Peter Says He Doesn't
(Matthew 26.69,70; Mark 14.66-68; Luke 22.55-57)
15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That disciple knew the high priest, and he followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest's house. 16Peter stayed outside near the gate. But the other disciple came back out and spoke to the girl at the gate. She let Peter go in, 17but asked him, “Aren't you one of that man's followers?”
“No, I am not!” Peter answered.
18It was cold, and the servants and temple police had made a charcoal fire. They were warming themselves around it, when Peter went over and stood near the fire to warm himself.
Jesus Is Questioned
(Matthew 26.59-66; Mark 14.55-64; Luke 22.66-71)
19The high priest questioned Jesus about his followers and his teaching. 20But Jesus told him, “I have spoken freely in front of everyone. And I have always taught in our synagogues and in the temple, where all of our people come together. I have not said anything in secret. 21Why are you questioning me? Why don't you ask the people who heard me? They know what I have said.”
22As soon as Jesus said this, one of the temple police hit him and said, “That's no way to talk to the high priest!”
23Jesus answered, “If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?” 24Jesus was still tied up, and Annas sent him to Caiaphas the high priest.
Peter Again Denies
(Matthew 26.71-75; Mark 14.69-72; Luke 22.58-62)
25While Simon Peter was standing there warming himself, someone asked him, “Aren't you one of Jesus' followers?”
Again Peter denied it and said, “No, I am not!”
26One of the high priest's servants was there. He was a relative of the servant whose ear Peter had cut off, and he asked, “Didn't I see you in the garden with that man?”
27Once more Peter denied it, and right then a rooster crowed.
The story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus is well known. So are all the mistakes he made (like losing his nerve and his faith when he tried to walk on water) and the mistakes and blunders all the disciples made.
It’s easy to judge from a safe distance. But would we have done better? Faced with the real possibility that we could be arrested and beaten and executed would we have been bold enough to say we were followers of a man who had just been dragged off to be put on trial? Would we have been able to jump out of a boat in a storm, confident that despite wind and waves and the likelihood of drowning the water would hold us up like it did Jesus? And if Jesus had said he was going to Jerusalem to be beaten and killed might we not have tried to change his mind and earned his rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan”?
Everything Peter did wrong we could have done wrong and many of us, if we are honest, would admit we have done the same wrong things today or actions very much like them. It may be Peter’s story in the story of Christ’s arrest and execution but Peter’s story might just as easily be our story. It could have been us.
Which is one reason why I think honest stories about human failings like this one are included in Scripture. Not for us to point fingers but to realize such fears overcome even the best of intentions and, sometimes, the best Christians. We make a mistake if we think God has a story like Peter’s betrayal of Christ in his Word because he wants us to be smug and think we’re better than that. I think this story of Peter is recounted to remind us “that there but for the grace of God go I.”
Peter would become a great leader but he would still be human and prone to human failings. Paul recounts another failure of Peter’s nerve and faith when Peter would pretend he didn’t have Gentile Christian friends or eat in Gentile ways so as to appease very judgmental and legalistic Jewish Christians who showed up. Yet we know Peter found forgiveness for his betrayal from Jesus himself after the resurrection and we can be confident he found more of that grace in the life of Christian commitment and leadership he led after Jesus left the earth. And he continued to make a difference for the gospel.
In the same way we need not despair when we feel we have messed up. We can repent and seek forgiveness and get up and start again just like Peter. And just like Peter, despite our failings and by the grace of God, we can carry on to still make a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Lord, I am not here to judge Peter and I never want to fail like he failed when Jesus was arrested and tried. But I am here to say thank you that you show me with this story that anyone can fail, and that a person can get up again even after a great failure, and that your grace and forgiveness can carry us forward to do great things for you despite our failures of courage and faith. Thank you for your never ending love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.