Imagine the shift in mood among Jesus’s disciples during that last Passover meal.
In the midst of such a celebratory moment, Jesus tells his men that the wine they drink represents his soon-to-be-shed blood and the bread his soon-to-be-broken body. And then he lets his disciples know that by the end of the night, they will leave him.
Clearly at this moment, the disciples could not see what Jesus saw. They believed their devotion to him would be greater than what reality later revealed.
Such is clearly the case with Peter. Though he was impulsive yet zealous, he had an overestimation of his love for Jesus, and disregarded the prophetic words of God, responding, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away. . . . Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:33–35).
Peter’s view of God and his view of self were clearly skewed at this moment. Maybe he believed Jesus’s word to be hypothetical or open to interpretation. But Peter’s response, with all its boisterous extravagance, didn’t have the power to change his nature or the prophesy of Christ. Though he had seen Jesus’s words still a wild sea and raise dead bodies to life, he did not heed that these words were the words of God and how they revealed Christ’s holy insight while exposing the disciples faithless inconsistencies.
Nevertheless, it would not be long before Peter came to see this prediction come true.
While Jesus was being taken to see the high priest, Peter and another unnamed disciple followed. Peter’s statements to Jesus probably permeated his thoughts. I told him I would not deny him. I told him even if they all leave, I wouldn’t! Where are they all now? It’s only me and one other. We are the real disciples.
I wonder how much his commitment to his proclamations motivated him to follow Jesus, rather than his love for Jesus himself. It is with such ease that humanity will pledge allegiance to their rhetoric more than towards the one the rhetoric is about. Was Peter really ready to die for Jesus, or did he just like the idea of being a martyr in his mind?
Peter ended up getting access to the courtyard because the high priest knew the other disciple that followed Jesus. And immediately, Peter’s audacious statements were put to the test. “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” the servant girl that let Peter into the courtyard asked (John 18:17). Imagine the war that could have happened within Peter’s heart at that moment.
But it seems the war did not last long, if there was any war. In fact, Peter’s response appears impulsive, a bit reactionary.
“I am not,” Peter responded.
Isn’t it interesting how the quick responses to the unexpected temptations in life so often reveal the character that we use Christian jargon to deny? Where now was the courage and boldness he spoke with before? He was not fearless enough to be even named as a follower of the one with whom he just broke bread. Peter’s words did not match his reality. The reality was that he was a follower of Jesus and he did deny Christ. But a greater reality was happening at the same time, which would prove to be his hope.
During this time, Christ is being asked questions as well. The high priest questions Jesus about his disciples and his doctrine. Jesus, in exact contrast to the recent actions of Peter, tells the truth. Jesus is not ashamed of what the consequence of his honesty might be. He does not hide the fact that he has made it known to everyone — in the temple and in the synagogue — that he is in fact the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, who has come to save sinners. His impulse arises from his nature and in accord with his mission. Jesus has come for this moment, a trial that will lead to his death.
While the high priest is questioning Jesus, Peter gathers around a fire with officers and soldiers — likely the men who had been a part of Jesus’s arrest. While the fire warms his hands, what was the temperature of his heart? After denying Jesus once, how is it that Peter is so comfortable to gather with the enemies of his Savior? Why not weep bitterly now? Maybe he had a reputation to keep. He has made it known that he is allegedly not a disciple so there is no reason to fear the implications of being associated with “the prisoner” being questioned nearby.
But his rebellious peace is broken by another question, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” someone asked.
“I am not,” Peter responds.
“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it” (John 18:25–27).
Who knows if Peter would’ve continued to deny Jesus more times than this if the jarring sound of the rooster didn’t shake him out of his depraved trajectory. As soon as the rooster’s crow reached his ears, his eyes met with Jesus’s. To see the face of Christ, with his human and holy glance, must sent chills down Peter’s spine. Looking at the face of his Lord reminded him of the words of his Savior. The weight of it all caused Peter to run away and weep bitterly.
Peter’s Hope and Ours
I have often wondered how Jesus looked when he made eye contact with Peter. Did his face burn with wrath, or was it as calm as the sound of God walking through the garden after his first image-bearers believed a lie?
I imagine it simply was what grace and truth look like. Though Peter was reminded of and broken by his sin, there was hope for his fickle heart. Christ’s words warned Peter of his impending denial, but they also prepared Peter for his impending forgiveness and restoration. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Christ’s future work on the cross would pay the penalty for Peter’s pride, fear, shame, and condemnation. While Peter had been ashamed of the truth, Jesus would bear shame in the name of truth. While Peter was unfaithful, Jesus was uncompromisingly faithful.
We all have our moments when we overestimate our devotion to God, trust ourselves instead of his word, and deny the one we love. There may not be a rooster’s crow to break the silence of our pride, but how sweet is the sound of grace. The trial that would lead to Christ’s death would become the catalyst for his resurrection and thus the anchor by which we all can say — without shame — that we are disciples of the living God in whose name we are kept forever.
For Holy Week 2016, we are publishing a series of fresh meditations, one each for Palm Sunday and Easter and two each on the other six days. Also, our new devotional book, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy, provides morning and evening readings for Holy Week and is available for download, free of charge.