Date: March 24, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 26:31–26:35, Matthew 26:69–26:75
One of the hidden dangers of falling is the surprise. People don’t expect to slip on the ice. We don’t plan to fall down the stairs. We are surprised, often embarrassed, and even in some cases hurt. The same is true spiritually. People don’t plan out their personal low points and embarrassing moments in their devotion to Christ. They catch us by surprise. Often when we seem to have it all together. It is with great wisdom then that Paul says, “To him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.”
In our text this morning we have a low moment in the life of Peter. After Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him, the Apostle confidently dismisses Jesus forever raising such a far-fetched concern. But then we see in real time that Peter’s self-confidence was misplaced. The result is not only a lesson for Peter, but also for any of us who would claim to follow Jesus.
And this is what I want you to see and be persuaded of this morning: Questions of our loyalty to Christ must not be quickly dismissed but carefully considered; because they are matters of the heart. They are by nature difficult to discern and of the utmost importance.
We can learn from Peter. To do this we’ll look at three lessons from a humbled Christian. First, hear the Scriptures speak (31-35); second, see the mighty fall (69-74); third, feel the bitter tears (75).
Have you ever found yourself responding to what you think someone is saying, without actually understanding what they are saying? I think we do this a lot. We see Peter do this in this section. And like us, it seems to be a result of giving ourselves a little too much credit.
Jesus begins this discussion after the Lord’s Supper by making an indicting statement and then quoting the Scripture. The disciples, especially Peter, don’t seem to feel the weight of it. We need to make sure we don’t fall into the same trap.
Look with me at verses 31-32.
“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”” (Matthew 26:31–32)
Jesus tells them they will fall away. It means they will be offended by him. They will fail and fall. But why? It is because of Jesus. And when? It will be that very night.
Then Jesus quotes the Scripture. The passage is from Zechariah 13:7. And it’s given as the reason why or explanation for this falling away. There is a striking of the shepherd and a scattering of the sheep. This would have been a familiar verse for the disciples. What’s happening in Zechariah is a promise of the restoration of God’s people. But in order to do it there is going to be some very difficult and troubling days. Chapter 11 of Zechariah talks about a bad shepherd that will be judged because he does not care for God’s people. In chapter 13 however, the chapter that’s quoted here, we read of a shepherd that is good and close to God. ““Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…” (Zechariah 13:7) For an Israelite reading the Hebrew Scriptures, they would have anticipated a day coming when God’s appointed leader in Israel will be cut off and the people will be scattered.
What’s so interesting here is how Jesus applies it. Jesus is saying that he is the shepherd and the sheep are the disciples.
But who is doing the striking? It is actually God. God will strike the shepherd in judgment. Why is this? Jesus has come as the representative for his people. His entire life and his impending death are substitutionary. He is going to pay the penalty for the sins of his people. This striking is the rod of justice due to all who deserving God’s wrath trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Why does Jesus quote this? To remind his disciples of the cross and the fact that this is all according to plan. He has come to fulfill the Scriptures. The striking of the Shepherd (Jesus) through the cross, will lead to the scattering of the disciples. And this is what we see in verse 56, fulfilling verse 31, and chapter 28:7 fulfilling verse 32.
But what’s so interesting here is Jesus tells them that he is going to go before them to Galilee after he is raised up.
There are a number of noteworthy items to observe here:
Jesus predicts his resurrection. He will most certainly be raised from the dead this is not a question for him.
Jesus is straightforward about their coming defection. The intimacy of the Last Supper is soon to be replaced by disloyalty and cowardice.
Jesus promises a reunion with his scattered disciples. Yes, they will scatter but Jesus, ever the faithful shepherd will go before them and gather them. Remember, they will be in Jerusalem but he will go to before them to Galilee. He will in a sense, lead them home. He will be there before them in fact.
Jesus showers grace upon those who don’t deserve it. He just said they will scatter because they’ll be offended by the cross. Thy they forsake him, he won’t forsake them. Though you fall, I will take care of you to help you up and regather you. “The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.” (Henry)
Another revelation of love is this, for here, even before these eleven men have become scattered, they already receive the assurance that they will be regathered. In clear and unfigurative language Jesus again speaks about his being raised from the dead. He assures them that, having been raised, he will go ahead of them to the very region, Galilee, where their homes were, and—what is even more significant—where their Lord had originally called them to himself. Immediately after Christ’s resurrection a messenger from heaven is going to remind the disciples of this promise (28:7), and so, at his own direction, will the women, with the instruction that they must therefore go and meet the Lord in Galilee (28:10). It was indeed in Galilee that the risen Savior met with these eleven men (28:16)…(Hendriksen & Kistemaker)
But the disciples don’t seem to hear the encouragement. They are focused on the troubling words. They miss the gathering but focus on the scattering. They hear the words of trouble but aren’t really listening of reassurance. They don’t hear the Word of God.
Look at Peter’s response, he doesn’t respond to Jesus’ quotation of Zechariah nor his remarkable promise to meet them in Galilee. Instead, he exceptionalities himself. “Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”” (Matthew 26:33) No way! Peter missed the reassuring words of grace and the humbling words of warning. Instead, he is first to respond and say that he faithful. Especially more than the others there. Whatever might be the case with them, Jesus could rely on him. It was a foolish assertion though, because he did not know his coming circumstances and he did not truly know his heart. And, he did not listen to Jesus’ words. Questions of our loyalty to Christ must not be quickly dismissed but carefully considered; because they are matters of the heart. They are by nature difficult to discern and of the utmost importance.
Does he convince Jesus? No. Jesus personalizes his response to Peter. Look at verse 34, “Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”” (Matthew 26:34)
Notice Jesus intensifies this. Trust me Peter, I know you better than you know yourself. It’s going to happen and it’s going to happen quickly. This very night, you’ll deny me three times. He said he wouldn’t do it one time, but Jesus says three!
The cock crowing is referring to the morning. When one rooster crows the others follow. Overnight this is going to happen. Mark it down Peter.
But Peter will have none of it. He gets the last word here. “Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.” (Matthew 26:35)
He should have known better. As a child, he must have received instruction in what we now call the Old Testament. However, he was not taking to heart the lesson which the stories of other boasters, such as Goliath (1 Sam. 17:44, 51), Benhadad (1 Kings 20:11, 21), Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32:14, 19, 21), Haman (Esther 5:11, 12; 7:10), and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:30–33) should have taught him; nor was he applying to himself the inspired counsel found in such precious passages as Prov. 16:18; 26:12. Worst of all, he was ignoring Christ’s constant emphasis on the necessity of humility (see on Matt. 18:1–6) and his prediction, which was after all a warning, that all would become untrue to him. (William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker), 914
Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are the least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such; they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. (Matthew Henry), 1756.
Are you overconfident? Do warnings from Scripture feel like overkill? Are you inclined to dismiss?
Questions of our loyalty to Christ must not be quickly dismissed but carefully considered. “To him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.”
Learn a lesson from a humbled Christian like Peter.
You’ll notice in verse 69 that we find Peter in the courtyard. We need to set the stage here as to what is going on. We move ahead in this story to the end of this chapter the end of a very long day. The night that began somber predictions moved into a very long night of betrayal and arrest. We are going to consider these verse here as the other side of the bracket, the end of this story. But we do so realizing there is a lot more to be said about what happens on this long night. This we’ll do in the upcoming weeks. But suffice it to say, Jesus has been arrested. He is being arraigned in the kangaroo court of the religious leaders. They are venting their frustrations and getting their pound of flesh.
The disciples have fled at this point (v.56) but Peter is nearby. He and John the Apostle followed him after his arrest. According to John 18:15, John had a connection that got them into the courtyard of the high priest. Peter kept a distance, standing outside of the door. He’s looking on from the outside. Watching the events unfold.
Then he is questioned. We see him receive three questions from different people. He gets questioned from a couple of servant girls and then some bystanders. Watch how things progress.
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”
This is the first denial. It’s likely a shift change and the girl came by and questioned him. Luke tells us that he was sitting over by the fire warming himself, likely hiding and trying to keep warm. Then she came up and looked at him closely.
But there is a second denial from another servant girl. A similar scene, a little bit later.
71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.”
Then finally a third time. Luke says this was about an hour later. John notes that one of the servants of the high priest recognized him from the altercation in the garden. But also, the people recognize him as a Galilean because of his accent. They were known to have rough, unsophisticated accents. So much so that they were not allowed to give the benediction in a synagogues service. Peter then swears by his own life; inviting a curse on him if he is lying.
73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. Matthew 26:69–75
This is a stark contrast to what we have just heard from Peter earlier in the chapter.
Remember, in John 18 we read of him taking up arms to go and fight for Jesus. Now, here at the courtyard of the high priest, we have Peter folding like a tent before a young girl. What happened? Well, Peter was not a weakling. Not physically anyway. He was a rugged Galilean fisherman. But something else is going on here. He’s spiritually weak. He’s afraid. He’s confused. Things aren’t making sense to him.
This is not for a lack of information. We have seen that Jesus has been very upfront with everyone. This should not be a surprise. But, it does catch him off guard. Just like any time we trip and fall; it’s a surprise.
Peter’s impulsive denial looks really bad; but it’s not in the same category as Judas’ premeditated, orchestrated denial. On the one hand, we have someone who loves Christ and is prideful—and is taken down by a fear of man. And on the other, we have someone who does not love Christ and is prideful—and attempts to cash in on Christ. There is a difference. And we’ll see this play out further in their subsequent responses.
But we should be careful to observe here that Peter is doing something that we may be all too familiar with. When he is around Jesus he is very confident. He is ready to go to war and fight. He is the loudest and most vehement supporter amongst the disciples. But when he is alone or among the crowd of unbelievers, in a setting where it would be much more costly to be a disciple of Jesus, he is quick to distance himself from Jesus, even with denial. In this way, Peter functions much like a Chameleon. If he is around Jesus and Jesus’ people he is comfortable turning to that shade. But, if he is away from Jesus and his people, and is among the world, he is comfortable blending in with that surrounding. Be very concerned if you find yourself living as a Chameleon Christian. You need to understand that this type of living is not reflective of the transformative power of the gospel; it’s not the goal. You should not be one type of person at church and another at the office. You can’t be one way at Fellowship Group and another at home. Who you are in front of your screens should be who you are in the community. It’s one thing to be a loud supporter for Christ in church amongst other Christians—it doesn’t cost you anything and might actually provide you with gain. But, are you a supporter of Christ at work? In your neighborhood? In your family? Is the type of Christianity that you are modeling compelling to the unbelieving world around you?
If we do an autopsy on Peter’s denial we find that he was way too overconfident.
There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ; but it is because we do not know ourselves.
Questions of our loyalty to Christ must not be quickly dismissed but carefully considered; because they are matters of the heart. They are difficult to discern and of the utmost importance.
Watching Peter deny Christ with the same intensity that accompanied his vows to never do this, should give us pause.
The story is not over. We read in verse 75: “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Upon this third denial and the hearing of the rooster crowing, Peter was struck in the heart. It came upon him like a flood. The words of Christ are true. They are confirmed.
Luke adds another detail to this account. We read in Luke 22:61, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter’s response is unquestionably remorseful. He is visibly contrite. The words translated wept bitterly are not quiet sobs. He’s not fighting back tears. Rather, it’s the type of intense grief that accompanies a mourning family member at the funeral of a loved one. It’s loud, intense, unrestrained, inconsolable, hearty, and visceral. He feels this in his gut. His heart is shredded. He’s been humbled.
At this moment, Peter is brought face to face with his Savior and so, therefore, face to face with his sin. In a moment, this look shreds him. I often wonder what the dominant expression was on the face of Christ when Peter locked eyes with him in the morning light. Was it anger? I don't think so. Jesus knew what was going to happen. It was likely the same eyes of loving mercy that he had seen so many times before, but now for the first time, he saw them through the eyes of his sin. The depths of his sin cause him a different angle. And he beheld the goodness and love of God in the face of Christ.
Have you come to a place where you have seen your sin in the light of who Christ is? Certainly, you haven’t looked at Christ physically, but you’ve seen him in the Scriptures. You see that he not only knows the future but he knows you. Have you seen him as he is? And have you seen yourself as you are?
You might be wondering about Peter and Judas, what’s the difference, they both denied him? I think the Bible demonstrates that one demonstrates a genuine relationship with Christ and the other a phony one. Peter and the disciples were genuine believers and I think Judas was not.
We can see if we just contrast how they responded. In chapter 27 of Matthew, we read that Judas attempted to give the money back to the priests. He felt guilty. How did he handle his guilt? There is not a demonstration of a reunion with the other disciples. Repentance. Outward grief. Attempting to come to Christ. We see none of this. Only we are given a glimpse into his hopelessness when he goes out and kills himself. He was utterly hopeless and rejecting Christ he was overcome with grief and shame.
But Peter and the other disciples were regarded by Jesus as those forgiven. In fact, in John 17:12, Jesus prays for them and specifically says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
And even more. In Luke 22 we read this from Jesus, ““Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31–32) Peter will turn because Christ is protecting him through the powerfully intercessory prayer of a conquering King.
I think in the midst of his weeping, he would be turning over these words of Christ and find hope. In the midst of the bitter tears of repentance, there are sweet morsels of grace for us in Christ.
You need to see this today. Is there as a sin that is keeping you from fellowship with Jesus? You need to see that the bitter tears of repentance lead us to the sweet morsels of grace in Christ. Repent. Turn from your sin, and trust in Jesus.
There was something else in his recollection of the words of Christ. There was hope. You know he did go ahead to Galilee. There would be a reunion. And there would be a restoration.
In John 21:15, we read of this exchange between Jesus and Peter. It is on the sea of Galilee (Or Tiberius) after the resurrection.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, 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 a second time, “Simon, son of John, 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 John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:15–19)
Three affirmations after three denials. There is grace to be had amid the tears of repentance.
We must not quickly dismiss questions about our loyalty to Christ. Peter was very prideful and self-reliant. Way too overconfident. God graciously humbled him. Some of us need to see that the way down is the way up. Peter learned this and was greatly used for Christ.
You can’t read this passage without being struck by the staggering honesty of the Bible. If there was ever an incident that you would think would be hushed up by the Apostle Peter it was this one. Peter was instrumental in the compilation of the New Testament. He wanted people to know this.
Why would he? I think he did so that every time the story of the cross was told he could talk about the nature of forgiveness. He could say, look to Jesus. He forgave me when I was at my worst. In my weakest moment of faithlessness, he loved me. This is what Jesus does. This is who Jesus is. He takes a coward like me and makes me a preacher of his gospel.
I am confident that in the coming days, you will not waste your time if you give some consideration to the infinite grace of Christ to sinners like me and you.