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Peter’s Denial And Restoration

Category Articles
Date September 13, 2005

Peter’s denial in the courtyard is the most infamous incident in his life. What could have prevented it? The answer to that question is very simple. If Peter had heeded the words of Jesus he would not have fallen. If Peter had prayed, and if he had watched he would not have denied his Lord with oaths. Very often we get ourselves into all sorts of spiritual tangles and morasses and you would think that somehow it was all a mystery. We have lost our assurance and we don’t know why. We have lost our zeal, and vigour, and constancy, and faith, and hope, and vision. We have family and marital difficulties; we are not what once we were. All the burdens of following Christ now seem unsupportable; all our sufferings seem so unbearable, and temptation simply runs away with us. We are being driven by the winds of the world further from God. People going through an experience like this consider it a mystery, and at times it is exceedingly perplexing, but in how many instances is it directly attributable to the neglect of these exhortations, “Do God’s word! Watch! Pray!†The exhortations are so simple and understandable, and yet those directives go unheeded.

i] Obey.

That’s a bit obvious? But that’s one reason why we need to attend to it. Hearing good preaching is not the issue in this town. It may be the issue elsewhere. Understanding what we are hearing is not the issue. It may be elsewhere but not here. Doing is the problem. Hearing the warnings, and knowing what course of action to take is not as important as doing what God says. Our Lord never asked his hearers, “Do you agree with me?†or “Does this sound reasonable to most of you?†or “Get my drift?†Jesus wanted more than mere agreement. Most of the time they called Jesus “Teacher,†but God’s great prophet is doing more than telling Peter what would happen. What Jesus was after was discipleship. Scripture doesn’t just want to be understood. It longs to be put into action, and so maybe that’s why we prefer to step back, ponder, think, consider, and reflect, while the Bible longs for us to get moving, get into the act, perform the text rather than just speak or hear it.

You ask people what they look for in a good sermon. “I like a sermon which helps me to think about things in a new way,†is a predominate response. “I like a sermon which engages my mind, which spurs my thinking and reflection.†We deceive ourselves into thinking that we have ‘done the faith’ when we have merely listened, reflected, pondered, agreed. In my experience what we profess is not as important as what we are enabled to perform. Beliefs must be embodied, enacted in order to be real. Sometimes I have heard people say of church on Sunday morning, “I think of church as a petrol station. I come here empty, and during the service I get filled so I can make it through he week.†See? It is passive and receptive, not active. It makes church into a place where we come, sit back and say, “OK preacher, do it to me, fill me up.†No. The test for true worship, the mark of a good church is not what we do here during this hour of worship; it’s what we do outside those doors for the rest of the week. Yet here, as elsewhere, after all is said and done, more is being said than being done. So the sermon ends. The test for the sermon, the mark of whether or not this was a “good†sermon, a “good†service of worship, is about to come upon us. The issue is now before us, now for the final question: what will we do with that which we’ve said, sung, and heard? “Pastor, that was a wonderful sermon,†said the parishioner at the door after the service. “That remains to be seen,†said the preacher.

ii] Pray.

Our Lord sets the church an example. As the peril draws nearer he goes to God for strength in order that the will of God might be done through him. The disciples, much weaker, but more confident, they do not pray. Peter did not pray. When the temptation comes they simply cannot stand and they are driven along as chaff before the wind. Now is it unthinkable to you that there are Christians who do not pray? Is it unthinkable to you that there are ministers who don’t pray? I would think many Christians would say that yes it is unthinkable. Yet here is Peter, and he falls spectacularly, and you ask why he falls and the answer is because he did not do what the Lord said and he did not pray. There are no mysteries to Peter’s fall. There is no need for a complex psychological analysis. The whole problem began there. He did not go in weakness to the throne and ask for grace to help in time of need. He thought he could cope by himself, and out of that there came his fall. How often can we trace our spiritual lapses and calamities to the same particular failing and personal omission.

Never, never trust your own judgment in anything. When common sense says that a course is right, lift your heart to God, for the path of faith and the path of blessing may be in a direction completely opposite to that which you call common sense. When voices tell you that action is urgent, that something must be done immediately, refer everything to the tribunal of heaven. Then if you are still in doubt, dare to stand still. If you are called on to act and you have not time to pray, don’t act. If you are called on to move in a certain direction and cannot wait until you have peace with God about it, don’t move. Be strong enough and brave enough to dare to stand and wait on God, for none of them that wait on him shall ever be ashamed. That is the only way to resist temptation. It seems to take us a long time to learn the lesson that neglect of prayer always leads to trouble, and destroys the spirit of discernment. Neglect of prayer always suggests pride in our own judgment, which is fatal.

iii] Watch.

The Lord speaks to Peter; the Lord tells Peter to pray; the Lord also tells Peter to watch. How do you watch? In the Garden it was for the advance of the enemy that might come upon our Lord while he was unprepared. Watch so that others might not be distracted from their duties. Peter had to watch by keeping an eye on himself. No man backslides from closeness to God into the abyss of profane denial at a moment. There is a process, and if you keep an eye on yourself then you can see the onset and progress of the process. Watch, lest you’re growing in self-confidence and not doing what the Lord is telling you. Watch, lest you are omitting prayer. Watch for every indication of declension. Watch for the first risings of backslidings and deal with them; nip them in the very bud. Watch!

Watch not only yourself but for the onset of temptation. Peter ought to have known at once that he was in danger. He was alone, in the company of the world, and a very hostile segment of the world at that. He ought to have seen the lights flashing and known that he was at risk. Peter was under pressure and so he ought to have been especially watchful. Have we the mentality that in any particular situation we are intent upon that? I find prayer unanswered, and the lights start flashing. I find myself suffering and lonely, and I see the lights flashing. I find myself in the company of the world on some occasion with hardly another Christina in the whole gathering and I want to be well thought of. I want to give the impression that I’m really not such a religious killjoy as people imagine — do I see again the lights flashing? I find myself alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex. Do I see the lights flashing. I find the in-group in school are beginning to tease and torment me about religion. Do I keep smiling and giving gentle answers? Do I see the lights flashing because I am watching. I am crying out to the Lord for preservation and deliverance and meekness and patience and wisdom.

Peter denied his Lord because Satan had him, he was afraid of men and he was full of self-confidence. Peter could have overcome the temptation if he had done what the Lord had told him, and if he had prayed and watched. One more thing; let us say something about Peter’s restoration.


Peter “broke down and wept†(v.72). The restoration of Peter is that of a deeply humbled and repentant man. Spiritual experience is intense. Peter broke down and wept. And this short sentence for ever settles the question of emotion in religion. When the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and memory crushed into one vivid moment the guilt of those never-to-be-forgotten hours in the darkness by the fireside, what else could Peter do other than weep bitterly? Let memory so work on any of our lives today, and our past come before us, and is the word “bitterly†too strong to express the agony of God’s discovery of our own sins? Peter had much need to weep bitterly; and if there are no bitter tears in our religious life, it is not because we have less of Peter’s sin, but little of Peter’s grace.

It is vain to console ourselves by measuring, as we try to do, the small size of the slips we make as compared with his. There is such a thing in the world as a great sin, but there is no such thing as a small sin. The smallest sin is a fall, and a fall is a fall from God, and to fall from God is to fall the greatest height in the universe. The publicity of a sin has nothing to do with its size. Our fall last week, or yesterday, or to-day, was just as great, perhaps, as Peter’s fall, or David’s, or Noah’s, or Jacob’s, or the many private sins which history has made public examples, or the Bible has placed as beacons to all the race.

Every sin that was ever done demands a bitter penitence. And if there is little emotion in a man’s religion, it is because there is little self-examination. Religion without emotion is religion without reflection. Let a man sit calmly down to think about his life. Let him think how God has dealt with him since ever he lisped God’s name. Let him add to that how he has dealt with God since ever he could sin. And as he turns over the secrets of his past, and forgotten sins come crowding one by one into his thoughts, can he help a strong emotion rising in his heart, and shedding itself in tears? Yes; religion without emotion is religion without reflection.

How did the Lord graciously reinstate this apostle? That he does so is a marvel of grace that a man who ignored the warnings and failed to watch and pray, who denied his Lord with such vehemence, should be restored and reemployed with a new commission. We all know the question that Jesus raised with Peter. “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?†It was not, “Peter, did you know what you did? Peter, are you sorry for what you did? Peter, are there more tears you can squeeze out of that stony heart of yours? Peter, do you know how much you’ve hurt me after I’d been so good to you? Peter, will you promise you’ll never deny me again?†No, it was none of those questions because any one of them would have plunged fragile Peter into another bout of bitter weeping. Who knows if we have repented enough, wept enough, have enough faith never to fall into that sin again?

It is one question that Peter is asked and it comes from an extraordinary sympathetic High Priest. “Peter, I have taken you through the deepest waters you will ever pass through. You have seen me nailed to a cross until I was dead. Peter do you love me? In spite of all I have asked you to endure do you still love me?†Our Lord is concerned about Peter loving him. He is not concerned at all about his love for Peter. He loves Peter with an unchangeable fervour and will love him like that to the end. “Do you love me, Peter, after all the darkness of the past days?â€Â

It is the most important question to end an estrangement and obtain reconciliation. Think of a Christian woman who had developed an infatuation for a man in work and had a brief affair with him, but who now is overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. Her husband has discovered all this and she is driving home, fearful and anguished to see him. She has prepared a speech of apology to make to him. She gets out of the car, breathes heavily and lets herself into the house. He is there sitting in a chair in the main room alone and she goes up to him and attempts to stutter out her words of remorse, but he cuts her short, “Mary, do you love me more than him?†he asks. “O yes, Jim,†she says, “you know that I love you.†“Go and feed the kids they are ready for supper.†She begins again to speak her words of regret, but again he stops her short, “Mary, do you truly love me?†She says, “Yes Jim, you know that I love you.†Jim says, “then take care of our little flock.†The third time she attempts to apologize but for the third time he stops her short, “Mary, do you love me?†She was hurt that he had asked her a third time, “Do you love me?†and she said, “Jim you know everything about me. No one knows you like me. You know that I love you.†“Well, the kids know you are home and they are longing to see you. Get their supper ready.†There is restoration and the promise of renewed useful lives in that wonderful question.

Let me ask you, especially those of you who have sinned greater than Peter – and that means most of us. Do you love the Lord whose forgiveness is immeasurable who let himself be scourged and crucified in our place? Do you love the one who died in your place and has saved you from hell? All we can say is,

“Lord is it my chief complaint
That my love is cold and faint.
Yet I love Thee and adore,
O for grace to love Thee more.†(William Cowper, 1731-1800).

To that living Lord we now come, the one who knows everything about us. He has seen our hearts and read the file. How we need to come to him who came into the world to receive sinners. Do not allow self-recrimination to keep you away. The only way you can look at your past sins as a Christian is that they are all forgiven sins. So let us in the renewal of the warm affection of Jesus work for him, helping the lambs, feeding the sheep. The best shepherds are those who know their own hearts most intimately and are overwhelmed by the mercy of the great over-Shepherd.

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