The Lord’s Day Morning
September 18, 2011
“I do not know Him. I am not one of them. And I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke 22 as we continue our way through the gospel together. Last week we were looking at the betrayal of the Lord Jesus by Judas. And in this passage this week, we come to the denial of Jesus by Peter. It is a solemn passage. Jesus had only a few hours before told Peter that he was going to deny Him. Peter protested. He protested that though everyone else deserted Jesus, he would never desert Jesus. Jesus explained to him that before the sun rose, he was not only going to deny Him once, but he was going to do it three times. And this is the passage that recounts that story. And it has a solemn message for each of us. It has a message about sin, it has a message about grace, and it has a message about repentance in it for us. This passage depicts for us the mystery of iniquity, the infinity of mercy, and the necessity of repentance. And let’s pray for God to open our eyes as we prepare to study it.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth and we especially need this word for it deals with matters of the heart. It does not merely record history of an event that happened almost two thousand years ago; it does not merely accurately record that history. It does not merely record for us instructions on daily life. It speaks in this passage of matters of the heart that are a reality, a reality in our own lives and in our own temptations. And it speaks words that we dare not ignore, so open our eyes and our hearts and our ears that we might hear Your word and believe it and respond to it in faith. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it. Beginning in Luke 22 verse 54:
“Then they seized Him and led Him away, bringing Him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, ‘This man also was with Him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’ And a little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not.’ And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, ‘Certainly this man also was with Him, for he too is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Peter really did love Jesus, didn’t he? You know, even in the exchange with Jesus in the Upper Room, with Jesus telling him, “You’re going to deny Me,” and Peter saying, “Lord, I’ll never deny You. If everybody else denies You, I won’t deny You. If everyone else deserts You, I won’t desert You,” even in that exchange, you hear something of the intensity of Peter’s passion for Jesus. He genuinely loved Jesus. And you even get a feel for that in the garden, don’t you? When that garrison of Roman officers and the temple guards and the mob being led with torches and clubs and swords of overwhelming force against Jesus and the apostles, Peter pulls out a sword and is ready to strike the servant of the high priest because he is determined to protect the friend and master that he loves.
And even here, we get a glimpse of Peter’s love, don’t we? All of the other disciples have deserted Jesus at this point, except for Peter and one other. One of the disciples had contacts with the high priest and was able to get himself and Peter into the courtyard of the high priest. And you can see Peter’s love even in that because Peter does not want to abandon his friend. He wants to be near Him. I have no idea what Peter’s plan was, I don’t even know if Peter had a plan, but I do know that he loved Jesus enough that he had no intention of leaving Him alone. If Jesus was going to be carried off to a kangaroo court to be tried unjustly and unbiblically and illegally by some group of His assailants and captors and haters, Peter was not going to leave Him there on His own. And so Peter is very bravely in the courtyard, and yet, and yet, Peter fails exactly as Jesus had told him he was going to fail. Peter does exactly what Jesus told him he was going to do and exactly what Peter told Jesus he would never do.
And in this moving and heartbreaking story, there are three messages that I want us to focus on together. This passage teaches us something about sin and it teaches us something about our sin and it teaches us something about our sin and the way that that sin is leveraged so that we go on to greater defections. This passage also teaches us something about the infinite mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and it teaches us about the nature and necessity of true repentance. And so I want to meditate on those three themes with you for just a few moments.
THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY
The first thing I want you to see here is what we learn about sin. Peter clearly loved Jesus, Peter was clearly brave, Peter was very courageous to be even in the area, much less in the courtyard, outside of the house where Jesus was being tried, but Peter was fearful, wasn’t he? And fear got the best of him here. I do not say that fear would not have gotten the best of me, but it definitely got the best of Peter here. Peter was unprepared for the question that he was addressed. A servant girl, perhaps the woman in the vestibule watching who was coming in and out of the courtyard and involved with admitting and sending out those who were there, was staring him down. Perhaps she had seen him during the day when Jesus was ministering in Jerusalem and she recognized him. And it was one of those things — have you ever seen somebody and you’ve recognized them before, you’ve seen them somewhere before, and you look and you look and you look and then finally it comes to you and you’ve just got to get up in the restaurant and cross across the room and speak to them or you’ve just got to get up from where you are at the party and go speak to them because you’ve seen them somewhere else before? This happens and she recognizes him and she says, “You were with Him. You’re one of His disciples, right?” And Peter’s totally unprepared for this and he’s afraid. He’s afraid of the consequences of being discovered in that very vulnerable situation and he says, “I don’t even know Him.” And then someone else says, “I’ve seen you with them. You were part of that group. You were part of that group of disciples that went around with Him, all the way from Galilee down here to Judea. You’re part of them, aren’t you?” And he says, “No, I’m not one of them.” And then someone sitting near at the fire listening to him, and he keeps hearing the Galilean accent, he knows he’s not from around here, and he says, “You’re a Galilean too. You must be, you must be one of His disciples.” And Peter says, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” But his fear led him to a great defection. Fear was the seed sin that allowed him to deny his Savior.
And Satan so often works that way in us. There’s some sin and it’s the hook or it’s the wedge or it’s the means by which we go to greater sin. And Satan’s always looking for those things in us because they’re there. One famous Scottish minister said, “In my heart are the seeds of every known sin.” And if you don’t know that about yourself you are in terrible danger. This is why, by the way, that Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples, “Pray that you enter not into temptation.” This is why before they had ever left the Upper Room He had told Peter the trial that he was going to undergo and He had urged Peter and all the disciples to pray to prepare themselves for it. But Peter was not ready. And though Peter genuinely loved Jesus it was not enough for him to resist this particular sin and this particular denial and this particular defection. And I don’t know what sin and defection you are struggling with or contemplating today, but I hope that in your battle against it you are not relying on the love that is in your heart for Jesus because that will not be enough.
Peter loved Jesus; he probably loved Jesus more than anybody in this room, and it was not enough. Jesus had already explained to Peter and the disciples that they needed to know the sinfulness of their own hearts, the severity of their trial, and their need for God’s Spirit and God’s grace so that they needed to be in prayer begging for God to give them the supply, for God to give them the aid, for God to give them the help that they were going to need in the trial that they had gone through. And you know, Luke never records for us Peter praying in this section. I don’t know that Peter didn’t lift up a quick prayer somewhere along the way. It would be surprising if he didn’t, but he clearly did not do what Jesus had exhorted the disciples to do. We know, for instance, that he was sleeping along with the other disciples in the garden when Jesus told them that they needed to be praying. And so he was unprepared spiritually for the challenge with sin that he faced and he relied not on God, not by prayer upon the strength that only God can supply, but he relied on what was in him and he wasn’t ready. And if you rely on what is in you and you don’t rely upon God’s grace and you don’t rely upon God’s Spirit and you don’t rely upon the Gospel, you don’t stand a chance against sin, and the leveraging of one sin that leads to another that Satan so often does. And this passage teaches us about the mystery of iniquity and how one sin can lead to another.
I don’t know what secret defections that you are contemplating in your heart this morning. You may be thinking about leaving your family. You may be thinking about defecting in some other way. But I do know this — if you face that temptation in your own strength, you will lose. And Jesus said to Peter and to the disciples, “Pray that you enter not into temptation and that you are delivered from that temptation.” We need to constantly know the capacity of our hearts for defection. We need to constantly know our need for God’s help and grace because the Gospel is not just for unbelievers; the Gospel is for believers too. We need God’s Gospel, we need God’s grace, we need God’s mercy just as much as unbelievers for the facing of the sins of this hour. And that’s one thing we learn in Peter’s denials.
THE INFINITY OF MERCY
But there’s a second thing we learn here, isn’t it? And it’s beautiful. Do you know what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Luke tells you. It’s verse 61. Right as Peter is denying Jesus for the third time, we are told that “Jesus turned and looked at him.” B.B. Warfield once commented on that passage in a sermon that he preached and he said that “as our Savior was being tried and preparing to bear the sins of us all on the cross, He had time to give one glance to a faltering disciple and so save his soul in the saving of the world.” You think of it, you know, Jesus had a few things to think about that night. There were a few things going on, and I don’t know where Jesus was standing. I don’t know whether He was in the balcony of a gallery looking down in the courtyard, I don’t know whether He was a room of a house looking out a window, I don’t know whether He was passing by in the courtyard as they were passing Him on to Herod or to Pilate or to someone else, but wherever He was He was able to see Peter and He just looked at Peter.
And the difference between Peter and Judas can be traced to that look. It was not something different in Peter, it was something about what the Savior did in His infinite mercy for Peter. He looked at him, and in that look reminded him of the word. And we’re told that in verse 61. The minute that Jesus’ and Peter’s eyes met, Peter did what? “He remembered the word.” And notice what Jesus is doing — He’s taking him back to the word. We’ll talk about that in just a second. But that glance is the difference between Peter ending up like Judas and Peter being restored. You see in the end the difference between you and me and the difference between you and me and those who do not repent, is not that we are better; it’s that Jesus has shown us His infinite mercy. The seeds of every known sin are in our hearts and it’s the mercy of Jesus that spares us from going where we could have gone.
Billy Joseph was talking in the Inquirer’s Class today to some of our folks who are checking us out here at First Presbyterian Church and he said, “You know, as our elders get involved with pastoral situations with people that are struggling with sin in the congregation, one of the things that our elders say to us over and over in those encounters as they deal with the sins in the hearts and lives of other people, is that it always convicts them of their own sin and they realize that sometimes that when they’re dealing with sin in the life of another person that may be wrecking their life, that the temptation to that sin exists in their own heart but in God’s kindness He has kept them from it.” He has either kept them from the opportunity or He has spared them in the temptation to follow through on the opportunity. And if we’re not realistic about that, if we don’t understand that we are capable, we are capable of doing unspeakable crimes, then we are in real danger. Jesus said to Peter, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And then He gave him a look when Peter had forgotten everything that Jesus had told him, that that look led Peter to repentance rather than to self-destruction.
THE NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE
But there’s a third thing we see in this passage and it’s a message about repentance. I want you to see, first of all, how repentance takes root. Jesus looks into Peter’s eyes and Gospel repentance begins with the work of God the Holy Spirit in us. It doesn’t begin with our work; it begins with the work of the Spirit drawing our eyes to something we need to see. And notice what Jesus’ look to Peter draws him to think about. It leads him to think about the word, the word that Jesus had spoken to him. True repentance begins when the Spirit holds the Word up to us like a mirror and we look into that mirror and our eyes are opened for the first time and we suddenly realize what we’ve done. And that’s exactly what happens to Peter. And what does he do? He goes out and he weeps bitterly. He sees his sin. He had not seen his sin before. He repeated his sin but he had not seen it. But then Jesus looks at him, he remembers the word, the Spirit holds the word up to Peter like a mirror, and Peter, suddenly, like an outer body experience, sees what he has done and it grieves his soul with a godly sorrow, a godly sorrow that will lead him not simply to feel bad about getting caught, not simply to feel bad about the consequences of that sin, but to hate the sin that he has committed and to have his life changed. He does not go on in that sin.
You know the difference between a remorse for being caught in sin and a godly sorrow that leads to repentance, one of the differences is there is a renovation of life, there’s a change of behavior that comes as a part of that process of repentance. Gospel repentance always leads to a change of behavior, not just words where we profess to believe one thing and then act another way, but an actual change of behavior so that our behavior comes in line to what the Word says. And though it’s not recorded here, we know that it will be recorded in the restoration of Peter that Peter not only wept bitterly over his sin, but his life changed. He did not go on in this denial. And that teaches us something about repentance. Repentance isn’t just feeling badly about sin, it’s not just feeling badly about the consequences of sin or the embarrassment of sin; it is coming to see the sin for what it is and recognizing how ugly it is and turning from it and to God. And Peter does that in this passage.
So where are you being drawn this morning? What is it that’s being leveraged in your heart to lead you to a great defection? And do you understand that you don’t have in you what it takes to resist that kind of sin? You need God. You need grace. You need the Lord Jesus Christ. You need the work of the Holy Spirit. Don’t you love the way the third question of the membership vows gets it? “Do you now resolve and promise in humble reliance upon the divine grace of the Holy Spirit that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Are you depending on the grace of the Holy Spirit? Do you know that only God’s power at work in you will do? You know it’s interesting that Jesus had already said to the disciples in the Upper Room that night, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” That’s why He told them to pray because prayer is an exercise in which we say, “Apart from You, O God, we can do nothing. We need Your strength, we need Your favor, we need Your grace, we need Your power.” So have you recognized that about your heart, that you’re powerless before that sin and that you need God’s grace? And have you recognized that in true repentance you can’t treasure the Savior while you continue to go on treasuring that sin? As Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” so also you cannot serve God and any sin. There’s only one Master. This passage is very timely and very convicting for me and I trust it’s a word of grace to you, to many of you in here today to see the darkness of our sin, the greatness of His mercy, and the absolute requirement of repentance.
Heavenly Father, our love for You is not enough. We need a love from You to us that will not let us go. Grant that to us we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you turn with me in your hymnals to number 708 and we’ll sing, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”
Apart from Him we can do nothing, but He has not left us to fight the battle on our own. He has given us grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.