“The Lord turned and looked intently at Peter.” He didn’t give a quick glance. Jesus uncomfortably stared at him.
Have you ever been in a similar situation? You’ve done something wrong and somebody gives you a look that bores into your soul, filling your already guilty conscience with even more guilt. Maybe it was a parent. Maybe a teacher. Maybe a friend. Maybe it was another authority figure. Just the look alone is enough to get you.
When Jesus glared at Peter, it forced him to remember the saying. Realizing what he’d just done, he came to his senses. And that happens to us too. There are times we commit sins and then later on it’s like, “Oh, what was I thinking?” Now, some may use that wrongly as an excuse for sin, saying, “I don’t know why I did that; I just wasn’t thinking,” while hoping to forget about it and move on. But what this all really shows is just how easily sin comes. We are by nature sinful and unclean, which means we can sin without even thinking or trying.
The way Peter denied his Lord was so effortless, “No, I don’t know Him; I am not; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was scared, obviously, to be put on trial right there with Jesus. He wanted to say anything that would get him out of the uncomfortable situation. Denying Jesus was the quickest route to get there.
Yet, one deep look from the Lord weighed on Peter. This disciple—who so adamantly declared that even if all the other disciples fell away, he would still stand by Jesus, who even cut off the servant’s ear in Gethsemane to defend Jesus—this disciple buckles under pressure once Jesus is arrested. He denies even knowing Him.
Have you ever done that, denied your Lord? Most—maybe all of you—have. I know I have. If you have ever had a time in life where somebody asked if you know Jesus, if you’re a Christian, or something similar, then you’ve denied the Lord just like Peter. When a time of testing came, you failed to stand your ground and confess Christ in the face of possible ridicule.
There’s another type of denial. If you have ever had a time in life when you could have told someone about your Lord and Savior but you didn’t because you were scared, then you denied the Lord just like Peter. When a time of evangelism came, you failed to share the love of God in Christ Jesus, because you were afraid of the reaction you’d get. Both instances are denial, because in both instances you don’t want people to know that you know the Lord. So, you act like you don’t know Jesus.
When Peter denied his Savior, the Lord turned and stared at him. The Lord knew exactly what he had done, and Peter knew that the Lord knew what he had done. Yet, when we sin against the Lord, we think we can keep it secret. Cover it up. Sin under darkness. Nobody will know the sins of our hearts and minds.
To think that nobody knows the sin in our hearts, minds, mouths, or hands is a delusion. David writes in Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar… Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Even if nobody else on the face of this earth knows when we sin, the Lord sure does. The Lord sees when we deny Him every bit as much as He saw Peter. He surely intently looks at us in just the way He looked at Peter.
Peter saw the Lord’s uncomfortable stare, remembered what was said, and He lost it. Shame and guilt took over. Shame that He didn’t stand as rock solid as he said he would. Guilt that He actually denied knowing the Christ He had not long before confessed to be God’s Son. Likewise, when you realize your denial of the Lord, you too likely feel shame and guilt, because you didn’t confess your Savior and Redeemer. For those times we’ve denied the Lord, we deserve to be denied by Him. Even so, He doesn’t do that! Quite the opposite!
Scripture says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” He doesn’t cast you aside and forsake you. Instead, He was forsaken for you. Jesus entered into His passion—His suffering—to save us from our sins. So, through the cross He was about to face, He died for Peter’s denial, He died for your denial, and He died for my denial.
When Peter sinned against the Lord, things could have gone some different ways. He could have pridefully denied that He did anything wrong in denying Jesus. There are plenty of people who refuse to acknowledge their sins. He could have despaired of what He did thinking that there was no hope for redemption. This is what happened with Judas after He betrayed Jesus. He too realized the sin he’d committed and tried to “fix” it by returning the money. Then when that didn’t work, he hung himself having lost all hope.
With Peter, the Lord granted “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Peter remembered how Jesus said that he would deny him three times. He wept bitterly, realizing that He had done a great wickedness. And he trusted in the mercy of the Lord. So then, having turned from sin and turning back to the Lord, Peter would do what Jesus also prophesied—strengthen his brothers.
After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter and the Lord had a private conversation one day. The Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Twice Peter replied, “Yes Lord; you know that I love you,” and Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.” But the third time Jesus asked stung Peter. The three times matched the three denials. It reminded Peter of what He’d done. He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Again, Jesus commanded him, “Feed my sheep.” All was forgiven. The Lord would not hold Peter’s sin against him.
Likewise, the Lord doesn’t hold your sin against you. He took your sins to the cross and left them there. You are released from the shame and guilt of denying your Lord. You are set free to serve your Lord in joy and gladness.
At the end of his life, Peter received another opportunity to confess his Savior in the face of death. John records, “[Jesus] said to [Peter]… ‘When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This He said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
When the time came, Peter did not deny, but followed Jesus into death—a death on a cross. Church tradition tells us that Peter requested to be crucified upside down, not feeling worthy to be crucified as His Lord was.
The Lord was with Peter during his time of testing. Earlier I quoted from David’s Psalm 139. Shame, guilt, and fear come upon sinners who hear this message, declaring how God sees and knows all that we do, think, and desire. Mixed in with this Law is Good News—Gospel. David says, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” The knowledge of the Lord extends to the care for His people.
Likewise, the Lord is with you as you continue to confess His name. And be assured you do confess His name. Being a member of this congregation—parking your car in that lot and walking into the building is a confession to the world. God grant that we do so with all boldness and confidence, and that our confession continues to extend beyond these walls and this property into sharing Christ in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities no matter what reaction we receive.
The confession of faith in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Even the faith from which the confession of Christ springs is a gift from God. For He is faithful to you. So, as Peter encourages, let us be prepared with an answer for the hope that is within us—the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life forever which results from Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and for the sins of all people. Amen.