The Beloved and the Backslider

Introduction

Mark probably received much of the information for this gospel from Peter according to Papias (A.D. 130). “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son” (1 Peter 5:13). So it is highly significant that Mark recorded in some detail how his mentor came to deny the Lord Jesus Christ. The fall of a follower of Christ is never a pleasant thing to see.

Peter’s first denial

“And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew” (Mark 14:66-68).

Peter, who had once heard the words of commendation from Jesus after he acknowledged Him as Messiah: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17), now claims he was not a follower of Christ. He was denying much here. He denies that he was with Jesus for three years, that the Lord healed his mother-in-law, that he had seen Him transfigured on the mount, that he had walked on water at His command, and that he had seen the dead raised, the sick healed, devils cast out and multitudes miraculously fed by Jesus.

These things are written to show the depths that once faithful followers of Christ can fall into. This should convince us of the need to watch, pray and walk in humility while we are on this earth. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Even the greatest of the saints recorded in Scripture were prone to fall into disgrace (i.e. Noah, Abraham, and David). No one is strong enough to resist sin without Christ. “Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief” (Proverbs 28:14).

Peter’s further denial

“And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again” (Mark 69-70a).

Here again we see the big, brave and bold fisherman intimidated by a few simple words of a servant girl. He is not defeated by the swords and staves of the soldiers but by the questions of a maid. It is true that we can faithfully declare, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13), but if the Lord withdraws His presence we are helpless and hopeless, and are easy prey to the weakest enemy. Did he not hear the voice of the cockerel when he first denied Christ? In his time of tribulation Peter thought of his own skin rather than his Saviour.

Peter’s fatal denial

“And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept” (Mark 14:70b-72).

We see here that Peter’s denial of Christ brought him great sorrow. Peter deliberately uses the impersonal “this man” as he tries to distance himself from any association with Jesus.

Only now he realised that he was guilty of the worst possible sin. He must have felt ashamed, confused and lost as bitter remorse flooded his soul. He has exasperated his sin by committing it three times in quick succession. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways” (Proverbs 14:14). Luke records, just before the cock crowed the second time, that “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter” (Luke 22:61). Those same eyes will pierce through the consciences of everyone who stands before His throne of judgement, “His eyes were as a flame of fire” (Revelation 19:12).

These verses do not mean that Peter used profanity, but that he used oaths and called God’s curse upon himself to convince those around him that he was telling the truth. Though Peter came to full repentance and was received again by the Lord it is certain that, given that he dictated this account to Mark, his denial of Christ remained on his mind throughout his life.

Conclusion

Sin will always lead to sorrow. Nevertheless, the Lord has provided the means by which His servants can avoid walking carelessly and giving in to temptation. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). If we, like Peter, turn our back on God, He will make us know the consequences of our sin.

“Peter warmed himself at the enemy’s fire and denied his Lord. The devil always has a convenient fire for saints who are about to slip. Taking it easy is often a prelude to backsliding. Comfort precedes collapse. Days later, Peter warmed at another fire, the coals his Master had kindled on the beach. There he met the question, “Lovest thou me?” and received the commission, “Feed my sheep.” If you have collapsed at Satan’s fire, you may be converted at the Saviour’s fire” (Day by Day with Vance Havner).

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