Welcome to Sunday, 24 May. It’s a nice, rain-cooled morning here – I hope it’s nice where you are as well. My habit is to start Sundays with a faith-based post, so I hope all readers find it useful.
One of the passages in the story of Christ’s crucifixion that has always interested me is Peter’s denial of Jesus. All four gospels tell the story, albeit with some minor differences, but the basic elements are the same. Peter remains outside the area in the Temple where Jesus would be interrogated, sitting by a fire. He is accused three times of being one of Jesus’ followers, and he flatly denies it each time. Then he hears a rooster, and Jesus’ prediction that he would do what he just did was complete.
My interest is not in the “whoa, Jesus knew that would happen” way. I can absolutely understand why Peter did what he did. According to the accounts, he and John were the only two disciples to go with Jesus to the high priest (John is only mentioned in his gospel, and not by name). Then, Peter is left alone among a throng of people that were out for Jesus’ blood. It would have been like a member of a criminal gang sitting outside the courthouse – most everyone there saw Jesus as a blasphemer and wanted Him dead.
Peter was an uneducated, poor fisherman that would have been easy prey for the Sanhedrin had they reason to pounce. So why didn’t they? Why not judge and execute all the disciples? Peter must have felt an incredible amount of dissonance in his mind. He knew he was guilty of following the “blasphemer” but for some reason the Jewish authorities were letting him off. He had even attacked a guard, and no one seemed to care. It must have confused Peter as to why he was not being arrested as well, but he was getting away with it. Jesus was going to die, and Peter was going to walk.
He sat alone in the middle of a throng of people. He warmed himself by a fire and surely wondered how he had gotten to this point. He’d followed Jesus passionately, but maybe he had never really been convinced of what Jesus was saying. Maybe there was a part of him that still thought Jesus was a political, earthly revolutionary that would teach those Romans a lesson.
All we can do is wonder about that, but what we do know is that when you are alone, social pressure can be overwhelming. When humans find themselves surrounded by other humans who all have the same opinion and the same voice, it is very difficult to oppose them when we are alone. I think Jesus knew that His arrest would scatter His disciples, eleven men who were strong together, but not yet ready to be alone. He knew Peter would feel a strong temptation to just let all of this play out, stay under the radar, and hope that no one would remember all those times that he stood by Jesus’ side. You see, it was easy to tell Jesus that He was wrong about the rooster when he was among friends, to dismiss Jesus’ prediction as folly. But when we’re alone…all that changes.
I honestly believe that Peter did “forget” about the rooster, as the story says, but based on the story in Mark (likely Peter’s own words), I think he always had an inkling. The first accusation brings a response of “I don’t know what you are talking about.” Note that this is an indirect denial, a way he could avoid suspicion without specifically mentioning Jesus. Then he left the courtyard – an important point and a sign that he was trying to escape the social pressure of the moment. The second denial doesn’t have a quote, but finally the third brings a stark and clear denial, directly denying Jesus on penalty of a curse.
Peter had broken under the weight of the pressure. He had chosen safety in the moment over the strength of his conviction.
I believe he wept because he realized that he had been lying to himself this whole time about what he really believed about Jesus.
Jesus told us many times that standing with Him would bring pain. It would bring revulsion from the world. It would bring doubt and sorrow. It would mean feeling alone in a throng of those who were content to sacrifice the truth of the faith for their own immediate comfort here on earth. Every day, we sit in that courtyard are asked to compromise what we believe. And just like Peter, every day, we hear the rooster crow. But God’s grace is greater than those failures – Peter learned that firsthand in John 21 when Jesus gave him the responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel after He would be gone. Let that sink in – Jesus handed the shepherd’s staff over to the man that couldn’t even stand up to a servant girl in the Temple. So I know that He will have grace for me when I fail.
I hope that you will find God’s grace in your life every day and refuse to live in the shadow of your past, like Peter chose to do. Have a blessed Sunday.