In this post I am going to look at a passage of scripture that, to be frank, is difficult. For those of you who come from a Roman Catholic background, you will know about the Stations of the Cross and you will recognize this scripture as one of those stations. While most of the stations reflect on the actions of Jesus, this station, the fourth station, reflects upon the actions of Peter and his denial of Jesus. We will be reading from Mark 15:66-72 but keep your finger in that spot because there are several other passages I want to touch upon. But let’s start with our main passage read from the NASB:
As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest *came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and *said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep. (Mark 14:66-72 NASB)
This passage is right in the middle of the Passion, the passages of the Gospels that detail the path from the Garden of Gethsemane to the tomb. So far Jesus has prayed in the garden, has been betrayed by Judas, arrested, and brought to Caiphas’ home. It is here that Peter has this fateful encounter with those gathered outside the house and where he fulfills the prophecy Jesus spoke over him that night. Let’s look at that passage now. We are staying in Mark 14, but this time we are looking at verses 27-31.
And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also. (Mark 14:27-31).
In this passage, I want to call out three things. First, Jesus tells all the disciples that they will fall away. While we are concentrating on Peter, let’s not forget that all the other disciples abandoned Jesus. He told them ahead of time that this was going to happen. Second, Peter has the chutzpah to say what I am sure all the other disciples are thinking. He told Jesus “Nope, not gonna happen, I will never deny you.” Notice in the last verse it says that all the disciples started to say the same thing after Peter opened his mouth. However, third, Jesus tells Peter that he is going to fail.
Jesus has told the disciples more than a few times that he was going to be killed and he had told them more than a few times that he was going to be resurrected. But when He told them these things, my guess is it was so beyond their comprehension that they could not even begin to believe it.
It reminds me of a story from the 1942 Negro League World Series. The Kansas City Monarchs faced the Washington Homestead Grays. Satchel Paige was the best pitcher in the league and was pitching late in relief in game two for the Monarchs. He knew that the best hitter in the league, John Gibson, was coming up to bat for the Grays. Now legend has it – and this is a legend (but it is so cool I want it to be true) – that Paige walked the bases loaded with two outs to face Gibson. Again, this is a legend, but Paige, who was known for his braggadocio spirit, shouted out the exact pitch and location each time he threw to Gibson. Paige struck him out.
Having Jesus tell the disciples that they were going to fail was outside of their understanding. He told Peter exactly what was going to happen. But like Gibson, Peter took three strikes.
Failure of a Disciple
Let’s now turn our attention to the passage at hand. The first thing that is mentioned in verse 66 is that Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest -Caiaphas. Look at the picture on the screen. This was taken from my trip to Israel.
This is the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house. This is where Peter went after they took Jesus from the Garden. It was here that Peter followed the soldiers and Jesus and it was here that this passage takes place. Imagine yourself here, late on a chilly spring night, warming yourself by the fire, while this scene takes place.
One of the things that strike me is that Peter followed the soldiers. For all the grief we give Peter for his denial, he is still the only disciple that stuck with Jesus this far. The rest of them? Gone. As Barkley states:
The thing we so often fail to recognize is that up until the very last Peter’s career this night had been one of fantastically reckless courage. He had begun by drawing his sword in the garden with the reckless courage of a man prepared to take on the whole mob by himself… Common prudence would have urged that Peter should lie very low. The last place anyone would have dreamed that he would go to would be the courtyard of the High Priest’s house – yet that is precisely where he did go. That in itself was sheer audacity.
I believe that Peter’s audacity came from the perceived challenge that Jesus gave him in verses 27-31. Instead of taking Jesus’ warning, Peter took it as a challenge. It is hard to tell Peter’s own motivations, but I think I am reading into this text what I would have felt. “What do you mean I am going to deny you? I’ll show you!” So many times, God warns us in one way or another – the revelation of scripture, advice from a trusted friend, or prompting from the Holy Spirit – and yet we say to ourselves (I say to myself) “I’ll show you!” But that is setting ourselves up for failure.
Another item I want to look at is that Peter didn’t deny Jesus once, but he denied knowing Jesus three times. Each denial increased in volume. The first was to a young servant girl. The second denial, the girl wasn’t even talking to him but talking to some bystanders. The third denial involved several the bystanders. Jesus was known to be a Galilean and Peter was recognized as a Galilean, as Matthew’s account in chapter 26:73 states, by his accent. Three times Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him, and three times he did. Peter’s denial of his failure to keep his word was complete.
But here is the last thing I want to point out. If no other disciple was with Peter, if they all fled, how would anyone know about this incident except if Peter himself had told the story to Mark? The current academic thinking is that Mark was the earliest of the Gospels and was highly influenced by Peter. I am sure that Peter was ashamed of this incident. I would be. We all feel the shame of failing our Savior. But Peter revealed this incident to others so that from then until eternity, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all of them – have this story.
Whether it was out of arrogance or whether it was out of incompetence, or whether it was for some other reason we don’t know about, Peter failed Jesus just as Jesus had told him. I think of times in my life when I have failed Jesus. When that temptation that I know haunts me stares me in the face, when I start of my own strength to resist that temptation, when I say to God, “Don’t worry, I got this” that is when failure is not far behind.
What are our options?
But that is not the end of the story. If we stopped at this point, we would have three choices. First, we would need to tell ourselves that God doesn’t consider our sins, failures all that bad. But the problem with this thinking is that it flies in the face of scripture. For instance, Romans 11:22 tells us that those who are in sin, who don’t take it seriously are “cut off.” This indicates that sin has devastating eternal consequences.
The second thing we can tell ourselves is that there isn’t a God at all and there is no such thing as sin. For those folks who think this way, all I can say is “have you heard the news lately?” Can you deny that there is evil in the world? Sin – humanity’s failure – is everywhere. But most importantly, it is personal. We all fail, we all sin. No one is exempt. To say there is no such thing as sin means that you say there is no such thing as evil. If there is no such thing as evil, then there can be no such thing as good. Denying evil is just a way to turn a blind eye to the reality if it’s existence.
Our third option may at first seem to be the hardest of options. But when you look at the endgame of the first two, it the easiest of the three. When we fail God, when we sin, we need to face it squarely and call it for what it is – sin. Falling short, missing the mark. Peter failed Jesus that night. Three times he had the opportunity to make it right. Three times he came up short. Jesus told him he was going to fail. Peter chose to make it come true. The Bible tells us what is and is not sin, we are the ones who choose to go against Him.
But failure isn’t the end of the story. If it were, then all we would have left is despair. Let’s look at another picture:
Here we have a picture perfect, chamber of commerce picture from the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee (complete with two Palestinian men fishing). At this spot, it is possible, not probable but possible, that Jesus and Peter had an important encounter. Again, imagine yourself standing on the beach, as we read the next passage. Turn with me to John 21:15-19. The scene setting is Jesus has resurrected and has told them to meet him at Galilee. When Peter, being a fisherman, sees the water. What is the first thing he wants to do? You folks who enjoy fishing, what is the first thing you want to do when you see a beautiful river or pond or lake? That’s right go fishing! So, Peter went out fishing. But he comes up empty. When he returned, he saw Jesus on the beach, but he didn’t know it was Jesus. Jesus told him to throw his nets back in the water. Peter did so. With a recollection back to the scene in Mark 1:16-20 when Jesus first called Peter to ministry, Peter caught more fish than the boat could hold. In a burst of emotion, Peter dove into the water, sawm to Jesus, and worshiped. They had a little breakfast, and then had this conversation:
So 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, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again 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, “Shepherd 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep. (John 21:15-19 NASB)
Three times Peter denied Jesus. But three times Jesus restores him. Two things I want to point out. First, there is restoration. One thing I know for sure is that our God is not a God of despair. He is a redeeming God who takes our failures and turns them into masterpieces of His restoration. All of us come up short; all of us fail at one point or another. But because of what Jesus endured after Peter denied Him, the torture, the crucifixion, His death, Jesus has atoned for all our failures.
No other world view or religion can offer this restoration. Muslim’s can only hope that their failures don’t outweigh their good deeds. Pantheists add failure to their karma debt to be paid with an unknown number of reincarnations. Atheists only have despair. Failures are as meaningless as are good deeds because, in the end, all we are is worm-meat. It is only Christianity that takes our sins and our failures and turns them into restoration. One must admit those failures, something we call confession (such as Peter telling this story to the Gospel writers), but we find that we have a God who is eager to restore.
Second, our failures are building blocks for who we become as Christ followers. When we fail, when we repent, and when we are restored, we build upon our testimony as to who Jesus is, was, and will be. What he endured after Peter’s denial was important for our atonement. What happened after His death is important for our restoration. Through His resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit our failures, our mistakes, our sins are turned into redemptive stories. Failure is essential for Jesus to forgive and restore.
Let me conclude with an illustration from the show Game of Thrones. Yes, I watch that show, but I do so with the remote in hand and my finger at the ready on the fast-forward button. There is a character in the story whose name is Theon. Theon is a forced guest of the Stark family for all his life. When the Stark family experiences devastating tragedies, Theon turns against them and does horrible things to them. One of the members of the family he does the most harm to is the second youngest son, Bran. Bran is crippled and cannot walk, so he is helpless before Theon. Bran, however, does escape Theon. Theon has a very dark story after that in which he is humbled and humiliated. In the latest episode, and I won’t give any spoilers here, Theon has restored his position and is put in charge of guarding Bran during a horrific battle in which the main villain is coming to kill Bran. Before the battle begins, Theon says to Bran that he is sorry, and he wishes that allof what he did not happen. Bran looks at Theon and states, that all that he went through was so that he could be there that day, defending him.
God does not want us to sin. God does not want us to fail him. He is grieved when we sin. Sin and failure do hurt our relationship with him. However, God also wants us to be restored when we do fail. He wants everyone to be restored. Not everyone will be restored, but everyone has the opportunity. Think back through your own life. Think about the times you came up short, you failed, you sinned. All those times are instances where God can reach into our lives and takes those failures and turns them into restoration. Our choice is do we hang onto our failures, or do we give them to God. In the end, our sin and our failures are all we have to offer to God. Through the blood of Jesus, God will forgive, and through His resurrection, God will restore.
I ask the music team to come up along with the prayer team and play quietly. If you call yourself a Christ follower, and you are hanging on to some failure, some sin that you can’t forgive yourself for or you don’t think that God can forgive, I urge you to come forward and confess it to one of the prayer team members now. You don’t have to get specific if you don’t want to. You know, and God knows. Don’t leave here hanging on to that failure. Jesus promises a threefold restoration, and Jesus promises forgiveness.
If you are not a Christ follower, what are you doing with your failures? Can you just bury them away and think you can forget them? Do you believe that you have committed a sin so big that God can’t forgive you? I am here to tell you today that there is nothing bigger than God’s love for you. He wants to forgive you; all you must do is turn your life over to Jesus. There is nothing that can take you from that love, not even your worst failure. Every failure can lead to eternal restoration.
 Jonathan Wigginton, “1942 Negro World Series: Two legends face off”, National Museum of American History, February 9, 2012, accessed April 30, 2019, https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2012/02/1942-negro-world-series-two-legends-face-off.html.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark Thessalonians (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 351-352.
 Ibid, 352.