Matthew 26: 69-75

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Jesus is inside the Caiaphas’ home in front of a kangaroo court. They had already decided Jesus’ fate. The facts did not matter. Peter had made it into the house’s courtyard and was warming himself by the fire. Beside him were the guards. Up walks a servant girl who recognizes Peter. She knew Peter had been with Jesus. But Peter denied it.

As I stated in the previous passage I believe Peter began with the purest of motives. He followed at a distance to Caiaphas’ house. He did not need to follow at all. When he got to the high priest’s house The servants refused him entry. He did not leave at that point. He hung around. Another disciple, known to the high priest, told them to let Peter in. (John 18:15-16) Peter went in. Now he was in the belly of the beast. Why was he there? He was there to see what was going to happen. (Matthew 26:58b) Was this the end? Maybe, just maybe, he could intervene somehow and rescue his Lord. That is all consistent with Peter’s actions up to that point.

But here he denies he was ever with Jesus. Why the sudden change from bravery to a cowering wimp? It is not a sudden change. Something happened he was not expecting. A servant girl recognized him as a follower of Jesus. She asked him about it. There were soldiers standing beside him at the fire. If he said yes at the least they would throw him out. Outside the gate, he could not help if an opportunity arose.

If one of the soldiers had confronted him with a sword drawn Peter would have fought. But this was a servant girl. She had no power. She might tell someone. But there was no immediate threat. So Peter had to ask himself a question. What was he going to do? It was easy to justify claiming he was not with Jesus. In fact, all he said was, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

It was a soft denial. It was easy to justify. But now he made a claim not to be with Jesus. And so when the next servant girl asks him He has to be consistent. This time the denial is stronger. He denies knowing Jesus with an oath. Here Peter is not only denying of his Lord. He violated Jesus’ teaching.

And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:36-37)

As more people start to recognize him, he has to make his denial stronger. So that the next time someone confronts him, it must be stronger yet. It is now not about rescuing his Lord. It is about saving himself. This is how Peter went from “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26: 33) To calling curses on himself if he had ever been with Jesus. The path to denial was gradual.

Peter started with a soft denial and ended with cursing. It was not necessary to overpower Peter with force. It was not the soldiers who caused Peter to sin. Anyone not supported by the hand of God will fall at the slightest breeze.

Peter had already displayed his courage. True it was in an improper manner. But it was courage nonetheless. Peter thought of himself as a valiant soldier. Even so, he fell and fell hard. This should remind us our strength is not enough to resist powerful attacks.

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