“But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he began to weep.” (Mark 14: 71-72 NASB)
In my last entry about Adam Hamilton’s book “24 Hours that Changed the World” I mentioned that since Hamilton encourages us to see ourselves in the characters of the story of Holy Week and the Passion, I was going to do a series where I do just that. This is the first of the series, and I’m going to reflect on Peter.
You’ll recall that Peter was something special to Jesus. He was one of Jesus’ closest friends, he was the innermost of Christ’s inner circle. It was Peter, who earlier in the story had been the first of the disciples to realize that Jesus was “The Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus then said that Peter was the “rock upon which I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:17)
That’s a pretty good endorsement, isn’t it? Jesus seemed quite confident in Peter, and of course Peter was supremely confident in himself. Late that night on Holy Thursday, as Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover meal, Jesus had predicted that all of the disciples would fall away, and Peter told him that even if all the others fell away, he would not (Mark 14:31).
Imagine Jesus looking Peter full in the face, making direct eye contact, and saying, “Peter, before the rooster crows twice tonight you will deny me three times.” Put yourself in Peter’s place, having Jesus just staring into your soul. What could he possibly mean by that? What in the world was going on?
After dinner you all go out to Gethsemane to pray. Jesus asks you, James, and John to stay awake with him because he is troubled “to the point of death.” What in the world is wrong with Jesus? You’ve never seen him quite like that. Jesus goes off by himself, as he often does, and you sit with James and John. You talk a little bit, maybe about how great your dinner was. Maybe you discuss some of the odd things Jesus had said at dinner, you know, about the bread being his body? Had you heard him right?
Soon the wine starts to kick in, and it is rather late so you find yourself nodding off to sleep. After a few minutes, Jesus comes and shakes you awake. He looks like he has been weeping, eyes bloodshot, his face coated with sweat and tears. “Peter, couldn’t you just stay awake with me this little while?” You don’t want to make a scene and rouse the others so you whisper something like, “It’s ok, Jesus, I’ll stay awake, I got this.” Jesus saunters off again, and you fall asleep, only to be woken by a distraught Jesus again. A third time you fall asleep and then awake to see Jesus standing over you, gazing across the Kidron Valley. You rub the sleep out of your eyes and see a group of men carrying torches and chains approaching, and is that, can it be, Judas with them?
You’re confused, but the confusion turns to anger quickly. Judas walks up to Jesus, and kisses him, and after that you see members of the Temple guard surround Jesus and start to bind him.
You’re not going to take that laying down, so you draw your sword and strike the man nearest to you, removing his ear with one swipe of your blade. Jesus looks at the scene, and shakes his head. Not yet totally bound, he picks up the ear of the man and places it back on his head. He says, “Peter, put your sword away, for those who live by the sword will die by it also.” You stand there, stunned and confused until the captain of the guard walks up, grabs your sword and tells you to leave or you will share the same fate as your master. You turn and see all the others running in opposite directions. Not sure what to do, you follow them, not daring to look back as they haul Jesus away.
After a few moments you gather your thoughts, and you realize that since it was Temple guards not Romans, they must be taking Jesus to the palace of the High Priest. You follow from a distance, then flipping up the hood of your cloak you sneak into the courtyard, trying to get a glimpse of Jesus or at least figure out what’s going on.
A few minutes later a servant of the high priest steps into the courtyard to get water from the well. She looks at you a little funny and says “Wait, aren’t you one of this Nazarene’s followers?” Uh oh, you’ve been spotted, your mind is racing and you blurt out the first thing that pops into your head: “No, you must be mistaken, I don’t know him.” She comes closer to look at you in a better light from the fire and says to some of the assembled crowd, “Yup this is one of his followers, the guy in there on trial!” Ugh, why won’t she just leave you alone? “I don’t know that man at all,” you say. You draw your hood closer to your face and try to move away, only to be accosted by a group of people, one of which says “You must be a follower of his, you’re a Galilean!” Now you’re frightened. Will guards come out to check on the commotion? At a total loss you scream “I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, I DON’T KNOW THIS MAN!”
And then you hear a shrill sound, piercing into the fabric of your being. A rooster crows once, and then again. You get this knot in the pit of your stomach and you glance across the yard only to Jesus being led from the High Priest’s chamber. His eyes meet yours and he holds your gaze for what seems like an eternity. He knows. He knew then, and he knows now. You run from the courtyard, weeping uncontrollably.
I get Peter. I really do. Years ago when I thought I was going to be a pastor I thought I had it all figured out. I was supremely confident in my faith and in my abilities, but like Peter, my fall was sudden and violent. Some things happened in my life, some things went against me and I began to question. This made people interested, knowing that I had wanted to go into the clergy and they would ask me: “I thought you were a Christian?” My response, “No, I do not know the man.” I denied him more than I like to admit.
But a funny thing happened while I was down on myself, my faith, and my world as a whole. God never gave up on me. One night I was listening to my favorite atheist podcast and they were interviewing a guy named Brian McLaren. Here was this man talking about how Christians and how the church really weren’t this group of annoying blowhards that were just out to make everyone miserable. In fact, many Christians were gravitating away from the that toward a message of piece, love, and grace.
Grace. There’s that word. The grace of Christ allowed Peter to not only be reconciled to Christ but to be one of the most instrumental people in the founding and sharing of the Christian faith. If Peter could receive that kind of grace, then, could I?
I looked into it. I read McLaren’s books and eventually my parents talked me into coming to church with them to hear their new pastor. There, in the United Methodist Church I found a people who were less concerned with judgement and more concerned with love and service to all. These people reflected the Jesus that I had learned about, and I realized that even though I had denied him, he had never denied me. One Sunday morning we song a song that I really liked and I felt the palpable presence of Christ with me, whispering in my ear: “I love you, I have always loved you. Welcome home, my son.”
I had a similar path to Peter’s. I went from supremely confident, to denying that I even knew Jesus, to being devastated and looking for a way back, which I found in the Amazing Grace of Jesus Christ. That grace is available to you as well.
And that my friends, is why I so easily see myself as Peter in this story.