the back when we do right. This is exactly what we needed Jesus to deliver us from!

The grace I see in this situation, is that Jesus said, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.” Now if Jesus prays for you, it is a prayer that will be answered!  Jesus didn’t pray that Peter wouldn’t deny him, or that Peter wouldn’t sin or lead anyone else into sin, etc. He prayed that “his faith may not fail.” Jesus knew that Satan’s desire is always to mar God’s image before us. The devil wants us to think that God is not for us, but against us. The enemy wants us to walk away from God (especially when we fail) because we think God is not very nice, that God will always punish us and is not fair or otherwise not like we imagine Him to be. When we fail, the enemy wants us to feel guilty and condemned “so that we walk away from God, not towards God.” Satan doesn’t want us to know forgiveness, peace or reconciliation. And if we’re trying to keep the law in order to be justified before God, will won’t have peace, because the law can never justify us before God. Only the redemptive work of Christ on the cross can wash our sins away forever and give us the righteousness of Christ! 

Jesus had prayed for Peter and knew he was afraid and knew he would indeed deny Him openly. But the grace I see here, is that Jesus never said anything to Peter. Luke 22:61 says after Peter denied Jesus, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” We all know Peter actually did deny Jesus three times before morning and after that, “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). Jesus did not put this denial to Peter’s account. Peter’s humanity failed him because he had made a law unto himself that he would not deny Jesus. That is just where we all get tripped up by the enemy. Instead of acknowledging  our weakness, we boast that we will not fail and that is just where we fall. Better to admit we are weak and ask for God’s strength to come in and do what we cannot do.

I believe Peter’s weeping bitterly was also an act of grace. I think he knew from Jesus’ look, that Jesus loved Peter, despite his actions. The Old Covenant, of which Peter grew up under, was all about, “if you do good you will get good, but if you do bad you will certainly get bad.” I’m sure Peter expected punishment or something worse because he denied Jesus. Peter knew he didn’t deserve love in that moment, but in one look I believe Peter saw forgiveness and understanding on the face of Jesus, and not condemnation. His tears were acknowledging the truth and his sorrow admitting Jesus forgave him and still loved him. Peter’s faith right in that moment did not fail, even though it looks that way to us. I believe it was in that moment that Satan was spoiled in his efforts to take Peter back into darkness. It’s when we sin that grace comes in to show us how forgiven we are. Romans 2:4 even says that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to change our minds (repent) about who God is. I think Peter had his very own personal encounter with grace in that moment. Jesus gave a look of forgiveness, not blame or punishment and Peter received it into his heart and that is what enabled him to return.

Jesus spoke life to Peter when He told Peter to strengthen the brothers once he had turned again. Jesus knew Peter would not turn away from Him even though his guilt and shame (produced by Satan) would try to pull him away. When Jesus was resurrected,Mark 16:7 says, “But, go, tell His disciples and Peter…” I believe there was face-to-face reconciliation between Peter and Jesus. Jesus asked Peter to feed and take care of His sheep later on. If Peter’s faith – his belief in God’s goodness, His truth, His salvation (and felt as if he had to pay for his failure himself) – had failed, then Peter might have hung himself like Judas did. Jesus had such confidence in His ability to save Peter (and us), that the enemy’s tactics didn’t phase Him. His grace is stronger, more able, more excellent than any sin we could ever commit!

Colossians 2:14-15 says that on the cross Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities by doing away with the law which was hostile to us. Receive all the forgiveness He died to give you today. Rest in His ability to protect you from the craftiness of the enemy. Don’t make rules in your life you couldn’t possibly keep in your own strength. Only His grace can bring you out of addiction, sin, guilt and shame. Focus on how forgiven you really are and allow His love to win in your life.

 

 

 

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