Have you ever started the day feeling confident, hopping out of bed, ready to conquer the world? Then by lunchtime, the stresses of the day have already overwhelmed you, and you’re ready to crawl back under the covers? You think back to who you were a few short hours ago and wonder, What happened? Where did I go wrong?
If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re in good company. Jesus’ friend Peter knows how you feel.
Peter’s denial of Jesus is one of the most poignant moments in the gospels. It takes place after Jesus is arrested and taken into the high priest’s house. While the religious leaders are questioning Jesus, Peter is out in the courtyard, denying he’s ever met him.
Just a few hours earlier, at the Last Supper, Peter had pledged complete loyalty to Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 22:33–34, NLT.)
I don’t know about you, but if Jesus told me I would deny him three times, I’d be pretty disheartened. His words seem harsh, but maybe they are a blessing. Jesus knows Peter will fail, and yet he’s still offering him a seat at the table.
It’s a reminder that Jesus knows all our flaws better than we do. He knows them, and he loves us. (I was tempted to tack on an “anyway” at the end of that sentence, but I don’t think I need to. Jesus doesn’t love us despite our warts, but with them.)
Jesus’ warning seems to go right over Peter’s head. He’s confident he will stick with Jesus until the end. And when Jesus is arrested, Peter jumps into action and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. In Peter’s mind, he’s making good on his oath of loyalty.
But then Peter sees the soldiers tie up Jesus and lead him away. The disciples’ efforts to defend Jesus have failed. Now things are getting real. Maybe for Peter, things start feeling surreal. He follows the parade of soldiers to the home of the high priest. Unsure of what to do next, he hangs back in the courtyard as Jesus is led inside.
Overtaken by Fear
When was the last time you were gripped by fear?
Fear does something to us. When fight-or-flight kicks in, we feel the rush of adrenaline and an increased heart rate. We’ll do whatever it takes to get out of the situation, and I think for most of us, flight is the option we choose.
I would be a terrible character in a horror movie because I would never allow the plot to advance.
“Wanna spend the weekend at the abandoned cabin in the woods?” Nope.
“Wanna go to the cemetery on Halloween?” I’ll pass.
“I think there’s a shark in the ocean.” I’m outta here.
Movie over before it begins.
This is the kind of fear that gripped Peter in the courtyard. He was so afraid that an offhand remark from a servant girl sent him into a panic.
Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. (Matthew 26:69–70, NLT)
Why did the servant girl question Peter about knowing Jesus? Was she trying to get Peter in trouble? Or was it out of curiosity? There was so much excitement surrounding Jesus that night. Maybe she wanted to hear what went down from a firsthand source.
No matter what her motivation was, her words startled Peter. The man who drew his sword in the sight of hundreds of soldiers was now playing dumb when the topic of Jesus came up.
What was Peter scared of? Was he afraid he’d be arrested like Jesus and get sentenced to death? Was he afraid of the blows the temple guards might inflict on him?
I don’t blame Peter for being frightened out of his mind. I’d be too.
Jesus Knows How Scary the World Is
Throughout their time together, Jesus reminded his disciples not to be afraid. You only need that reminder if there are scary things out there.
Maybe Peter thought back to the day when a big storm broke out while Jesus and the disciples were on a boat. They were terrified to see Jesus napping while lightning flashed and thunder cracked. They woke him up in a panic.
Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:26, NLT)
Things always had a way of working out when Jesus was around.
But right now, Jesus seems so far away. As he mills about the high priest’s courtyard, Peter feels alone. And he has the feeling he’s in too deep. Maybe Peter was thinking, If Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, then this really could be the end.
Peter denies knowing Jesus two more times. Each denial becomes more desperate. By the last denial, Peter loses all composure and screams in frustration.
Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. (Matthew 26:74, NLT)
The crow of the rooster snaps Peter back into reality. Luke tells us after the rooster crows, Peter and Jesus lock eyes for a moment.
At that moment, the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly. (Luke 22:61–62, NLT)
Healed by the Grace of Tears
I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it was for Peter to see Jesus right after his third denial. At this point, it’s morning, and the religious leaders are sending Jesus to Pilate for a formal trial. Jesus’ face is bloodied from the beating he took the night before. As Peter sees his friend in this helpless state, he fills with shame. And he begins weeping uncontrollably.
Have you ever felt so broken that you wept bitterly like Peter?
I’m an ugly crier, I admit it. When I start wailing, I can’t stop, and you won’t be able to understand a word I’m saying. I’m the kind of crier who causes a scene in public. Everyone at the coffeeshop turns their heads to see what all the commotion is about.
The times I weep loudest are when I feel like a failure. I’ve let somebody down. I’ve messed up in some way. I’ve disappointed God. And it feels like there’s no way I can redeem myself.
Tears can be ugly, but they can also be beautiful.
I believe tears are a grace from God. They remind us things are not yet as they should be. We cry when we feel broken, and that’s because we are broken.
Peter wept because he fell short of who he wanted to be. He wanted to come through for Jesus in his time of need. He wanted to make Jesus proud, and that’s understandable. If we love Jesus, we want to make him proud.
Peter wanted to be Jesus’ savior. But through his tears, Peter realized he needed a savior. And Jesus had that covered.
As Peter was denying Jesus in the courtyard, Jesus was inside, confessing to the “crime” of being the Son of God. Where Peter showed weakness, Jesus showed strength.
Jesus wasn’t surprised by Peter’s denial. It didn’t catch him off guard or throw a wrench into his plans. He predicted it, and he loved Peter enough to die for him.
In the same way, Jesus isn’t surprised by our missteps or failures. He loves us.
Be Thankful When the Rooster Crows
Peter realized how broken he was when the rooster crowed. We all have moments when we are snapped back into reality and remember how much we fall short in life.
So what do we do when we hear the proverbial rooster crow?
We can see it as an invitation to weep over our brokenness. Our tears can be a reminder that the world is not as it should be. Yet in the tears, we can have hope that Jesus is alive and at work.
As Peter sat there weeping, I can imagine the words Jesus spoke years earlier rattling in his head:
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NLT)
Jesus carried the burden of Peter’s mess, just as he does for us all. When we weep over our brokenness, we are closer to Jesus than we may think.