“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. 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. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 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 18:12-27 ESV)
Last week I mentioned my older brother who was my defender and protector growing up. In addition to my older brother – Jerry, I have two younger brothers named Len and David and I have no sisters. I saw something recently on social media that indicates having a sister can make you a nicer person. Well, I can’t speak to that but I can tell you that growing up in house full of boys can make you pretty competitive. We were always trying to outdo one another and wrestling was a regular occurrence. I vividly remember a particular wrestling match between Jerry and me when I was “flipped” over his shoulder and landed on mine and broke my collarbone. I looked forward to the day when I could beat him in a wrestling match, and I was thrilled when that day finally came.
In today’s passage, we have the account of Peter’s denial. While I certainly can’t prove it, I suspect Peter had several brothers (besides Andrew – whom we know about) just based on the way he approached life. His tendency to overstate his abilities, his impetuous responses, and his bragging about his actions just remind me too much of myself. To me, Peter exhibits all the trademark qualities of being raised in a family of boys. Oh, and my brothers and I didn’t turn out half bad even without sisters to make us nicer. Well, three out of four of us did anyway. <grin>
Why the references to my brothers? As I mentioned, there’s a natural competition between us. I know there’s virtually nobody I try harder to impress or outdo. I see this same competitiveness in Peter’s words and actions. We hear him make a bold claim just a few hours earlier on this same evening, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:37 ESV) We then see him respond to Jesus’ arrest with an aggressive defense and a slashing sword (John 18:10). Now, he has followed Jesus into the veritable “belly of the beast”, the High Priest’s home. Peter is showing his brothers (the other disciples) that he is more committed to Jesus than they are.
But Peter isn’t alone. John – who refers to himself in this passage as “another disciple” – has come, too. John is known to the family and servants of the High Priest, though we are not entirely certain how or why (some scholars speculate that his family provided fish for the High Priest’s household). He is able to easily move into the home’s courtyard, but Peter is stopped at the outer door. John intervenes, speaks to the servant girl at the gate and Peter is brought into the courtyard. That’s when things begin to get interesting…
Peter is recognized as one of Jesus’ closest disciples. It seems that as the servant girl opens the door and beckons Peter to enter (following John’s intervention), she mentions that she recognized Peter as a disciple of Jesus. He immediately becomes defensive and denies the relationship with Jesus and steps away to warm himself by the fire. After a few moments by the fire, someone else makes the connection between Peter and Jesus and, once again, Peter flat-out denies the relationship.
I recognize that we tend to give Peter lots of grief over his bragging attitude and subsequent failures but, he’s not so very different from us. He makes huge promises and tremendous statements of faith and then fails in spectacular and stunning ways, and so do we. We are cautioned throughout scripture about this very thing. One example…
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12 ESV)
I think, at this point, John clearly shows us the escalating conflict between Jesus and the High Priest as well as the escalating conflict that’s developing in Peter’s heart. As the situation grows more tense between Jesus and His accusers the same is occurring with Peter. Jesus remains calm, assured and in control while Peter is growing tense, fearful and is beginning to spiral out of control. It is my belief that John isn’t doing this to ridicule Peter, but to strengthen his readers.
At the time that John writes these words, the church is struggling under the persecution of Rome. Many of those who would be reading John’s account of this night are facing similar circumstances and some of you reading my words today are facing similar circumstances. It is always easier to profess faith and loyalty during a time of favor. But, when the situation turns difficult and threatening then our loyalties may begin to waver.
I live in political culture that offers religious freedom of worship and beliefs. I face virtually no political or legal threat to my faith or beliefs. However, that’s not true for many Jesus followers around the globe. The US State Department identifies at least 60 countries where Christians face some form of significant religious persecution or suppression. But even in America where my religious beliefs and practices are protected by our Constitution and Bill of Rights, we are seeing a significant cultural shift against traditional, historical Christian beliefs and practices. We might enjoy freedom of worship, but we may be subjected to cultural shaming, fear mongering or social isolation.
As mentioned above, I don’t believe John’s story is intended to shame Peter or frighten his readers. On the contrary, I believe he writes to strengthen and encourage them. Peter fails spectacularly this night, but he’s not discarded as a failure. His actions on this side of the cross are quite different from those on the other side. Peter’s story, when told in isolation apart from the rest of the gospel, is one of shame and abject failure. But, when Peter’s story is told in the context of the gospel and the subsequent events of the resurrection, the perspective changes significantly. Peter failed this night because he stood trembling in fear at the power of the High Priest to pass judgment and take life. But, he stands 50 days later in power, authority and without fear as he declares these same men guilty of killing the very Son of God.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)
How is that possible? What happened? What changed? Two things, the resurrection occurred and the Holy Spirit came. These two events changed everything and they are still changing believers, today. When you look at Peter prior to the cross and then after the Day of Pentecost you see a very different person. Something significant happened. Something changed him. He moves from the courtyard of doubts, denial and fear into the city square of confidence, proclaiming truth with authority and boldness. In Acts, he’s not a braggart, he’s humbled but confident. He “knows the truth” and has been set free by it…
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)
Have you ever heard that same rooster crowing in your life? When Peter stood in his own strength and declared his intentions, he failed spectacularly. Jesus warned him that he would. We often do the same. We declare our intentions and then attempt to fulfill them using our own skills, strengths and understanding. Those intentions may be noble but, as we saw last week, they may be in opposition to God’s purpose and plan. If so, they are destined to fail and the rooster crows. But God’s purposes never fail…
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
So, what needs to change in our lives and our attempts to impress others? First, know and understand the truth regarding yourself and Jesus resurrection. Remember, the truth will set you free. Jesus died because of sin, yours and mine, not His. We fail, he doesn’t. His resurrection provides possibilities we’ve never known before and can remove all fear from our lives. Second, live in the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence. He’s the one who enables us and empowers us to overcome our selfish desires and to find and fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.
When we recognize ourselves in Peter’s situation in the High Priest’s courtyard, we can begin to see that our fear is unjustified in light of the resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit can drive those doubts out of our hearts and minds and we can begin to speak and act in accordance with God’s purpose. We can boldly declare the truth and power of the gospel and let it shine forth in our actions. So, will that rooster be a declaration of failure or a reminder of the resurrection and its power in your life? You get to decide…