“And Peter remembered Jesus’ word when he said, ‘Before the rooster crows, three times you will disown me.’ And he went out and he wept bitterly.”
“And at once the rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, three times you will deny me.’ And he fell down and wept.”
“And the Lord shifted position to look directly at Peter and Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him that before the rooster crowed today, three times you will renounce me.’” And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Three of the four Gospel writers remind us of Jesus’ prophetic statement to Peter about the rooster crowing, but only Luke adds that at the point that Peter made his third denial, Jesus shifted his position to look in Peter’s direction. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Peter, is this how you wish to leave me?” It is an act of discipline, but an act of grace as well reminding Peter of the forgiveness that is to come on the other side of this very dark night. We are told nothing about the look — good or bad — it is simply left to us as a reminder of Jesus’ care for his disciples. Some have struggled with the idea of Jesus, on the other side of an angry mob of people, being aware of Peter’s location, let alone his denials, but that criticism forgets that Jesus is also God as well as man, with a perfect knowledge of all that must come to pass.
During what we refer to as Jesus’ Passion Week — the week between the Triumphal Entry and his Glorious Resurrection — Jesus told an interesting parable. He was giving what we refer to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a sermon largely looking toward both the fall of Jerusalem and the end of times when Jesus would return. As Jesus closes the sermon he does so with a parable about not knowing the day or the hour of his return (Mark 13:32-36) — that he might come during the evening, midnight, or when the rooster crows. Now, it must be stated that the context is a little different given that Jesus is speaking of his own return, but given that this is the only other time in the Bible that Jesus (or any Biblical writer) mentions a rooster (let alone a rooster crowing), it is worth drawing the connection — a connection based simply on the principle importance of being aware.
How important it is for us to keep alert and keep up our guard when sin comes crouching at our door (Genesis 4:7). How quick we are to drop that guard either when we are comfortable or when we, like Peter, feel threatened. The question that the parable asks, though, is what will we be found doing when the Master returns? In Peter’s case, when the Master gazed over in his direction, he was found denying and disowning his Lord. In our case, when our Lord looks down on our lives from his royal throne, what does he see us doing? And when he returns again, what will He find us engaged in? May the crowing of the rooster always be a reminder to us to be engaged in our Master’s business. When Peter heard the rooster crow this second time, he came to his senses and fled — doing the only thing humanly conceivable — he wept bitterly. Holy grief overwhelmed him, but in God’s grace, it did not consume him. There is a difference. May we recognize our sin for what it is and grieve accordingly, yet not end there, but turn to our God for grace. Beloved, he will give it.
“Then he began to curse and to take an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ and at once the rooster crowed.”
“Then he began to place himself under a curse and take an oath, ‘I do not know the man of whom you speak!’ And at once the rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, three times you will deny me.’ And he fell down and wept.”
“But Peter said, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about!’ Immediately, even as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.”
“Again, Peter disowned him and at once the rooster crowed.”
It has been said that the tradition of putting a rooster on top of a weathervane is meant as a reminder of the denial of Peter and how often, by our words and by our actions, we too fall into that sin. As we reflected before, isn’t it curious as to how God uses such a variety of things to remind us of our sin and to call us to righteousness. And now, through history, we are reminded of this great truth any time such a bird crows.
We have already noted that Mark is the only one that records that the rooster actually crowed twice, something that ought not be too surprising given that traditionally Mark is understood as having been Peter’s secretary in Jerusalem — and if anyone would know how many times the rooster crowed, Peter would.
What should weigh more heavily on your soul, though, is the cursing that takes place on Peter’s part. As has been mentioned, Peter is desperate. On one level he is desperate to follow Jesus and find out what is going to happen to his master. On another level, he is rightfully afraid for his life. There is no telling what this mob will do if they get their hands on Peter. Peter knows that and the words that fall from his lips reflect the reality that he is acting in that desperation. You can almost hear him screaming, “Just leave me alone!” to those who keep prodding him. And, then, this third disowning of Jesus is wed together with curses.
Interestingly, Matthew and Mark describe the curses somewhat differently. Matthew simply describes him cursing or swearing that his words are true. Mark adds that this curse was an imprecation against himself — something along the lines of, “May God strike me down if I am not telling the truth.” These must have been devastating words for Peter to utter and then to hear the crowing of the rooster following right on its heels, it must have been a crushing blow. Peter was reduced to a broken man.
Yet, that is not the end of Peter’s story. The difference between Peter’s story and Jude’s story is ultimately one about forgiveness — both from God and by oneself. Judas rejected Jesus just as plainly as Jesus did and both were broken men. Yet in God’s design, Judas bore the blame of his betrayal to the grave and into eternity. Peter, though broken, clung to hope and in God’s design was not only brought to forgiveness, but remade into the bold preacher we find in the book of Acts. What a transformation takes place between these verses and Acts 2, just a couple months later!
But that is how God works, is it not! Through the process of breaking God shows us that He is sovereign, that He orders our days, and that He is King and Ruler over the universe. We serve Him, not He us. We get ahead of ourselves if we explore Peter’s three-fold forgiveness here, but we need to at least be reminded that for Peter, as dark as this night may be, the day is coming and the story is not yet over — and praise be to God that such is the case! May you too rest in the knowledge that no matter how dark the days may seem — God is not done with you either.