Skip to content
Back to New Testament
Previous Next
November 14, 2023

Matthew Part 22

The title of today’s lesson – it took me hours to think this up – is “Peter Denies Jesus.”




Matthew 26:58, 69-75

The title of today’s lesson – it took me hours to think this up – is “Peter Denies Jesus.” We’ve all heard the story before and hopefully today we will be able to get some new insights about it. So, what led Peter to do such a thing? To deny Jesus three times? How could he do that? I mean he’s the leader of the 12 disciples. Here’s a man who walked on water! Here’s a man who declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom. This is the same Apostle Peter who just 2 months later will preach a sermon at Pentecost and 3000 people will get saved. So what leads to such a tragic event in this great man’s life? Well, to answer this question we have to go back to last week’s lesson…

If you remember, Jesus had retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. He needed some time alone to pray, to pour out His heart to His heavenly Father. He was deeply troubled and burdened. While He was there Jesus talked to His disciples and He predicted that they would all forsake Him. “You will all fall away from Me this night,” He says to them in v 31. But then Jesus also predicts that He’ll be raised from the dead and be reunited with His disciples in Galilee. Peter’s response to Jesus’ statement was one of self-confidence and bravado: “Though they all fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” And all the disciples, agreeing with their spokesman, Peter, said the same thing. At this point Jesus tells Peter that Peter is going to deny Him – v 34, “Before the rooster crows you will deny Me 3 times.” In Mark’s account Jesus tells Peter: “This very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me 3 times.” Peter’s response: “Even if I must die with You, I will NOT deny You!” “No way, Lord! You’re wrong! Not me!” Well Jesus tells His disciples to watch and pray and He tells them why. He says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Jesus knows what they’re about to face. He knows that although the spirit is willing, the spirit desires to do what is right, the flesh is weak. Jesus wants His disciples to be spiritually prepared for what’s about to happen. But instead of praying, the disciples fall asleep. Why should they pray? They’re confident in themselves and they think everything will be fine. Well, then comes the arrest, v 51. Peter acts on his own, in the flesh. He’s not following Jesus’ direction. He impulsively picks up a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. Jesus rebukes Peter for his actions – they’re not in sync with God’s plan – and then Jesus graciously restores Malchus’ ear.

Let’s pick up the narrative beginning in verse 55. READ Matthew 26:55-58.

It’s helpful to look at the other gospel accounts of this same event. They fill in some more details for us. Luke tells us that Jesus is brought into the high priest’s house. Peter follows from a distance [describe general layout of typical large home]. John tells us, John 18, that he, John, also followed Jesus with Peter and that he enters into the courtyard of the high priest’s house with Jesus. He has access because he knows the high priest. [note: John never uses his own name when he talks about himself, here he says, “another disciple”] John then speaks to the servant girl who is keeping watch at the door and at that point Peter is brought into the house. Presumably John leaves because he’s not mentioned any more in this story. Mark tells us that Peter goes over and sits down with the guards in the courtyard and warms himself at the fire. John adds that it was a charcoal fire and that it was cold outside. Luke says the fire was in the middle of the courtyard. Now, why is Peter even there? Matthew says in v 58, “to see the end.” Peter wants to know what’s going to happen to Jesus. So Peter finds himself a comfortable spot and he eavesdrops on the proceedings that are taking place in the chambers of the high priest. These are recorded by Matthew here in Chapter 26, v 59-68. Peter listens in and he also tries to see what he can. Undoubtedly Peter can hear the shouting and the accusations of blasphemy that are being directed at Jesus. He probably hears them hitting Jesus and spitting on Him. Look, any normal human being would be intimidated by this whole scene. And Peter is no different. He’s there in enemy territory trying to be inconspicuous, maintaining a low profile. And then…

READ Matthew 26:69-70.

John tells us that this servant girl here in Peter’s first denial is the same servant girl that let Peter in after John had spoken to her. So she’s made the connection that since John is a disciple of Jesus and since he obviously knows Peter that Peter must also be a disciple of Jesus. Some of the gospel writers say that Peter was standing, some say he was sitting. I think that this indicates enough time passes that Peter starts off standing, then after a while gets tired and sits down. Peter’s response to the servant girl: “I do not know what you mean.” Mark says that Peter said, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” Luke says that Peter said, “Woman, I do not know Him.” So there’s likely some back and forth conversation taking place here. Peter is adamant that he doesn’t know Jesus and he responds loud enough so that all who are there in the courtyard can hear him. “He denied it before them all.” Peter’s flesh is weak!

I mentioned earlier that in Mark’s account Jesus had told Peter, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me 3 times.” Well in Mark’s account, after this first denial of Jesus, Peter goes out from the courtyard to the gateway and the rooster crows.

Before we go any further in the story, I keep hearing Peter’s words from earlier that morning when he stood face to face with Jesus and said rather confidently, “Though all fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” And yet here we see Peter, just like the other disciples distancing himself from Jesus in His hour of need. Where should Peter have been based on his words to our Lord? He should have been in with Jesus standing with Him. But instead he is in the courtyard denying Him, just as Jesus had predicted.

READ Matthew 26:71-72

At this point Peter has moved away from the courtyard to the porch or the vestibule that leads to the main entrance, the gate, into the house. So he has moved away from the crowd of soldiers and servants. It’s almost as though Peter wants to leave. He’s not feeling very comfortable with the situation. But he doesn’t leave. We don’t know how much time passes, but Luke’s account says, “a little later…” And wouldn’t you know it, along comes another servant girl who recognizes Peter. And she gets the bystanders attention, points to Peter and says, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Mark’s account says that she said, “This man is one of them (one of Jesus’ followers).” In John’s account he flip-flops denials 2 and 3 and tells us that this servant girl was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off. She was a relative of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. And she asks Peter, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” So apparently she had been there earlier that evening in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus had been arrested. So that’s how she recognizes Peter.

Well again Peter’s flesh is weak. He denies it again, this time with an oath – “I do not know the man!” In Luke’s account he denies being one of them (one of Jesus’ disciples). By the way, when Matthew says that Peter denies it “with an oath,” that’s significant. What that means is that Peter was swearing that he was telling the truth, a personal pledge to everyone who heard him that he was indeed being truthful in what he was saying.

Again, this is the great Apostle Peter, afraid, weak, vulnerable, failing to trust God and acting in the flesh. This second denial is not just denying Jesus before a group of people, but denying Jesus before God.

READ Matthew 26:73-75

“After a little while…” So some more time goes by. Luke says “after an interval of about an hour.” Peter is still hanging around in the high priest’s house. According to John’s account Peter has made his way back to the fire, back into the main courtyard. He’s apparently talking to someone and one of the bystanders recognizes his distinct regional accent and says, “Certainly you too are one of them (one of Jesus’ followers), for your accent betrays you.” Mark’s account says they said, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” Luke’s account puts it this way: “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he too is a Galilean.” John records these bystanders telling Peter, “You also are not one of His disciples, are you?” And Peter denies it, “I am not.” Matthew says that Peter invokes a curse on himself and swears, “I do not know the man!” This is the most forceful and emphatic of all of Peter’s denials of Jesus. Invoking a curse basically is like saying, “If I’m not telling you the truth, may God destroy me.” Peter has reached rock bottom. He’s lost all fear of God.

Mark says that immediately the rooster crowed a second time. Luke records that immediately, while Peter was still speaking the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Jesus makes eye contact with Peter. And Peter remembers Jesus’ words. Both Matthew and Luke say that Peter went out and wept bitterly. Loud sobbing is the idea here. Mark says that Peter broke down and wept.

I can just imagine that moment was frozen in time for Peter. He looks into Jesus eyes. Jesus’ face is bleeding, covered with sweat and spit. No words are exchanged. Just a look into the eyes of Jesus says it all. Peter knows that he should have been standing there with Jesus the whole time but instead he’s just denied Him three times – loud, boisterous, adamant denials. And he recalls at that moment what Jesus had told him. “Before the rooster crows you will deny Me 3 times.” And Peter feels such shame, such sorrow, such remorse. He feels like such a failure! He is so sorry for what he has done, but what’s done is done! Peter had such great intentions. But the truth is that Peter had been no match for Satanic temptation. His spirit indeed had been willing, but oh, his flesh was so weak! And that’s where Matthew ends his narrative.

Lessons learned – if this can happen to Peter, don’t think for a minute that it couldn’t happen to you. We, like Peter, are merely human. We are vulnerable to temptation and we need to prepare ourselves spiritually for it. How do we do that? “Watch and pray.” Number one – spend time each day in prayer. Certainly we need to be in the word reading and meditating on what God has to say to us. And we should not neglect coming together regularly to worship and fellowship with God’s people. But we must not neglect our prayer life. That is essential.

You know, I am so thankful that this story doesn’t end there. We have a Savior who forgives. We have a Savior who restores fallen sinners. Did you know that? [show slide of the Sea of Galilee]   

In John Chapter 21 – tradition holds that it was at this very place along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee – Jesus and Peter are reunited over breakfast. Remember the exchange between them? Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” How many times does Jesus ask Peter this question? Three times. One for each of Peter’s denials. And each time Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus forgives Peter and restores him and Peter goes on to become the great leader of the early church. God would use Peter in a mighty way. What I want you to take away from this lesson is that the true Peter is not seen in his denial, but in his repentance. Jesus recognized this and He forgave Peter. Aren’t you thankful that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness? God is in the business of grace, forgiveness and restoration. And aren’t you glad.

This same Peter having been through this experience would later pen the two epistles of First and Second Peter. We studied them last year. In 2 Peter Chapter 3 we read the last recorded words from Peter…

READ 2 Peter 3:17-18

I’m convinced that Peter’s warnings and admonitions to us in his 2 epistles are rooted out his own personal failures. He knew that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and he desired so much for those early believers to be prepared for the tough days ahead, for Satan’s temptations. Sound familiar? I wonder where Peter learned that lesson. From Jesus Himself. Now he is feeding the sheep, passing what he has learned on to us.

Back to New Testament

Matthew 26:58, 69-75

Table of contents