Peter’s denial of Jesus is an epic failure, but it’s not the last word on him.
JANUARY 30, 2024
Peter’s denial of Jesus is an epic failure, but it’s not the last word on him. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.
If you’ve suffered too long under a do more, try harder religion, Key Life is here to proclaim that Jesus sets the captives free. Steve invited Justin Holcomb to teach us this week. Justin is a priest, a seminary professor, and the author of God With Us: 365 Devotions on the Person and Work of Christ.
Thank you Matthew. My name is Justin Holcomb, and I have the joy of teaching this week, and this week we’re looking at the apostle Peter, who is one of the inner circle disciples. He’s also the impulsive one who regularly does things that we would have done if we were in his shoes. And we’re looking at different ways that he has reflected our humanity and how we relate to God and how God responds to him, particularly how Jesus, who is the God man responds to him. And we will be looking at something for which he is well known, which is his epic failure of denying knowing Jesus. We’re going to look at Mark 14: verses 26 through 31, which is right after the Passover where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, that’s the setting of this. Let’s read.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away.”
Good grief. I mean, he’s just coming out hot. This is depressing if you’re his disciple.
“You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” and Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
That’s why this is such an epic failure. This is the failure for which he is famous. But it’s not the last word on Peter. We know that, but we need to explore the darkness of what Peter did and experienced. His failure is very important because it’s the backdrop of the beauty of the good news Jesus gives him. Our text comes right after the Lord’s Supper, this great moment of intimacy and significance. And Jesus starts talking about his impending death and institutes the Lord’s Supper. They eat, drink, talk, laugh, sing a hymn, and then Jesus says.
You will all fall away, but I will rise and I will go ahead of you to Galilee.
This is actually remarkable. He doesn’t exhort them to faithfulness. He doesn’t give them advice on how not to fall away. He actually just simply states the truth about their failure, and then he states the truth about his faithfulness to them, despite them, and he actually gives them grace before they fall away. That’s because his focus is not on them or us, or our faithfulness or our failure or theirs, but it’s on what he is doing. The focus is on his dying and rising again. They’ll, their failure doesn’t change his mind about them. As a matter of fact, he plans a reunion with them, and it’s not a generic, like, Oh, we’ll see each other. He actually is really specific. I will see you in Galilee. You’re going to fail, I’m not going to fail, and I’ll see you again in Galilee. So, what does Peter do with this grace? Even if others fail you, I will not. He’s doubling down. There’s a little bit of bravado here. And he makes a promise of his faithfulness. Peter nearly goes crazy at this point, claiming that even if I have to die, I won’t disown you. And then he causes a riot of self righteousness of the disciples as they all chime in and, which is frequently how I sometimes feel with my self righteousness, you know, leaning on my resume instead of the promise God has given me. But Peter’s words were just bravado. Jesus is arrested and beaten, and Peter’s watching things unfold in the courtyard. A servant girl connects him to Jesus, and his only way out is to place himself under an oath and swear he does not know Jesus. Now, remember at this time, Jesus was under an oath before the authorities, and he spoke the truth about who he was. That’s why he was getting beaten. Peter puts himself under an oath and lies about who he is. And this is a picture of the mercy of a substitute. Jesus’ face is mocked, beaten, spit upon. And Peter covers his face in shame because of what he’s done. The Bible says that at this moment, after the rooster crows, Peter quote, broke down and wept. The word for broke down is the strongest word possible in the Greek. Then he was unhinged. He lost it. He heaved in sorrow. Peter literally went out and threw himself on the ground in agony. It’s darkness. It’s despair. It’s depression. It is fear that he actually did the very thing that he was afraid of the most. And let’s be honest, we’ve all found ourselves in that situation. We’ve sinned, repented, promised to obey, and then we do it again. And then we wonder, will I ever change? It could be your lust, your gluttony, your greed, your sloth, your wrath, your envy, your pride, your fill in the blank. This experience of Peter captures us at a visceral level because it describes the reality of our faithlessness. And the bravado we sometimes have, that moment where we think, I think I finally got this figured out. I might even say this one out loud in front of the other disciples to Jesus. He, I finally figured out who he is, and I love him, and he loves me, and I want to be there for him. But we need a God who intervenes, who can carve out through the darkness when we finally fail and become unhinged because of our failure. And so, what does Jesus do? How does Jesus respond to Peter’s failure? It’s not in the passage we just read. It’s actually my favorite passage in the entire Bible, it’s Mark 16:7. And it’s on the resurrection morning when Jesus met the women at the tomb. The message is, go and tell the disciples and Peter that I go before them and will meet them in Galilee. And he’s not saying Peter’s no longer a disciple, it’s not go tell the disciples and Peter, because he’s not a disciple anymore. It is, if anyone really needs to hear this, it’s Peter. Go tell the disciples and especially, please tell Peter, I’ve risen, and I’m going before them like I promised I would, and I’ll see them in Galilee. So, basically, the message is that God is repeating the same promise that was given to them before the denial, before the disowning. You’re going to do this, and I’m going to rise, and I’ll meet you in Galilee. He’s repeating the promise that was already given. This is a glimpse into the heart of God. All disciples need to hear the good news, but especially Peter after his epic failure. And this is the opposite of what we expect in this world. We study, we get A’s. If you work hard, you get promoted. If you exercise, you live longer. If you practice, you win. If you obey, you get rewarded. But not with Jesus, because Jesus is a karma buzzkill, because it’s the failures who get the special attention. In this moment, Jesus is fulfilling all the things he said. I’ve come to seek and save the lost. It’s not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners. Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, whatever’s been done to you, He died for your sins and pain and suffering. He’s risen to bring life and hope and peace and love and grace. It’s cause the Father poured out His wrath on Jesus, poured out all of the no on Him, so there’s only yes for you. And Jesus doesn’t get there and give them an, I told you so, or anything else, doesn’t even say, remember how I told you you’re going to fail me. He just says, here’s the word of promise again. I gave you a promise before you failed. Now you failed, you need to hear the word of promise again. Look for the word of promise in Scriptures, go and tell the disciples, but especially tell Peter because he really needs this news. I can imagine Peter singing Psalm 30: verse 11.
You have turned my sobbing into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
And that’s what the gospel does. Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, whatever’s been done to you, he died for your sins, pain and suffering. He has risen to bring you life and hope and love and peace. Go and tell the disciples and Peter, you need to know that at Peter’s most epic failure in his life, Jesus’ response was to highlight him for the recipient of his promise and grace. It wasn’t because Peter said, I learned my lesson. And Jesus said, good, now I can give you my grace. It was in the middle with, he had no help in him to help himself. He was helpless. He failed at his promise, and Jesus didn’t even ask him to make a promise. He signed up for that one himself. The law says, you’ve not continued in all that I require of you, and therefore you are cursed. But the gospel says, Christ has redeemed you from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for you. The law says, you are a sinner and therefore you should be damned. But the gospel says, Jesus came into the world not to condemn sinners, but to save them. Whoever believes in him is not condemned. The law, because it’s true, says if you disown God before others He’ll disown you before the Father, but the gospel says, Jesus has risen, go tell the disciples, but especially tell Peter. Jesus is the friend and defender of sinners, that puts all of us right in the line of his vision. He’s not looking for excuses to exclude you. Our weaknesses and failures bring out the grace and love of Jesus. And if this is true, the most important thing we can do is be honest about our dependence on God’s mercy. This is why Romans 2:4 says.
God’s kindness leads to repentance.
We have, we always receive mercy, and that’s because God is the God whose property is always to have mercy. Receive this benediction.
Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to his great mercy. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
I Peter 1:3 through 5.
Thank you Justin. This week we are taking a break from our journey through the Book of Proverbs to explore the life of Peter, one of my favorite folks from the Bible and guiding us is our good friend Justin Holcomb. And hey, we have even more to discover tomorrow. So, do join us. Would you agree life is pretty much always stressful and distracting? Now, add to that the pressures of, I don’t know, trying to start new habits or maybe stop old habits. It’s a lot. Is there a cure? Well, Adam Ramsey thinks so. We recently spoke with him on Steve Brown Etc, and he shared some powerful insights on making peace with our limitations as humans. Get your copy of that show on CD for free by calling us right now at 1-800-KEY-LIFE that’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD. If you’d like to mail your request, go to keylife.org/contact to find our mailing addresses for the U.S. and Canada. Again, just ask for your free copy of the CD featuring Adam Ramsey. Last thing, if you value the work of Key Life, would you join us in that work through your financial support? You could charge a gift on your credit card or include a gift in your envelope. Or pick up your phone and text Key Life to 28950 that’s Key Life, one word or two, it doesn’t matter. Just text that to 28950 then follow the instructions. Key Life is a member of ECFA in the States and CCCC in Canada. And we are a listener supported production of Key Life Network.