When the Rooster Crows — Part Two
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When the Rooster Crows — Part Two

John 13:36–38  (ID: 3656)

Although Peter declared that he would lay down his life for Jesus, when he was questioned by a servant girl, he denied Him three times. Rather than view Peter’s actions with judgment, Alistair Begg explains that Peter’s failure serves as a warning to all believers. The seeds of every sin are latent in our own hearts—and, like Peter, if we trust in our own strength, we will fall. The life of faith cannot be built on our promises to Christ but must be fixed on the promises He makes to us.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn to John 13 as we continue where we left off from this morning. We’ll read just the few verses from verse 36 to 38. Jesus has explained that he is to be glorified in the cross. He’s announced that he’s going, and they won’t be able to come with him. He’s given them a new commandment so that they might love one another, that the world might know that the gospel is true.

And “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I[’m] going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’”

Father, we pray that in the closing moments of our time together now, that it might be the voice of the Lord Jesus that we hear and that in hearing your voice, that we might respond in faith and in obedience. And we ask for your help, the help of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, the question that Peter had posed was “Where is it that you’re going?” We paid attention to the fact that this was something that Christ had not chosen to make known to him, and yet still Peter wanted to have answers that would satisfy his own curiosity. The response that Jesus gives to him is such that we might anticipate that Peter would then say, “Okay, I get it now.” But what we actually discover is that Peter follows up his first question with a second question, and Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?”

And it is very clear that Peter has no real understanding about a number of things. He has no real understanding of how near the end is for Jesus. Now, we don’t say that in any spirit of judgment. How could he really know? None of the disciples could fully understand the proximity with which they were finding themselves before the departure of Jesus, and he had no clear understanding of that.

Nor did he—or the other disciples, I take it—have any kind of awareness of the dark and terrible forces that were at work that night in Jerusalem. It is not melodramatic to suggest that all hell is let loose against the purposes of God, which will, of course, lead eventually to the death of the Lord Jesus.

They are also unaware of what Jesus has already explained to them. When you cross-reference the record in John with the Synoptic Gospels, it’s helpful, and we can fill in some of the background. For example, they have already been told by Jesus that “Satan demanded to have you,” to “sift you like wheat”[1]—the picture there of a large sieve, in the context of the agricultural day, where the material was put in, and then it wasn’t just marginally moved around, but it was shaken in such a way that the objective would be achieved. “And that,” says Jesus, “is what Satan desires to do with you fellows. He has demanded that he might be able to shake you up.” And that you find in Luke 22. In Mark’s record, Jesus actually says directly to them, “You will all fall away.”[2]

The life of faith can’t be built on the promises that we make to Christ. That actually leads to disaster, because we can’t keep our own promises.

So, they have got no real understanding of the proximity to the end of life for Jesus, nor have they really listened to what Jesus has said about what is going on or going down, if you like. And Peter is actually showing how little he knows about himself. I think that’s the thing that is most striking to me. Because he is able to make these great protestations. I don’t think we should judge him unduly. I think it is an expression of his confused devotion. He means exactly what he says; he just doesn’t know what he himself is really like. “I’m ready to die for you,” he says to Jesus. And we read in the Synoptics as well that after Jesus had explained to them that they will all fall away, it is in that context that Peter then goes on to say, “Even if they do not, I will.”[3] In other words, he separates himself even from the other ten that are around him.

Now, I just paused as I was studying it to write notes to myself, and I wrote down just a simple phrase: “Beware the mischief of self-ignorance.” “Beware the mischief of self-ignorance.” “I will lay down my life for you,” he says. In other words, there is a sense in which Peter is actually saying that “my future is to be built on the promises that I am making to you,” when in actual fact, his future is grounded in the promises that Jesus has made to him. “You will all fall away.” “But I have prayed for you. And after you are restored, then you strengthen the brethren.”[4] The life of faith can’t be built on the promises that we make to Christ. That actually leads to disaster, because we can’t keep our own promises. We’re not even sure how to promise in the way that we should. Wisdom is found in the opposite direction: casting myself on the promises that Jesus has made to us. That’s the way to victory. The other way is the road to disaster.

Now, that, of course, is a message, a warning that runs throughout all of the Bible. Part of the Bible readings at the moment are in Proverbs in the Murray M’Cheyne readings. We haven’t got as far as Proverbs 28, but you know the verse—Proverbs 28:26: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool.” It’s quite a statement, isn’t it? “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Or, earlier in Proverbs—but we still haven’t reached it—in chapter 16: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”[5]

Now, Jesus responds once again to the question that Peter has raised: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus responds virtually using what Peter has said word for word? “‘I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘[You] will … lay down your life for me?’” In other words, it’s actually quite common in conversation, sometimes between a mother and a son or somebody: they give you back the very thing you’ve said; they turn it ’round the other way to point out the incongruity of what has been said. And that’s what Jesus is saying. After all, Peter and the others have been in his company in all of the material that we’ve been working through. They know, but has he forgotten that Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”[6] “It’s me who lays down my life for you, not you—especially right now—laying down your life for me.”

I think, actually, there is something in that that I haven’t really thought about till now, and that is that people like to do things for God. Like to do things: “I’d like to do some things for Jesus.” And the people who like to do things for Jesus may not be happy for Jesus to do something for them. In fact, what I want to do for God and for Jesus and for religion and for everything else may actually be a smokescreen for the fact that I have never come to the point where I’ve said, “Jesus, I’m entirely dependent on you, on your promises, and everything that you do for me.” “You’re going to lay down your life for me?” It’s as though Peter is hearing Jesus saying, “Listen, Peter, I know you. I know you better than you know yourself, and I know that your intentions are good. But your self-awareness is really poor.” And then he said, “Truly, truly”—“I’m telling you, listen to me”—“the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

So, “Where are you going? Why can’t I go? When is this going to happen?” That’s all I had from my notes: Where? Why? When? And the time is established here.

Jesus, you see, knows what awaits him. And he loves these disciples. We saw that earlier in the chapter: “Having loved [them] …, he loved them to the end.”[7] He knows exactly what is about to unfold. Mark records the fact that even after Peter had been told of what was going to take place, still he was prepared to say, “Well, I must stand out in this group.” Three decades later, he actually would do this, as we come to chapter 21. But for now…

But they all said the same thing. That’s what it says in the text: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you”; and Mark says, “And they all said the same [thing].”[8] There’s a lot of nodding going on: “Yeah. Oh yeah! Uh-huh. We feel that way too. You feel that way, Mark?” “Oh, yeah. I feel that way. Yeah.” So he’s not isolated from the reality. And Mark tells us that when, in the garden scene, Jesus is removed after Judas Iscariot has greeted him with a kiss, Mark says, “And they all left him and fled.”[9] “They all left him and fled.” Not one of them was left—Peter too.

But we need to give credit where credit is due. We’re in John, so we don’t need to really pay much attention to Mark, although I’ve mentioned it already. That quote is from the fiftieth verse of Mark 14: “And they all left him and fled.” But then you have the fifty-first verse, which I just can’t stop myself from mentioning, because that fifty-first verse is about the fellow—I call him Naked Norman—who, you will remember, in the situation, he tried to jump in on the action, and somebody hauled his clothes off, and he was left running naked down the street. But at least he was making a go at it. So, I think that’s pretty good; credit where credit’s due. “Look at that! Look at that!” And Peter has a display of allegiance, too, doesn’t he? After all, in the garden, the high priest’s servant is down an ear. He’s minus an ear. Why? Because of a display of allegiance on the part of Peter: “Hey, you’re not going to take Jesus! Try that for a moment.” And Jesus has to put the fellow back together again, and that was his try. Credit where credit’s due.

Peter followed. Peter followed. The Mark fellow followed, whoever he was—without his clothes, it turns out. But Peter followed. It actually says that Peter followed “at a distance.”[10] “At a distance.” And I remember in my youth—way in my youth, barely memorable to me now—but I think I could find it where I gave a talk to a bunch of young people on the phrase “Peter followed at a distance.” And my talk was “That was his problem, you see. He was at a distance. You’re not supposed to be at a distance. You’re supposed to be close up.” I think I was a little hard on him. Because at least he followed. At least he followed! He might have been at a distance, but he was a lot closer than the other fellows.

And he follows him right into the situation that takes you into the eighteenth chapter of John. And it is there, in the eighteenth chapter, that we have the unfolding drama of the denial itself. And it’s very interesting the way it unfolds. “Simon Peter followed Jesus”—18:15. “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple.” We take it that this is John; he is writing in the third person about himself. And he tells us that he knew the high priest. Why John knew the high priest we don’t know, but “since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.” But Peter’s not in the courtyard of the high priest. So John, he speaks to the servant girl, and he says to the servant girl, “My friend is out here, Peter, and I’d like to get him in, if that’s okay with you.” You think about the providence of God that leads to this. Because if he had just left him out there, we wouldn’t have this incident. But it’s because he wanted to include Peter and bring him in—and the servant girl then, of course, broaches the question, “You[’re] also … not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”[11]

So the guy who was brave enough to take out a sword and chop off somebody’s ear folds like a broken deck chair, melts like a chocolate soldier in front of the fireplace as a result of a question asked by a servant girl directly concerning his allegiance to Jesus. “Jesus, even if I have to die with you, I won’t deny you.” “No, I don’t know him. I don’t know him.”

In short order, what has happened here? He has broken a promise, he’s told a lie, and he’s dragged down by the gravity of the momentum of sin. Lying is terrible. Because if you become a liar, you can do just about anything you want. All you have to do is lie about it. And it is remarkable that this bold servant of Jesus finds himself capitulating in this way, especially after he has made these declarations.

And again, you need to do your own homework for this, but in Luke 22, the way in which Luke records this incident is so straightforwardly helpful. And this is what it says—Luke 22:60. Now the question has come again. Peter says, “Man, I do[n’t] know what you[’re] talking about.” Now listen to this: “And immediately, while he was still speaking”—while he is still speaking—“the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned … looked at Peter. … Peter remembered …. And he went out and wept bitterly.” The rooster crowed, the Lord looked, Peter remembered, and he went out and wept bitterly.

Now, let’s not miss the fact that what we have here in the record of Holy Scripture, what we have here publicized for time immemorial, is the actions of arguably the leader of the discipleship band. And if you’re thinking—which I’m taking it that you are—you must realize that this speaks to the truthfulness of the Gospels. The people, when we come to the Eastertime, always emerge to explain that this wasn’t the historical Jesus; this is something that was manufactured later on; two hundred years later, they wanted to clean it up and so on. It doesn’t make any sense at all. If it was an invention, why do you take your key guy and introduce him to the world as a complete and utter failure? The publicized record of the leader of the disciple band? Who would invent this?

But we need to draw it to a close.

If this can happen to Peter, what of us? “Let anyone who thinks he stands,” says Paul when he writes to the Corinthians, “let anyone who thinks they stand take heed lest you fall.”[12] None of us actually know what we will do in the hour of testing. None of us know. None of us know when we face that great combination of desire and temptation and opportunity. And when that happens, we find ourselves up against a reality that only the grace of God can keep us from. And so, when we read the story of Peter, as I’ve been challenged by it all week, and now we’re challenged together by it, let’s beware of the posture of the attitude which says, “I could never do that. I can’t believe she did that. Well, I haven’t done that.”

Because the fact is that the seeds of every sin are latent in our hearts. The seeds of every sin are latent in our hearts. And they may spring to life. They may spring to life in a dramatic moment. It may be by a fireside. It may be in a courtyard. It may be in some other context altogether, when all of a sudden, it all descends upon us as it descended upon him, in a moment of carelessness—especially if it’s accompanied by a cold heart. We’ve neglected worship. We’ve neglected our Scriptures. We’ve neglected the fellowship of God’s people. We’ve begun to tolerate ourselves, and we’ve begun to play in our own minds with all kinds of ideas, and we thought that it’s okay, it’s just us, and it doesn’t involve anybody else at all. And all of a sudden… Coldness of heart, moral carelessness, and a spirit of self-reliance: when those things combine, we have no adequate conception of how far we might fall.

Think about it: How often have I sat by a fire with a bunch of people who clearly have no interest in Jesus or the Bible or anything about it at all, and I just denied him by my silence? Just by my silence! And I decided, “It’s okay. You don’t have to speak all the time. You don’t have to voice everything.” But deep down inside, I was chicken. I was a coward. A foursome on a golf trip… No. We need to be alert. We need to be alert.

Coldness of heart, moral carelessness, and a spirit of self-reliance: when those things combine, we have no adequate conception of how far we might fall.

That’s why Jesus had told his disciples when he was in the garden, “Watch and pray [so] that you [enter] not … into temptation.”[13] They didn’t watch, and they fell asleep. I need to be alert, first of all, to run quickly to Christ, to the comfort of his love. Our good friend Sinclair Ferguson reminds us helpfully, “My security as a Christian does not reside in the strength of my faith but in the indestructibility of my Savior.”[14]

So, alert to our own potential collapses, and then quick to run to the aid of those who have collapsed in the courtyard. In the readings this morning, part of them in Ephesians, Paul says towards the end of that fourth chapter, he says, “I want you to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you”: “Be [tenderhearted] to one another, … forgiving one another, as God in Christ [has forgiven] you.”[15] Judas and Peter are famous on account of their failures. Judas, despite initial appearances, collapses, goes out into the night, kills himself. Peter collapses, goes into the night, and weeps, but he’s restored.

It’s a reminder of the difference between apostasy and backsliding. Anyone professing faith, professing to be a follower of Jesus, who subsequently returns wholeheartedly to sin, who renounces their former Christian allegiance, who displays no remorse in doing so, and who continues in that apostasy to the end of their lives must surely, despite initial appearances, never have been truly born of God. A backslider, a Christian who stumbles and falls, may fall down a long way and for a long time, but the difference is that they know it. And even in that distance—geographically, emotionally, whatever it might be—in that distance, they still retain, if you like, in their minds the notion of the far city, the notion of “my Father’s home.” They know in their hearts, they say, “I can arise, I will arise, and I’ll go to my Father, and I’ll say to him, ‘I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I’m actually no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.’”[16] And so they retain an awareness of what they’ve left behind and a lingering desire to return to what they had, and they come back. Oh, yes, they do!

And that’s, of course, what takes us finally to the scene that would be etched just wonderfully in the psyche of Peter at the end of the day. And you must do this for your homework; you can read it before the week falls to its end. But the appearance of Jesus: now we’ve bypassed Good Friday, we’ve bypassed the resurrection, and now we’ve got the appearances of Jesus. We’ll backtrack in time. But in that context there, Peter has three opportunities to affirm his allegiance. Remember:

“Do you love me more than these?”

“I do love you.”

“Do you love me?”

“Lord, you know I love you.”[17]

Said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John…” (He uses his old name, Simon: “You’re Simon, but you’ll be Peter.” He was “Shaky.”) “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

And “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’”[18] And that actually will bring us to our final “Truly, truly.” And we’re not ready for that yet.

But I went to find where the verse is, and I found it. It’s Psalm 30:5. Because I said as I thought about Peter, I said, “He would know the Psalms. He’d know this verse: ‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes [in] the morning.’” And he went out, and he wept bitterly, but it wasn’t the end. It wasn’t the end. And it needn’t be the end. If you’re here tonight and you’re backslidden—nobody knows, but you know—do not continue down that road. Stop. Turn your eyes to Christ again. Seek him with all of your heart, and be ready for him, not to make your breakfast for you but to provide you with everything that you need, to see your tears washed away, and to see the discovery of a deep-seated joy that comes in knowing that he knows that you love him.

Father, thank you. Thank you that your Word is your Word. Thank you that these things, all of the things that took place in the past, have been written down so that we might learn. And it’s painful stuff, actually, to think about how easy it is for us to just collapse. We know that you keep us. And so we say tonight: please, keep us kept. Keep us kept. And help us to look away from ourselves and our promises to you, as if somehow or another, the more affirmations that we make, the stronger we are. No, Peter made great affirmations and was no good! No, help us to rest entirely in your promises, to be able to say, “It’s in Christ alone that my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song, cornerstone, solid ground.”[19] Lord, help us to put our feet firmly there, and then to help encourage one another as we look out on the days that lie ahead, so that we might love as you have said we ought to love—love you and love one another, so that a watching world may actually have reason to say, “Well, perhaps it’s worth considering Jesus. After all, he seems to mean something to that group.” May it be so. For your name’s sake we ask it. Amen.

[1] Luke 22:31 (ESV).

[2] Mark 14:27 (ESV).

[3] Matthew 26:33 (paraphrased).

[4] Luke 22:32 (paraphrased).

[5] Proverbs 16:18 (ESV).

[6] John 10:11 (ESV).

[7] John 13:1 (ESV).

[8] Mark 14:31 (ESV).

[9] Mark 14:50 (ESV).

[10] Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54; Luke 22:54 (ESV).

[11] John 18:17 (ESV).

[12] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[13] Matthew 26:41 (ESV).

[14] Sinclair Ferguson, “How Long Will It Last?,” Ligonier, May 8, 2004, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/how-long-will-it-last.

[15] Ephesians 4:32 (ESV).

[16] Luke 15:18–19 (paraphrased).

[17] John 21:15–16 (paraphrased).

[18] John 21:17 (ESV).

[19] Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone” (2001). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.