All four of the gospels contain accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter, as was his tendency, rashly declares that he’ll be with Jesus through everything that’s coming. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Luke records Peter’s response as “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus responds by predicting Peter’s denial. Within a few short hours, the prediction becomes true.
Four points about the accounts fascinate me. The first is how Peter responded to the prediction. The second is how he responded when the prediction proved true.
In Matthew and Mark, we see Peter telling Jesus he’s wrong, and he will never disown him. I can’t think of another time when any disciple flat-out told Jesus he was wrong. They questioned him several times, and doubted, but no one essentially accused Jesus of being wrong.
But if any disciple would have done that, it would have been Peter, no question about it. Nothing subtle about Peter, the proverbial bull in the china shop. Mark at least notes that the other disciples agreed with Peter – they, too, would never disown Jesus.
The second point in the accounts that’s fascinating is Peter’s response when the cock crows for the third time and he realizes Jesus was right. Matthew and Luke record it identically: “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Mark says that Peter “broke down and wept.” John, in perhaps the most charitable account, says simply, “At that moment a rooster began to crow.”
Peter weeps, and weeps bitterly. He knows his bravado was only that – bravado. Empty words, coming perhaps from vanity and pride and being embarrassed in front of his fellow disciples. At least he followed Jesus from the garden to the high priest’s house; the rest of the disciples scattered to the four winds. But Jesus was been right – Peter denied his Lord three times.
Jesus knew his disciples better than they knew him. He also knew something they didn’t know, and that’s the third thing that’s fascinating about the story. Whatever else they might have thought, said or desired, the simple fact was that they couldn’t go with Jesus. What he was about to experience he had to experience alone and by himself. No one could share the burden and the agony of the cross. Only Jesus could do that. It was his alone to bear.
The fourth point about the accounts is what happens as a result. Jesus uses Peter’s denial as a massive lesson in brokenness. It is one the last things that happens with Peter before Jesus is crucified, before Peter, too goes into hiding. He’s the man who brazenly told Jesus he was wrong, and he was the man who proved Jesus right.
Peter is the man who has to be broken if he is to become what is planned for him, if he is indeed the rock upon which the church is to be built.
Only the Gospel of John includes the final story of Jesus and Peter, the scene by the Sea of Galilee where the resurrected Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep – saying the same thing three times, an echo of Peter’s three denials – and actually tells Peter how he will die, that he will indeed one day follow his Lord, just like he claimed he would do.
But first Peter had to be broken. As Bob Sorge says in The Fire of Delayed Answers, ”God has a proven method for reducing our self-reliance – He chops us off at the knees.”
Led by Jason Stasyszen at Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Brokenness,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.