It’s the night before He willingly gives Himself over to death. Jesus shares one final meal with those He has spent the last three years of His life with. Undoubtedly they hold a special place in His heart. And yet, He knows one will betray Him. When He says as much, each man at the table asks, “Is it I?”
What an interesting response.
Was each man uncertain of his own loyalty? Or did they trust that He really was the Messiah and He knew their hearts better than they did?
Just a few moments later He tells Peter that the Scriptures will be fulfilled and Peter will fall away—he will scatter with the rest. He continues, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (see Mark 14:28). Yet Peter, convinced of his own loyalty, despite questioning it moments before, declares that even if all fall away, he certainly will not.
Peter appears to be quite confident. In this confidence, he completely misses the words, “after I have risen.” After years of speaking in parables and in figures of speech, Jesus is speaking clearly—plainly.
In another Gospel account, Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to “sift all of you” (meaning all the disciples) but Jesus prayed for Simon “that your faith may not fail. And so when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” In this passage too, Peter is utterly convinced he will never turn away but rather follow Jesus to prison and even death (Luke 22:31-34).
Jesus informs Peter that Satan has his name and has asked to essentially take him out, but Peter doesn’t flinch from the absolute certainty that he would never turn his back on Jesus. Was he being arrogant or faithful?
Jesus continues to tell Peter that before the rooster crows twice he will deny Him three times. And still, there is no wavering in Peter’s certainty that he would go to death with Jesus before he would ever disown Him.
Peter’s story is one I have always loved. I find his uncanny ability to put his foot in his mouth endearing. And his often, as illustrated in this story, absolute devotion to Jesus makes us want to follow him around and watch him engage in ministry.
But, I have to admit, when I read this particular part of Peter’s story I want to grab him by the shoulders, look long and hard in his eyes, and with a stern voice say, “Come on man, get it together. This is the Messiah telling you what’s going to happen next. LISTEN. Did you hear him? Satan has asked to sift you.”
And then, I sit back and put myself in his shoes. He’s been wholly dedicated to Jesus for three years—right by His side for much of it. And I can’t imagine how jarring it must be to Peter’s ears to finally hear Jesus shoot it straight only to know He’s telling him he’s going to turn his back on Him.
In an honor and shame culture, this is an especially awful action.
Later that night when the rooster crowed the second time, the shame and disappointment must have been soul-crushing. I wonder if he had that sense in his gut as he had just been sucker-punched but knew he only had himself to blame? I wonder if his mind, for the next three days, just kept replaying the scene in his head. How could he bow to the pressure of the crowd? Was Peter wondering if he was actually the one that Jesus said would betray Him? Certainly, he saw Judas kiss Him in the garden, but what if there was actually more than one betrayal? What if he was better off to have not been born as well?
I can only assume that the hours after denying Jesus were so very dark for Peter. Guilt, shame, and despair must have plagued him.
But then, on the third day, the women went to the empty tomb. Sitting before them was an angel in a white robe. His voice assertive but calm, I imagine. He assures them there is no need to be alarmed. And then. Then he says, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Do you see it? Just days before Jesus had said to Peter, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” THIS! The angel quotes exactly what Jesus said to Peter, to the women.
We don’t know if the women repeated that exact phrase to Peter when they ran to tell him about their discovery. But if we assume they did, I imagine Peter’s mind went racing through memories. Trying to pinpoint when he had heard those exact words. Did it feel like a dream? Like déjà vu? Did he locate the memory before he saw Jesus for himself? His heart must have been overwhelmed in the best way.
One thing is for sure, even in Peter’s denial, Jesus was pursuing him. Jesus never turned on Peter. Jesus never stopped loving Peter. The plan was for the church to be built with Peter as the key architect and even his denial could not change that plan.
What does this mean for us?
Have you ever been in a place where you’ve regretted an action you took, words you said, or maybe even that you didn’t do or say something you thought you should? It can be an agonizing thing to experience—all the questioning, wondering if something could have been different if you had simply responded (or not responded) differently?
See dear friends, God’s plan, despite your shortcomings, will not fail. He is pursuing us; He is repeating His promises; He is coming again. The question is will we have ears and eyes of faith to pursue what He has for us? Will we allow Him to wash away any shame, regrets, feelings of doubt we have so we might partake in the adventure He has for us this side of heaven?
I’m going to guess that many people knew Peter denied Jesus. Word of mouth is a fierce news channel, and we know there was a crowd who witnessed Peter’s denial. But this didn’t disqualify him from ministry. Just like Jesus knew and could even tell Peter what he was going to do, God knows what you will do. This isn’t a free pass to act as we like and assume He’ll just forgive us. Repentance is a very real and necessary step in our pursuit of righteousness. But Peter’s story is proof that He uses broken people to join with Him in the work He is doing now.
And this, my friends, is some of the best news we can take deep into our hearts and proclaim in the streets!