Passion Week – Good Friday Events 1/2 – The hurt of Peter’s denial of Christ

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How many times did the rooster crow when Peter denied Jesus?

Matthew 26:34 (also Luke 22:34, John 13:38)

„I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, „this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Mark 14:30

„I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, „today – yes, tonight – before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

Mark 14:66-72

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

„You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

But he denied it. „I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, „This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, „Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, „I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: „Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.


Jesus’ Great Confession; Peter’s Great Denial
Matthew 26:57-68

57 Now the ones who had arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, in whose house the experts in the law and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him from a distance, all the way to the high priest’s courtyard. After going in, he sat with the guards to see the outcome. 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” 62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy! 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy for us, you Christ! Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:57-68)

Two events are being described simultaneously by Matthew in this paragraph and the next, so as to set them in contrast to each other. The first is our Lord’s interrogation by Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Sanhedrin. The second is Peter’s “interrogation” by those around him. At the very moments Peter is denying His Lord, our Lord Jesus is affirming His identity as the Messiah – His “great confession.”

It is the middle of the night, and Jesus has been sent from Annas to stand before Caiaphas. The whole Sanhedrin is present (see also Mark 14:55), including the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Matthew 26:57-59). This is far from a legal gathering. In our terms, Jesus is not getting “due process of the law” here. These “judges” are far from neutral. They seek any testimony that will justify their resolve to kill Jesus (verse 59), but they can’t do it.

These are horrible and shameful moments in Israel’s history, but at times the account comes close to being amusing. Here is this pompous group of Israel’s “cream of the crop.” It is something like the convening of the Supreme Court in our day. These are the top religious and legal experts, and they are determined to execute Jesus. They resolved that they would not arrest or kill Jesus until “after the feast” (Matthew 26:5), but Jesus forced their hand when He informed Judas and the disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them (Matthew 26:21). Jesus even let Judas know that he was the one who would betray Him (Matthew 26:25). Judas no longer had the luxury of time. He had to act now to earn his fee, whether the Jewish leaders liked it or not.

The religious leaders were in a real bind. They seem compelled to include the Romans (Pilate, Herod, and the Roman soldiers). They were forced to crucify Jesus, a very public death. And they must complete this matter before Passover, lest they be defiled, and thus would have been prevented from participating in Passover (seeJohn 18:28; 19:14; Mark 15:42-43). A few hours earlier, it would have appeared that they had almost two weeks to prepare for the execution of Jesus. They have not had any time to acquire and “coach” witnesses, and this was very obvious. Imagine these fellows attempting to give an air of sobriety and propriety, while things are in total chaos. Their witnesses disagree so badly that even with their disposition to accept any charge, it is evident this testimony won’t suffice. A parade of witnesses pass by, and all fail to meet minimum requirements. No two witnesses agree, and when two finally agree, the charges were not viable. It was, at best, a corruption of what Jesus had said (“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” – John 2:19). Even if their words were true, it isn’t a crime to say that you are able to do such a thing; it would be a crime if you attempted it. This case would have been thrown out of any court in our land.

You can imagine how frustrated these fellows must have been. Their case was stalling, and there seemed to be nothing they could do about it. The high priest sought to induce Jesus to violate His Fifth Amendment rights (in today’s terms) by giving testimony against Himself. “What did Jesus have to say to this charge?” Jesus had nothing to say. He need not have spoken. The charges were not worthy of comment or of defense. It was not His duty to provide them with evidence; it was their duty to produce evidence of a crime.

Then the high priest had an inspiration. He would charge Jesus under oath to answer this question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” (Matthew 26:63). This was a question Jesus was not legally obliged to answer. And yet Jesus chose to answer. I used to think that this was because the high priest put Him under oath. I now look at it differently. This was a question Jesus must answer. To refuse to answer would imply that He was not the Messiah, the Son of God. If He were the Messiah, the Son of God, then why would He not answer to this effect? This was the crux of the coming of our Lord – to reveal Himself as the Messiah, and as the Son of God.

Our Lord’s answer was far from tentative. Not only did He identify Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, He also referred to Himself as the Son of Man:

Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:67).

This is an incredibly powerful statement. Jesus affirms His identity. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man, which means that He will return to the earth in power, to deal with His enemies and to establish justice.

These words, if believed, should have struck terror into the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Instead, they were taken as blasphemy, a capital offense by Jewish law (see Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:30). No one in that group paused to reflect on the implications of Jesus’ claim. No one gave serious thought as to whether this claim might be true. In their minds, this was all they needed to condemn Jesus to death. And so the high priest musters all the righteous indignation he can produce, and calls for the death of Jesus:

Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy!” (Matthew 26:65)

His colleagues heartily agreed, and they pronounced sentence on our Lord.

What follows is particularly significant. Once the guilty verdict is pronounced, there is a disproportionate outpouring of wrath and contempt on our Lord. They spit in His face – they spit in God’s face! They strike Him with their fists, pouring out their wrath on God incarnate. They slap Him, and challenge Him to prophesy who hit Him (26:67-68). Here is the highest court in the land, and look at its conduct. Here is God, in the hands of angry sinners.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A slave girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it in front of them all: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 71 When he went out to the gateway, another slave girl saw him and said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” 72 He denied it again with an oath, “I do not know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there came up to Peter and said, “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!” 74 At that he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:69-75).

Meanwhile, Peter is sitting in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, warming himself by the fire. A mere slave girl314 identifies him as one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter denies it. Initially, Peter does not pointedly deny knowing Jesus; he simply responds that he doesn’t know what she is talking about. Apparently this is sufficient to silence this first slave girl. But then another slave girl confronts Peter. She does not just question Peter; she speaks to those standing around: “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene” (Matthew 26:71). From Peter’s point of view, this is much more threatening. He denies his association with Jesus, underscoring his denial with an oath. Finally, a third person – one standing nearby – came up to Peter, and this time with an even more persuasive accusation: “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!” (verse 73). Peter more pointedly denied even knowing Jesus, let alone associating with Him. This time he felt it necessary to punctuate his denial with cursing.

At that moment, a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ words indicating that he would deny Him. Peter went outside and wept bitterly. Strangely, this is the last time Matthew refers to Peter by name in this Gospel. While Matthew does provide an account of the final outcome for Judas (Matthew 27:3-10), he does not do so for Peter. Is this because he knows that such an account will take a great deal more time and information? Is this because he knows that a subsequent history of the church (including Peter) will be written? For whatever reason, Matthew does not feel compelled to give us the “rest of the story” regarding Peter.


If our text demonstrates anything, it is that all mankind, without exception, is desperately sinful and, apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus, hopelessly lost:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,

11 there is no one who understands,

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away,

together they have become worthless;

there is no one who shows kindness,

not even one” (Romans 3:10b-12).

Whether at his finest, or at his worst, every human being is a sinner, desperately wicked in heart and often in deed. There is no way that we can ever earn our own righteousness, that we can attain God’s favor by our efforts. We need salvation from some source outside of ourselves. We need Jesus, for He alone can save.

Our text dramatically demonstrates the sinfulness of man and the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our text, no one comes out looking good, no one except Jesus, that is. Everything Jesus predicted happened just as He said it would. Under more stress and pressure than we will ever know, Jesus never failed. His words and His deeds are amazing to us. Though men (like Peter, or Judas, or the religious leaders) failed, Jesus did not. Though His closest friends forsook Him, He will not forsake His own – those who have trusted in Him for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Jesus Never Fails; He is always faithful, even when we fail:

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end (John 13:1).

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

In mankind’s darkest hour, the perfections of our Lord shine ever so bright. He alone is worthy of our trust, and of our worship, obedience, and service. Do not let the horrors of these events in our Lord’s last hours distract your attention from Jesus. He deserves center stage. His perfections deserve our praise.

We should probably say a word about Peter’s denials. Let us not fail to read this text, describing Peter’s worst moments, without bearing in mind “the rest of the story.” We may have seen the last of Peter (by name) in Matthew, but we find a very different Peter in the Book of Acts. With the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we find a transformed Peter. We find a man who now boldly proclaims the gospel, in spite of the opposition and the risks:

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man—by what means this man was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. 14 And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this (Acts 4:8-14).

As a result of the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Peter not only boldly identifies with His Lord, He instructs us to do so as well:

13 For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. 15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17).

The events of our text underscore for us the trustworthiness and authority of the Scriptures. Just as at the birth of our Lord, so also here we find that Matthew repeatedly points out to us that the Scriptures are being fulfilled at every point of this procession to the cross. God’s Word is true. It never fails. Even when men try their hardest to resist God and to rebel against His purposes, they end up unwittingly fulfilling His purposes and promises. We can trust His Word.

Let me end with one more observation and application. Our text describes the darkest hour in all of human history, and yet we gather every Sunday to remember the death of Jesus. More than that, we come every Sunday to celebrate His death. This is due to the fact that His suffering and His death is the only means by which sinful men may be saved, and have eternal life. It is also due to the fact that the resurrection of Jesus enables us to view these events in a whole new way. At the cross, Jesus took the curse (death) and made it the cure (His atoning work on our behalf). God used the most cruel and wicked actions of men to accomplish His eternal plan of salvation.

Surely this is an example of the truth that is proclaimed in Romans 8:

28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

God was able to make the horrid events of our Lord’s rejection and crucifixion into a salvation so blessed that it will take all eternity to fathom it. If our Lord can transform this kind of apparent tragedy into a triumphant work of redemption, then is it not reasonable for us to believe that God will cause every event in our lives to work out for His glory, and for our good?

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