Before we jump into the text, you have to picture the scene. It’s the Last Supper, the night before Jesus’ betrayal. Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room celebrating the Passover. It’s something they may have done dozens of times in their life. There’s a set order and tradition to it all. But this time, something different occurs. Jesus picks up the bread and wine and institutes the New Covenant. He claims to be the fulfillment of a tradition dating back to more than a thousand years before him. Their jaws must have dropped. A few days ago the city welcomed Jesus as king. The twelve disciples are his inner group. It feels like all the hype is about to reach a climax. Emotions are high, and the disciples couldn’t be more restless. Then, Jesus says this:

[31] “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

Could you imagine Peter’s reaction? Maybe he felt embarrassed as the “leader” of the disciples. He was always the one to act first, to talk first. Jesus singles him out and pulls back the curtains of the spiritual world. He explains that Satan has demanded to destroy him, to rip him apart like wheat. Jesus reveals that not only has Satan demanded to have him, but for a moment he will have him. But Jesus encourages Peter to strengthen his brothers once he himself repents. Peter must have been shocked. He’s been with him for three years! He left everything to follow him. He left his family and job to give all to Jesus, and here Jesus says he’ll fail to give all when it counts.

[33] Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” [34] Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:33-34 ESV)

Peter pushes back. In his mind there’s no way he could deny Jesus. Jesus puts the nail in the coffin. He says something so sobering, “24 hours won’t pass before you deny me, Peter. In fact, you’ll deny me three times.” I don’t know what Peter was thinking after this point. If I was him, I would be terrified and confused. I wouldn’t be able to think about anything other than Jesus’ words. I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Perhaps it’s easy to think this way because we know how the story ends. But some time passes. They have more conversations. They go into the garden. The disciples fall asleep. Jesus is captured.

[54] Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. [55] And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. [56] Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” [57] But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” [58] And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” [59] And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” [60] But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. [61] 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.” [62] And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62 ESV)

Three times. He denies Jesus three times, without a second thought. I’m baffled by this story. A servant girl scares him into saying he doesn’t know Jesus. Another two recognize him, and he does the same. The Gospel of Matthew records that he began cursing and swearing to prove that he doesn’t know the man! Three times he denied Jesus, and then the rooster crowed. I can’t imagine what Peter felt at that exact moment. It all must have felt like a blur. The crowd’s questioning, Peter’s denials, the sound of the rooster crowing, and Jesus’ gaze from across the courtyard must have sent a shiver up his spine. And Scripture says, “Peter remembered…” What?! What is there to remember? It was only a couple hours ago that Jesus told him about it! How could he forget? How could anything be more important to him in that moment? Realizing what he’s done and seeing Jesus’ face, Peter ran from there to cry bitterly. You could feel his regret pour out from the words of Scripture.

What a sad, tragic, and miserable moment in the life of Peter. It’s a moment you would want to forget. It’s a moment you wish that nobody in the world knew about. But here’s what’s interesting: the only reason we know this story is because Peter shared it with the world. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t really want to write down and share the lowest moment of my life with the entire world. I would be ashamed. But Peter shared it. Peter shared it because it ended up being the most powerful testimony of his life. With the rest of this blog post I want to pull out a couple lessons from this story and discuss what happened with Peter after the denial.

1. It’s easy to be confident before the trial.

We do this all the time. We find ourselves at a conference, a prayer, a youth service, or a revival. We experience God’s power. We experience God’s presence. We’re ready to take on the world. We’re ready to demolish all our temptations. We’re world-beaters… until we go out into the world. Peter was confident and sure that nothing could overpower his commitment to Jesus. But he found out that it wasn’t so easy to be confident outdoors. It was easy to be confident when face to face with Jesus, or when you’re in the company of other Christ-followers. But the real test comes outside. The real test comes when you’re on your own and real comfort is at stake. It’s easy to be a Christian at church. But we’re called to be Christians at all times and places.

2. Jesus knows our past, present, and future failures.

Peter’s guilt must have been enormous. The Bible says he wept bitterly. I imagine it got exponentially worse as Jesus was tortured, beaten, mocked, and killed. The disciples scattered. There was nothing left for Peter to hope for. But Jesus wasn’t done, and he wasn’t done with Peter. He rose from the grave; it couldn’t hold him. And check out this amazing little detail Scripture leaves for us in the story of Jesus’ resurrection. The women come to the tomb and see an angel:

[6] And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. [7] But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7 ESV)

Did you catch it? “Tell the disciples AND PETER.” He was the only one mentioned by name. He was the only one that received a special invitation. Why? Probably because he would have been the only one too ashamed to go and see Jesus. I imagine he felt disqualified from the group. But Jesus wasn’t done with Peter. Jesus knew not only that Peter would fall, but that he would repent. Why? Because he prayed for Peter. He prayed that his faith may not fail. Sometimes we think that we messed up so badly that God would never want us back. If that’s you, I want you to know that he’s calling you by name. He knew about your failures before you did them, and he knows about the ones that you haven’t done yet. He still calls you by name. He still calls you to follow him.

3. If you’re a Christian, failure does not define you.

Peter learned a valuable lesson. If you’re a Christian, failure does not define you. It may accurately describe some of your actions, but it doesn’t define who you are. If you follow Jesus, you’re defined by him. It all depends on what you do with your failure. See, in reality, this story is about two betrayals. It’s about two men who let Jesus down, Peter and Judas. Peter sold him out because of fear. Judas sold him out for thirty pieces of silver. Both realized they made a tragic mistake. Both were overcome with immeasurable grief. One of them perished in his sin, and the other came clean. It doesn’t matter how big your sin is. It matters what you do with it. Judas took it to the grave. Peter took it to Jesus, and Jesus offered a clean slate. Peter could have easily been full of guilt the rest of his life on all his mission trips and sermons. But that didn’t happen. Jesus sat down with Peter on the beach and gave him a chance to redeem himself. Three times. Three times Peter told his Lord that he loved him. And every time, Jesus replied with, “feed my sheep…” or in other words: “strengthen your brothers.” And Peter did; he shared his story with the world. What will you do with yours?