Explore the Bible Study: Denied

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How would you feel if someone you considered to be a very close friend ignored you, abandoned you, or betrayed you in some way? What words would you use to describe the emotions you would feel? LifeWay's Explore the Bible Study: Denied, will examine Simon Peter's heartbreaking denial of Jesus. As you examine Luke 22:54-62 and Peter’s denial, consider the situations that tempt you to deny Christ.

Peter was Jesus’ closest disciple and friend, yet his actions led him to a situation in which he categorically denied any association with Jesus. Sadly, his actions are all too often our own actions. Fortunately, we know that Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration, even when we deny Him. However, if you are like me, you would much rather avoid that sin and the accompanying heartache that comes when we realize we have chosen to deny Christ instead of remaining faithful to the relationship we have with Him as believers.

Following Jesus’ arrest after His heart-wrenching prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples fled into the night (Matthew 26:56). The mob that had come to arrest Jesus led Him down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron valley, and into the city. Peter was still following from a distance as the guards took Jesus to the palace of the high priest. It is at this point that we see Peter’s denial begin to unfold, just as Jesus had already predicted.

Two Actions Leading Peter to His Denial of Christ - Luke 22:54-55

Following Christ at a distance.

After striking the servant’s ear in Jesus’ defense, why did Peter follow Jesus “at a distance” to the high priest’s house? Could it convey an aspect of Peter’s character? Was he willing to follow Jesus but not so close as to endanger himself?

  • What actions might demonstrate that you are following Jesus at a distance today?
  • Can you identify ways in which the pandemic might tempt you to follow Jesus at a distance?
  • How does distancing oneself from Jesus increase the probability of unfaithfulness?
  • How can you avoid “distancing” yourself from Jesus?

Sitting among the crowd.

The pronoun "they" in verse 55 refers to the main body of temple guards and servants who brought Jesus to the high priest’s complex. Peter was able to enter the priest’s courtyard because another disciple, whom most scholars identify as John, was known to the high priest and came in with Jesus. Seeing Peter standing outside the door, John spoke to the female slave who kept the door and brought Peter into the courtyard (John 18:15-16). The authorities, and perhaps two or three guards, took Jesus further into the complex to meet Annas and then Caiaphas. The other members of the mob sat down together around the fire and Peter joined them.

  • What are the dangers of Christians attempting to blend in with an unbelieving crowd? 
  • What justifications do some believers today use in an effort to excuse their attempts to blend into the crowd? Do you believe these justifications are legitimate? Why or why not?
  • What are the dangers of you trying to blend in with an unbelieving crowd?

Sooner or later you will have to publicly declare your faith - Luke 22:56-60a

Peter had already distanced himself from Jesus; then he tried to blend in with the crowd, but that wasn’t enough to hide His relationship with Christ. As long as Peter lingered in the darkness, he was somewhat safe. But sitting in the light of the fire, he was exposed to the scrutiny of others. The inquisition of Peter did not take place all at once but over the course of about an hour. He hung around and continued to try and blend in, but it didn’t work. With each question Peter faced an even greater temptation to deny His relationship with Christ. 

Finally came the third question. The Gospel of John tells us that this third accuser was one of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (John 18:26). Peter declared he didn’t know what the man was talking about. Mark and Matthew tell us that Peter cursed and swore with an oath as he responded (Mark 14:71; Matthew 26:74). 

Peter did not pass the test. 
He categorically denied his relationship with Christ, not once but three times.

  • What do Peter’s denials tell you about his relationship with Jesus at that point?
  • What pressures might cause you to deny being a follower of Jesus?
  • How do these pressures compare to what Peter faced?
Roman authorities executed revolutionaries, and then they hunted down and executed their followers. Earlier Peter had proclaimed that he would never abandon Jesus and that he would even die for Him (Luke 22:33), but when the time came, the bragging proved false. The pressure of the moment cracked Peter, the rock. Can you imagine the weight of grief that was building in Peter’s heart? How could he deny Jesus? With each denial came more pressure, yet Peter continued down this path. He had followed Jesus intimately for three years; now being intimidated, he walked away in shame.

Before we judge Peter, we need to realize that any believer can quickly go from a bold declaration of faith to denial of association with Jesus. It begins slowly as we distance ourselves from Him and other believers. We most likely will then begin to associate with a crowd that doesn’t know Jesus in an effort to blend in or even hide our relationship with Christ. Sadly, that blending in leads to compromise and outright denial and, most always, includes behavior that would keep people from thinking we ever followed Jesus.

Jesus and Peter's response to sin - Luke 22:60b-62

The language used to describe Peter’s bitter weeping is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to the grief over someone’s death. Essentially, Peter was dying on the inside. Peter experienced immediate conviction that he had denied the Lord, literally coming face-to-face with his sin. Peter wept over Jesus’ capture, what he knew would happen to Jesus, and his own shame in failing Jesus in His hour of greatest need. But his own betrayals had broken Peter’s heart. He had experienced what we call conviction for sinning against the Lord. This conviction is the only path to restoration.

Luke 22:31-32 reveals something very significant regarding Jesus and forgiveness: “Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

  • What does this passage tell you regarding how Jesus responded, not only to Peter but to the other disciples (other than Judas) who had abandoned Him?
The Lord had stored up words from His previous conversation in Peter’s mind, which would be used in the days to come. After Jesus was raised from the dead, the angel in the empty tomb told the women to "go tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you'" (Mark 16:7). Be sure and tell Peter! Be sure and tell the disciple who denied Him.

Looking back as distant observers, we might wonder why Peter did not have some internal sense of the situation after he responded to the first accuser. We might wonder whether Peter would have failed if he had looked to Jesus instead of waiting for Jesus to look at him in his failure. If we had been in his sandals that night, having experienced the shock of Jesus’ arrest, we might not have acted any differently. As it was, only after the third denial did the crowing rooster and the Master’s look bring Jesus’ warning to Peter’s recollection.

“The failure of Peter, along with the testimony of Acts, reassures us that God’s grace is greater than our failures. Jesus is faithful, even when His followers fail. This was not only good news for Peter; this is good news for all of us. Peter’s failure and subsequent restoration through repentance and grace reminds us that the victorious Christian life isn’t the sinless life; it’s the repentant life.” (Explore the Bible PSG, p. 98 and DDG, p. 91)

What About You?

Some of the most haunting words Jesus ever uttered were about denying Him. He taught His disciples that whoever denied Him before men, He would deny before God the Father. With Jesus being our intercessor before the throne of God, these words are hard to forget. Then it is no surprise that denying Jesus leads to sorrow and guilt if we truly believe. As Jesus faced the cross, Peter experienced the pain of denying Him. From Peter we learn about the heartbreak of denying Christ and the hope of forgiveness in the aftermath of doing so. Like Peter, we may find ourselves behaving in ways that are shameful. Yet God’s grace is free to all who believe, and His mercies are new every morning.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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