March 23, 2017

When the Cock Crows

By Chris Reeves

“The Passion of Christ.“ What a wonderful theme for Truth Magazine! The cross of Christ (along with the events that surround it) is the central theme of the entire Bible. What a pleasure it is for me to be asked to contribute something to this theme. I am thankful for the opportunity to study and re-study the story of Peter’s denial of Christ. I learn new truths each time I dig into the text. But I am also thankful for this assignment because it causes me to examine myself in light of what Peter did. I have been made to review my own character as I ask myself if I am like Peter in anyway. When I see Peter on this occasion I see myself in some ways, and I am reminded of the constant need to remain faithful to Jesus.

The Facts of Peter’s Denial

All four gospel writers record Peter’s denial of Christ. First they record Jesus’ prediction of denial and then they record the shameful act of denial (Matt. 26:31-35, 58, 69-75; Mark 14:27-31, 54, 66-72; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; John 13:36-38; 18:15-18, 25-27). The basic facts of Peter’s denial are as follows.

Peter’s Denial Anticipated. Sometime after Jesus and his apostles finish the Passover meal, Jesus predicts that all his apostles (and Peter in particular) will fall away.1 He uses the word “offended”2 to describe their act of denial. This word comes from the Greek word skandalizo, meaning “to snare,” and then, “to cause to stumble.” All the apostles would later “stumble” (NKJV) or “fall away” (NASV, NIV) when it came time for them to stand for the Lord. Jesus also quotes Zechariah 13:7 at this time and applies it to himself and his apostles: “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” At this point, Peter speaking from his usual impetuous and impulsive nature,3 makes his promise: “If all shall be offended in thee, I will never be offended.” Jesus then predicts that Peter will not keep his promise: “Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”4 Peter responds: “Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.”5 For the first time in the story of Peter’s denial we are introduced to the word “deny.” This word, used in Jesus’ prediction and Peter’s promise, comes from the Greek word aparneomai, meaning “to deny utterly.” W.E. Vines says this word means, “. . . to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testaments Words, 2:158). No doubt Peter was sincere when he made his promise, but later he would find out how weak he really was. Soon Peter would deny having any connection whatsoever with Jesus. Peter was the first to promise his loyalty to Jesus and the first to deny Jesus. Before leaving the prediction of Peter’s denial we must include an important fact added by Luke’s gospel. Luke records that Jesus not only predicted Peter’s denial, but that he also prayed for Peter’s conversion. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Satan was asking that all the disciples would sin (compare Job 1:7; 2:2). Jesus was asking that Peter would be saved. Thanks be to God that Jesus’ prayer was answered as the story of Peter’s life will later show.

Peter’s Denial Accomplished. Some time passes. Peter goes with James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus to pray and Peter falls asleep. He is also with Jesus at the time of his arrest where he pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. Then the story of Peter’s denial picks up again. While Jesus is in the house or court of Caiaphas, the high priest, Peter is seeking anonymity in the crowd nearby. Matthew says, “But Peter followed him afar off, unto the court of the high priest, and entered in, and sat with the officers, to see the end” (Matt. 26:58).6 It is during Jesus’ trial before this Jewish court, that Peter denies the Lord. First a maid says to him inside the house, “Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilaean.” Peter denies it saying, “I know not what thou sayest.”7 Then someone outside the courtyard on the porch says, “This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter denies it a second time even stronger with an oath saying, “I know not the man.” Finally, after some time passes,8 bystanders (particularly, a kinsman of Malchus, John 18:26) come to Peter and say, “Of a truth thou also art one of them; for thy speech maketh thee known.”9 Peter denies it a third and final time strongly with cursing and swearing, “I know not the man.” Notice that Peter refers to Jesus as “the man.” He wouldn’t even say his name! Clearly Peter wants to disassociate himself from Jesus. Immediately, the cock crows a second time just as Jesus had predicted. At this point in the story, Luke’s gospel supplies us with another important detail. Luke tells us that “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter” (Luke 22:61). This must have been one of the most difficult expressions to face. The expression that says, “What have you just done? Why did you do this to me?” The expression also says, “I told you so.” Jesus’ look must have broken Peter’s heart. Our story closes with some of the saddest words ever recorded in sacred history, “And he went out and wept bitterly.”

The Lessons from Peter’s Denial

  • The Lesson of Stumbling and Denial. When Peter denied the Lord he “stumbled.” He did not heed the admonition of his Master who said, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me” (Matt. 11:6). When Peter denied the Lord he disassociated himself from Jesus. We have already learned that the word “deny” in our text means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person.” Peter did not deny that Jesus existed, he denied that he had any relationship with Jesus. Not all denial is wrong. For example, to be a true disciple we must deny self (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). But we must never deny Jesus. This is sinful. We may deny Jesus in a number of ways. We may forsake the assembly of the saints and the Lord’s supper. We may cease to preach the doctrine of Christ (or at least not mention it) when contemporary, controversial issues come up. We may regularly attend a local church but sow discord among the brethren. We may give into peer pressure and go along with the crowd into sin. We may see the need to become a Christian but never do it. Whatever the case may be, whenever we deny Jesus in this life, be prepared for Jesus to deny us in the judgment day (Luke 12:9). Let us all go out and boldly confess to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 10:32-33).
  • The Lesson of Intercessory Prayer. Jesus prayed especially for Peter that his faith would not utterly fail. His prayer was heard (cf. John 11:42) and Peter did not fall away completely. Peter, no doubt was thankful later that Jesus had prayed for him. Because temptation is great and all around us, we need to pray for our brethren, and we need our brethren to pray for us. We must remember the power of prayer and the need for supplications (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:1; Heb. 5:7).
  • The Lesson of the Downward Spiral to Apostasy. What was Peter’s problem on the night he denied Jesus? Let us examine Peter’s downward steps to apostasy. He was proud, boastful, over-confident and self-assured (Matt. 26:31-35; compare Ps.118:8; Prov. 16:18; 1 Cor. 10:12). He was spiritually lazy; he did not watch and pray (Matt. 26:36-46; compare Eph. 5:15; 1 Thess. 5:1-8; Heb. 2:1-3). He was zealous for the wrong cause — a physical fight (Matt. 26:47-56; compare 2 Cor. 10:4-5; Eph. 6:10-13). He was cowardly and did not follow Jesus closely, but “afar off” (Matt. 26:58; compare Mark 8:38; Rev. 21:8). He put himself in the midst of worldliness by the fireside of the enemy (Matt. 26:69; compare Ps. 1:1; Prov. 6:27-29; 1 Cor. 15:33; Jas. 4:4). Finally, he denied the Lord (Matt. 26:69-75; compare Matt. 10:32-33). No wonder Peter ended up in sin! Peter took the slow, easy and gradual path to apostasy. 
  • When we get close to sin, the opportunity to sin is greater. Therefore, let us “flee” sin (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22), not see how close we can get to it. When we “flee” from sin, the Devil will “flee” from us (Jas. 4:7). Peter learned his lesson, and later in life he wrote two epistles encouraging Christians to remain faithful to the Lord. In those epistles he encouraged humility, not pride (1 Pet. 5:5-6); diligence, not laziness (1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:5, 10; 3:14, 17-18); courage, not cowardice (1 Pet . 4:16); abstinence, not worldliness (1 Pet. 2:1-2, 11-12); and defense, not denial (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter knew firsthand the reality and dangers of apostasy and tried his best to discourage others from following his example (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
  • The Lesson of the Ease of Sin. On the night Peter denied Jesus, he found it easy to move from one sin to another. First, Peter denied being with Jesus, then he denied even knowing Jesus and finally he ended up cursing and swearing. Peter went from a simple denial, to a violent denial, to an open, profane denial. Peter went from bad to worse, and such is the case with many sins. B.W. Johnson’s comments are insightful: “The gradations of guilt in the denials of Peter: (1) Ambiguous evasion; (2) distinct denial with a false oath; (3) awful adjuration with solemn imprecations on himself” (The People’s New Testament, 150). Beware, the Devil often makes it easy for you to sin once and then continue on into more and more sin (2 Tim. 3:13).10
  • The Lesson of Rebounding from Sin. Thanks be to God that Peter did not remain in sin. Let us now examine Peter’s upward steps to restoration. First, he remembered the words of Jesus and then he wept bitterly. Peter did not try to cover up his sin, but he recognized it, took responsibility for it and repented. But he did not stop there. Peter moved on. Unlike Judas (Matt. 27:5), Peter had genuine remorse and repentance which lead him to do great things for the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10). After this dark denial was committed, we find Peter running to the tomb in Jerusalem (John 20:1-6) and speaking with Jesus about love and service in Galilee (John 21:15-23; 1 Cor. 15:5). We find Peter associating with the Twelve in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15-26), standing and preaching a beautiful sermon on Pentecost in the Temple, performing miracles in the Temple and speaking boldly in the Temple (Acts 2:14-5:29). We find Peter doing his part to fulfill the Great Commission in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25; 9:32-40; 10:1ff; 11:1ff; 15:7-11; Gal. 2:7-8). He is even imprisoned for the cause of Christ by Herod in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-19). Finally, Peter writes two epistles of encouragement (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1). Yes, we are told that Peter sinned on one other occasion (Gal. 2:11-14). But even then he did not remain in sin. He rebounded once again. Have you heard “the cock crow” in your life? Have you denied Jesus? You don’t have to remain an apostate, you can be converted and come back to the Lord! Don’t quit! Don’t give up!

Peter was not a likely candidate to commit the act of denial. He was distinguished for the great confessions he made and the great deeds that he did during the Lord’s ministry. And yet, Peter is the very one who denies Jesus; not once, but three times. The tragic incident in the life of Peter that we have studied reminds me of the words David used as he lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan. David exclaimed three times, “How are the mighty fallen!” (2 Sam. 1:19, 25, 27). Indeed, the mighty fall and great workers in God’s kingdom today can fall if they are not careful. Let us all learn the lessons from Peter’s denial of Christ. May we never deny Jesus, but continue to confess our allegiance to Jesus Christ throughout our life.

Notes

  1. After comparing all four accounts, Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry suggest two separate predictions by Jesus: one in the upper room, and one at the mount of Olives (The NIV Harmony of the Gospels, 202, footnote b).
  2. All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the American Standard Version (1901) unless otherwise indicated.
  3. See Matt. 14:28-31; 16:21-23; 17:4-5 for examples of Peter’s impulsive character.
  4. The cock actually crowed “twice” according to Mark 14:30, 72.
  5. Mark tells us that Peter said these words “exceeding vehemently” (Mark 14:31); that is, insistently and emphatically. Matthew and Mark tell us that all the disciples made the same basic promise (Matt. 26:35b; Mark 14:31b). Yet, how sad it is to learn that they all ran away (Mark 14:50-51).
  6. John’s gospel tells us that Peter was invited into the court of the high priest by “the other disciple, who was known unto the high priest” (John 18:15-16). The unnamed “disciple” is probably John who speaks of himself impersonally (see John 19:26-27; 20:2-4, 8; 21:7, 20, 23-24). Peter “was beneath in the court” (Mark 14:66). He probably stood in an open courtyard surrounded by a building.
  7. At this point the cock crows for the first time (Mark 14:68). J.W. McGarvey suggests that the first cock-crowing was around midnight, and the second cock-crowing was around 3 a.m. (The Fourfold Gospel, 656). See Mark 13:35.
  8. Luke says, “And after the space of about one hour” (Luke 22:59).
  9. Peter was detected by his Galilean accent. Craig S. Keener comments: “Galilean accents differed from Judean accents; Galileans were careless with their vowels and failed to clearly differentiate the various guttural consonants” (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 124), and again, “Regional accents were difficult to hide (cf. Judg. 12:6)” (Ibid., 252).
  10. Commentators point out that one question asked of Peter was formed in the negative in the original Greek making it easy for Peter to answer in the negative; something like, “You are not one of his disciples are you?” (John 18:17, 25). How convenient the Devil makes it to sin sometimes!

chrisreeves@juno.com

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 1 pp 9-11 January 2000
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