We’ll get to the trial of Jesus in the next few blogs, but first, I’d like to deal with Peter. It’s a bit tricky trying to harmonize the gospels on this point because there are variations in the testimony. If I’ve pieced it together properly, there were actually four denials with three coming before witnesses.
The first came as Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest. Another of the disciples (perhaps John, or perhaps a disciple who was not one of the twelve) was well known to the high priest, so he was able to enter the courtyard, and on his word, Peter was able to enter too. (John 18:15-16).
Enter a very persistent servant girl. She was the one watching the gate, and as Peter entered, she asked, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” (John 18:17)
At a guess, she recognized him as one that had been with Jesus. This was probably confirmed in her mind by the fact that his friend who had vouched for him was a disciple too.
Peter denied it, saying, “I am not.”
The first denial before witnesses came shortly thereafter. As Peter was warming himself by the fire, the same girl came up to him, peered closely, and convinced that she was right, said, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” (Mark 14:67)
She then announced to everyone in the courtyard in a loud voice, “This man was with him.” (Luke 22:56).
At that point, one of the people at the fire questioned Peter, “You’re not one of his disciples are you?” (John 18:25)
Peter answered. “I am not. I don’t even know the man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:68; John 18:25b)
He then moved off to the entryway. A short while later, the same servant girl came with her friend, another servant girl who had perhaps seen Peter with Jesus before, and pointed him out to her, saying, “This fellow is one of them.” (Mark 14:69). Her friend then said for all to hear, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” (Matthew 26:71)
One of the men in the area looked over, recognized Peter and he too exclaimed, “You also are one of them.” (Luke 22:58). Peter then swore that he didn’t saying, “Man, I am not. I don’t know the man.” (Matthew 26:72; Luke 22:58b).
Perhaps that satisfied everyone for a while, but after about an hour, one of the priest’s servants walked by and saw Peter. Worse, he was a relative of the man Peter had attacked in the Garden of Gethsemane. And he said, “Didn’t I see you with him at the olive grove?” (John 18:26)
When Peter denied it, another piped up, “Surely you are one of them for you are a Galilean. Your accent gives you away. (Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70)
At that point, Peter lost it and started to call curses on himself swearing, “I don’t know the man.”
And then, he heard a rooster crow. He then heard a commotion in the courtyard as Jesus was being led out to be taken to Pilate, and as he turned, he saw Jesus looking right at him. Realizing what he had done, he ran out, weeping bitterly.
So much for that. What can we get from this?
It would be so easy to criticize Peter. To criticize him for his cowardice and hypocrisy. But I think we would be better served to take a close look at ourselves.
Personally, I don’t know if I would have done any better than Peter. I remember as a teenager, basically doing the same thing. When asked if I was a Christian, I didn’t deny it, but I avoided the question entirely, either by silence or by trying to deflect the question.
It’s something I’m ashamed of to this day.
But going beyond that, I have seen people fall into other kinds of sin. Particularly sexual ones. And knowing the temptations that I face daily, I know that I could be like them if I’m not careful. Because I am weak. And only by the grace of God, can I stand.
And that’s what we need to remember when we see others fall. That we are all weak. We are all sinful. And we can all fall. So let us not stand in judgment so much as to have compassion for them and seek their restoration.
Let us remember the words of Paul who wrote,
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)