Peter’s threefold denial of Christ is one of the most well-known Biblical stories and rightly so. Peter’s actions remind us that even as Christians we can sin against God, even in grievous ways, and must be continually turning to Him in repentance. Even face to face with the Messiah, Peter’s faith was not infallible.
Today I wanted to step back to the beginning of the narrative and touch on an aspect of Peter’s denial that is sometimes overlooked. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus and His disciples went out to the Mount of Olives where he tells them they will fall away because of him, quoting Zechariah 13:7. Peter’s immediate response is that he will never fall away. In his zeal to show his allegiance to Christ, he not only argues with the words of the Lord, but with the words of scripture.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s presumption in Matthew 26:33 is to foretell his denial with specificity. Jesus knows Peter will deny him three times and when. Instead of responding in sorrow as had been the case when Jesus foretold that one would betray Him, Peter answers that he will die before denying Christ (Matthew 26:20-35). By implication, Peter is elevating himself above Jesus. He is essentially saying he has the power to thwart God’s will, as if he has a higher knowledge than the Omniscient One.
It’s easy to relate to Peter in the context of our own western individualism. Our culture is infatuated with the self. Self-determinism and moral relativism run rampant in a society that has embraced Protagoras’ statement that “man is the measure of all things.” We rely too readily on our own feelings, thoughts, and experiences to inform our understanding of reality. We believe ourselves−as William Ernest Henley wrote−to be masters of fate and captains of soul. In so doing, we make gods of ourselves−deities who cannot be questioned or judged, certainly never reproved or disciplined.
While whole-hearted devotion to the Lord is that for which we long, we must be careful not to let ourselves be presumptuous in either thought or action, stepping from assurance in God to assurance in self. God knows us far better than we know ourselves. Remember that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). It is not through our own power, but through Christ alone that we are restored as Peter was (John 21:15-17). Our sanctification, like Peter’s, is a humbling process.
To be conformed to the image of Christ requires us to descend Mount Olympus, to cease sacrifice at the reflective altar of Narcissus, to prostrate ourselves as Dagon before the Living God. In your desire to follow Christ, take up your cross this day (Matthew 16:24). Deny, deny, deny yourself.