PeterŐs Fall and Restoration
ŇAnd as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.Ó (Mark 14:66-72)
The verses before us record the painful, but very instructive, story of PeterŐs terrible denial of the Lord Jesus. This sad story is recorded in detail in all four gospel narratives. Yet, neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John make any excuse for or defense of their friend, Peter. They all wrote their histories, not as mere men writing about men, but as instruments of divine inspiration. This story of PeterŐs fall was written by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit for our learning and admonition. May the Spirit of God, who gave us this story four times, now inscribe its lessons upon our hearts by his almighty grace, for ChristŐs sake.
Try to picture the scene and the events which transpired on that cold, bitter night. It was a solemn, solemn night. Our Lord Jesus himself called it, Ňthe judgment (crisis) of this world.Ó The disciples had just observed the last passover meal of the legal dispensation and the first communion service of the gospel age. The Lord Jesus told them plainly of his certain, imminent betrayal and death. Peter, James and John had spent the night with the Son of God in Gethsemane. On that sacred evening, our Savior preached that marvelous sermon that is recorded in John 14, 15 and 16. It was on this night, earlier in the evening, that our Master, our great High Priest, offered that great prayer for us recorded in John 17. The soldiers came, like a mob of lynch men, into the garden to arrest the Lord of glory, led by his own familiar friend, Judas Iscariot. Judas betrayed him with a kiss. And Peter denied the Lord Jesus, denied him again, and denied him a third time, cussing like a sailor.
Why is this record given four times in the New Testament? Surely the Holy Spirit means for us to give it special attention. There at least four reasons why this sad tale is told in such detail by all four gospel writers.
The Word of God does not tell us very much even about the very best of men who lived in Bible times. The histories of GodŐs saints in Scripture are very scanty. Yet, the Word of God very particularly records the faults and falls of the most eminent saints. It seems that the Holy SpiritŐs purpose is to remind us incessantly that Ňall flesh is grass!Ó The best of men are only men at best. And he incessantly reminds us that ŇSalvation is of the Lord!Ó Peter was not the infallible bishop of Rome, as the papists pretend. He was just a frail, fallible, fickle, sinful man. In fact, about the only thing the pope has in common with Peter is his denial of Christ.
PeterŐs fall seems to say to us all, ŇYou, too, are weak. You, too, will fall, if left to yourself. Do not ever trust yourself. Trust Christ entirely. Lean on him incessantly. Do not rely upon your great experiences or the imaginary strength and firmness of your faith. Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. Christ alone can hold you up. Christ alone can keep you.Ó We must ever watch and pray! We must each diligently watch over our own souls and prayerfully seek the LordŐs preserving grace, if we would live for the honor of his name.
I want to live for the honor of Christ. I want to honor and magnify him in my living, as well as in my preaching and writing. I know that you who love him want the same thing. My heart shudders, my soul trembles at the thought of bringing reproach upon the name of him who loved me and gave himself for me. Yet, I know this: — Unless Christ himself preserves me from the evil that is in me, and preserves you from the evil that is in you, we will, most certainly, profane his name.
The Circumstances of PeterŐs Fall
How did such a great man come to commit such a grievous evil? This portion of Holy Scripture is not talking about a lost man, but a saint, a child of God, redeemed by blood, justified in Christ, saved by grace, and sanctified by the Spirit. Peter was a faithful giant among faithful giants. Few before him and few after him could stand shoulder to shoulder with him. He was a man strong in faith, firm in conviction, bold in preaching and unrelenting in his zeal for Christ.
This man was eminent even among the apostles, a leader among leaders, an example among examples. But this man, great as he was, was just a man. Like you and me, he was a man whose heart, by nature, was full of sin, whose flesh was weak. On that dark, dark night in the High PriestŐs palace, this manŐs evil heart broke out in a horrible display of ungodliness, in an act as evil and vile as any in human history. The godly apostle Peter blasphemously denied the Son of God with foul oaths!
How can we account for this thing? As we look at the circumstances of PeterŐs fall, I remind you, there were no extenuating circumstances to excuse or even mitigate his guilt. Indeed, everything recorded in the inspired gospel records aggravates his offense. PeterŐs fall was very strange because he was one of the Lord JesusŐ most highly favored and most highly honored disciples. — The greater our privileges and the higher our honors, the greater our responsibilities are and the more horrible our offenses.
The Lord had done so much for Peter. He was one of the very first to whom the Son of God made himself known while he was in the world, one of the first to be saved by the power of his Word (John 1:40-42). Peter was in the inner circle of the MasterŐs most intimate friends. He seems to have been the chief spokesman for the early church.
PeterŐs fall is especially sad, because he was plainly and faithfully warned of his great danger (Luke 22:31-34). Our Lord Jesus told Peter in the plainest language possible exactly what was going to happen to him. He even gave him the details. Peter was told of the danger to which he was about to be exposed. Satan desired to have him. His faith would be fiercely attacked. Therefore, he must watch and pray that he enter not into temptation. But Peter walked headlong into danger. He rejected the light God had given him. He ignored the revelation of GodŐs Word.
PeterŐs guilt is aggravated by the fact that it came so soon after he had confidently declared his loyalty to Christ (Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:33). Just a few short hours after proudly and confidently boasting of his love for Christ, Peter cussed and denied him three times. How fickle we are!
PeterŐs fall did not come at once, but by degrees. He followed the Lord afar off. Then, he sat in the seat of scorners, seeking the comfort and warmth their fire provided. Next, he denied the Lord Jesus by degrees. At first, he pretended not to understand the maidenŐs words. Then, he denied that he knew the man. He denied his own confession of faith and, by implication if not outright, denied the SaviorŐs divinity (Compare Matthew 16:18 and John 6:69). At last, he took the profane language of base, ungodly men to prove that he was no follower of the holy Lamb of God. There are many, many ways by which men and women deny the Lord Jesus Christ; but usually the falls of GodŐs saints are not sudden. Normally, great falls are preceded by much smaller inconsistencies.
It takes very little to make a great saint fall into great sin, if God leaves him to himself. PeterŐs trial was nothing but the word of a weak young woman, who said, ŇThou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.Ó
Here is another very great aggravation of PeterŐs sin: — All this was done very close to the place where his Lord and Master was at that time suffering for him, bearing his reproach! The Lord Jesus Christ was standing right in front of Peter, hearing every word!
What was the reason for PeterŐs fall? How can we account for this? How did this man, so great, so unique in so many ways, come to commit such a horrible offense? Peter was far too proud of himself, far too confident of his own strength. He was overcome by the fear of man; in this case, by the fear of a woman who had no obvious power against him. He neglected watchfulness over his own heart and soul (Proverbs 4:23). I suspect that, like mother Eve, Peter had begun to doubt the SaviorŐs word.
The Means of PeterŐs Recovery
Peter fell; but he didnŐt perish. His faith weakened; but it did not die. He sinned; but he was not cast off or forsaken. He denied the Lord; but the Lord did not deny him. Peter belonged to Christ; and Christ can never lose one of his own. The good Shepherd can never lose one of his sheep. Peter fell; but Christ graciously raised him up. The righteous fall seven times a day; but the Lord raises them up (Proverbs 24:16). How did the Lord Jesus restore his fallen servant? I see four things the Lord used to restore his fallen child.
First, he used a work of providence. — ŇThe cock crew!Ó God has many ways of reaching a manŐs conscience. He can make asses speak as easily as prophets and roosters to crow on cue.
Second, he used a work of grace. — ŇThe Lord turned and looked on PeterÓ (Luke 22:61). What a look that must have been! The Lord Jesus turned to Peter. Peter did not turn to the Lord. He looked upon Peter, not in anger and disgust, but in mercy, love and grace! That look was a look of tenderness, compassion and faithfulness. With that look, the Lord spoke silently, but effectually, to the heart of his fallen son. He seems to have said, ŇI have loved thee with an everlasting love. — Ye have not chosen me; but I have chosen you. — I gave unto you eternal life; and you shall never perish. — I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. — I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions. — Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. — In me thy righteousness is found. — I am thy strength. — I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. — Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. — Return unto me, return unto me; and I will pardon. — Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.Ó
Third, he used a work of the word. —- ŇPeter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto himÓ (v. 72). At the appointed time, the Word of God graciously and effectually brought Peter to repentance.
Fourth, Peter was restored by a work of our blessed Advocate, the Lord Jesus, who told him even before his fall, ŇI have prayed for theeÓ (Luke 22:32). As a great High Priest and Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ prayed for PeterŐs preservation in faith and restoration by grace, even before he fell! That same great High Priest is our Advocate on high. He intercedes for us now, and has interceded for us from eternity (1 John 2:1-2).
These thoughts thrill my heart and flood my soul with joy! The Lord Jesus Christ is full of tenderness and mercy. His faithfulness is great. And his compassions never fail. He who is our God and Savior is a faithful, unfailingly faithful God and Savior!
If you are a believer, if truly you trust Christ alone as your Lord and Savior, nothing shall ever separate you from him, not even your sins (Romans 4:8). Nothing can separate us from his mercy, love and grace. Nothing can separate us from his tender care and saving power (Romans 8:35-39).
The Signs of PeterŐs Restoration
The LordŐs works for and upon Peter were effectual. They accomplished their intended design. And Peter was graciously restored by the very Savior he so vehemently denied.
His trial and fall were not accidents. Satan ran GodŐs child through his rough sifter; but he lost nothing in the process, but chaff. Peter came out of this thing a much better man than he was before (Acts 2 and 4). Even this tragic affair was under the control of GodŐs sovereign providence and according to his purpose of grace.
Let us ever remember that the devil is GodŐs devil. That fiend of hell is the unwilling, unwitting vassal of the Almighty (Isaiah 14:12-27). The dragon of hell is as much included in all things working together for good to GodŐs elect as the angels of light (Romans 8:28).
Immediately after the Lord looked upon him, Peter went out of the place (Luke 22:62). Once fire was restored in his soul, he no longer needed the warmth of that fire which the LordŐs enemies had kindled. He immediately forsook those who had turned his heart from his Lord.
As he left the high priestŐs house, Peter wept bitterly (v. 72; Luke 22:62). Convulsive weeping overcame him. He couldnŐt stand himself. His very heart was crushed within him. Oh, blessed is that man whose heart is broken before God. Christ Jesus heals the broken-hearted! ŇThe sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise!Ó Do you know anything about repentance?
The Lessons for Us Today
What are we to learn from this tragic event in PeterŐs life? How can we benefit from it? What lessons are taught by this manŐs fall and restoration? Certainly, these things are recorded by the Spirit of God to teach us something about ourselves. We must never be presumptuous about ourselves. We are all very much like Peter in his weakness. We are all fickle, sinful wretches by nature. There is no evil in this world of which we are not capable (1 Corinthians 10:12; 4:7). May God the Holy Spirit teach us and give us grace never to be severe with our erring brethren.
PeterŐs fall and restoration is an emphatic declaration that ŇSalvation is of the Lord.Ó It is altogether the work of GodŐs free grace in Christ. It is unconditional, immutable and indestructible! What blessed security our souls have in Christ! Nothing can ever sever us from our Savior! ŇOnce in Christ, in Christ forever!Ó O how great is the faithfulness of our great God and Savior! — ŇHe abideth faithful!Ó — ŇFaithful is he that calleth you!Ó — ŇGreat is thy faithfulness!Ó
ŇHe will never, never leave us,
Nor will let us quite leave Him.Ó
ŇKeep yourselves in the love of God.Ó Trust Christ alone. Live always at the cross. Cling to your crucified Savior tenaciously. As often as you fall, return to him. He will receive you. He will forgive you. He will be gracious to you. He will forget the wrong you have done!
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