Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27
I Know Peter
I like to dream that if the time ever comes, I’ll endure the flames, and like Polycarp not even have to be tied to the stake, or endure blow after blow, bless my torturers, and never be tempted to deny Christ. But then a week like the one I just had comes and I am lying on a gurney covering my face and moaning when a nurse squeezes my knee so a doctor and take fluid off through a needle. The anticipation of pain was greater than the pain itself. I get just as antsy when I have my teeth cleaned. When it comes to pain, I’m a wimp. I hate that, but I know it’s true. I’m never the man I dream I am. Peter wasn’t either.
I’ve no doubt Peter was sincere a few hours before when he told Jesus he was willing to die with him. He was not intentionally lying; he really thought he could and would. Hey, it was Peter who swung the sword – he was ready to fight a greater number of men holding torches, swords, and clubs (John 18:10). Now Peter is without a weapon. Inside Jesus is enduring abuse: receiving blows of all kinds, and being spat upon, the ultimate expression of contempt. The cruelty is even carried outside as we see in Luke’s Gospel where the soldiers carry Jesus out the door. It was in this context that when push came to shove, Peter crumbled. It’s a lot easier to be brave when you’re brandishing a weapon. Now Peter is defenseless, in the minority, watching the man he called Master who seemed all-powerful, calming storms and raising the dead, now pitifully beaten and cruelly treated, who spoke of “being lifted up.” And when the crowd standing by insists he is one of them, he denies Christ, for, not the first, not the second, but for the third time. And the Lord, by now bruised and bloodied, “turned and looked at Peter.”
It was the worst day of his life. He thought he was so brave, and he wasn’t. He thought he was ready to go all the way to death for his Lord and Master, but he wasn’t. He discovered just how cowardly he really was, and just how weak he was compared to Jesus. And he was shattered. Ancient tradition confirms that Mark was Peter’s secretary so that his gospel is Peter’s retelling of the events. If so, Peter was sure Mark didn’t leave his humiliation out of the account. He was also sure Mark quoted the angels at the resurrection telling the women at the tomb, “But go, tell his disciples, and Peter, he is going before you to Galilee” (16:7). And Peter. The Lord singled him out for this great news. The time eventually came when Peter was martyred for the faith, but on the Lord’s terms. I like to dream that one day I’ll be martyred for the faith – but on the Lord’s terms. Otherwise, I’ll crumble.