By David Faust
The Bible’s utter honesty is one reason I believe it is true and inspired by God. Scripture doesn’t gloss over the flaws of its characters—even those we consider heroes. Without bias the sacred writers bluntly tell about Moses’ hot temper, David’s messy adultery, and wise Solomon’s sad drift into idol worship.
A Surprising Mistake
One of the most impressive failures mentioned in Scripture is Peter’s denial of Jesus. “One of the servant girls of the high priest came by. . . . ‘You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,’ she said. But he denied it. ‘I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,’ he said” (Mark 14:66-68).
This is a surprising mistake because of the person who made it. Simon Peter was not some casual disciple who followed Jesus from the perimeter of the crowd. For three years, Peter saw the Lord’s miracles up close, listened to his public sermons, and interacted personally with him in a small group where Jesus explained his teaching in depth. Peter was with Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration, in the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane. They even walked on water together.
Peter’s denial also is surprising because of when it took place. Only a few hours before, Jesus shared the Last Supper with his friends, asking them to remember him as they ate the bread and drank from the cup. Just a few verses earlier, Peter brashly declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not,” and insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (14:29, 31).
A Repeated Mistake
And yet, Peter denied Jesus again and again. ”When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, ‘This fellow is one of them.’ Again he denied it. . . .
Those standing near said to Peter, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about’” (vv. 69-71).
Earlier that same evening, Peter pulled out a sword in a futile attempt to defend Jesus; but now he wilted at the persistent questioning of a servant girl. His fear is understandable, since he could have been arrested or killed for supporting Jesus, but it’s ugly to read how he cursed and repeatedly refused to admit he knew the Lord at all.
A Redeemable Mistake
“Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ’Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (v. 72).
Actually, Peter’s failure shouldn’t surprise us too much. All of us are tempted to soft-pedal our loyalty to Christ when the pressure is on. Fortunately, though, Peter’s denials weren’t the end of his story. Later he reaffirmed his love for Jesus three times (John 21:15-17), just as he had denied him three times, and for the rest of his life Peter was a bold spokesman for Christ.
Years ago I heard E. Ray Jones preach on this Scripture, and I recall a line from his sermon: “Peter went out and wept bitterly, but then he came back and lived differently.” That’s what all of us need to do. The God of grace accomplishes his purposes through flawed followers like Peter who mess up, but then rise up again to serve him faithfully after all.
1. What circumstances tempt you to deny Christ?
2. What steps can you take to admit your failures and rise above them?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for May 26, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Samuel 8—10
2 Samuel 11, 12
2 Samuel 13
2 Samuel 14, 15
2 Samuel 16, 17
2 Samuel 18, 19