But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what you say. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.…
I. The circumstances under which this great guilty act was performed ARE EXCEEDINGLY DRAMATIC. The story shifts its phases like pictures in a play.
1. The scene is laid in the quadrangle of the High Priest's house in Jerusalem, whither the miscellaneous mob of people had hurried Jesus after His apprehension in the garden of Gethsemane. It will be necessary for those who desire to understand this narrative to form for themselves a conception of Peter's precise whereabouts during such a grand crisis of his history. Eastern dwellings of the better sort appear to have been built around a four-sided court — an interior space like a private yard enclosed — frequently paved with flat flagging stone, and open to the sky overhead. Into this area a passage from the street led by an arched opening through one side of the house. Heavy folding doors guarded the entrance, leaving a smaller wicket gate near by for the convenience of visitors who came familiarly or one at a time. Usually this was kept by a porter. Such, in all likelihood, was the general fashion of Caiaphas' palace. Simon Peter was inside of the wicket standing there in the courtyard.
2. The company into the midst of which before this John, the beloved disciple, had found his way, and which he does not appear to have unused even to notice as he hurried through, was made up of servants and soldiers. Belated and bewildered by their unwonted excitements on the night of our Saviour's trial, they had kindled a "fire of coals" out in the area. The hour of this arraignment was unusual, the air was chilly, and the confusion was full of discomfort. The entire group appears irritable and maliciously disposed. The girls are coarse, the military men boisterous and brutal, the Levites insolently triumphant, as they see their victim now in what they deem the right hands, and the waiters abusive and impudent. Everything shows picturesquely there among the flitting dresses and uniforms. The flame makes all the quadrangle dance with uncouth shadows, and the faces of the men and maidens are ruddy under the red glow of the coals. Ill-tempered and testy with the raw air of the midnight, they jostle each other and join roughly in gibes about the discomfiture and capture of this Nazarene prophet at last.
3. Enter Simon Peter now, the chief actor in this awful tragedy of the denial. Into the midst of the throng comes a burly figure, a quick-stepping individual, evidently trying to do that peculiar thing which almost everybody, one time or another in his life, has tried to do, and nobody at any time has ever succeeded in accomplishing, namely, to look unconscious and unconcerned when absorbently anxious, and to seem unnoticed and unembarrassed when he knows the rest are all staring at him. That newcomer is our well-known friend Simon, the son of Jonas; and he is now endeavouring to act at perfect ease, although he is certain that he is and ought to be an object of suspicion from the beginning. "He sat with the servants (Mark 14:54), and warmed himself at the fire." Picture him now, away from all his friends, among the sullen enemies of his Lord. There is some evidence that this disciple imagined he might pass himself off for one of the crowd who went out to apprehend Jesus, if only he mingled unabashed with the chilly company around the coals. So he pressed nearer, and this was exactly what hastened his exposure.
4. Now commences the dialogue of the drama. A girl kept the outer door; this reminds us of the office of the damsel named Rhoda (Acts 12:13), whom we meet in another part of Peter's history farther on.
II. We must arrest our study of the melancholy story here, for it is high time that we should seek for THE PRACTICAL LESSONS TAUGHT IN THIS TRANSGRESSION OF PETER.
1. We see, for one thing, how commonplace is even the most notable of human sins. This denial of his Lord will always be quoted as the characteristic wickedness of Simon Peter. It stands out in history as one of the vast crimes of the world and the race. To deny Christ is so simple a thing that we can fall into it, and hardly know it at the time. This sin is not singular nor unusual. Christ's cause is on trial now as really as was Christ Himself in the High Priest's palace. We stand in jeopardy every hour. Satan's ingenious policy is to come suddenly upon us with the surprise of a question with ridicule in it. So small a matter as emitting family prayer because a stranger is in our dwelling, as putting on a ribald air when one twits us with being serious, may have in it all the meaning and the meanness of Peter's sin. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
2. Again: we see the immeasurable peril of just one act of wrongdoing. Indeed, one act never seems to remain alone. This first denial led to two more of the same sort; then to lying, then to profanity. It is as supreme a folly to talk of a little sin as it would be to talk of a small decalogue that forbids it, or a diminutive God that hates it, or a shallow hell that will punish it. Sin is registered according to heavenly measurements of holiness and majesty.
3. We see, likewise, a ready explanation of the mysterious falls into sin sometimes noticed in the lives of really good men. No one doubts that Simon Peter was a regenerate Christian man: how happens it that he crashes down into wickedness so suddenly? The answer to this question must be found in the disclosures of this disciple's previous history. He had for a long time been preparing for this disaster. One of the brightest of our modern writers has given us a simile somewhat like this. If a careless reader lets fall a drop of ink in among the leaves of a book he is just closing, it will strike through the paper both ways. When he opens the volume again, he can begin with the earliest faint appearance of the stain, and measure by its increase his progress towards the great black point of defacement. Open it now anywhere, and he will detect some traces of the coming spot. He can turn back to it; he can turn forward from it. So of this great base act of the Apostle Peter, which we call emphatically the denial. It is a stain in the middle of his life. Most of us have a profound admiration and a tender love for this old Bethsaida fisherman, even if we do deny he was ever set up for the first pope. But hitherto, as we have been studying his biography, we might often have seemed to see the denial coming. Along the way hints of it appear. One who reads the Gospels for the first time would be likely to remark, "Here is a man who will be in awful shame and trouble some day, for he thinks he stands safely; he is going to fall." This might be true of most self-confident Christians who lapse into sin; the wickedness has been growing upon them longer than they thought. "Men fall," so once said Guizot, "on the side towards which they lean."
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.