Even when we want to do what is right, sin can overcome us. Consider the example of Peter when he proclaimed to Christ, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” (Matt. 26:33) Clearly, Peter thought himself strong enough to defeat any challenge to his faith. This confidence came from a love and trust in Jesus. Peter had been with the Lord from the beginning of His ministry, had witnessed His miracles, and believed His teaching. He could not imagine any threat or intimidation too difficult for him to conquer.
Following Peter’s bold assertion, Christ warned him “that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” (Matt. 26:34) And, just a few hours later, the events unfolded exactly as Jesus said they would. (Matt. 26:69-75) Why did Peter do what he said he would never do? He was not a weak or cowardly man as proven by his reaction when the solders came to take Christ. It was Peter who took out his sword and cutoff an ear of one of the solders. (John 18:10) He was willing to go to battle for the Lord against overwhelming forces. Peter was willing to die right then and there to protect Jesus. So again, why did he deny the Lord three times that night?
The first piece in solving this puzzle is Peter’s response after Christ revealed “you will deny Me three times.” We see a crack in his faith when he argued with the Lord’s statement by saying, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matt. 26:35) Peter pitted his own will, wisdom, and strength against Christ’s, and he looked to himself for victory. Anytime we challenge Jesus or think we know better than His words, sin gets the upper hand.
It seems that pride got the better of Peter on this occasion. He had a higher estimation of himself than he should have by being so confident. This brings to mind the words of Solomon in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”
We can be lulled asleep by past successes, believing that since we overcame once we’ll overcome again. Perhaps Peter also thought the test was over when he proved his loyalty to Jesus earlier by taking his sword against the solders. What should we learn from this part of the story? Keep your guard up against Satan’s relentless attacks. Past victories don’t guarantee future triumphs. The battle is constant and never ending as long as we live on this earth. (1 Peter 5:8 -9)
Questions about his association with Jesus catch Peter off guard. He felt threatened by their allegations and reacted impulsively rather than responding calmly and truthfully to their charges. It was the danger of the moment that got him into trouble. Peter wanted and intended to do what was right, but he didn’t. We’ve all been in similar situations, caught off guard and challenged to defend our faith in Christ and it’s not easy. Do not feel ashamed of our Lord, what He has done for us or your faith in His promises. Jesus is worth standing up for.
You will also notice that Peter followed Christ and the proceedings from a distance. He sat outside in the courtyard to hear and see the events. (Matt. 26:58) Perhaps if he had been with Christ, in the presence of His strength, Peter would have remembered the warning and remained strong. Instead, Peter placed himself in the company of the high priest’s servants, a dangerous place to be at that moment. We would do well to remember that our strength comes from Christ and we should remain in His spiritual presence. (Eph. 6:10- 13) Do not willingly place yourself in precarious situations, but rather avoid them. (1 Cor. 15:33)
In Luke’s account, Peter recalled the Lord’s warning after the cock crowed and Jesus looked over at him. (Luke 22:60-61) Can you imagine the horrified shock in Peter’s heart at that moment? To realize he wasn’t as strong as he thought he was. He had forgotten Christ’s admonition and his bold promise to never deny the Lord. Peter loved the Lord, believed Him to be the Messiah, and had already given up much to follow Christ, yet he just did what he said he would never do. He “went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62)
Many people want to do what’s right, they want to serve the Lord and remain faithful, but in a moment of weakness temptation gets the better of them. We can respond in one of two ways. We can either let sin shake our faith and destroy us, or we can turn from it and rededicate ourselves to godly service. Peter chose the latter, he went out and wept bitterly and then became the apostle Christ wanted. This wasn’t his last impulsive sin (Gal. 2:11-21), but Peter always came back and served the Lord faithfully. If you want to do what’s right, then don’t let sin overcome you.