Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came to him, saying, You also were with Jesus of Galilee.…
From the trial of Jesus before the council the evangelist turns to the trial of Peter's faith. How striking is the contrast! Jesus, forsaken of his friends, and unjustly condemned and cruelly treated by his enemies, betrays no sign of fear or resentment, while Peter, with his Master's exalted example before him, shrinks from the slightest glance of recognition. The history of Peter's fall remarkably illustrates the principle of sequence in sits. We are forcibly reminded -
I. THAT PRIDE COMETH BEFORE A FALL.
1. Some men are constitutionally self-reliant. Within proper limits, self-reliance is an admirable quality.
(1) It conduces to nobleness. For it saves men from the meanness of hanging on to their fellows.
(2) It inspires enterprise. Nothing can be accomplished that is not undertaken. The achievements of the strong are the astonishment of the weak.
(3) It is an element of greatness. The weak will submit to the strong. The feeble will serve the mighty. Where self-reliance is strong, other things being equal, there you have a leader of men.
2. But such are especially in danger of presumption.
(1) Self-assertion may be immoderate, ungenerous, and invidious. "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I;" "I will never be offended;" "Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (see vers. 33-35).
(2) Excessive sell-confidence leads to the neglect of prayer. Peter's sense of self-security blinded him to his need of Divine help. So he slept in the garden when he should have prayed. Even when exhorted by his Lord to pray, still he slept.
(3) It leads to rashness in action. Peter's pride led him rashly to support his strong professions by volunteering the use of his sword. So was he as wanting in watchfulness as he was in prayer. He so looked in as to neglect to look up and look around.
(4) After proving his weakness by his shameful flight, his presumption still carried him after his Master into the place of trial, "to see the end." But he "followed at a distance," fearful of being discovered. This dallying with his fears increased them. His case is a standing warning to Christ's disciples never without a call to run into dangers which they may not have strength to meet.
II. THAT SIN MAKES OCCASION FOR SINNING.
1. One sin leads to another.
(1) Peter was found in questionable company. Having followed Jesus "afar off," he fell in with the "officers" of the high priest and of other enemies of his Master. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Bad company leads to bad deeds (see Psalm 119:115). He was now in the arena of temptation.
(2) Here a maid came unto him, saying, "Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilaean." Here was a noble opportunity for Peter to have shown zeal for the Truth suffering under insolence. But he missed it and disgraced himself. It is a disgrace to miss an opportunity of doing right. It leads to the further disgrace of doing wrong.
(3) "He denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest." The strong man is thrown over by the breath of a maid. "A damsel," literally, one damsel. And probably wishing him no harm. But how great was the sin which sprang from so slight a cause! The publicity of this denial was an aggravation of the sin.
(4) The temptation was slight so far as the girl's question went, but greater in regard to the bystanders. We all wield unconscious influence. They probably had no desire to imperil Peter. The careless ones of this world often do more harm or good to the saints than they imagine.
2. The progress of sin is accelerating.
(1) In the first instance, we find Peter giving the simple emphatic denial, his words being equivalent to "What thou sayest is utterly false" (cf. Luke 22:57). In how few words may one commit a grievous sin (see Matthew 12:24; Acts 5:8)! Peter now went into the porch, or portico (ver. 71), doubtless to secure himself from further observation, being now also ashamed of his weakness, if not of his sin. For the enormity of sin is hidden from the conscience by fear and carnal policy. No man gains strength to resist greater by complying with lesser evils.
(2) In the second instance, Peter added an oath to his denial. The damsel's pride being now stirred by having the lie turned upon her, she appears to have confided her mortification or indignation to "another maid," with whom she followed Peter into the portico; In his hearing this second maid said, "This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth," upon which a man of the company laid the accusation directly against him (cf. Mark 14:69; Luke 22:58). "And again he denied with an oath, I know not the Man." The liar, by the suspicion he naturally has, having forfeited his self respect, that his testimony is not credited, is induced to swear.
(3) In the third instance, Peter added cursing to swearing. Probably he had been addicted to swearing before he came under the influence of John the Baptist and of Christ. Old habits are readily revived. Between the second and third temptations an hour elapsed. But time spent without prayer brings no strength to the soul. The charge is now brought close home to him. It is generally preferred by "those that stood by," who marked his Galilaean accent. The rabbins say that the speech of the Galilaeans was broad and rustic. Some say it inclined to the Samaritan and Syriac, and that they did not pronounce gutturals well, and changed sh into th. Better would it have been for Peter had he held his tongue. But the kinsman of Malchus increased his terror by calling to his remembrance his act in cutting off the ear (see John 18:26). His denial, therefore, becomes more vehement as the accusation proceeds. To curse is to imprecate Divine vengeance on himself if he spoke falsely, and the profanity of swearing added to this cursing is the language of passion and of the enemies of Christ. "None but the devil's sayings need the devil's proofs" (Henry).
(4) An apostle fallen! How great that fall! Lucifer in hell! In the fall of Peter we are admitted to a view of our own tendency to fall, and consequent need of watchfulness and prayer.
III. THAT THE SEQUEL IS DESTRUCTION OR REPENTANCE.
1. In the case of Judas it was destruction (see succeeding homily).
2. In the case of Peter it was repentance.
(1) When he had the third time denied his Lord, "straightway the cock crew." During the long hours in which he waited in the palace, his memory and conscience slept until startled by "the cock's shrill clarion." The words of Christ now rushed into his mind and pierced his heart, and made the crowing of the cock a very John the Baptist to the sinner. Note: The mercy of Christ comes sometimes at the cock crowing. Since Peter fell through fear of a maid, let us never think contemptibly of the feeblest tempter. Since he rose through the crowing of a cock, let us never think contemptibly of the humblest means of grace.
(2) When the cock crew, "the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter" (see Luke 22:61). Note here the kindness of Christ. Being in bonds, he could not, without a miracle, have gone to speak with Peter. Had he called to him, the disciple would have been discovered to the malice of his tempters. The glance is sufficient. Peter's denial comes in as a part of Christ's sufferings. Nothing more deeply grieves a genuine penitent than the reflection that he has grieved his Lord.
(3) Peter "went out," viz. from the scene of his temptation and humiliation, deeply sorrowing that he had ever entered into it, and that he might "mourn apart (cf. Zechariah 12:11, 12).
(4) He wept bitter tears of repentance for his presumptuous sin. Mark says, When he thought thereon he wept" (Mark 14:72). Those who have sinned sweetly must weep bitterly, if not in penitence, in despair; for sin is bitterness itself. The more bitter the tears of repentance, the sweeter the delight of the regenerated life. His grief and weeping were of long duration (see Mark 16:7). Tradition says he never heard a cock crow but it set him weeping.
(5) Peter afterwards confessed Christ openly, and made all the house of Israel know what he thought of him. He confessed him openly both in life and death with watchfulness and prayer. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.