We have here the melancholy story of Peter’s denying his Master, at the time when he was arraigned before the high priest, and those that were of the cabal, that were ready to receive the prey, and to prepare the evidence for his arraignment, as soon as it was day, before the great sanhedrim, Luke 22:66. But notice is not taken here, as was in the other evangelists, of Christ’s being now upon his examination before the high priest, only of his being brought into the high priest’s house, Luke 22:54. But the manner of expression is observable. They took him, and led him, and brought him, which methinks is like that concerning Saul (1 Sam. 15:12): He is gone about, and passed on, and gone down; and intimates that, even when they had seized their prey, they were in confusion, and, for fear of the people, or rather struck with inward terror upon what they had seen and heard, they took him the furthest way about, or, rather, knew not which way they hurried him, such a hurry were they in in their own bosoms. Now observe,
I. Peter’s falling. 1. It began in sneaking. He followed Christ when he was had away prisoner; this was well, and showed a concern for his Master. But he followed afar off, that he might be out of danger. He thought to trim the matter, to follow Christ, and so to satisfy his conscience, but to follow afar off, and so to save his reputation, and sleep in a whole skin. 2. It proceeded in keeping his distance still, and associating himself with the high priest’s servants, when he should have been at his master’s elbow. The servants kindled a fire in the midst of the hall and sat down together, to talk over their night-expedition. Probably Malchus was among them, and Peter sat down among them, as if he had been one of them, at least would be thought to be so. His fall itself was disclaiming all acquaintance with Christ, and relation to him, disowning him because he was now in distress and danger. He was charged by a sorry simple maid, that belonged to the house, with being a retainer to this Jesus, about whom there was now so much noise. She looked wistfully upon him as he at by the fire, only because he was a stranger, and one whom she had not seen before; and concluding that at this time of night there were no neuters there, and knowing him not to be any of the retinue of the high priest, she concludes him to be one of the retinue of this Jesus, or perhaps she had been some time or other looking about her in the temple, and had seen Jesus there and Peter with him, officious about him, and remembered him; and this man was with him, saith she. And Peter, as he had not the courage to own the charge, so he had not the wit and presence of mind to turn it off, as he might have done many ways, and therefore flatly and plainly denies it: Woman, I know him not. 4. His fall was repeated a second time (Luke 22:58): After a little while, before he had time to recollect himself, another saw him, and said, “Even thou art one of them, as slyly as thou sittest here among the high priest’s servants.” Not I, saith Peter; Man, I am not. And a third time, about the space of an hour after (for, saith the tempter, “When he is down, down with him; let us follow the blow, till we get him past recovery”), another confidently affirms, strenuously asserts it, “Of a truth this fellow also was with him, let him deny it if he can, for you may all perceive he is a Galilean.” But he that has once told a lie is strongly tempted to persist in it; the beginning of that sin is as the letting forth of water. Peter now not only denies that he is a disciple of Christ, but that he knows any thing of him (Luke 22:60): “Man, I know not what thou sayest; I never heard of this Jesus.”
II. Peter’s getting up again. See how happily he recovered himself, or, rather, the grace of God recovered him. See how it was brought about:—
1. The cock crew just as he was the third time denying that he knew Christ, and this startled him and put him upon thinking. Note, Small accidents may involve great consequences.
2. The Lord turned and looked upon him. This circumstance we had not in the other evangelists, but it is a very remarkable one. Christ is here called the Lord, for there was much of divine knowledge, power, and grace, appearing in this. Observe, Though Christ had now his back upon Peter, and was upon his trial (when, one would think, he had something else to mind), yet he knew all that Peter said. Note, Christ takes more notice of what we say and do than we think he does. When Peter disowned Christ, yet Christ did not disown him, though he might justly have cast him off, and never looked upon him more, but have denied him before his Father. It is well for us that Christ does not deal with us as we deal with him. Christ looked upon Peter, not doubting but that Peter would soon be aware of it; for he knew that, though he had denied him with his lips, yet his eye would still be towards him. Observe, Though Peter had now been guilty of a very great offence, and which was very provoking, yet Christ would not call to him, lest he should shame him or expose him; he only gave him a look which none but Peter would understand the meaning of, and it had a great deal in it. (1.) It was a convincing look. Peter said that he did not know Christ. Christ turned, and looked upon him, as if he should say, “Dost thou not know me, Peter? Look me in the face, and tell me so.” (2.) It was a chiding look. We may suppose that he looked upon him and frowned, or some way signified his displeasure. Let us think with what an angry countenance Christ justly looks upon us when we have sinned. (3.) It was an expostulating upbraiding look: “What, Peter, art thou he that disownest me now, when thou shouldest come and witness for me? What thou a disciple? Thou that wast the most forward to confess me to be the Son of God, and didst solemnly promise thou wouldest never disown me?” (4.) It was a compassionate look; he looked upon him with tenderness. “Poor Peter, how weak is thine heart! How art thou fallen and undone if I do not help thee!” (5.) It was a directing look. Christ guided him with his eye, gave him a wink to go out from that sorry company, to retire, and bethink himself a little, and then he would soon see what he had to do. (6.) It was a significant look: it signified the conveying of grace to Peter’s heart, to enable him to repent; the crowing of the cock would not have brought him to repentance without this look, nor will the external means without special efficacious grace. Power went along with this look, to change the heart of Peter, and to bring him to himself, to his right mind.
3. Peter remembered the words of the Lord. Note, The grace of God works in and by the word of God, brings that to mind, and sets that home upon the conscience, and so gives the soul a happy turn. Tolle et lege—Take it up, and read.
4. Then Peter went out, and wept bitterly. One look from Christ melted him into tears of godly sorrow for sin. The candle was newly put out, and then a little thing lighted it again. Christ looked upon the chief priests, and made no impression upon them as he did on Peter, who had the divine seed remaining in him to work upon. It was not the look from Christ, but the grace of God with it, that recovered Peter, and brought him to-rights.