Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” A little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” After about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. (Luke 22:54-60 NASB)
This is perhaps one of the most striking depictions of Peter in Scripture. It is so important to the good news of salvation through Jesus that it makes it into every Gospel record. Each is different, but each records a version of it. Isn’t it interesting that Peter’s denial of Jesus is given such importance? Why would that be? Why is Peter’s failure to follow Jesus all the way to the cross so important? It wasn’t like he was unique among the other disciples, none of them went to the cross with Jesus either. They all fled Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested.
But Peter is caught between what he wants to be, knows he should be, and his fears. He’s close, but afraid to be closer. He wants to know what’s happening, what will happen, but not willing to endanger himself. In John the ironies are pronounced as John lets Jesus in and is there as well, but isn’t bothered. People already know him, and seem to have no problem with him. But Peter fears being known and associated with Jesus.
Peter finds it easier to deny his association than risk not knowing what happens to Jesus. But then the denials become the focus, and he’s less concerned about knowing what happens. Eventually Peter discovers he’s sold out just as predicted, and leaves, not knowing what happens to Jesus. He fails to get what he wants by trying to protect his getting what he wants. He wants to be that strong follower of Jesus, to be that one who goes to the very end. But Peter discovers that he doesn’t have it in him.
How is this not a depiction of us? Which of us has not denied our association with Jesus for far less? When have we’ve resisted bringing up our faith in conversations with our neighbors and family, or perhaps we’ve skipped church or personal time with Jesus to be around our friends, go on a vacation, or have “family time”? How often have we made clear our priorities, and where our relationship with Jesus falls in those priorities, when we subordinated Jesus to everyone else in our life?
Jesus loves us. He’ll understand and forgive. We can treat Him this way. We somehow convince ourselves we get away with it. Think about that. What does that even mean? How do we get away with it? Can we really have convinced ourselves that we can suffer no consequences for living with Jesus as a minimal priority? Seriously?
Peter understood and wept bitterly when he discovered what he had done. He felt remorse. But more, he returned to the disciples. In the beginning of the song, What if I stumble by DC Talk, Brennan Manning can be heard saying,
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
So, yes, Peter denies Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. And so do we. The question for Peter was what he would do with that failure. And so it is for us. Will we continue to live in that manner, or feel remorse but go no further than feeling? Or will we, like Peter return to our brothers and sisters to strengthen them? Jesus has prayed for us, and continues to pray for us, that our faith might be strengthened.
Jesus wants us to return after failure. He doesn’t want us to remain in the failure, believing that His understanding us means there will be no consequences. He wants us to treasure our relationship with Him so highly that everything that endangers that relationship is too much for us to bear. Jesus wants the loss or diminishing of our relationship with Him to be consequence enough. But in case you believe that there would be nothing beyond that, please read this:
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33 NASB)
Brennan Manning’s statement may be sobering, but please let this be terrifying. Do we we really think risking being denied before the Father in heaven is worth whatever discomfort we avoid here? It certainly isn’t comfortable to deny Jesus with our lives. For a while it nags at us. Fear the day it stops nagging at us. Return! If we deny Him three times, return! If we live as if we are dead, return! If we have chosen to drift with the current of this world, return! Return to Him, and He will rescue us. Return to Him and His love will extend to us. He will restore those who return, He will certainly do it. But we must return. We must.
That’s my view through this knothole. What do you learn of our Master from Peter?