Jesus before Annas and Peter’s denial of Jesus
Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest is both a shocking and important incident. It’s shocking because he denies his Lord and Saviour – the one he had spent 3 years with, and had seen raising the dead and giving sight to the blind, and who had enabled him to walk on water and had saved him when drowning in the next moment! Of this one Peter says: ‘I don’t know this man.
This account is so important because we are much more like Peter than we sometimes realise, and can deny Jesus by blending into society, hardly ever speaking about the Lord to those who don’t know him and remaining silent when we should be speaking. But this section isn’t just about Peter’s denial. It also deals with Jesus’ trial. These events happen simultaneously. This gives us an obvious contrast: we see Jesus standing up to the questions of the powerful, and we find Peter folding as he faces questions from the powerless.
When we just read through this passage, and look at it as a whole, it really highlights for us the suffering of Jesus. As he faces the injustice of a kangaroo court, most of his closest friends had already fled, one is about to deny him, and he will soon be forsaken by his Father. And all this takes place because of human sin. We ought not to judge Peter too harshly. It was Peter’s passion and love for Jesus which had taken him to the High Priest’s courtyard in the first place; remember, all the other disciples except for John had scarpered. Nonetheless, Peter is about to have a spiritual meltdown.
What can we learn from this incident?
1. Guard against self-confidence
It’s is easy to think that there are sins which we would never commit. Certainly, Peter was pretty sure he would never deny Jesus. (see John 13:37) But he did! All of us have a tendency to think we are stronger than we actually are. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
‘The seeds of all sins are in my heart.’ (R M McCheyne) We must never think: ‘I’d never do that.’
All it takes is the right conditions: temptation + opportunity.
Challenge: do you have too high an opinion of yourself, thinking that you are strong?
2. Guard against prayerlessness
John doesn’t deal with this here but it’s worth briefly mentioning that in Mark’s Gospel we read: Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Mark 14:37-38)
In many ways, prayerlessness and self-confidence are two sides of the same coin. When we think we’re strong enough to live without God, we don’t bother praying to him and asking for the strength and grace we need each day. Peter’s lack of dependence on the Lord in prayer is another factor which leads to his denial.
3. One sins leads to another – sin grows!
Peter denies Jesus – and sin is often like a fish-hook. He does the same thing again. And again!
You stop reading the Bible for a day, then 2 days… Is this a small thing? Before you know it, months go by, and you are starving yourself of spiritual food, and you feel far from God.
You’re watching tv, and see something you shouldn’t and don’t hit the red off button. You kind of enjoyed what you saw, even though it was wrong. Where might that lead to? Will it be easier to watch the next time? Will your heart become desensitised?
4. In what ways do we deny Jesus?
We might not overtly say, ‘No, I’m not a Christian.’ But perhaps we are denying Jesus by our silence.
– We’re asked if we’ve had a good weekend, and we rarely mention church, or if we do, we quickly focus on something else.
– We’re discussing a current affair with friends and have a really different view from them, but just keep silent, because we don’t want to look different. In that moment, being people-pleasers seems to matter more than being a God-pleaser. Can you relate to that?
– We can deny Jesus when there’s a church event or course and we’re encouraged to invite people with flyers, or using social media, but we really don’t want others to think we take Jesus so seriously. So, we do nothing. We blend in.
– We can deny Jesus by living for money, or our work, or our family, and not putting Jesus first.
– We deny Jesus when we cave into temptation – and don’t live in a godly way in our homes.
We cave into temptations and go our own selfish way, acting like we don’t know Jesus at all. Aren’t we all like Peter? Let’s be realistic, our Scottish culture is becoming more and more hostile to Christian things, and so the temptation to deny Jesus is just going to grow.
One of the best things we can do is to be clear about our Christian faith straight away. In the coming weeks and months, you will be questioned about your belief in Jesus. What will you say? Make up your mind now to stand up for Jesus. Peter had a choice to stand up for Jesus or to deny him. We have this same choice today. Do we speak out for him or try and blend in?
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)
5. If we’re living a life where we’ve been denying Jesus, God can still use us
Most of us know Peter’s denial is not the end of the story. He will be restored! In fact, God will use him mightily in the future, in spite of his cowardice at this point.
God’s grace is amazing. If you’ve spent months or even years denying Jesus, you can still come back, turn from your sin, and repent. To repent = to turn around. God can still use you. Don’t be stuck in the past, or even the present, but press on, living for Jesus.
Jesus’ integrity shines through throughout his trial. In marked contrast to Peter, he says: I have spoken openly to the world. (John 18:20)
May God help us to be like Jesus, and to speak openly to the world about our faith, knowing that, like Jesus, it will lead to a degree of suffering. May we count it a privilege to follow in his footsteps.