And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
David knew the danger of bad company, which is why he spoke so often of avoiding evil doers. We are often uneasy when we read such passages, because they sound self-righteous, judgmental, and harsh. But that gets it exactly backward. The reason David did not want to associate with evildoers is not because he thought he was better than they were but because he was so much like them. He could not afford to be in their company if he wanted to live an upright life. We say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” Fine. But it is not always easy to do since love of the sinner, if we are not careful, often leads to love of the sinner’s vices. David was not sure that he could successfully love one and hate the other. So he decided to separate himself, as much as possible, from those who love and do evil. He prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).
If you want to lead a Christian life, you must not spend too much time with Jesus’ enemies. You need to be with Christians. In fact, the more time you must be with Jesus’ enemies, because of your work or whatever, the more time you need to be with those who will strengthen your discipleship.
About sixty years ago Clarence Macartney, who was at that time minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, wrote a little book on Peter in which he drew two wise lessons from Peter’s failure. First, “in human nature [he meant even in a Christian’s nature] there is a stubborn hostility to Christ and all that is of Christ.” Second, “not only is there in my nature that which is hostile to Christ and makes war upon my better self which declares for Christ, but so far as my own strength and skill are concerned, that worse anti-Christian self will get the victory.”1 Those are two good things to know. Remember that Peter had been with Jesus. He had taken communion. His resolve was never stronger. Yet he fell. And so will we unless Jesus prays for us, supports us, and protects us from the devil.
Which is precisely what Jesus did for Peter. In fact, he had told Peter about it that very evening: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).
Are you aware that Jesus has also prayed for you and continues to pray for your perseverance? In John 17 Jesus prayed not only for the original twelve disciples but also “for those who will believe in me through their message,” that is, for us ( v. 20). He prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (v. 24). We also read in Hebrews that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Other people pray for us. That is good. To intercede for someone else is a privilege and is immensely important. Yet our prayers are weak at best, and those who pray for us come and go over time. Only Jesus “always lives to intercede” for those his own.
This is the last story in Matthew about Peter. Peter is not mentioned again, and the last thing we read about him is that Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (v. 75). Sad? Yes, but it is encouraging too. For Peter’s tears meant that he still truly loved Jesus and were a sign of his genuine remorse and true repentance. Jesus had told Peter, “When you are converted strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Because Jesus prayed, Peter was converted and he was later used by God to strengthen others. At Pentecost this same Peter, who had denied his Lord even with oaths, preached the first great sermon of the Christian era and three thousand people believed. If Christ did that with Peter, there is hope for all of us.
1 Clarence Edward Macartney, Peter and His Lord: Sermons on the Life of Peter (Nashville; Cokesbury Press, 1937), p. 102