Before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus, not just once and not just twice, but three times, before the night was over. As all that Jesus said was true so was this prediction. Standing in the courtyard outside the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, when he was recognized and people suggested he had been with Jesus, Peter denied ever having known him. John 18.
I’ve been thinking about how Peter must have felt on Saturday. His Lord is dead. The man Peter believed was the Son of God was gone and he hadn’t stood up for his Lord, his Master, his friend when the time came. Peter remembered that Jesus had predicted what he would do, but that knowledge was not a comfort to Peter. I imagine Peter was feeling a lot of fear on this day after the crucifixion. And guilt. Tremendous guilt and sorrow. The scriptures say that the rooster crowed as Jesus had predicted.
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).
I suspect that the desire to weep — both over the loss of Jesus and his own shame — continued throughout the following day. That kind of sorrow doesn’t go away easily. That kind of pain is hard to live with.
Third Day sings a great song about Peter’s denials from Peter’s perspective. It’s called “Can’t Stand the Pain.” I found this video of it with clips from the movie The Passion of the Christ. The scene where Jesus turns and looks at Peter is heartbreaking.
But Peter’s heartbreak of Saturday is not the end of the story. After the Resurrection, John records this conversation in John 21:15-17 (NLT):
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
There are a couple of things that I love about the story of Peter’s denials, and the Lord’s restoration of Peter after the Resurrection.
It proves that anyone can be restored by our Lord. It doesn’t matter what you have done before, even if you have abandoned Him and denied Him in the past, if you love Him as Peter did, Jesus will restore your relationship with Him.
It also shows how weak humans are without the Holy Spirit. When Peter denied Jesus, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon him and his fear and sin overtook him, causing him to deny Jesus out of his own sense of self-preservation. If you compare this to how Peter boldly proclaims Jesus after he is filled with the Holy Spirit, the difference is astounding. See Acts 2. This shows me that without God we cannot be the bold and faithful followers He desires, but with His Spirit indwelling us we can do all things. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NLT).
At our Good Friday service last night, our pastor said something that I had never thought of before. Peter wasn’t the only one who was probably feeling such guilt and sorrow on Saturday. All of the disciples had abandoned Him, and so they were all probably feeling fearful and lost. But there is another disciple whose actions were equivalent to Peter’s denials.
Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. John 18:15-16 (NLT).
This other disciple (possibly John) followed along and watched as Jesus was unfairly tried by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. This disciple “knew the high priest,” and yet he didn’t speak up for Jesus. Although he didn’t deny that he knew Jesus, he did not defend Jesus either. He watched silently as Jesus was found guilty, and then spit on, beaten, slapped, and mocked. See Matthew 26:57-68.
Saturday weighed heavy on all the disciples. As a follower of Christ it weighs heavy on me, too, knowing that my sin was upon Him on the cross. As Christians today, we are blessed by the knowledge that the crucifixion was not the end of the story, and so that weight is bearable. But as they sat together in the locked upper room on Saturday, the disciples didn’t have that luxury of knowing what would happen the next day. Even though Jesus had told them He would rise again, the brutality of His flogging and crucifixion surely caused them to doubt and fear. I know it would have had that effect on me if I had been there. So today, in rememberance of the disciples who once deserted Him, denied Him, and silently watched as He was tortured and killed, but who later brought His truth to the world, I will ponder their sorrow and shame, and leave the celebration until tomorrow.