Walking in Peter’s Sandals – 5. Before the Rooster Crows

May 9, 2010

John 18: 25 - 27

We have all the sounds that go with modern life - cars and buses, trains and trucks, sirens galore. In the crowded city you can hear kids yelling and music blaring, planes roaring overhead. But you will hardly ever hear a rooster crowing. Roosters don’t belong in the city. They belong out in the country where they can wake the sleepers with the news that a new day has come. God made roosters for that reason. To serve as trumpets of the morning. To signal that a new day has come. To rouse the sleepers from their beds. To remind the farmer to get up and milk the cows.

An Unforgettable Sound

Peter knew all about roosters. You couldn’t live in a rural area like Galilee and not get used to the daily singing of the rooster chorus. He had heard roosters crowing since the day he was born. The sound was as familiar to him as the sound of an alarm would be to us today. The rooster’s crow meant, “Wake up! Get up! A new day is beginning!”

Over the years he had heard that sound a thousand times or more. But of all the times and of all the roosters, he only remembered one time and one rooster and one sound.

It happened one Friday morning in Jerusalem. The rooster crowed, and Peter never forgot it. As long as he lived, he never forgot it, and he never tired of telling the story. In fact, he told the story so often that it was written down 4 different times - once by Matthew, once by Mark, once by Luke, and once by John.

For 2000 years this story - told and re-told, embellished with vivid detail - has encouraged Christians in every land. Wherever the story of Jesus’ arrest is told, the story of Peter and the rooster is sure to be told as well. We love this story because we understand it and because we can see ourselves in it. Few Bible stories speak to us as this one does.

We will follow Matthew Henry’s simple outline. As we do, let us thank God that, although Peter fell, he did indeed get up again!

1. Peter’s Fall

It is late on Thursday night in Jerusalem. Jesus has just been arrested and taken away to the house of the high priest. Most of the disciples are nowhere to be found. They are gone, scattered, drifted off into the darkness, too shocked and too angry by the actions of Judas to do anything else.

When the crowd of soldiers led Jesus away, Peter decided to follow them. He had promised never to desert Jesus, and he wasn’t going to start now. In the confusion it was easy to tag along behind the crowd. No one seemed to notice him. Certainly no one recognized him as one of Jesus’ top men.

He followed the crowd to the house of the high priest. The house opened onto a courtyard which could only be entered through a gate near the alley. By the time Peter got there, the soldiers had taken Jesus inside to meet the high priest. The crowd had partly dispersed, it being late and the major excitement over for the time being. Some had gone home, others were warming themselves by a fire in the courtyard. It was early April and the temperature had dropped.

It was hard for Peter to tell exactly how many people were there. There were soldiers milling about and servant girls running errands. Plus there were hangers-on and passers-by who were waiting to see what would happen to this fellow Jesus.

It is now sometime after midnight. In the darkness Peter comes to the gate and waits to be admitted. No one there knows who he is, so it should be perfectly safe for him to go in. True, he is now in enemy territory but it’s the middle of the night, and there’s no reason for them to suspect him. Armed with that thought, he brushes past the servant girl on his way to stand by the fire in the courtyard.

Denial by Deception

Just as he was getting to the fire, the servant girl spoke up and said, “You were with that Nazarene, Jesus from Galilee.” The words hit Peter like an electric shock. Somehow she recognized him. How did she know him? No one knows. It really didn’t matter. What mattered was that somehow she had connected him with Jesus.

Peter had to think fast - “I don’t know what you are talking about.” That’s right. Just play dumb. It worked. Or at least Peter thought it worked. But as he stood around the fire talking to the soldiers, he noticed 2 or 3 people looking at him closely. Too closely. 1 or 2 were nodding in his direction and whispering.

Minutes passed and Peter turned to walk out of the courtyard. Things were getting a little dicey. As he did, a second servant girl suddenly spoke up: “This fellow is one of them.” Peter tried to act calm but he felt his heart pounding in his chest. Quick now, you’ve got to say something. Think. Don’t just stand there. So he said, “I don’t know the man.” But when he said it, his face was flushed and he could tell the girl didn’t believe him.

Peter knew that he was in real trouble. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s in the enemy camp warming himself around the enemy’s fire. If he tried to leave now, that would arouse even more suspicion. But if he stayed, they might find him out.

After about an hour, it appeared that Jesus’ interview with the high priest was about over. The guards were going to and from the house and the tempo in the courtyard picked up. Peter breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe he would get out of this after all.

It was just at that moment that a man spoke up from the other side of the fire. “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Peter looked up at him and tried to play dumb. This time it didn’t work. Evidently this fellow had gone with the crowd to arrest Jesus. Worse, he was a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter had impulsively cut off.

Peter was trapped and he knew it. When a man is backed into a corner, he will do almost anything to save himself. In this case, Peter began to curse and swear.

“Dammit, I don’t know him. Why don’t you leave me alone? May God strike me dead if I have ever heard of this man Jesus.” The words just came tumbling out, old words born of fear and exhaustion. Words Peter hadn’t used since his days as a fisherman. At the very instant the words flew from his mouth, a rooster began to crow.

Afraid and Exhausted

Now that the story is laid before us, we should begin to ask some questions - What possessed Peter to deny knowing Jesus? Peter was scared and he was tired. That doesn’t excuse his conduct, but it does make it understandable. After all that had happened, Peter finally ran out of strength.

Consider the matter from his point of view. Jesus’ case appeared to be hopeless. The chief priests had him at last and they would not let go until he was dead. That much was clear. What point would there be in sticking your neck out?

Besides that, Peter is tired and lonely and cold and a little bit disoriented. Plus—and this is a big factor—he never expected to be questioned by a servant girl. Her question caught him totally off-guard, and he blurted out an answer almost without thinking. But once he denied knowing Jesus there was no turning back. He had to play out the string.

I think Peter was ready to die for Christ that night. Just 2 hours earlier he was whacking off somebody’s ear. Peter was no coward - he knew the risk involved in going to the courtyard of the high priest. What happened? He was totally unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl. She caught him off guard and he lied about knowing Jesus. But one lie leads on to another.

Peter’s 7 Great Mistakes

Peter set himself up by a long string of bad decisions.

A. He talked when he should have been listening. Peter impulsively blurted out, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Within 6 hours Peter would come to regret those brave words.
B. He didn’t appreciate his own weakness. 
C. He ignored Jesus’ warning.

D. He followed afar off. He followed Jesus, but at a distance, when he should have been at his elbow. In this case, following Jesus afar off only got him in more trouble.
E. He warmed himself at the wrong fire. Peter had no business warming himself in the company of the enemies of the Lord. 
F. He was unprepared when the attack came. 
G. He compounded his sin by first deceiving, then denying and finally swearing. Peter fooled only himself. The others never really believed him. They sensed he was lying. Something in his face and the tone of his voice gave him away.

So it was that Peter - the “Rock" - had crumbled in the critical moment. He had denied his Lord not once, but 3 times. It was a failure he would remember for the rest of his days. Let us take to heart the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”

2. Peter’s Getting Up Again

There were 4 steps in Peter’s return to the Lord:

A. The Rooster’s Crow. The gospels are unanimous - the rooster crowed at the exact moment of Peter’s third denial. As the foul words flew out of his mouth—at that very instant—from some-where off in the distance a rooster began to crow.

The rooster crowed, and Peter remembered. Suddenly it all became clear. How rash he had been only 6 hours earlier, how cocky he had been, how confident of his own strength, how sure of his own abilities. The sound of the rooster meant, “Peter, I warned you this would happen and you didn’t believe me.”

B. The Look of Jesus. Luke 22:61 “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Since this was the middle of the night, it must have happened just as the guards were taking Jesus from his interview with Caiaphas to his trial before the Sanhedrin. Evidently the guards were leading Jesus through the courtyard just as Peter was denying Christ for the third time. In that tiny moment of time, Peter cursed, the rooster crowed, Peter looked up and saw Jesus looking directly at him.

By this time Jesus’ face is black and blue, his eyes almost swollen shut, his cheeks bruised and covered with spit. A trace of blood trickles from his lips. Even though it is in the dead of night, Peter can see him perfectly in the firelight. Jesus can see him. He doesn’t say a word. He looks at Peter who has denied him for the third time. Everything has happened just as he predicted.

It was a convicting look. “You said you did not know me. Look at me, Peter. Look at me. Do you not know me?” It was a compassionate look. “Peter, how weak you are. Now you know that without me you can do nothing.” It was a commissioning look. “Weep, Peter, and remember your words. Then go and strengthen your brothers.”

C. The Words of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke all stress that when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered the words of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” It was this memory more than anything else that brought Peter back to God. Not only had Peter fallen, he had fallen after his vain boasting. It had happened just as Jesus predicted. 

D. Peter’s Tears. Peter wept bitterly. They are a sign of his deep repentance. He realized at last what he had done, how far he had fallen, how his denials had hurt the Lord. But Judas wept, too. His tears led to suicide; Peter’s tears led to repentance. Tears are good if they lead to a new devotion to Jesus Christ and a new determination to serve him. We may weep and weep, but if our hearts are not made tender and open before the Lord, our tears do us no good. For Peter, his tears signalled the breaking of his heart because of his sin. “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

His Courage, Not His Faith

In the end, it was not Peter’s faith that failed, but his courage. Jesus had told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith might not fail.” (Luke 22:32). His prayer was answered. Peter never lost his faith; in the moment of crisis, he lost his courage.

It is true that Peter was loud, profane and vulgar that night. It is also true that underneath it all he loved Jesus and was there in the courtyard—with all his faults—keeping an eye on him. At heart Peter was a good man who failed to live up to the best intentions of his heart.

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