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Honesty, Humility, and Grace

“And he went out and wept bitterly.”

(Luke 22:62)

 

Though it has already been mentioned, Peter’s reaction to his sin is worth dwelling on for a moment longer. How great the contrast is between Peter and Judas. Both committed great sins against their master and both grieved deeply as a result of their sins. Yet, there was a profound difference — Judas gave up hope, which led to his own suicide. Though Peter was captured within the miry bog of despair, it seems that he never gave up hope and he never totally separated himself from the other disciples — those who would show him forgiveness.

How often, when people fall into very deep sin, one of three things happen. First, they seek to hide their sin, neglecting that no one can hide from the eyes of God. Second, they isolate themselves from the body of believers wherein healing can take place. Or third, and worst of all, the body of believers shuns the repentant brother and refuses to forgive them of the sin they committed.

Yet, what we find in Peter’s experience is wholly different and a good testimony of how repentance ought to be approached in the life of the believer and the church. Peter grieved his sin and grieved deeply. He had betrayed his Lord. Yet, he did not hide his sin — indeed, it became part of the testimony of God’s forgiveness within the Gospel accounts. Secondly, he did not flee from the presence of the other disciples — the church. Surely there must have been some frustration at Peter’s confession, but then again, they had fled as well so also stood guilty of abandoning their Lord. Perhaps the only one with a right to condemn would have been John, who did not flee nor deny, but we never see such taking place. And clearly, as we move into the book of Acts, this group of men and women never held Peter’s denial against him. It never got brought up again in a way that would compromise the message of the Gospel of Reconciliation. What a wonderful model for us as the church. It would require honesty, humility, and grace, but is that not what we have also received from Christ himself?

 

Details, Details, and More Details

“After a bit, those who were standing around went up to Peter and said, ‘Truly, you are also from them; your speech makes it evident.’”

(Matthew 26:73)

 

“But again he disowned him. But in a short while, again those present said to Peter, ‘Truly, you are from them because you are Galilean.’”

(Mark 14:70)

 

“And after about an hour had passed another was insistent saying, ‘Truly, this man was with them — he is also a Galilean!’”

(Luke 22:59)

 

“And one of the servants of the High Priest — a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off — said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’”

(John 18:26)

 

This sets us up for Peter’s third denial, but notice that this challenge to Peter is one of the reasons that doing a harmony like this can be so valuable, for each Gospel writer adds a little different piece of the puzzle that helps us to better see the whole. Mark gives us the basic account, but from Matthew we also learn for sure that it was Peter’s dialect that has given him away. This can be surmised from the accounts leading up to this statement, but here Matthew confirms that his accent has given him away in Caiaphas’ court. Remember, in ancient times, people were not nearly as upwardly mobile as they are today, so most people spent their whole lives (except for festival pilgrimages to Jerusalem) within a small radius of where they were born. Thus, a variety of accents surrounding you was more uncommon than not. Peter was from the north and that gave him away as he was trying to blend in with the southerners who were conducting this trial.

Luke, the doctor interested in chronological details, adds that about an hour has passed at this point from the previous denials. This again goes to support the premise that Peter’s disowning of Jesus was taking place while Jesus was being questioned — first by Annas and then by Caiaphas. Finally, John tells us who it is from this crowd of bystanders that speaks — it is a relative of Malchus, the one whose ear was cut off by Peter himself. I suspect that were I to witness someone attack a relative of mine with a sword and cut off his ear, that I would be quick to recognize this man, and that is precisely what happened. Peter is in hot water and when the question of “fight or flight” comes up, he chooses the latter. We criticize Peter for his fearfulness, and rightfully so, but realistically, how many of us would have acted differently?

And that is one of the principles that we must keep before our eyes — does our life present a bold witness that we belong to Jesus Christ? Or, have we kept that under wraps? Would your co-workers be able to testify that they knew you were a Christian? How about neighbors? Family members? If the answer is, “no,” then that is not the end of the world — the follow up question is just, “What will you do to correct this fault?” Loved ones, live out your faith in the public sphere — not to point a figure at yourself, but to point a finger toward Christ. This world is in need of life and hope, only Jesus can provide that hope and life — if you know that, share that. It is good news for weary souls.

The Second Denial

“Going over to the entranceway, another saw him and there said, ‘This one was with Jesus of Nazareth!’ But again he disowned him with an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’”

(Matthew 26:71-72)

“And the slave-girl saw him and began to say again to those present, ‘This one is from them.’ But again he disowned him. But in a short while, again those present said to Peter, ‘Truly, you are from them because you are Galilean.’”

(Mark 14:69-70)

“And a short time later another saw him and affirmed, ‘You are also one of them!’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’”

(Luke 22:58)

“Then Simon Peter was standing and warming himself; there one said to him, ‘Aren’t you also one of his disciples?’ He disowned him and said, ‘I am not.’”

(John 18:25)

We know from Mark’s account of Peter’s denials that after the first time he disowned Jesus, Peter moved over toward the door. John relates that Peter is still standing by the fire warming himself, though the simple solution is that it is a different fire than before and perhaps is one located much closer to the entrance to the courtyard. Likely, Peter is fearing that he is identifiable and is moving to an area where he can more easily flee. The last thing one would want is to be cornered by an angry mob within the walls of Caiaphas’ court. Then again, he desperately wants to know what will happen with his master. Such is the agony of this evening.

And, to make the matters worse, he is recognized by a second person. This time, some profiling takes place. Why would a Galilean be hanging out in Jerusalem at an illegal midnight trial unless that Galilean were connected to the Galilean who was on trial? In our age the idea of profiling is considered a form of racism, but there are times and places where a profile is made by the simple application of logic…this reasonably being one of them. And once again, Peter seeks to save his skin by denying his relationship with Jesus. This time he adds an oath — it is also clear that Peter is beginning to get mad. From our perspective it might seem a bit odd for us that Peter is getting upset, but then again, Peter is realizing that he has put himself in a dangerous place and is unable to “blend in” to the crowd. Surely we can relate to the combination of frustration (with himself) that must be overwhelming Peter at this point and in that context can begin to see why his anger is rising.

Our situation is different and thankfully we will never be in exactly the same shoes as Peter is at this moment in Peter’s life. That said, we are often faced with times when we are challenged in word or in action to follow Christ in dangerous times and settings. Certainly this is a lesson that every missionary in Muslim lands has had to learn, but it is also the lesson that is sometimes learned in the workplace or school. Surely in this latter context our life is not at risk, but we may be exposing ourselves to mockery or worse if we speak up as a believer. Yet, if Christ did this for us, why should we not face mockery (or worse!) for him? Loved ones, immerse yourselves in Peter’s struggle here and see the guilt and grief he bears after his failure. Learn from him and be willing to stand when the challenges rise around you. Honor Christ by being willing to sacrifice your comfort and security to speak truth into a dying world that so desperately needs the hope of the Gospel (and needs to see it lived out boldly in you!).

The First Accusation

“But Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the slave-girls approached him saying, ‘You were also with Jesus the Galilean.’”

(Matthew 26:69)

 

“And Peter was down in the courtyard and one of the slave-girls came and saw Peter warming himself. Looking at him intently she said, ‘You are with the Nazarine, Jesus.’”

(Mark 14:66-67)

 

“And a certain slave-girl saw him sitting towards the light and looking intently at him said, ‘This man was also with him!’”

(Luke 22:56)

 

“The slave-girl that was at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you also from the disciples of this man?’ He said, ‘I am not.’”

(John 18:17)

 

 

This is the first of the challenges that leads to the first of Peter’s denials. Though John includes the challenge and the denial in the same verse, we will be focusing right now on the challenge. In the arrangement of the verses above, I have taken John 18:17 out of order not to imply a rearrangement of events, but to better group the discussions around the challenges to Peter. It seems, based on the accounts, that this first challenge takes place as Jesus is being questioned by Annas, so the rearrangement should not cause too much difficulty for us.

The same thing can be said of the slave-girl that questions Peter. Some would suggest that these are two separate denials — one taking place at the doorway when Peter comes in and one taking place at the fire where he is sitting. Yet, the only thing that the language of the doorway really implies is in connection to the slave-girl. She is not any slave-girl in general, but the slave-girl from the doorway — whom we see referred to in John 18:16 as “the doorkeeper.” Perhaps Peter’s appearance did not register with her right away or was not clear in the lower light by the doorway, but something also did not sit well with her and she followed him to the fire to confirm her suspicions.

This reading would be affirmed by the language of Mark and Luke who write of her “looking intently” at Peter. She wants to make clear her suspicions and will follow up with a question that is little more than a veiled accusation. Remember, this courtyard is hostile territory and the mob filling the court is out for blood. Thus, this question should not be seen as an innocent matter — she is making an accusation that could have cost Peter his life (a life he had earlier that evening promised to give, though it was not God’s time). How Peter responds next is inexcusable in many ways, but reasonable at least on human terms, but we get ahead of ourselves.

This is the first of the accusations or challenges — two more will come for Peter. Such is how Satan sifts Peter like wheat, but such is also how God teaches his own faith, trust, humility, and obedience. What Satan intends for evil; God intends for good. What an amazing God we serve.