Mark 14:53-54,66-72

The Breaking of Peter

Since the days of the early church, it has been commonly held that Peter was the primary (human) source for Mark as he wrote his gospel. This seems quite plausible as we have such a well-rounded understanding of Peter from the gospel.   We know the details of some high points for Peter – his leaving everything to follow Jesus, his powerful confession of the Christ, his time on the mountain beholding the transfiguration. But we also see Peter at some of his lowest points as well – his rebuke by Jesus for questioning the necessity of Jesus’ suffering, his falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane, and the incident before us this week – his denial of Jesus. We will consider this passage under three headings.


#1 The Severity of Peter’s Fall

First, I want to consider why it’s such a big deal that Peter denied knowing Jesus.


-1- He knew Jesus better than almost anyone alive.

If anyone alive on earth during Jesus’ earthly ministry knew Jesus, Peter knew Jesus. Three years earlier he had left everything to follow him – left his job, his home, likely his extended family. Peter had a front row seat to all that Jesus was doing. He heard Jesus’ powerful sermons as he traveled through the region. He witnessed first-hand the miraculous power Jesus held over the demons, the sick, even over nature itself.   When Jesus put his disciples to the test asking them who they thought he was, it was Peter who stepped forward and said, “You are the Christ.” Peter was on the mountain with Jesus during his transfiguration.

While the disciples, including Peter, frequently appear clueless in the gospel accounts, if anyone understood something about who Jesus was, it was his small group of disciples.   Even more than Jesus’ own family, they understood something of the identity of Jesus. Remember Jesus’ family had concluded at one point that he was out of his mind and attempted to kidnap him and bring him back home. So if anyone understood who Jesus was, it was Peter. Peter was one of the three disciples, along with the brothers James and John, who were in Jesus’ inner circle. These were the three men Jesus selected out of the twelve disciples to be with even more intimately.

So when Peter on this night denies not only that he knows Jesus but that he is in any associated with him, it is a severe fall indeed. And notice in the passage that Peter is not being questioned as to whether or not he knows Jesus, but whether or not he was with Jesus. You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus (v.67)…This man is one of them (v.69)…Certainly you are one of them (v.70). Peter in responses denies knowing Jesus but what he is being asked is whether or not he is associated with Jesus.

Perhaps Peter was disillusioned by Jesus, perhaps he was still reeling from being rebuked by Jesus, perhaps he was legitimately confused as to who Jesus was now that he had surrendered to the Jewish authorities. However, if anyone knew Jesus, it was Peter!


-2- He was warned.

Peter’s fall is all the more remarkable because he was warned only hours before by Jesus. He was first told that he and all of the disciples would fall away and then when he protested, Jesus shared specific details with him: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times (Mark 14:30).”

This is a very specific warning that Peter received. It’s not like the general health warnings we have in our day like eat a low-fat diet to lower your risk of heart disease. This is very specific – this very night, you Peter, will open your mouth and deny me three times before the rooster has a chance to crow twice.

Proverbs 1:17 says that “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird.” Why? Because what bird would fly into a trap he sees? If it sees the trap, it will avoid the trap!   Peter knew what lay ahead for him, yet still he fell.


-3- He had an opportunity to change course.

See the progressive nature in which events unfolded. At first Peter along with the other disciples quickly fled as Jesus was seized and led away under guard. But Peter decides to follow at a distance right into the courtyard of the high priest. Jesus’ “trial” and subsequent beating was taking place nearby with perhaps only a wall separating Jesus and Peter. Peter had to have had some knowledge of the suffering Jesus was undergoing at this moment and there he stood warming himself by a fire sitting with guards—the very guards who would likely abuse Jesus.   One of the servant girls (v.66) approached Peter with a question. You would be hard-pressed to find someone lower on the social ladder than this girl. Not only is she a woman, she is a young woman, and not only a young woman but a slave. She says, You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus (v.67). Peter side steps the issue claiming to not know nor understand (v.68) what she was talking about. As he walks away, the rooster crows. This should have been a reminder for Peter, but it isn’t. Two more times he is asked and of course each time he denies being with, or even knowing Jesus. The final denial he invokes a curse on himself (v.71). It’s only after the rooster crows a second time that he realized what he had done.


#2 Reasons for Peter’s Fall

I believe the weight of this passage lies in the severity of Peter’s fall but it will be helpful to consider as well some possible reasons that Peter fell.


-1- The Fear of Man

Most visibly here Peter is suffering from the fear of man, or in this case the fear of a servant woman.   Now certainly what is at stake here is not a loss of social standing or some uncomfortable looks he would have to endure. Peter is legitimately fearful for his own life. Remember earlier in the night he was ready to pull out his sword for Jesus, now he is afraid even to acknowledge he knows Jesus.

-2- An Anxious Heart

Peter is understandably anxious. What is going to happen to Jesus? What is going to happen to the movement Jesus was leading? What is going to happen to Peter? It’s hard to imagine that Peter is not anxious. He follows Jesus during his arrest but at a distance. When confronted with the servant girl, he walks away but not very far. He is in a state of anxious paralysis. Anxious people tend to not make good decisions. Their anxiety speaks louder than reason, louder than their faith and they take the path of least resistance. For Peter this is side stepping the question, denying the answer, and then finally calling down a curse on himself.


-3- Foolish Self-Confidence

Ultimately, I think Peter’s fall is best explained by his foolish self-confidence. He was warned by Jesus that he was about to deny him.   Sometimes we unknowingly fall into a temptation but here Peter is specifically warned. Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”

Our areas of perceived strength can become avenues for great weakness. Because Peter thinks it is impossible that he would deny Jesus, he apparently takes no precautions. Jesus tells him and James and John to pray. They sleep instead. Peter is relying on a false confidence to get him through this night and in the end he falls because of it.


#3 Lessons from Peter’s Fall


-1- We need to cultivate a watchful heart even in areas where we think we are strong.  

Proverbs 16:18 says that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Even after being warned, Peter did not remain watchful. He was so confident in his abilities, that his “strength” became his downfall. We need to cultivate a spirit of watchfulness in our lives. What does this look like? To begin with this means we take the warnings of Scripture to heart.   1 Corinthians 10:13 says that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” We are not surprised by sin. Being watchful and understanding how easily we fall, we are led to pray – to seek out his presence, to ask for grace, to look for “the way of escape” (1 Cor 10:13) that he provides. Being watchful also means being in real community where you can see into the lives of others and they can see into yours – knowing and being known, loving and being loved.


-2- We need to be honest about our own struggles.

One of the reasons we love Peter is because he is so relatable. We celebrate his high points, like his bold declaration that Jesus is the Christ but also feel for him at his low points like the passage we’ve considered today. If it is indeed true that Peter was the primary source for Mark (and we don’t have many compelling reasons to doubt this), it is remarkable that we see so many of Peter’s warts. Peter is after all one of the chief leaders of the early church. It was a difficult time to be a leader. Not only facing external persecution but having to deal with internal conflict within the church as well. To strengthen our position, we are often tempted to hide our weaknesses and shortcomings, but Peter puts them on display.

In my campus ministry days, I would hear all the time from the so-called millennial generation that one of the reasons they have a problem with the church is the perceived hypocrisy they see amongst church members and church leaders. Hypocrisy has long been a problem in the church? How do you combat hypocrisy? It’s not by doing better. It’s by being honest with your struggles and failures. Peter had the courage to allow his story to be told.


-3- Those who God uses greatly he first breaks deeply.

You would be hard pressed to name a leader in the Bible who did mess up big time – Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary, Paul, and Peter! So many of these great men and women of the Bible were not only broken by their circumstances but like Peter broken by their sin. And so we find this principle to be at work throughout the Bible: those whom God uses greatly, he first breaks deeply. Are you being broken right now? In a difficult season? Perhaps God is allowing you to come undone, that you might discover his strength. And having discovered your weakness and His strength, you are in a good position to be used by Him.



Discussion Questions

  1. Without naming names share a time when you were disappointed by the fall of a leader. Why were you disappointed? Was there anything redeeming that came out of the situation?
  2. Why was Peter’s denial of Jesus such a severe fall?
  3. Part One: Discuss some of the reasons you think may have led to Peter’s fall. Part Two: Which of these reasons can you most relate to?
  4. How can we cultivate a watchful heart toward sin in our own lives?
  5. Why is it so difficult for us to be honest about our struggles? How can we be more transparent about our struggles?
  6. Those whom God uses greatly he first breaks deeply. Can you think of some other examples of men and women in the Bible who first broken deeply before they were used greatly by God?
  7. As you consider your own life, where might God need to break you?
  8. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?