A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on mission with LightForce International to remote rural villages in India. These small hamlets were off the beaten track and the roads connecting them were no more than dirt tracks. As we turned a blind corner in our jeep our driver slammed on his brakes as we came to a sudden halt before the scene of an accident. A motorbike lay across the road, a young man was lying on the road and a young woman crouching over him crying with loud sobs. A few of the guys jumped out of the car, placed the man in a recovery position and tried to stem the bleeding from his head. He was unconscious and not in great shape. In the middle of the commotion a bus pulled up and a crowd flooded out which, surprisingly included the stricken young man’s parents. In the meantime help came from a nearby village in the form of the wounded man’s friends. Still sitting in the car, even though I did not understand a word being said, I could sense a palpable change in the atmosphere. Our guides returned quickly to the car and encouraged our driver to leave. It transpired the story being painted, upsetting the family and friends, was that we caused the accident and threats were being made. Even though we denied it strenuously we were not believed. As we continued on our trip I can honestly say, I looked over my shoulder many times the rest of the day, ensuring the angry, yet mistaken, family were not on our tail. Our denials that day were genuine but, in our reading, today we are given a ringside seat to the false denials of a scared disciple named Peter.
In the aftermath of the shock and confusion of Jesus being arrested in the garden, probably not surprisingly, most of the disciples scattered. However, John tells us two, Peter and ‘another disciple’, followed the arresting gang at a safe distance, able to see the transpiring incidents yet maintaining a degree of anonymity like a detective tailing a suspect. When John speaks of ‘another disciple’ in his writing it is code for himself. John, it would seem, had a connection on the inside at the High Priest’s palace, a servant girl controlling the comings and goings. This gave him access to the courtyard of the palace. Once inside John had a ‘word’ with the girl on the door to let Peter in. This is where his trouble started. The servant girl, convinced to let Peter in by John, recognised him as a Jesus follower. John standing nearby hears Peter simply say ‘I am not’ which, could also be translated ‘absolutely not!’ With this tort reply, Peter has denied his master for the first time.
Pushing past the girl he enters through the archway into the unroofed courtyard and takes his seat around an open fire where the temple guards are warming themselves. We don’t know if these actual guards were in the garden a short time ago but a number of them think Peter is familiar and noting his Galilean accent challenge him. Peter denies his association with Jesus, under oath, for a second time.
But there is little respite for Peter. After all, Peter was far from a wallflower melting into the background. When Peter was around everyone knew it. He always stood out from the crowd, sometimes through faith but other times through sheer stupidity. Peter is the embodiment of unpredictability. His spirit recognises Jesus is the one to track, but he just can’t figure out how and gets it wrong frequently. Just a few hours earlier Jesus had to clear up his mess by reattaching an ear severed by Peter’s sword. His action toward Malchus, a servant of the High Priest was coming back to haunt him. A relative of Malchus, who was also a High Priest servant, recognises Peter and challenges him as being in the garden with Jesus. An eyewitness had nailed him because of his impulsive actions. Peter denies that he was with Jesus and asserted he did not know Jesus. Matthew modestly notes the crushing moment like this:
And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. – Matthew 26:74-75
Peter’s, bitter tears display a devoted heart, wounded by the realisation that he had let his master, the object of his affection, down. And on this occasion, he may not have the time to ask forgiveness and receive mercy, as his friend may not survive the night.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father: We have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offences; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen. – Book of Common Prayer
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series