Late Thursday night and early Friday morning of Passion Week, Jesus stood trial before the Jewish authorities as they moved to convict Him of a crime and put Him to death (Mark 14:53–65). Yet Jesus was not the only man on trial that night. As today’s passage reveals, Peter, a leading disciple of Christ, was also tried before others.
Peter was questioned by a servant girl and bystanders who did not have the legal authority of the Sanhedrin, so Peter’s trial was far less formal than Jesus’. That makes Peter’s denial of Jesus even more inexcusable. When Peter denied Jesus—as Jesus said he would—it was not because he was under imminent threat of death (Mark 14:66–72; see vv. 26–31). It was more a denial of expediency, doubtless motivated in part by fear that association with Jesus could lead to eventual punishment but still a denial that was not due to clear and present danger.
The Greek terms that Mark uses to describe Peter’s denial show us that the disciple was particularly emphatic in rejecting the assertion that He knew Jesus. Two different Greek words for knowledge and understanding appear in verse 68, one for theoretical knowledge and one for practical, experiential knowledge. By the time the rooster crowed the second time, Peter denied both that he had heard of Jesus and that he had known Him personally.
When the rooster crowed, Peter was brought to his senses, and he wept bitter tears of repentance. C.H. Spurgeon has some helpful observations on today’s text in his sermon “Fountains of Repentant Tears.” He reminds us that “true repentance is always the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul.” Peter, we know, expressed true repentance unto life, which involves sorrow for having offended the Lord and not merely sorrow for having gotten caught in transgression. Only God Himself can grant this, for saving, repentant faith is a gift of God so that no one may boast (2 Tim. 2:25b; Eph. 2:8–9).
Peter’s repentance led to his restoration (John 21:15–19), but Spurgeon also notes that “while repentance is worked in men by the Spirit of God, He generally makes use of means to produce that result.” Here the means was Peter’s memory of what Jesus said. The rooster’s crow brought our Lord’s words to Peter’s mind (Mark 14:72), and through Peter’s meditation on Jesus’ prediction and his failure, the Spirit worked contrition in his heart.