The Glory of Christ and the Denial of Peter
Scripture: John 18:12–27
The Glory of Christ and the Denial of PeterJohn 18:12-27
Sunday, March 7, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
In chapter 5 verse 39, Jesus told the Jews, "You search the Scriptures (our Old Testament) because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me." Then seven verses later Jesus said, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me" (Jn. 5:46). A theme we have seen running through the fourth Gospel is the superiority of Christ. In these two verses that I just read, the Apostle John labors to demonstrate that the revered Old Testament customs were only shadows of the true substance, that is, Jesus Christ. They were signs that pointed the way to something better. And like any sign that serves this meaningful purpose, it becomes obsolete the moment it is passed.
For example, we learned how Jesus demonstrated Himself better than the institutions (chapters 2-4) and festivals (chapters 5-10) of Judaism. There was a place for the temple, but His body is the true temple (2:21). There was a place for Jacob's well, but He provides living water (4:10). There was a place for manna, but He is the "Bread of Life" (Jn. 6:35). There was a place for the Sabbath, but He has become our Sabbath rest (Jn. 5:18). There was a place for Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication), but He is the "Light of the World" (Jn. 8:12). One author rightly said of this Gospel, "John is telling us more about Jesus' messianic impact on Judaism than about the sequence of events in Jesus' ministry. The episodes are arranged by no accident" (Burge, Gary. Interpreting the Gospel of John, 79).
Though John makes a conscious attempt to highlight Jesus' superiority over Judaism, He does something very interesting in chapter 18, in revealing the greatness of Jesus, by going backward and forward on the timeline of salvation history. Going backward from the Jews we learned last week that Jesus is better than Adam. Adam when faced with a satanic temptation in the Garden of Eden failed. But, Jesus, the Second Adam, when faced with a similar satanic temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane succeeded. Now, going forward from the Jews we will see this morning how Jesus is better than His children under the New Covenant. Even one of His dearest Apostles, the one He Himself nicknamed, "the Rock," would deny His Lord, not once, but three times that memorable evening.
In verses 12-27 John intentionally interweaves two accounts. Against the cowardly denials of Peter stand the courageous affirmations of Christ. Or we can say, against the sinfulness of Peter stands the glory of Christ. Today we'll briefly examine these two accounts with the objective of extolling the precious Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who stands above Peter victorious in all His trials.
1. THE DENIAL OF PETER (vs. 15-18, 25-27)
Let's first begin with the denials of Peter, an account mentioned in each of the four gospels.
Peter's first denial: Verses 15-18. "Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, 'You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?' He said, 'I am not.' Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself."
In Matthew 26:33 Peter made a bold prediction. "Peter said to (Jesus), 'Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.'" He tried to fulfill that promise. Last week we saw the overconfident Peter take on a Roman cohort with his pocketknife, and now this week we see him following His Master to the place of trial when the other disciples fled (Mk. 14:50). Unfortunately, his success was short lived.
Verses 15 and 16 say another disciple; believed by most to be John himself, enabled Peter to get beyond the doorkeeper and into the courtyard of the high priest. As Peter walked by this young servant-girl keeping the door, she confronted the mighty Apostle. "You are not also one of (Jesus') disciples, are you?" The verbal construction of her question implied a negative answer. Peter gratefully took it up and replied, "I am not."
Peter's second denial: Verse 25. "Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, 'You are not also one of His disciples, are you?' He denied it, and said, 'I am not.'"
As Peter was warning his hands around the charcoal fire, his heart grew increasingly cold. You see, the more we sin, the easier it gets. Again the question was sent Peter's way, this time from the group, regarding His affiliation with Jesus. Once again Peter's prompt and emphatic response was, "I am not."
Peter's third denial: Verses 26-27. "One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, 'Did I not see you in the garden with Him?' Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed."
The final questioner had different motives for asking the question, as it was his relative who was attacked by Peter in the Garden. He asked with more confidence than the previous interrogators. Consequently, Peter's response was more affirmative. Matthew even adds that this time Peter "began to curse and swear" (Mt. 26: 74) as He denied His Lord for the third time.
It must have been right at this moment when Peter was not once but twice, pierced to the heart. Verse 27 says, "Immediately a cock crowed." No doubt Peter's mind instantly flashed back to Christ's prediction. "Will you lay down your life for Me, (Peter)? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times" (Jn. 13:38). Luke also informs us that Peter's memory was prompted when "The Lord turned and looked at Peter" (Lk. 22:61) immediately after this denial. Imagine the intensity of that sight! Between his pride being crushed by the fulfilled prophecy of his failure and his heart being broken by the grieved face of his Lord, Luke tells us "he went out and wept bitterly" (Lk. 22:62). These were tears of a broken spirit and contrite heart, realizing the offense of his sin before a loving but holy Savior.
This account is rich with symbolism. First, more than once did Peter cowardly deny his Lord saying, "I am not." Last week we learned that Jesus boldly affirmed his Lordship more than once by saying, "I am (He)." Second, in verse 5 we learned of Judas "standing with them (the enemy)." Now we read in verse 18 "and Peter was also with them (the enemy), standing and warming himself." Both of these men during these times of vulnerability were out of fellowship with Christ and symbolically took sides with the enemy. Third, Peter's denial foreshadows the cross that Jesus was about to embrace and the total forgiveness it brings to all who embrace it. Peter would soon realize that he could not follow Christ until Christ would go to Calvary and die for Him.
2. THE AFFIRMATION OF CHRIST (vs. 12-14, 19-24)
Though one of Christ's greatest Apostles failed miserably, Jesus Christ was courageous and victorious in His paralleled trial. Against the fickleness and sinfulness of man stands the supremacy of Christ.
Let's begin reading in verse 12. "So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people" (Jn. 18:12-14). Despite their falling to the ground (verse 6), the fulfilled prophecy (verse 9) and the miraculously restored ear (Lk. 22:51), the spiritually blind arresting party continued their commission, bound Jesus, and brought Him to Annas.
When we compare the four gospels it appears that Jesus was interrogated six times that infamous night before He went to the cross. There were three religious trials: Annas, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin and three civil trials" Pilate, Herod and Pilate a second time. The first of these six stages began with Annas.
Annas was the former high priest, but the Romans had a tendency to rotate the high priests. This policy was favorable for them lest one man gain too much power, but unfavorable to the Jews who sided with the Law that established each high priest for life. So Annas was still considered the high priest and held much informal sway with the people, although technically, Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was the official high priest "that year" (Jn. 18:13).
John reminds us in verse 14 that it was Caiaphas who advised the people that one man should die on behalf of the people (cf. Jn. 11:49-51). Though his wicked and misguided intention was to save the nation form Jesus, little did he realize the irony behind his statement. Jesus did come to give His life on behalf of sinners. I think John also wants to make it clear that Caiaphas was plotting Christ's death long before His trials. His mind was made up regardless of the evidence.
Annas proceeded with the trial. Verse 19, "The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching." Jesus responded in verse 20 and 21, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said." Jesus knew that He was before nothing less than a lynching mob. In Christ's own words, "They hated (Him) without a cause" (Jn. 15:25). He was not about to play into their witch-hunt and responded truthfully that the essence of His teaching was public property. There was no need for questioning. If He were to be found guilty, it would have to be based on what He said publicly.
It must be brought to the forefront that this entire preceding was illegal from the get-go. The charges were never brought forward. Trials were not permitted at night. A defendant could not be called on to incriminate himself. It was the responsibility of Christ's accusers to bring forth witnesses. This is the heartbeat behind Christ's comments in verses 20-21. Jesus Christ was once again perfectly in line (contrary to the Jewish leaders) with the law he came to fulfill. An officer trying to impress Annas, offended by Christ's response, broke another rule in verse 22. "And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, 'Is that the way You answer the high priest?'" Jesus, in the face of death, boldly kept His ground. Verse 23, "Jesus answered him, 'If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?'"
As this trial progresses, we will see in the next few weeks that Jesus contrasts Peter by fearlessly affirming God's purposes for Him. We will also see how the highest officials in the land could not bring a charge against the righteousness of Christ. His sinlessness is vindicated and the sinfulness of man is expounded. Annas, seeing that he could get nowhere with Jesus, verse 24, "therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest."