"Now Peter sat outside, in the palace; and a damsel came unto him, saying, `Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.' But he denied before them all, saying, `I know not what thou sayest.' And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, `This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.' And again he denied with an oath, `I do not know the man.' And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, `Surely thou also art one of them, for thy speech betrayeth thee.' Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, `I know not the man.' And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, `Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.' And he went out, and wept bitterly." - Mt.26:69-75
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 at Peter." 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, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." 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.
The only hope for Peter 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 the grace of God which is greater than all sin, and he fearlessly proclaimed, "Let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God hath made that same Jesus both Lord and Christ" (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 brought before the council and warned 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 departed from the council rejoicing that he was worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Jesus (Acts 5:40-41).
"In Works They Deny Him"
Thousands are today denying their acquaintance with this 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's 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 arrested Jesus; it was merely another 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 that they know God, but in works they deny him" (Tit.1:16). May God give us grace to see that if we fail to obey His Word, we are already denying Him in works, our continued lip-service notwithstanding. "Faith without works," wrote James, "is dead" (Jas.2:17). Worship without obedience is nothing more than flattery.
Yes, indeed, my reader, we can by our works deny the Lord we claim to serve and be just as far from God's approval as Peter ever was. For instance, Paul declared, "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1Tim.5:8).
As we view this generation of pleasure-loving believers we are made to recall Paul's description of them: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." He further warns us, "From such turn away" (2Tim.3:5). Peter, in describing this same class of unholy believers says, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2Pet.2:1). Jude comments on this same group by telling us, "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [lustfulness], and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved [rescued] the people out of the Land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not" (Jude 4,5). Please note that none of these verses refer to believers who verbally deny Jesus; on the contrary, they claimed to speak for him. Nevertheless, 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, the Lord lamented, "This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips, 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, "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which 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 Ghost that your life is free from sin? Or does your life proclaim, "I know him not"? Are you uncertain - this very moment - that your heart is free from evil? If you are not sure, it is time for you to realize 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 removed from our lives, when we submit to the divine 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 - we do no longer deny the Lord, the one who bought us with his own blood. The 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, "By their fruits [works] ye shall know them."