As the title of Psalm 86 reveals, this is a psalm of David. As I read the psalm this week, I noticed how David’s thoughts parallel what must have been in Peter’s mind after he denied Jesus for the third time. This was a dark period in Peter’s life. This is the lowest point, the farthest he ever sunk in the trials of Christian living. Although he made the great confession of faith in Matthew 16, and although he steadfastly protested when Jesus told him what he would do, he still had a moment of weakness that was as bad as the traitor Judas.
The purpose of the story of his failure at the end of Matthew 26 is to show how easily we can fall into denial. In persecution, we may stand strong; in times of heightened sensitivity, we may gather ourselves and with strong resolve, we will not give up our faith. However, Satan rarely attacks at those times. He prefers to wait until we are unprepared; until we are smug and self-assured before he slings his fiery darts. When you lay aside the armor or are too casual to pay attention, Satan has the advantage. Peter was not felled by a burly Roman soldier, but by a little harmless maiden who made no threats.
Peter’s failure was not as sudden as we might think. It was a step by step process. The same is true of our failures. We rarely go from a stellar workhorse for Christ to a scared little weasel who pretends not to know Him.
How does this fit with the psalm? The psalmist wrote in a moment of despair, “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy.” We catch up to the psalm after Peter’s denials. This is when Peter realized his awful mistake. It was when Jesus looked at Him with disappointment that he knew how miserably he failed. Peter’s reaction was the reaction of a true Christian, not of a Judas. It was a gut-wrenching moment and he could not live with himself for what he had done. His tears were not merely tears of regret, but much more deeply felt. They were tears of godly repentance. Can we not image when Peter went out and wept bitterly that verses 5 and 6 of this psalm were the cry of his heart? “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications.”
Peter’s denial was as serious as it gets. Jesus said those who deny Him before men He will deny before His Father in heaven. Peter denied before men, not once but three times. What kept Christ from denying Him? It was his repentance. He proved he was a child that God promised never to forsake. David and Peter prayed with the same confidence knowing that when they fell they would not be finally cast down.
When we sin, their plea must be our plea. Paul wrote, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” No sin is too big for God to forgive. Peter’s story teaches us this lesson. Bitter tears of repentance are always followed by blessed forgiveness and renewal. It is God’s word and you can always count on it.
Pastor V. Mark Smith