Tonight we will read the final verses of Matthew 26, verses 69-75. Tonight’s selection is brief to close out this lengthy and important chapter in Matthew. When we began this chapter, Jesus was still publicly and safely teaching His disciples. But here, in the end of chapter 26, Jesus is in the hands of the ruling Jewish authorities and is being mocked and beaten.
Before we close out the chapter, we have a final few verses of Peter fulfilling the prophecy Jesus had made in verse 34 that Peter would deny Him three times before the next day. Peter’s statement of faith in verse 35 is impressive:
“Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the 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!” And so said all the disciples.”
Despite Peter’s belief that he could never deny Jesus, we see it come true in these verses tonight. Peter has been following Jesus from afar, watching the proceedings as Jesus is accused. Various folk in the area notice Peter and remember him as one of Jesus’s followers. Peter’s attentiveness to Jesus and his fear may have given him away in addition to his features. His accent also plays a part in people recognizing him as one of Jesus’s followers because he was from the same area (Galilee) as Jesus.
But each time Peter is accused of being one of Jesus’s followers, he denies it. The third time, he denies it with cursing. After this last time, Peter hears the rooster crow, and it reminds him of Jesus’s prediction. So Peter weeps bitterly. Can you imagine the shame he must have felt?
Remember Peter’s convincing attitude from earlier in the chapter. Peter seems that he would never be able to deny Jesus. But such is the elusiveness of faith. We are often convinced that we are strong, yet when faced with fear or temptation, our strength and faith can falter. This is what happened to Peter. Has it ever happened to you?
A saving grace of Peter’s denials comes to us from the gospel of John, in chapter 21 and verses 15-19. Here, to counteract Peter’s three denials, Jesus asks Peter to affirm his love for him three times:
“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Jesus had this conversation with Peter after he had already been crucified and resurrected, so there is a happy ending to Peter’s story. Even though Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus restored Peter by having him confess his love for Jesus three times. At the end of the passage above, Jesus tells Peter how he will glorify God with his death.
Peter is an allegory for all of us. We can and do fail as we try to serve God. Despite our most honorable intentions and efforts, we fail just like Peter did. But Christ is always there to accept and restore us. We need only to return to Him, confess and repent. Do you have the need to confess a sin? Repent of your actions?
“The Lord is … longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9