flat denial. three times. | John 18.15-18; 25-27
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself… Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. John 18:15-18; 25-27 | ESV
Meanwhile Simon, that steady Rock, slowly slid after Jesus in the shadows, along with another disciple who shall remain unnamed – but I will say he was, shall we say, quite familiar with the high priest, and he went right on in with Jesus into the high priestly court, while Peter lingered at the door outside. Then this other disciple – the one quite familiar with the high priest – went out, vouched for Peter with the servant minding the door and led Peter inside. The servant was actually a young girl, and she eyed Peter closely as he passed. “Wait, you’re not one of his disciples too, are you?” she asked. Says he: “Nope.” Now in the courtyard the servants and staff stood around a heap of fiery coals warming themselves – it was a cold night! Peter took his stand right in the midst of them, warming himself. [Breakaway to high priestly interrogation scene and then] pan back to Simon, the steady Rock, still standing there warming himself, until they ask him a second time: “You’re not one of his disciples too, are you?” He flatly denied it again. “No way.” Leaning in closer, another servant of the high priest – this one a relative of the man (remember Malchus?) whose ear was sliced off by the Rock – challenged him a third time, “Wait a minute, didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” But the Rock stood firm with another denial – and no sooner had he done so than the rooster crowed his accusatory tune. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Paul wrote those words, but I have no doubt that Peter would own them. Even as he owned what turned about to be the centerpiece story of his life: his threefold denial of Christ.
Yes, Peter denied Jesus.
A little girl made him do it.
And the tattling rooster crow echoes after him through all of time.
It’s the main event on that compilation reel of Peter’s failures. Why is this story so painstakingly retold, so mercilessly recounted blow by blow, denial by denial, in each of the gospels? The premier disciple, the founding stone of the church that Jesus would build, is cracked – at least three times.
It takes me to the heavenly Jerusalem. Twelve foundation stones of that celestial city. And the names on those foundation stones? The twelve apostles. We don’t even know anything about most of them (major lesson there too!) – but considering that the one we do know the most about was so cracked and flawed, maybe we really don’t want to know about the others!
There are also pictured twelve gates of that city, like twelve great pearls. And the names on them? The twelve tribes of Israel. Great. Now let’s flash all of that illustrious and sordid Old Testament history on the wall!
If such flawed humanity serves as the foundation stones of the city and composes the raw materials for the pearly gates themselves, then what does that say about those who would live there? Perhaps this provides our most important takeaway from Peter’s denials: not that we should try not to fail as he did, but to rest assured that we will, sooner or later, and his grace is sufficient. Which means he doesn’t just cover over our mess. He turns it into the gold that will line the streets in that City where the former things have passed away.
What is your primary take away from the story of Peter’s denial of Christ? Why?
Lord, you turned and looked into the eyes of Peter when denial was fresh on his lips. Help me to see and receive that gaze myself in the midst of my own stumbling and fumblings – and to embrace the empowering grace in it. Amen.