To me this is one of the saddest stories in the bible. Peter is watching Jesus, on trial for His life, yet the one Peter is most concerned for is himself. We join Jesus in Caiaphas’ inner courtyard as Peter watches from the outer courtyard.
When we looked at this story in Matthew we viewed it through Peter’s eyes. The article containing that perspective is titled: “I Don’t Know This Man.” Today I want to look at it through Jesus’ eyes.
Peter’s denial and Jesus’ trial were happening simultaneously. Peter’s first denial happened just after he arrived. He had been following, from a distance, Jesus and the mob that had Him bound. Jesus was being questioned by Annas at that time.
Annas asked a strange question. He asked Jesus what His doctrine was and about His disciples. Was Annas out of the loop and didn’t know what Jesus had been preaching or was He simply trying to trap Jesus? Was he hoping Jesus would identify His disciples or was he asking what Jesus was teaching them? Either way, Jesus had no intention of providing Annas with what he was seeking. Simply put, Jesus told him to go ask those who had been listening to Him.
Jesus knew Peter was nearby when He refused to talk about His disciples. Peter had just been questioned by the servant girl as he entered the courtyard. Jesus heard Peter’s first denial from this distance. More than that, Jesus heard it in His heart. It was a small denial made to only one person. “This is how it starts Peter. Oh how I wish you would have listened.” Even though Peter had just denied Jesus, Jesus didn’t betray Peter to those who had arrested Him.
Jesus’ answer earned Him a slap in the face by one of the guards. Peter remained silent and did not step forward to help Jesus out. Jesus didn’t want him to either. Jesus asked God to protect all His disciples during His ordeal. Peter’s earlier behavior nearly got in the way of that protection. Jesus is pleased to hear silence coming from Peter’s corner.
Jesus in led over to Caiaphas and a portion of the Sanhedrin that had assembled. This was a very short walk, as Caiaphas and Annas shared the same compound. Caiaphas had assembled all those who agreed with his point of view. Those supporting Jesus, either secretly or openly, were NOT invited. “Witnesses” against Jesus were also assembled and in place. How convenient for Caiaphas that no witnesses supporting Jesus were in attendance.
As Jesus is led into the inner courtyard Peter takes up a position by the fire in the outer courtyard. There are several others gathered around the fire, including some who were in attendance in the garden.
Jesus is standing mute as a parade of “witnesses” are brought in one at a time to be questioned by those sitting in judgement. None of their stories match. As the third witness stands to give his account, Peter is questioned again. Peter is far enough away that Jesus can’t hear his actual words in the physical form, but He does feel the pain in His heart of Peter’s second denial.
As Peter was warming himself he was questioned by some of the others sharing the fire. The night was such a mess that they couldn’t say for certain that Peter had been in the garden, but they suspected he had. Peter denied being there and denied knowing Jesus. This second denial hurt just as bad as the first one. Jesus wanted to stop him right then but to do so would be to expose him for certain. Instead Jesus held His tongue again.
About an hour passes and Caiaphas is becoming fed up with the witnesses. He is not getting the “evidence” he needed to convict Jesus. Finally Caiaphas stands up and gets directly in Jesus’ face. “Tell me plainly if You are the Christ, the Son of God?”
Jesus answers him point blank. “Yes, and the next time you see Me it will be at the right hand of the Father.”
Caiaphas steps back as if he is struck. He tears his robe and starts screaming “Blaspheme!” He then turns his head to take in the rest of the council and prompts them to render a guilty verdict against Jesus.
Right then another sound reaches Jesus’ ears. It is the voice of Peter. This time his voice is raised and Jesus can hear every word. “A curse if I’m lying- I don’t know this man of whom you speak!” Right after these words leave Peter’s lips, the rooster crows.
Jesus turns His head to the side and stares directly at Peter. The pain in His eyes is unmistakable. Peter’s words have pierced Him even deeper than the verdict from the “court.”
Peter is struck dumb by the sound of the rooster and the look of pain radiating from Jesus. He turns and runs from the courtyard, tears streaming down the huge fisherman’s face.
Jesus closes His eyes for a moment and prays quickly for Peter. “Protect and sustain him Father, until we meet again.” Jesus then returns His attention to those who are mocking Him, hitting Him and spitting on Him. None of these actions touch His soul as deeply as Peter’s denials and his tears did.
Jesus, even though You knew Peter’s denial was coming it still hurt. Just like it hurts every time You know I’m headed for a big fall. You already had it in Your heart to forgive him before he even said the first word. When You told him to pray in the garden, was it to prevent him from making this mistake? You knew he wouldn’t do that too, otherwise You wouldn’t have told him he WOULD deny You. You would have said he could end up denying You. Were you telling him to pray so that he would have strength to endure his failure? Or were you asking him to pray for You? You needed strength at that moment. When You said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, were You speaking of his flesh or Yours? That night Your flesh was yelling out too.
Thank You Lord Jesus for Your forgiveness. Thank You for the lessons that come from our failures too. Thank You that You never leave us in our failures, but restore us when we turn to You. Thank You for being there when I do finally turn back to You. Thank You for enduring all You did, including enduring the sting of Peter’s denial. Please don’t let me follow in those footsteps of Peter.