This is something I wrote last year. It is one of my favorite visualisations of a moment in the life of Christ.
When we first started this second phase of this trial in June 2005 I was reading in Luke 22: 54-62 about Peter’s denial of Christ. I was drawn to these scriptures and more specifically to the moment Jesus looked at Peter. I could picture in my mind the scene is daybreak, its cold, and Peter standing outside in a crowd, he wants desperately to be with Jesus but he is so scared, then Christ walks by bound and guarded, Peters eyes are drawn to Jesus, there is confusion in Peter’s mind and on his face. What is happening, He is the Christ? Then it happens, someone recognizes Peter as a disciple, Peter attention is diverted and he hollers his denial, with the passion of a frightened man, the cock crows, Peter memory flashes back to Jesus’ words and he turns back to look at Jesus, and their eyes meet. I thought about that moment and I thought about the unspoken words said in that moment. I think of how bold Peter was, how outspoken he was in his defense of Christ. I think about how Peter proclaimed in Luke 22:32
“Lord I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death.” Matthew 26 31-35, Christ said to them, all of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night. Peter answered, Even if we all made to stumble, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him “assuredly I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
How confident and bold was Peter, how sure of himself he was ready for a fight. In fact when they came to take Christ away Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Peter was bold and sure of himself, he had Jesus by his side and he knew who he was serving and he did not fear. In Matthew 16: 15-16 Christ said to them (His disciples), “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” I think Peter’s confidence was built upon his understand of who Jesus was. This was not just a prophet or an earthly king Peter was following, this was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, whom should Peter fear?
Now it is the night of Jesus arrest, Peter has just seen Jesus lead away, seemingly helpless and powerless against man. I’m sure in his mind he was confused, He knew Jesus was the Christ, Peter saw Him walk on water, heal the sick, and feed the multitudes, what was going on. In Peter’s confusion I think his confidence was drained form him. I think he was now unsure of things moments before he was certain of. Peter is now witnessing his Master, the Son of God, his clothes torn off, being beaten, spat upon and hit. I think Peter stayed as close as he could to what was happening but not to close that he might find himself facing the same fate. I think Peter was torn between wanting to help his Master and his earthly desire to save himself. The result is as Christ predicted, Peter denied Christ. The scene is night; Jesus has just been taken and is being beaten. Peter is outside the courtroom, a servant girl identifies Peter, and Peter panics and denies he know Jesus, and leaves the courtyard where another girl identifies Peter. Peter denies Jesus the second time. Later, the people came to Peter and said; “surly you also are one of them.” Peter’s responds in panic and frustration, and now he begins to swear and curse saying, “I do not know that Man!” Like any sin we become numb as we sin more and our ability to sin seems easier the more we repeat the sin. I was struck by how Peter denial became stronger and more violent. Peter was as bold as ever in his conviction but now his boldness had turned to denial. Peter no longer felt Jesus near him, he was alone, isolated and his confidence was waning. Luke records a small detail that caught my attention. Luke 22:60-62, Peter said “I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how he had said to him, “before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.
I was taken by this moment. I could imagine Christ looking into Peter’s eyes. What did Jesus say in that glance? Here was Peter, who the day prior was so bold, and confidant now so fervently denying Him. I think Jesus looked at Peter with sadness, almost a pity. I think Jesus felt compassion for Peter for what Peter was going through. I think Jesus wanted to tell Peter, “It’s okay, I am the Christ, and this is just something that must be done. Don’t doubt.” I think Jesus felt sad that Peter had to go through his own torture, even though Peter would emerge stronger on the other side. I think Jesus looks at us that way when we are struggling with sin, with Satan’s attacks, when we are going through a trial or adversity. I think in his eye there is a tear, as He longs to tell us its okay, just trust, but He is watching from the outside; allowing us to, in a way, go through by ourselves. Not alone, because He has never left us, abandoned us or forgotten us, that will never happen. I think it is more like sending your son or daughter to school the first day. You are there for them and they are on your mind all day and if they called you would be at that school in a minute, but you had to let them get on that bus alone. You knew they were scared, you knew there would be difficulties on the bus, and kids might be mean or ridicule your child. But you knew your child would be stronger for the experience, that amongst the difficulties there would be good times and new friendships built on that bus. It was hard but this was a place your child had to go alone but they were not forsaken, they were not forgotten.
I thought of that moment between Jesus and Peter many times and thought of how I had let Jesus down when I sinned. I like Peter, felt ashamed and went away and wept bitterly. But Christ came back to Peter and the other disciples, now he had risen; he had completed His task and was going to return to the Father. The disciples were now God’s instruments to spread the Gospel. And they needed to learn a final lesson, that even though Jesus was not with them physically He was with them in spirit. And He needed to speak to Peter. Because Christ was aware of Peter’s hurt, and the feeling of failure Peter had felt. When Christ was on the cross bearing the sins of us all, He saw Peter, weeping. Peter thought he was alone, but He was not. Peter thought Jesus was being killed forever. He was not. Peter felt like a failure, and Peter felt embarrassed for what he had done. Peter felt regret that the last moment Jesus saw him, he was denying him. Jesus completes this story with such love, and it speaks to God’s omnipotence and His compassion for us. The scene is recorded in John 21:14-17,
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."16Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." 18Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.
Christ allowed Peter to state three times his love for Him. I think Christ was doing this for three reasons. First to restore Peter’s confidence and his position as the leader of the disciples. Second, To let Peter know that He knew what Peter had done. No one else but God could have known what Peter had gone through. And finally, I think He did this to build Peter’s faith for future trials. When Christ asked Peter three times “Do you love me”, He is telling Peter, you failed, but you are still mine, and I will still use you. He told Peter I don’t need perfection from you only obedience. And He told Peter you would face even more difficult trials in the future, so remember what you have learned today. Remember that even though you do not see Me, I am with you. I saw your pain, I heard your crying, and I was with you. He told Peter that following Christ is not a guarantee for an easy life, the kingdom you hoped for is not on this earth. What I need you to do is to follow my lead, and feed my sheep. I think He used this to teach Peter that victory follows a trial and that this trial Peter went through is small compared to what he will face, so remember the lessons you have learned. I think Jesus tells us these messages for the same very reason. He is with us in our trials, and He hears us even when we are crying in the night and feeling very alone. We should never confuse the silence in a trail as abandonment. Silence in a trial is time for us to exercise our faith, and when we see God at the end of the trial, or even times during the trial we are strengthened and we grow in our maturity. Remember, Peter the one who denied Christ three times, would soon be standing before a “magnitude of people” and filled with the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by what Jesus had taught him, preached the Gospel. The result was God took this man who was to afraid to tell a servant girl he knew Christ, to a man preaching before thousands, and soon after Peter was healing a lame man. I thought as much as Peter hurt that night he denied Christ, he emerged a stronger believer, more mature in his faith and ready to face even more difficult trials in his life. I think Peter would have looked back and said as hard as that was; I’m better for having gone through it. Peter learned life has trials; that following Jesus is not a promise of an easy life, but a higher calling, one where we are never alone.