You Will Deny Me Three Times | Mark 14:66-72

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:66-72 ESV

Through the Bible, we find over and over again that even the greatest heroes of the faith were deeply sinful. Noah got drunk after being preserve with his family upon the ark. Abraham let Sarah be taken as a concubine twice in order to save himself, not to mention the whole incident with Hagar. Jacob’s name sounds like deceiver in Hebrew, and he lived up to that name. Moses was a murderer. Aaron shaped the golden calf for the Israelites. Samson was as weak for women as he was physically strong. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon was an apostate. The same is true of the New Testament as well. In our present passage, we read of Peter’s lowest moment. J. C. Ryle sets what ought to be our chief lesson from these verses:

These things are written to show the church of Christ what human nature is, even in the best of men. They are intended to teach us that, even after conversion and renewal of the Holy Ghost, believers are compassed with infirmity and liable to fall. They are meant to impress upon us the immense importance of daily watchfulness, prayerfulness, and humility, so long as we are in the body. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’[1]

AT A DISTANCE & AT A FIRE // VERSE 54

The opening words of our text, And as Peter was below in the courtyard, ought to take us back to verse 54, which said: “And Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.”

As we noted last week, Peter ceased running from Jesus’ arrest at some point and decided to follow the crowd, though he did so at a distance so that he would not be noticed. However, when he got into the courtyard, he sat beside the guards in order to warm himself at the fire. This is significant because the fire would have certainly illuminated his face, which certainly leads to his recognition. I think Ryle is right to say:

There was no wisdom in this act. Having once forsaken his Master and fled, he ought to have remembered his own weakness, and not to have ventured into danger again. It was an act of rashness and presumption. It brought on him fresh trials of faith, for which he was unprepared. It threw him into bad company, where he was not likely to get good but harm. It paved the way for his last and greatest transgression,–his thrice-repeated denial of his Master.[2]

Furthermore, his risk of warming himself by the fire is similar to his inability stay awake in prayer at Gethsemane. His actions were being governed by his comfort. Jesus was standing boldly before the scorn of rulers, while Peter could not stand the cold. How like us! Indeed, how often do we set ourselves up to sin by our desire to be comfortable? David’s decision not to ride with his armies into battle paved the way for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. In this life, we will face plenty of unavoidable temptations; thus, let us take care that we do not add to that number temptations that we have invited by our own actions.

THE FIRST DENIAL // VERSES 66-68

Returning to our text, we read:

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.”

Perhaps we would give Peter more credit if his denials of Jesus came after a guard threatened him with a sword. But that is not what happened. Although Peter sat down with the guards, they apparently did not recognize him or simply did not pay attention to him. Yet this servant girl did, and under her questioning, Peter collapsed. Although he first affirmed Jesus as the Christ, although he alone of the disciples walked on the water out to Jesus, although he was one of the three to see Jesus transfigured upon the mountain, and although he cut a man’s ear off defending Jesus, here Peter could not withstand the simple declaration of his identity as a disciple of Jesus from this servant girl.

This again is a pattern throughout Scripture that many who do great things for God fall into sin through what appear to be insignificant temptations. So it was with Noah. The man who had enough faith to survive God’s destruction of all of humanity except for his family was overcome by wine. Samson could not be defeated by any army, yet loving a treacherous woman left him without strength and blind. The kingdom was ripped away from Saul because he did not fully obey God’s commands but thought that he knew better how to secure God’s favor. Likewise, we should not neglect the danger of respectable sins (as Jerry Bridges calls them), that is, sins like unthankfulness, discontentment, impatience, covetousness, etc. These “little sins” are just as damning as the “bigger” ones.

When looking at Peter’s response, we should first note how irrational sin makes us. In his effort to disassociate himself from Christ, Peter does not merely deny being one of Jesus’ disciples; he denies even knowing who Jesus is. If the girl had any doubts, such denial would have certainly cleared them up, just not the way that Peter intended. After all, remember that the religious leaders could not arrest Jesus while He was publicly teaching each day in the temple because they feared His popularity with the people. Surely everyone in Jerusalem had heard of Jesus, so for Peter to make such a statement was entirely unbelievable.

After this denial, we read: “And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed.” Given that Jesus had warned Peter of this very thing, we would assume that hearing the rooster’s crow would have stirred up his guilt but not yet. In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Kent Hughes notes how sin pulls us away from reality and into a forgetfulness of God.[3] That is what Peter was experiencing. His sinful self-preservation made the words of Jesus that once stung his heart now barely even register within his mind.

THE SECOND DENIAL // VERSES 69-70

The second denial is most briefly recounted: “And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it.”

This time the girl did not accuse Peter directly but began pointing out to everyone that he was one of Christ’s followers. No doubt that was Peter’s greatest fear in that moment come to life. He hoped to be able to follow what was happening to Jesus from a safe distance without anyone noticing, and now this girl was making a scene. I imagine that the girl was doing nothing more than pointing out Peter to those near her, but Peter likely felt like she was screaming at the top of her lungs for everyone to look at him.

I am still not convinced even here that the girl had malicious intentions against Peter. She could have just as easily been hoping that Peter could have explained to her what exactly Jesus had been arrested for.

THE THIRD DENIAL // VERSES 70-71

After a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are once of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”

Calvin says, “What we learn here is that anyone who falls and who does not quickly rise to his feet as he ought to do, will always plunge even deeper to his ruin; he will finally perish unless God provides a remedy.”[4] That is precisely what was happening with Peter. A simple and honest answer to the girl at the very beginning might have easily led to an entirely different series of events. Yet his first denial plunged him into a pit of sin that only got deeper and deeper. So it always is with sin. Sin, like the grave, is never satisfied. One sin always compounds into two, then three, and so on. Only repentance stops the descent.

This time Peter did not simply deny knowing Jesus; he invoked a curse upon himself while doing it. Peter probably said something like, “May I be damned, may I perish, may the earth swallow me up if I know him!”[5] Here is another characteristic of sin: it makes light of deadly serious realities. Of course, this is really just another aspect of how sin makes us forget God, yet it is still worth noting separately. While someone may shake with tears at the thought of hell alone in bed at night, they nonetheless make jokes about being damned in midst of their rebellion against God. Something similar happened here with Peter. Any who say to themselves, “Well, I would never say such a thing!” is more likely that most to do so. The self-confidence that made Peter once boast that he would never deny Christ now shifted into the self-preservation that led him to curse himself as he denied Christ. Let none of us doubt that such sins and worse are beyond us committing.

CLARITY REGAINED // VERSES 72

And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broken down and wept.

Here the fog of forgetfulness broke down and so did Peter. As the second crow of the rooster echoed through his ears, the words of Christ that he so vehemently protested rang through his mind. Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter had denied Him. He had disowned the Christ, the Son of the living God. I wonder of Jesus’ words found in Matthew 10:32-33 came back to him:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

The reality of the curse that he so frivolously called upon himself now hit him like a tidal wave. I think we can safely assume that this was the lowest moment of Peter’s entire life. Yet it is precisely at this point that hope breaks back into the picture.

Although we always want to be joyful and never to get depressed, sadness is something we ought to feel. When God touches us with distress, our hearts should be deeply troubled if we have wronged him. Disquiet of that kind is meant to bring us ease of mind, and grief is meant to make us rejoice before God and his angels.[6]

That is exactly what was happening here with Peter. His sorrow over his sin afforded him the opportunity to repent, to turn away from it. This is always true. The good news that Jesus rescues sinners is only good to those who have first met the bad news of being a sinner face to face. Grief over sin is good, provided that it leads us toward casting our hope upon Christ for salvation.

Although not mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, we are told elsewhere that Judas also felt remorse over his betrayal of Jesus. He even tried to give the silver back to religious leaders who had paid him. Yet his sorrow did not lead to repentance but to despair, for rather than returning to Christ to be forgiven, he went out and hanged himself. It is right to weep over our sin, but we never ought to despair.

Yet whenever we properly understand that sin is rebellion against the Holy One, how can we avoid falling into despair? How are we supposed to do anything else whenever we read verses like Psalm 14:3, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one,” and Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” Indeed, did not God tell Moses that He would “by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7)? What hope do we have?

THE ROCK OF OUR SALVATION

As I have often said, many pass by Mark’s Gospel as being the most simplistic of the bunch, yet much of the complexity and artistry is found in how Mark carefully structures his account of Jesus’ life. Recall how Mark constructed the entire first half as a massive crescendo toward Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. Whenever we take last week’s text (verses 53-65) with our present text, we find another instance of Mark’s brilliance:

Mark first mentioned Peter in verse 54, then described Jesus’ unflinching stand before the Sanhedrin in verses 55–65, and then turned back to Peter in verses 66–72 to record his failure. This is skillful writing. The artistry is especially memorable because the contrast is between two rocks. Christ the Rock, “the spiritual Rock” that accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4) and is now the “foundation” of the Church (1 Corinthians 3:11), remains unmoved. The other rock is Peter, Petros (Rock), so named by Christ.[7]

In other words, Mark clearly wants us to see Jesus and Peter as both being on trial. Jesus’ trial was before the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, which was led by the high priest, and He will then be delivered over to Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea, who was the one who could actually order executions. Sandwiched between Jesus standing resolute and even defiant to these rulers is where we find Peter’s trial, during which he collapses at simply being recognized by a servant girl. The contrast is plain.

We are all like Peter. Unless we are upheld by the Spirit, as we see happen with Peter and the other apostles later throughout the book of Acts, we will all fall away when pressed by trials, even trials that do not appear to be very severe. Our hope, therefore, is not in our own steadfastness but in the work of Christ, in His giving Himself as a ransom for many. As we read of Jesus’ deliberate march to the cross, we are all like frightened Israelites watching our greater Moses lift His arms to split the curtain, saving us and crushing the Serpent. We are watching our greater David do far more than slay a giant with a small stone, for He was conquering sin and death by His own death upon a cross.

Peter’s repentance led to his restoration because each of Peter’s three denials (as well as all the rest of his sins) were nailed through Jesus to the cross. The eternal and sinless Word gave Himself as a ransom for Peter’s sins. And for our sins. The only complete triumph over sin comes through Christ our Champion. He alone is the true hero of the ultimate Story. Indeed, in many ways, we are the villains of our own lives, the authors of our own destruction. But Jesus came not to slay us but save us, to rescue and redeem us, to say to the Father and Judge of all the earth: “Take me instead.”

It has been said that the work of preaching is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. That is certainly true of this passage. If you are as comfortable with your sin as Peter was huddled up by the fire, then it is right for you to hear the rooster crow, look the One whom you have betrayed in the face, and weep. But if you are already burdened and sorrowful under the guilt and weight of your sin, do not despair. Look to Christ and say to the Accuser what Christian said to the accusation of Apollyon: “All this is true, and much more, which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour, is merciful and ready to forgive.”[8]

As we come to our King’s Table, let us look upon Him that “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Let us look to Christ as our only hope, as the only sufficient ransom from sins. And let us taste and see the great goodness of God who rescued us back to Himself at the highest of all costs.


[1] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 262.

[2] Ryle, Mark, 258.

[3] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, 36.

[4] John Calvin, Crucified and Risen, 59.

[5] Ibid, 57.

[6] Ibid, 63.

[7] R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, 365.

[8] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, 62.

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