By Janet Thompson, Crosswalk.com
Twenty-six years ago, I attended a Women in Ministry Conference with the express purpose of discovering how God could use me after I completed seminary. At that conference, the Lord spoke to my heart, “Feed my sheep.” I thought, “What sheep where? And what would I feed them if I found them?” I heard again, “Feed my sheep.” I responded, “Ok!”
When I called my husband that night and related what had transpired, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would reveal the meaning of my experience. Dave also asked if I had heard “feed my sheep” three times, but I had only heard it twice. Dave was referring to John 21:15-17 where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and tells him to “Feed my sheep,” correlating to the three times Peter denies Jesus when Jesus was arrested.
My testimony is that the next morning after hearing “Feed my sheep,” the speaker spoke on John 21:15-17 and I knew my “Feed my sheep” calling was from the Lord. With much prayer, I soon started the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry where I discovered mentoring was “feeding” and the “sheep” were women. Woman to Woman Mentoring continues to be a vital ministry in churches around the world today.
Just as when Peter denies Jesus, there was a time when I denied Jesus. But through God’s gracious forgiveness and mercy for both of us, Jesus chose me to build a ministry and Peter to build the Christian church.
Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. Matt. 16:18 NLT
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What Is the Biblical Context of Peter Denying Jesus?
At the Last Supper Jesus predicts that the disciples will deny ever knowing him. Peter speaks up defiantly and assures Jesus he can count on him. He would never deny Jesus, but Jesus tells him exactly how and where his denial will take place.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. Matt. 26:31-35
After supper, Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray and “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” Matt. 26:37-38
Jesus left them for a short time to pray and cry out to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matt. 26:39
When Jesus returned to Peter and the other two disciples, he found them sleeping, not praying. Jesus warned Peter that he especially needed to understand the danger awaiting him.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matt. 26:40-41
Jesus went away three times to pray, each time asking God if there could be any other way, but understanding it would be as God ordained. The last time, “Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matt. 26:45-46
Just as Jesus predicted all the disciples scattered, even Peter, when Jesus was arrested.
Peter Denies Jesus Three Times
Continuing the biblical story in Matthew: Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. Matt. 26:57-58
While the Sanhedrin was falsely accusing Jesus in front of Caiaphas, Peter watched from afar and succumbed to the temptation Jesus had predicted.
What We Can Learn from the First Time Peter Denies Jesus
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Peter feared recognition as a follower of Jesus. Peter thought he could blend in with the same guards who had just arrested Jesus and the crowd cheering his arrest. How many times have we thought the same thing? I want to fit into a group who might not be receptive to Christianity so I won’t talk about my faith and they’ll probably never know. Maybe I’ll even laugh at their off-color jokes or join in on gossip and slander, or at least not object.
The lesson we can take away from this and teach our children is that if you’re not comfortable in a group because they don’t have the same beliefs you do, you probably shouldn’t be in that group. If you do choose to stay, then you should be willing, and even proud, to identify as a Christian. Your actions and conversation should convey your faith, not compromise.
There’s no denying the world isn’t as accepting of Christian values as it once was but that doesn’t change or weaken our position in Christ. To Peter’s credit, he did follow Jesus after his arrest, but he kept his distance because he obviously feared for his own life.
The world hated Jesus then as our godless culture does now too, but Christians must be ready to face ridicule and persecution.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. John 15:18-20
It’s easy to be bold and courageous for the Lord when we’re among Christian peers, but the true test of our faith is when we act the same in all circumstances. It’s challenging to consider that we might be more concerned about offending others than we are about offending Jesus!
Perhaps remembering his own time of fear and denial of Jesus, Peter would later write, But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:14-16
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What We Can Learn from the Second Time Peter Denies Jesus
Then he [Peter] went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” Matt 26:71-72 [emphasis added]
Sometimes we become complacent as Christians. Pride can make us arrogant and too reliant on our own capabilities to resist sin. We let down our spiritual guard. Jesus warned Peter he was going to be tempted to deny him but Peter didn’t take it to heart. After all, he had been a faithful follower of Jesus even trying to walk on water with him by faith! How could Jesus think that he would ever deny him?
Many Christians must worship in secret in countries like Afghanistan. These faithful worshippers know that if discovered, they might be offered the opportunity to deny Jesus and swear allegiance to Allah or another god. Refusal means certain death. Countless of the faithful choose to meet Jesus face-to-face rather than deny their Savior.
Peter watching Jesus ridiculed and beaten knew that might also be his fate if he admitted who he was so he not only denied Christ, he swore he never knew him! Peter had forgotten Jesus’ own words, But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. Matt 10:33 NLT
We can’t become overconfident in our faith. Every Christian leader who has ever fallen into sin arrogantly thought Satan couldn’t reach him or her, but as Peter discovered and later warned, Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
What We Can Learn from the Third Time Peter Denies Jesus
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Matt. 26:73-75 [Emphasis added]
Peter was a fisherman before becoming Jesus’ disciple and he probably had a crude vocabulary when out with the guys fishing. With fear and trepidation pounding in his heart, the old Peter emerged cursing and swearing in his denial of ever knowing “the man.” He didn’t even say the name of Jesus.
In times of worry or anger, our old self can emerge and words and actions we thought we had long buried arise and overtake our new self in Christ. Then something or someone awakens us to our lapse. We feel remorse and make a resolution to pray that God will remove the temptation to respond in ways unworthy of a Christian. Like Peter, we cry. Then we cry out to God for forgiveness and repentance as we make amends to God and those we’ve offended.
Conviction is heart-wrenching! But it’s also part of maturing as a believer.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Eph. 4:20-24
Even Though Peter Denies Jesus, He’s Given a Second Chance
Peter underestimated his own weakness and even cowardice. He boastfully shrugged off Jesus’ warning instead of humbly spending time in deep prayer and remaining watchful for the signs of Satan sifting him.
Growing in our Christian faith takes a lifetime of studying our Bibles, praying, fellowshipping with other Christians, mentoring, and seeking accountability partners to challenge us with God’s Word.
Even with his failures, Jesus chose Peter to preach at Pentecost where, filled with the Holy Spirit, the church was birthed. We’re blessed with his two epistles, 1 and 2 Peter. Proving that God can use every repentant Holy Spirit-filled heart. Peter had a testimony, just like we all do, and he went on to show how much he loved Jesus by shepherding his sheep.
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