Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came up to him, saying, ‘You were definitely with Jesus of Galilee.’ But he denied him before them all, saying, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But after he went out to the entranceway, another girl saw him, and she said to those who were there, ‘This man was definitely with Jesus the Nazarene.’ And he again denied it, with an oath, saying, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Then, a little while later, those standing there came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely, you are also one of them, for even your accent gives you away.’ Then he began to bind himself under a curse and to swear, ‘I don’t know the man!’ And immediately, a rooster crowed. And Peter was reminded of the saying Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before a rooster crows, three times will you deny me.’ And he went outside, and wept bitterly.”
In the pre-dawn chill, impetuous Peter warmed himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace and vehemently denied knowing the Lord. Doubtless he made himself believe that doing so was his only escape. It will not stretch the imagination too far to suppose that in his dark hour of reasoning he was thinking, “If I am killed or thrown into prison, how can I help the Master?” He could even have been planning to rescue Jesus by organizing his friends. Whatever his thoughts were, they seemed logical to him; that is, until the cock crowed and “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Lk. 22:61). It was then that Peter for the first time saw himself as he really was: a poor, wilted, backslidden apostle.
Earlier that evening, Peter, in the high optimism of faith, declared to Jesus, “If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” Now, a few hours later, we find this same apostle to be of another persuasion, his faith gone, and he in the bondage of fear. It was when he began to chart his own course that he began to doubt and to become fearful of his enemies. The conclusion of a dying faith is fear. The heart that trusts in God has a shield through which neither fear nor doubt may pass.
As a fisherman, Peter had many times matched his courage against the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee. He did not run from danger so long as he was familiar with the dangers which confronted him. How boldly he drew his sword to defend Jesus when the soldiers and servants of the high priest came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemene! But the little maids in the palace confronted Peter with another type of warfare – the uncertainties of a trial before the council and the bitter, merciless questions of the elders. How was he to fight these experienced rulers? How foolish they would make him appear before all the people! He would have died for his Master in a physical contest, but in a battle of spirits, he fled before the probing questions of little girls. Peter was neither the first or the last to fail this test.
Peter’s only hope was that he had not lost faith in the forgiving love of his Master. What a change awaited this faint-hearted disciple! In only a few weeks, he possessed the spiritual strength to stand in Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel to the same angry mob that now was having his Lord sent to the cruel cross of Calvary. When the time came, thank God, he wasn’t afraid. There is no room for anxiety in the heart which is filled with God’s Spirit. Where there is faith, there cannot be fear. Peter’s fear and unbelief had so dominated him that he disobeyed openly, and God had to refuse his service. Then Peter proved his sinful condition by denying the Lord outright. But, as we have stated, a few weeks later, Peter was a completely different man.
On Pentecost morning, Peter was transformed by God’s grace, which is greater than all sin, and he fearlessly proclaimed, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified!” (Acts 2:36). This apostle need weep no tears of remorse for his actions now. He could face danger and death joyously, for his works and words were in accord with Him who had restored to him the joy of his salvation.
Yes, men saw a new Simon Peter that day, no longer behind “locked doors for fear of the Jews”, but boldly standing in the temple courtyard, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Twice, he was warned by the council to stop preaching. His boldness astonished the leaders of Israel, for even to them, as they sat in their judgment seats, he preached Christ as man’s only hope of salvation (Acts 4:5–12). Neither prison nor the lash could stop this reclaimed apostle. Once, after being beaten, he left the council rejoicing that God deemed him worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus (Acts 5:40–41).
“By Works They Deny Him”
Thousands today are denying the same Lord that Peter once denied. Their denial may not be as obvious as Peter’s was, perhaps, for he denied our Lord in both works and words. But notice that the works came first. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, Peter attacked the high priest’s servant with a sword. This was not the behavior of a faithful follower of the meek Son of God. Later that same night, Peter’s verbal denial of Jesus was no greater a denial of the Lord than was his attack on those who had come to arrest Jesus; it was merely a different way of denying him.
It would be difficult to find anyone who has been forgiven of sin by Christ who has backslidden so far as to verbally deny him; at the same time, there are many who deny Jesus by the way they try to do him service, just as Peter denied him by taking up the sword in the garden. Paul speaks of such brothers by saying, “They profess to know God, but by works, they deny Him, being loathsome and disobedient, and unfit for any good work” (Tit. 1:16). May God give us grace to see that if we fail to obey Jesus, we are denying him in works, our continued lip-service notwithstanding. “Faith by itself, if it have no works,” wrote James, “is dead” (Jas. 2:17), and we may add that worship without obedience is mere flattery.
Yes, my reader, we can, by our works, deny the Lord and be just as far from God’s approval as Peter ever was. For instance, Paul once declared, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Tim. 5:8).
As we view this generation of pleasure-loving believers, we are made to recall Paul’s description of some in his day who had “a form of godliness,” but who denied its power. He further warns us, “Turn away from such men as these” (2Tim. 3:5). Peter, in describing this same class of unholy believers says, “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there shall also be false teachers among you, who shall bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2Pet. 2:1). Jude comments on this same group by telling us, “For certain men have crept in, who were long ago designated for this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into licentiousness [lustfulness] and denying the only Master, God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, after He saved the people out of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 4–5). Please note that none of those verses refer to verbally denying Jesus; on the contrary, those involved claimed to serve him. Still, their denial of the Lord was real.
Reader, are you among the multitude of those who worship the Lord, but deny Jesus by your works? Having found many such worshippers among His Old Testament people, God lamented, “This people draws near to me with their mouth, and with their lips they honor me, but their heart is far from me”, adding the dreadful statement, “In vain do they worship me” (Mt. 15:8–9). Jesus was referring to more than a verbal denial when he said, “Whoever denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:33). This warning was repeated by Paul in his second letter to Timothy, when he wrote, “If we deny him, he will also deny us” (2:12).
Do you have the witness of the holy Spirit that your life is free from sin? Or does your life proclaim, “I know him not”? Are you uncertain that your heart is free from evil? If you are not sure, you should know that as long as you remain in this condition, you are denying the Son of God openly.
When all sin is confessed and all doubt is gone, when we submit to God’s will instead of following our own, when the love of God rules our hearts, and when we wholly submit to the Word of Truth, then – and not before – are we not denying the Lord who bought us with his own blood. True followers of Jesus Christ are distinguished not merely by their speaking well of Jesus but also by their submission to his will. For this reason, Jesus said, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit” (Mt. 7:16).
Jesus described how surprised many unfaithful believers will be on the Day of Judgement: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord! Lord! Haven’t we prophesied in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and performed many miracles in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you who work lawlessness!’ ” (Mt. 7:21–23).
May God give us all the faith not only to confess that Jesus is Lord with our tongues but to add to that verbal testimony the testimony of righteous conduct. Without that, nothing good we say about Jesus carries any weight in heaven.