Life Lessons: Peter: The Denier
We are finally here…the moment that seems to define Peter’s story in spite of all that came after. It’s a great moment of failure because it’s a great moment of humanity which is why Peter is one of the most encouraging people found in scripture. Let’s be honest, if you compiled a list of all the famous Bible characters, it’s quite a motley crew and while they all teach us amazing lessons and show God’s grace and mercy, it is in Peter that I see my daily walk with Christ and my daily failings. So, let’s head back, not to the garden but actually back to the Last Supper.
During the Last Supper, as Christ was giving his friends final encouragement and warnings, He turns to Simon Peter and basically warns that Satan is coming after him and that he will fail. Can you imagine? Jesus then said, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Just as I would have, Peter denies that this will happen saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” to which the Lord replies, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Can you imagine the pain Peter must have felt at that moment? Remember, just a few hours later he tries to start a fight with an angry mob so it’s obvious that he meant what he was saying then but we humans don’t have the ability to be unchanging and change he did. (Let it be noted that I have a short phrase written in the margins of this passage… “Our failures don’t surprise God.” What a beautiful reminder!)
Before we go on to the actual denying, take a moment to appreciate that in telling Peter that he would fail, the Lord also told him he would return and encouraged him for that moment. Praise the Lord, that he sees all of our story, highs and lows!
Now, let’s jump ahead to just after Christ is arrested. The disciples basically run in ever direction possible. Some go in to hiding, some are unaccounted for and some follow Jesus into his “trial” but not all attach themselves to Jesus in the midst of the ensuing chaos. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that Peter follows Jesus AT A DISTANCE. It makes me wonder. Was he lagging behind out of fear or did he think that if he wasn’t in the midst of the spotlight no one would question him about Christ, he wouldn’t deny Him and therefore Jesus’ words wouldn’t become true? Whatever his reasoning, it didn’t work. You can find the various accounts of Peter’s experience that night in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18. While the four gospel accounts don’t always include the exact same stories, not one of the writers left out Peter’s denial.
Let me sum up what happened. Essentially, Peter follows the mob right into the courtyard outside of where Jesus is being put on trial and I think it’s obvious that he is trying to figure out what’s going on while also trying to blend in. At first, he’s hanging out by a fire and a servant girl comes up and points Peter out as one of the followers which he denies it. Strike one. A little while later he is approached again by someone who recognizes him and he denies the Lord again. Strike two. Finally, someone brings up the fact that he is a Galilean, even pointing out his accent. Peter gives his final denial. Strike three. At that moment we are told the rooster crowed and Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered His words and went outside and wept bitterly.
I would have loved to have seen that moment. The moment when, in the midst of adamantly denying his friend and savior, Peter heard the rooster and saw Jesus. I’ve often seen this moment portrayed in film with Jesus looking sad or disappointed but I have to wonder if that is a fair representation. Once again, the Lord knew this was coming and had already offered Peter encouragement for what was ahead. I think that when the Lord looked at Peter it was with a face full of compassion and love. I know Jesus is fully God but I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that in the midst of being beaten, spat on, questioned and degraded He still heard the rooster. He still remembered Peter. Making Peter feel worse about the situation wasn’t (and isn’t) in the Lord’s nature. No, only compassionate love would have driven His focus to Peter at such a time. The same love that held Him to a cross just hours later.
Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. What would you have done? Run away? Hide? Confess to the other disciples? Beat yourself up? Truthfully, we don’t know what Peter did. In fact, to be such a key player he disappears for a few days and that is where we will pick our store back up. The beginning of Peter’s last “chapter” as it were.
Have you ever denied Christ? Perhaps not in the words of Peter, but in your choices and representation. I know I have and I assume you have as well.
What would your response have been after failing the Lord? What is your response when you fail the Lord now? Peter couldn’t go to Jesus at that moment for forgiveness or comfort but we have direct access in the midst of any moment.
Ask the Lord to forgive the times you fail Him and to give you the strength to overcome those failures. Thank Him for not “writing us off” after we fall short.