Peter’s Fall and Restoration
“Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69-75)
Here is a picture of God’s servant Peter which is both humbling and instructive. The fall of Peter is set before us as a beacon. It has many warnings and many lessons for us. Any careful reader of God’s Word cannot fail to notice that Peter’s fall is recorded at considerable length by all four of the gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were inspired to write out the details of this sad event. Yet, not one of them offers a word of excuse or explanation in defense of their friend and brother. This is one of those things which indirectly demonstrates the truthfulness of Holy Scripture. If the Bible were nothing but the compositions of men, it would never have been written that the great apostle to the Jews was so weak and sinful that he shamefully denied his Lord and Master.
This story of Peter’s 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 Christ’s sake.
The Solemn Night
Try to picture that cold, bitter night, if you can. It was a most solemn occasion. The disciples had just eaten the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus had told his disciples plainly of his betrayal by Judas, his death as their Substitute, and the fact that all of them would forsake him. On this evening our Lord preached the message that is recorded in John 14 through 16. On this evening his disciples heard him offer up that great prayer of intercession as our Great High Priest that is recorded in John 17. Peter, James, and John had spent the evening with the Son of God in the Garden of Gethsemane. The soldiers came to arrest the Master. Judas betrayed the Son of God with a kiss. Peter risked his life to defend his Lord. Then, Peter denied him three times.
Why do you suppose that this record is given four times? Why were each of the evangelists inspired to tell the same sad story in such detail? Surely the Holy Spirit means for us to give it special attention. Here are four things that appear to me to be obvious reasons why so much attention is given to Peter’s fall.
The Word of God does not tell us much even about the best of those men who lived in Bible times. The history of God’s saints is scanty. Yet, the Bible very particularly and meticulously records the faults of God’s elect. It seems that the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to remind us that the very best of men are only men at best. Peter was not the infallible bishop of Rome, as the papist pretend. He was a frail, fickle, fallible, sinful man. The only thing the pope has in common with Peter is his denial of Christ.
Peter’s fall seems to say to each of us: “You, too, are weak. You, too, will fall if left to yourself. Do not 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.” As we care for our souls and the honor of our God, let us never cease to be prayerfully watchful over our souls, ever seeking grace from God to keep us from the evil that is in us.
All who know God’s saving grace in Christ want to magnify and honor their Lord in this world. We want to live for the honor and glory of Christ. Our hearts shudder and tremble at the thought of bringing reproach upon the name of our blessed Redeemer. Yet, we know that unless the Lord himself preserves us, we will surely profane his name.
Soberly think about the circumstances of Peter’s fall. We are not considering the fall of a lost hypocrite or an apostate. Peter was not a lost man, but a saved man, even when he fell. Not only was he a saved man, he was an apostle of Christ, a gospel preacher, a man who truly loved the Lord Jesus. Peter was a true believer, a child of grace, pardoned and accepted in Christ. He was a man of strong faith, firm conviction, and unrelenting zeal. But he was a man, just like you and me, a man whose heart was by nature full of sin. On this particular night the evil of his heart broke out in an unrestrained, blasphemous denial of Christ, a denial that was accompanied with foul oaths.
As we consider the circumstances of Peter’s great fall, you will notice that there were no extenuating circumstances to excuse his guilt. In fact, there appears to have been no reason for it at all. Everything recorded about it only aggravates Peter’s guilt in the matter.
Peter’s fall seems very strange because he was one of the Lord’s most highly favored and highly honored disciples. We would have expected this from any of the disciples before we would have expected it from Peter. The Lord had done so much for Peter. Peter was one of the very first men to whom the Lord Jesus revealed himself in this world, one of the first to be saved by the power of his grace (John 1:40-42) He was in the inner circle of the Master’s friends. He appears to have been the chief spokesman for the early church.
Let all who are highly honored of God in this world be warned. The greater our privileges and the higher our honors, the greater our responsibilities are and the more horrible our offenses.
Peter’s fall is especially sad because he had been plainly and faithfully warned of his great danger. The Savior told Peter exactly what was going to happen to him in the plainest terms possible. He knew the danger to which he was exposing himself when he walked into the high priest’s palace (Matt. 26:31; Luke 22:31-34). Satan desired to have him. His faith would be fiercely attacked. He must watch and pray that he enter not into temptation. But Peter walked headlong into his sin, rejecting the light and counsel God had given him. He ignored the light of God’s revelation
Peter’s guilt is aggravated by the fact that it came so soon after he had confidently declared his loyalty and faithfulness to Christ, at least implying that he was confident that he was more loyal and dependable than any of his brethren. “Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended…Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples” (vv. 33-35). Just an hour or two after making this bold and arrogant profession of love and commitment to Christ, Peter cussed and denied that he even knew him!
The Apostle’s fall did not come at once, but by degrees. Great, life-threatening sicknesses seldom come upon men without warning. Usually there are symptoms to warn us that something is wrong. Even so, believers seldom experience sudden falls into grave sin. Usually there are symptoms that something is wrong. The problem is that we ignore the symptoms. J. C. Ryle wrote…
“The Church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion; believers are discouraged and stunned; the enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme: but if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private long before they fall in public.” J. C. Ryle
Notice that the Holy Spirit records a specific series of steps by which this man of great, remarkable faith descended into such a low condition. He was far too confident and proud (vv. 31-33). The Lord told him to watch and pray. Instead, he slept! He followed the Lord afar off (v. 58). He chose to sit with scorners (v. 58; Luke 22:55; John 18:18). He denied his Master by degrees (Mark 14:68-71). At first, he pretended not to understand the maiden’s words. Then, he denied that he knew the man (a denial of his own confession Matt. 16:18; John 6:69). At last, he took up the oaths of a profane man, cussing as he denied his Redeemer, as if to prove his point by foulness.
There are many, many ways by which men and women deny the Lord Jesus Christ; but usually the falls of God’s saints are not sudden. Normally, great falls are preceded by much smaller inconsistencies. And it takes very little to make a great saint fall into great sin, if God leaves him to himself. Peter’s trial was nothing but the word of a weak young woman, who said, “Thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.”
Here is another aggravation of Peter’s terrible sin: All of this was done very close to the place where his Lord and Master was at that very time suffering for him! The Lord Jesus was standing right before Peter’s eyes, hearing every word!
How can we account for all of this? How did such a great man come to commit such a grievous evil? I remind you, Peter was not 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 in the tenor of his life 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. How did this man, so great, so unique in so many ways come to commit such a horrible offense? 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. 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 (Pro. 4:23). And, I suspect that, like mother Eve, Peter had begun to doubt the Savior’s word.
Peter fell; but he did not 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.
It is written in the Scriptures, “The righteous falleth seven times a day; but the Lord raiseth him up.” Peter belonged to Christ. He was one of those sheep to whom the Son of God gave eternal life and promised, “They shall never perish.” Therefore, Peter was graciously preserved and restored by the hand of God. How did the Lord God restore his fallen child? Here are four things by which God graciously restored Peter. These are the very same things he uses to restore his fallen ones today.
First, the Savior performed a special work of providence to preserve his fallen. “And immediately the cock crew” (v. 74). The Lord God has many ways to reach the hearts of his chosen. There are many roosters he can cause to crow to awaken his erring children. Psalm 107 describes many of them.
Second, there was a work of grace. Providence is made effectual only by the Lord’s work of grace in and upon the heart. “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter” (Luke 22:61). What a look that must have been! The Lord turned to Peter. Peter did not turn to the Lord. And he looked upon Peter, not in anger, disgust, and wrath, but in mercy, love, and grace! That look reflected all the tenderness, compassion, and faithfulness of Christ toward his fallen, sinful children. With that look, the Lord Jesus spoke silently, but effectually, to Peter’s heart. He seems to have said, “Peter, I have loved you with an everlasting love. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. I have given to you eternal life; and you shall never perish. I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions. In me is thy righteousness found. I am thy strength. Return, return unto me and I will pardon. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Third, the Word of the Lord performed its work in Peter. “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus” (v. 75). If we do not remember the Word that has been preached unto us, all is lost (1 Cor. 15:2). We cannot escape the wrath of God if we let the gospel slip through our ears without effect (Heb. 2:1-3). Yet, we are sure to do so, unless God the Holy Spirit be our Remembrancer. It was the Word of God, graciously and effectually brought home to Peter’s heart, that worked repentance in him.
We must never presume that the Word of God has no effect because it has no immediate effect upon the hearts of those who hear it (Isa. 55:11; Ecc. 11:1). Peter was not immediately restored by the Word he had heard, even when he was made to remember it. But he was restored. The Word of God never returns to him void.
Fourth, Luke tells us of the Savior’s work as Peter’s Advocate and Intercessor. “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32). As a great High Priest and Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ prayed for Peter’s 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, gratitude, and praise. The Lord Jesus Christ is full of tenderness and mercy. His compassions fail not. They are new every morning! Jesus Christ is a faithful Savior! If you are a true believer, you may be assured of this fact: Your sins will never separate you from your Savior! You never shall, for any reason or by any means, be separated from his love, banished from his presence, put outside his favor, lose his mercy, cease to be the object of his care, or fail to be kept by his saving power!
The Lord’s work for Peter and upon Peter was effectual. It accomplished its design. Peter’s heart was restored. Satan had run him through his sieve, but Peter lost nothing in the process but chaff. Thus Satan himself was used as an instrument of good for Peter.
Peter’s trial and his fall were not accidents. Satan ran God’s child through his rough sifter; but Peter lost. He came out of this thing a much better man than he was before, as is clearly displayed in Acts chapters 2 and 4. Even this tragic affair was under the control of God’s sovereign providence and according to his purpose of grace. The devil is God’s devil. That fiend of hell is the unwilling, unwitting vassal of the Almighty (Isa. 14:12-27). The dragon of hell is as much included in all things working together for good to God’s elect as the angels of light (Rom. 8:28).
“Peter went out.” Once the fire was restored in his soul, he no longer wanted or needed the fire, which the Lord’s enemies had kindled. He immediately forsook those who had turned his heart from his Lord.
As he went out of the place, Peter “wept bitterly.” Sin is no light thing to the regenerate soul. Convulsive weeping came upon Peter when he realized what he had done. He could not stand himself. His heart was crushed within him (Ps. 51:17; 1 John 1:9).
Then, at the time appointed, the Lord Jesus came to Peter, to convince Peter that his love for him was real (John 21:15-17; 1 John 4:19).
Obviously, there are some lessons in this sad piece of history that we need to learn, lessons we ought to ask God the Holy Spirit to graciously apply to our hearts. Remembering Peter’s fall, let us learn something about ourselves. We are all too much like Peter. We are fickle, sinful wretches by nature. There is no evil in the world of which you and I are not capable. Let us not be presumptuous, proud, and self-confident; but watch and pray (1 Cor. 4:7; 10:12). Knowing that we are such sinful creatures ourselves, we should never be severe with our erring, fallen brethren.
Here we are again reminded that, “Salvation is of the Lord.” From start to finish, salvation is by the grace of God alone. Our only standing, our only acceptance, our only righteousness is Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. God’s grace is free and immutable. It is effectual and indestructible. Bless his name, God’s grace is sufficient! What blessed security our souls have in Christ! Nothing can ever severe us from our Savior. “Once in Christ, in Christ forever!” All who are saved by grace are kept infallibly secure in Christ. All who are in Christ are as secure as the very throne of God (John 10:26-30).
We are secure because God our Savior is faithful (2 Tim. 2:13-14). His grace is sure (Mark 16:7). The Lord Jesus Christ will not leave his own; and he will not let his own leave him (Jer. 32:38-40). “He abideth faithful!” Even in the teeth of our most horrible sins against him, the Son of God urges us to confidently trust him. It was in anticipation of this very fall that the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Let not your heart be troubled: Ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 13:38-14:3).
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Cling to Christ always. As often as you fall, return quickly to your Savior. He will receive you. He has forgiven you. He will be gracious to you. He will forget your fall.