Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed. (John 18:27)
The sun had dawned on a beautiful Hawaiian Sunday, when suddenly the skies were filled with Japanese planes. Death rained from the skies upon Pearl Harbor where the American fleet was decimated. They were sitting ducks. Overconfident and unaware, they were soon overcome and aflame. That is a reality of spiritual warfare also. Simon Peter is the classic example of a man brim full of overconfidence. He ignored the warnings of the Lord. He was caught off-guard by the test that would overcome him.
Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to sift him as wheat. His response was that though all the other disciples would desert Jesus, he would stay faithful. Then the storm came upon him like the Japanese air force attacking Pearl Harbor. Jesus was seized by an angry mob in dark Gethsemane. Peter followed to see the outcome, but Matthew notes that he followed Him “at a distance,” (26:58). That is the first step toward defeat—the step that takes you away from intimacy with Christ. Neglecting the inner life—having daily communion with Christ in the Word and prayer—lowers our defenses and opens up the way to attack. What appears to be a sudden blowout on the road of life has been the result of a slow leak in the tire.
Peter leaned on his own strength and fell. Our only hope to vanquish temptation is to cast ourselves in utter dependence on God. We are no match for Satan. A big fisherman will cower before a little servant girl, and deny Jesus, if resolve is rooted in the flesh instead of in the Spirit’s power. His boast had been that he would never deny Christ. Never say, “Never.” In certain circumstances we are all capable of yielding to sin. We don’t have to, of course, but apart from God’s aid, we will. Bible history is replete with those shipwrecks—even champions like Noah, Moses, and David fell. If they did, I can also.
We find Peter warming himself at the fire of the enemy. Get too close to that fire and you will get burned. Hang out with wicked people in the wrong places, and you will eventually find yourself defeated by temptation. The Psalmist proclaimed, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful….” (1:1) Peter did the opposite. He walked in the counsel of the ungodly (John 18:15-17). Peter stood in the path of sinners (John 18:18). He sat in the seat of the scornful. Luke tells us that he sat down with them (22:55).
Peter denied Jesus—three times—despite his bravado. He even does it with cursing! What a sad episode—often repeated by believers today. Our courage and conviction fade into the background while cowardice and compromise emerge. Our testimony is harmed and our credibility is damaged.
America recovered from the disaster of that infamous day, declaring war on Japan the next day. Eventually defeat turned to victory and the war was won, though recovery from that attack was long and hard. Peter recovered and was restored to usefulness. He was a broken man, who wept bitterly over his failure. Remorse expressed his repentance. He would never again deny Christ and would eventually die for Him as he pledged. Better not to stumble by leaning on Jesus, but if we fall let us get up and run for mercy into Jesus’ arms!