Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
… As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
(John 18:15-18, 25-27)
Here we have an account of Peter’s denial of Jesus. This particular part of the story is actually recorded in all four gospels. The other gospel accounts are as follows:
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. (Matthew 26:57-58)
They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:53-54)
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. (Luke 22:54-55)
Peter was anxious to see what would happen to his Master, yet not brave or bold enough to stay by His side. What mixed feelings must have been going on within him! Loving the Lord Jesus, afraid to show his true loyalty, ashamed of his disloyalty. And so he finds himself choosing the very unprofitable middle ground between what he knows to be the right thing to do and what fear and cowardice prevent him from doing.
When we find ourselves doing a dance between two choices–seeking to stay the middle course for fear of others or for fear of our own skin–we are poised to fall. After being so self-confident that he would never deny the Lord, Peter does exactly that. Isn’t that the way it goes? We place ourselves in positions we should never be in, and fear, self-confidence, pride, or whatever blows in on us and we come spiraling down, doing things we never thought possible.
In lieu of being self-confident, Peter ought to have been humble; instead of sleeping, he should have been praying; instead of flitting around the fire with the enemy, he should have placed himself out of temptation’s reach.
Paul tells us we are to flee temptation and pursue righteousness. In order to do that we need to know ourselves! We need to identify what temptations are most alluring to us and will cause us to fall. We must know where we are most tempted and seek to avoid placing ourselves where we are likely to tumble down. No one is above falling.
Certainly, the sound of the early morning rooster crowing was a harsh and bitter sound to Peter’s ears. A jolt of painful lightening must have pierced his heart. He had done something he had vehemently proclaimed he would never do. He had turned his back on his Lord. Earlier in John we find Peter basking in strong confidence:
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
He genuinely misgauged his own resolve. Unfortunately this is a misstep we all seem to wrestle with! We can all see ourselves in Peter.
Take It to Heart
I am reminded of the words in Hebrews telling us to keep our focus fixed on the Master:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)