(The events in this story are described in the following chapters of the Bible: Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and Acts 1-4.)
Peter’s Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ONE OF THE MOST illustrious personalities of the entire Bible is Simon Bar-Jona, commonly known today as Saint Peter the Apostle. One of Jesus’ first disciples, Peter was a very colorful character–a rough and rugged fisherman–bursting with energy and action.
During his years under Christ’s personal leadership and teaching, Peter often bulldozed his way around like the proverbial bull in a china shop, and did whatever he thought was right or should be done, with little thought of the consequences. By far the most outspoken of the twelve Apostles, Peter did not hesitate to speak his mind, although quite often contradicting himself in the process. But men of force are men of faults, and despite his strong personality, Peter’s strength, self-confidence and opinions of how things should be done often hindered him and resulted in him making serious blunders.
However, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter underwent a dramatic change. This transformation is what our story is all about. We begin at the closing hours of Jesus’ ministry on earth, at the last supper that He ate with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion.
Knowing that He would soon suffer torture and death for the sins of the world, Jesus looked upon His disciples and said sadly, “You will all be offended and leave Me this night. For as it was foretold, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’” (See Zechariah 13:7.)
Upon hearing this, Peter impulsively proclaimed, “Though all men desert You, yet I will not!”
Knowing what was to come, Jesus answered Peter quietly, “Before the cock crows, you will have denied Me three times.”
Peter was shocked at such a prediction and even more adamantly insisted, “Though I should die with You, yet will I not deny You!” The other disciples quickly joined in, affirming with Peter that they, too, would stand by Jesus come what may.
But to Peter’s chagrin, Jesus’ prediction was soon fulfilled. That very night, as Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying with His disciples, a band of temple guards, sent by the chief priests and religious leaders, came with a large crowd carrying swords, clubs and torches. They seized Jesus who, knowing His time had come, peacefully went with them, alone. Jesus’ disciples panicked at His arrest, quickly forgot their vows of loyalty to death, and fled for their lives into the night.
As Jesus was taken away to be tried by a religious court hastily assembled at the high priest’s house, Peter, trying to muster his courage, followed from a distance, careful not to be seen by the temple guards who had seized Jesus. Arriving at the courtyard outside the house, Peter stood by the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the proceedings from a distance. A woman near the entrance noticed the nervous and distraught figure, and looking suspiciously at him, asked, “Aren’t you one of that man’s disciples?”
“No! I’m not!” Peter brusquely replied, as he moved away towards a fire built in the courtyard by some of the night guards.
Moments later, as Peter stood warming himself by the fire, a man who had been present when Jesus was captured pointed out Peter and loudly questioned him, “Didn’t I see you in the Garden of Gethsemane with Him?”
“I swear I don’t know the man!” Peter emphatically answered.
There was a tense silence. Peter, while trying to act normal, was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. But soon others standing around joined in the accusation: “You are one of them! We can tell by your accent that you’re from Galilee, just like Jesus; you must be one of His disciples!”
Fearing his life might be in danger and desperate to get out of a threatening situation, Peter began to curse and to swear, vehemently insisting, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t even know this Jesus character!”
Peter had barely finished his third denial when a rooster began to crow loudly. At that moment, Jesus, who was being led by His captors through the courtyard to another building, turned and looked directly at Peter. Immediately Peter recalled Jesus’ words, “Before the cock crows, you will have denied Me three times.”
Overcome with remorse for what he’d done, Peter could barely control his grief. As tears began to well up in his eyes, he stumbled out of the courtyard, then ran blindly into the night. Finally, in a deserted alley of the city, he sank to the ground and wept bitterly.
It seemed like the end. The next morning Jesus was led off to be crucified. His disciples were huddled in a small hidden room, fearing for their lives.
But three days after His crucifixion, Jesus victoriously arose from the dead and reappeared to His disciples. Lovingly, he forgave Peter and the others for their fears and denials, and His words filled them with renewed strength and faith. The greatest transformation of their lives was about to begin.
For forty days following His resurrection, Jesus continued to appear to His disciples, encouraging them and explaining details of the mission before them. On the fortieth day, just before ascending into Heaven, He instructed them to return to Jerusalem: “Wait for the promise of the Father, until you are strengthened with power from on High. For you shall receive power after the Holy Ghost comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
The Apostles returned to Jerusalem, and with over 120 other disciples and their wives and children, remained together to pray and wait, in obedience to Jesus’ final command before His ascension. Their prayers were answered ten days later, with a sudden and awesome manifestation of God’s power. The Bible describes it in these words: “A sound like the rushing of a mighty wind filled the whole house where they were, and they saw the appearance of many tongues of fire that rested upon every one of them. And they all were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2-4).
This was it!–This was what they’d been waiting for–supernatural strength from the Lord to empower them to continue His work, now that He had departed! Suddenly, the fear, worry, and inability to act on their convictions was gone. And Peter, his entire heart and life instantly transformed by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, led the disciples in one of the most spectacular witnessing experiences of all time!
The Jewish Feast of the Harvest, a major religious festival, was being celebrated in the streets of Jerusalem, and Jewish pilgrims from many nations had come for the annual event. Peter stepped into the street with the other disciples–having just been filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit–and they all supernaturally began to fluently speak in the foreign languages of the multitudes visiting Jerusalem that day, each in a language they had never spoken before! As news of the miracle spread through the city, multitudes quickly gathered. Boldly, the disciples proclaimed to the crowds the wonderful news of God’s love and salvation through Jesus.
Suddenly, Peter climbed up the steps of a nearby building, and raising his hands, he shouted to the now enormous crowd, bringing a hush over them all. He began to speak to them with such authority and conviction that an astounding 3,000 people were not only converted, but committed themselves that very day to become disciples of Christ!
Peter had changed. Here was a man who had acted so cowardly after the arrest of Jesus that he denied Him three times. Now he stood before thousands, in the very city where Jesus had been arrested, tried and executed a few weeks earlier, boldly proclaiming God’s message to all! What caused this sudden transformation? The supernatural power and might of the Holy Spirit! As the Lord had promised, the disciples had received power after the Holy Spirit had come upon them.
Peter had gone through the most severe testing of his life only a few short weeks before, and had made what he probably considered his worst offense. But now there was no time for remorse. A tremendous wave of evangelization–spreading the message of God’s love–was underway, and the Lord was working through Peter to accomplish things he had never dreamed would be possible. In the past he’d been so impulsive, always seeming to say the wrong thing at the wrong time; but now he had become a leader, “strengthening his brethren,” just as the Lord had prayed he would (Luke 22:32).
Not only was Peter encouraged, but all the disciples were overjoyed to see the miracle God’s Spirit had performed in their lives! Even though they had all forsaken the Lord in His most desperate hour, they knew that Jesus still loved them and had forgiven them. And the strength and boldness they now possessed even surpassed that which they felt when Jesus walked among them.
It was as if Jesus was no longer gone, but was closer than ever. They remembered the words He had spoken to them at their final meal before His arrest, “It is necessary that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, will not come unto you. Right now the Spirit lives with you, but then shall be in you. And he that believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also. And greater works than these shall you do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12,16,17; John 16:7).
Shortly after that miraculous day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John prayed for and healed a man who was lame from his birth, before an astonished crowd. And when Peter spoke to the thousands that had gathered upon hearing of the miracle, 5,000 more were converted and joined ranks with the disciples, increasing their number to over 8,000 men, not counting women and children! Truly these were the beginning of the “greater works” Jesus had said His followers would perform. Why? Because Jesus was no longer merely with them; He was in them by way of the Holy Ghost!
In the days that followed, Peter and John faced a wave of persecution from the same jealous religious leaders who had crucified their Savior. But this time there was no fear, no cowardice, no denial. After being arrested with John, Peter stood before their council and testified with such unflinching courage and authority that the Bible observes, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and ignorant men, they marveled at them and knew that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Why did they marvel? Because they saw the same power manifested in them that they had seen in Jesus when He walked the earth.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Even though Peter was already a believer in Jesus, before he was filled with the Holy Spirit he lacked the power to stand up for Jesus, which led to his greatest offense–denying Jesus! But the contrast in Peter’s life before and after receiving the Holy Spirit clearly demonstrates that whatever Peter did accomplish was not the result of his own abilities or forcefulness, but because of Jesus, who first lived with him, and then in him by filling Peter with His Holy Spirit. The Bible explains, “For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us” (2Corinthians 4:7).
The wonderful message in this story is that you, too, can have this power by being filled with the Holy Spirit of God! Although it’s not essential to receive the Holy Spirit to be “saved” and go to Heaven, we all certainly need the infilling of God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit in order to have the strength to accomplish God’s will in our lives.
The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to give you the power to be a “witness,” meaning one who shares God’s message and love with others. The “baptism” of the Holy Spirit also helps you greatly in your personal relationship with the Lord. It gives you a stronger contact with Him, and better communication through prayer, as well as a much greater understanding when you read God’s Word. The Bible promises that the Holy Spirit will “guide us into all truth” as we study God’s Word (John 16:13).
Have you received the overflowing power of God’s Holy Spirit in your heart? All you have to do is ask! You can’t earn it or be good enough to deserve it, any more than Peter could. It’s a gift, you just have to pray and receive it! “Ask and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7). Receive His power today!
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