The Rooster's Crow

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75

If you have failed morally and spiritually, or are in danger of doing so, I hope this message can be a wake-up call.

As you know, Christians frequently decorate their church buildings with symbols of the faith. The most common and obvious symbol is the cross, which is often seen on the walls or tower of a church. I remember how impressed I was when I visited Seoul, Korea, and traveled across the city at night. Almost everywhere you looked there were lighted crosses, shining atop church steeples all over the city – a visible reminder of the numerous presence of Christians there.

But sometimes you will see another symbol, instead of a cross, on a church tower. There is a large and beautiful church building near where I live, and high over its roof sits a gleaming golden rooster. Why would anyone put a statue of a rooster on a church? Well, it’s a reminder of something that happened to one of the disciples the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested.

YOU WILL DENY ME”

As Jesus left the upper room following his last supper with his disciples, he led them out toward the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Along the way he warned them that they would all fall away and desert him. Peter, as usual, objected. He said that even if all the others failed Jesus, he would never leave him. He would even die for him! “No, Peter,” Jesus replied. “In fact, before this night is through you are going to deny you even know me. Three times you will disown me, before the rooster crows to herald the coming dawn.”

In the Garden Jesus pleaded with his friends to watch and pray with him. They failed, and soon a band of temple guards, led by Judas the traitor, came out with torches and swords to seize Jesus. There was a brief scuffle, during which Peter drew his sword and wounded a man, but Jesus restrained Peter and healed the man. Then he allowed himself to be arrested.

He was taken first to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, for questioning. There was a courtyard outside the house, and Peter, following along with the crowd, decided to wait there to see what happened. As he was entering the gate a servant girl challenged Peter: “You’re a friend of this Jesus, aren’t you?” Peter quickly answered, “No, you must be mistaken. I’m here like you, watching the show.” He wasn’t denying the Lord, you see. He was just infiltrating the enemy camp. He had to get inside in order to see what was happening, and the question came so suddenly he didn’t know what to say.

As Jesus’ examination before the high priest dragged on, Peter edged nearer the fire. Then somebody else said, “Hey, there’s one of the disciples of this Jesus. Look! There he is!” But Peter cried, “No, no, not me! I don’t know him!” All he wanted to do was blend with the crowd. But it was the strangest thing – they just wouldn’t leave him alone! Finally, a group gathered around him. Now everyone was staring at him. There was no hiding, no escape. New voices began to join the chorus of accusation – you know how it is when a mob catches the scent of something like that. They were loud and insistent: “Of course you are one of Jesus’ men. You’re a Galilean. We can hear it in your accent!” So Peter protested still more violently. He even began to curse and swear, “I DON’T KNOW THE MAN!” And just then, a rooster crowed outside.

HOW WE FAIL THE TEST

The curious thing is that all three denials seem to have poured out of his mouth before Peter even realized what he had done. How could that have happened? And Jesus had just warned him so explicitly, that same night, only hours before! What made Peter forget so soon and fail so miserably?

Two things stand out. One of them is Peter’s overconfidence. Remember how he boasted at the very moment that Jesus was telling him to watch out? “Lord, all these others may flee, but not me! I’ll die with you if I have to.” That sort of talk was very much in character for Peter. He was always the most outspoken disciple, and whenever he stumbled, as he did with remarkable frequency, it was because he over-estimated his own strength or courage. “Be careful, when you think you stand, lest you fall,” the Bible warns us.

The second cause of Peter’s failure was unpreparedness. Now wait a minute, you say, how could he possibly have been unprepared after what Jesus told him? But I think that’s exactly what happened. I think Peter was unprepared because he believed he had already passed the test. You see, Peter thought that the test of his faith had come in the garden when he drew his sword. He was ready to die for Jesus then. He would have kept his word and given his life trying to protect Jesus, if Jesus hadn’t stopped him. For Peter to stand alone and draw his weapon against a whole squad of armed soldiers took real courage.

But Peter had never lacked physical courage. What he lacked was moral courage. Like so many bold, blustering men, Peter’s weak point was his vanity. He was willing to die for Jesus in the garden, but he couldn’t stand to be laughed at and embarrassed by the crowd in the high priest’s courtyard.

We have an amazing tendency to feel proud about our spiritual strengths while ignoring our weaknesses, just as we usually condemn most loudly the sins that don’t tempt us while overlooking or excusing the ones that do. “Watch and pray,” Jesus told them. “Be alert, be on your guard, ask God for help where you most need it.” Because, of course, the enemy always attacks our weaknesses, not our strengths. Sometimes we may not even recognize what those are, and we are caught unprepared. So Satan’s attack on Peter wasn’t in the soldiers’ swords and spears, but in the harmless question of a servant girl. And Peter failed his test of faith, despite his warning, because he didn’t expect it to come in that way, at that time.

THE ROOSTER’S CROW

I’m so glad Peter’s story does not end with his failure. Immediately after denying three times over that he even knew Jesus, Peter repented of his sin. Later, the New Testament tells how he was eventually forgiven and restored by Jesus himself after the resurrection. But before all that, the first step in Peter’s restoration took place almost in the same moment as his sin.

It began with the sound of a rooster. That was Peter’s wake-up call. As he stood there, face red, eyes aflame, his curses echoing against the walls of the courtyard, suddenly there came a sound. It was an ordinary, everyday sound, like an alarm clock going off. Just a rooster out in the street, crowing to herald the dawn of a new day. But for Peter, it awakened his conscience. His soul was pierced by the memory of Jesus’ words, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And Peter went outside and wept bitter tears of repentance.

That rooster’s crow was an act of God’s mercy. It was a sound of grace, calling Peter to his senses. You know how we so often get caught up in sin. We go someplace we know we shouldn’t, with people we know aren’t good for us, and we end up doing things we know are wrong. And all the while we stifle our conscience until it finally falls silent. We became deadened – to the guilt of sin, to spiritual truth, even to God. But then, a rooster crows. Maybe it’s a sermon, or a word from a friend, or a glimpse of someone from our past, or a verse of a song we hear, or the memory of godly parents. Whatever it is, something awakens us. Our conscience becomes sensitive once more. Our eyes are opened. We see where we are. We recognize what we’ve been doing. We remember the Lord and his Word, and our heart is broken over our sin.

If you hear the sound of a rooster’s crow in your life, recognize that in that moment God is speaking to you. He is calling you to turn back to him. I’m so impressed by the eternal significance of little things. Peter, standing there in the courtyard – it’s so ordinary. It’s the kind of situation we’ve all been in, like being in a crowd at a party. Peter hadn’t fallen very far, yet. All he really did was speak a few words that weren’t true, just to avoid uncomfortable questions and embarrassment. And he didn’t hear much, just a sound coming through the night air. But through such things souls are lost, or saved.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we have this story at all? I mean, how was it recorded? How did it make its way into the Bible? It had to have come from Peter himself. I don’t think there were any other witnesses, certainly not to all the details. When Mark, the first of the gospels, was written, Peter was the leading apostle in the church. This isn’t a very flattering story for the Christians to publish about their first leader. Why did he tell it on himself, as humiliating as it must have been?

I think he told it precisely because he was such a great leader. If this failure could happen to Peter, it could happen to anyone. And the story is recorded for us as both a warning and an encouragement. This is what real spiritual conflict is like. This is the kind of person who can and will fail spiritually and morally – someone who is proud, careless, overconfident. So be warned! It could happen to you. It could happen to me.

Above all, Peter’s story is a warning to us to know our own hearts. There is a kind of wisdom that says, “Trust your feelings. Follow your heart wherever it leads.” But a wise Christian knows better. The most mature believers, who have advanced furthest in the way of holiness, have learned not to trust their hearts. They know enough not to under-estimate their power to deceive themselves about their own goodness. They’ve learned not to over-estimate their own virtue and strength, or to deny their capacity for sin. The oldest and wisest and holiest Christians are those who know themselves best, trust themselves least, and depend most upon the Lord Jesus. Their humility is never false because they know well they have much to be humble about. Their confession of sin is never an empty exercise.

But the oldest and wisest and holiest Christians also know this: that God is gracious and merciful, and will forgive us when we fail, and restore us when we fall, if we repent and turn to him.

You may know the name of John Newton. If not, you probably know his hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a sea captain involved in the slave trade when he was converted around the age of 30. He spent the next 54 years of his life in the ministry of the gospel. As a mature and saintly pastor, Newton wrote this in a letter to a friend:

My heart is like a highway, like a city without walls or gates. Nothing so false, so frivolous, so absurd, so impossible, so horrid, but it can obtain access. And that at any time or any place; neither the study or the pulpit or even the Lord’s Table, exempt me from their intrusion.

“This is only a faint sketch of my heart,” he concluded. “It would require a volume rather than a letter to fill up the outlines, but though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate. I have a gracious and infallible physician. I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.”

So take care. Remember how even the strongest among us can be deceived by spiritual pride and fall through carelessness. And remember how even the greatest failures can be forgiven and restored by the mercy of God. The rooster should always remind us.