story of the arrest of Jesus, and Peter’s denials, is told in all four Gospels
with slightly varying details. The passage presents a rich set of
opportunities for the teacher. The more conventional choice of topics would
examine the trials of Jesus; the Life of Christ series does just that. We
shall, instead, examine the denials of Peter – for they are a window upon our
1When he had
finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.
On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into
2Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus
had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came
to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the
chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went
out and asked them, “Who is it
5“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was
standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
And they said, “Jesus of
8“I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If
you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9This happened so that the words he had
spoken would be fulfilled: “I
have not lost one of those you gave me.”£
10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it
and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s
name was Malchus.)
11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the
cup the Father has given me?”
12Then the detachment of soldiers with its
commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of
Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the
Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.
15Simon 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, 16but 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.
17“You are not one of his disciples, are
you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18It 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.
19Meanwhile, the high priest questioned
Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the
temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I
22When Jesus said this, one of the officials
nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he
23“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke
the truth, why did you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him, still bound, to
Caiaphas the high priest.£
25As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he
was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am
26One 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?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment
a rooster began to crow.
28Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to
the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid
ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be
able to eat the Passover.
is a curious thing: have you ever considered what happened to the head of the
disciples that he would betray his Master? The answer is found here. Peter
uses a sword – to cut himself off from the Lord. The ear is merely an
incidental item. After three years of discipleship, you’d think Peter would
know better. This is an act of disobedience.
as He always will for those He loves, rebukes Peter. Indeed, it is a sharp
rebuke, but it is followed with something which must have embarrassed Peter.
Christ heals the ear cut off by Peter.
separates us from Christ. Hiding in this passage – in plain sight – is the
reason for the denials. Peter has sinned; he has disobeyed his Master and
he has not repented of it. Make what you like of the circumstances, Peter
has separated himself from his Master – which now leads to consequences that
Peter swore would never happen.
makes the denials easy. It is an old story that we tell a pack of lies to
avoid being found out in one. Peter at this moment is feeling the pangs of
rebuke coupled with the stress of seeing Jesus arrested. The problem is
clear; Peter does not instantly appeal for its solution. The anger is still
with him on the road to denial.
sequence is clear also. Sin starts it; denial progresses until Peter calls
down curses upon himself. Step by step we shall see how denial is formed in
First Denial: Entry
encounters the gate as he follows Jesus through the first part of his trials.
We can draw a parallel in our own lives. The first type of denial seems
Gratifying our curiosity
seems such a small thing. Peter wants to follow Jesus. He wants to know what
will happen to his Master – and no doubt is telling himself that he really
wants only to help. The gate and the servant girl are in the way. This is how
such a little thing – a little white lie. And the cause is so
important.” That’s how it starts. We’re curious, it’s important – who
would know? Does it happen to us? They don’t build strip joints for once
in a lifetime customers.
nobody got hurt – right?” We know it’s sin; but as long as we can’t
point to a victim (other than ourselves) we think it’s no problem. If
it’s my business, whose problem is it? Or do we really believe in solo
really ought to know.” Do you hear the rationalization? I’m only going
to do it once, and I really ought to know – it will enlighten me. The
oldest lie in creation (Satan used it on Eve) is that evil is
Being “one of the guys”
there is anything in the human being that will change the way we act, it is
group pressure. Candid Camera once did a stunt where everyone in the elevator
faced the rear of the elevator. I leave the results to your imagination.
of the reasons for being one of the guys is the facelessness it brings.
Since we’re one of they guys, no one will single us out for ridicule. We’re just
part of the big crowd. (Look around during our worship services. What do you
nicest thing about this is that we get reassurance without asking for it. No
one has to see our insecurities; just being part of the crowd makes insecurity
vanish like steam. Interestingly, you feel this way even if those in the crowd
have no idea who you are. It just may be that they’re looking at you to accept
Clearing the hurdle
type of denial usually comes at a gate. Some hurdle, something blocking our
road, must be overcome. The only way we can see it is to pretend that we’re
not a Christian. We deny our Lord – and clear the hurdle.
fact that we clear the hurdle should be a warning bell. It’s not, for most of
us. It’s seen as a sign of approval. After all, the cause is righteous, and a
cost benefit analysis will show clearly that it was a minor denial with a major
so it is – but not as we think. The small, first denial paves the way for
those which follow.
leave the first denial still thinking that things are OK – no need of
repentance yet. It’s no real problem. Or is it?
Second Denial: Needs
the second denial we meet our needs face to face. We want, we need, and a
little denial of our Lord seems a small price to pay. After all, a man’s got
a guy who has overeaten as much as I have, you’d think I’d never worry about my
next meal. Here, Peter wants only to warm himself by the fire. It’s cold
out. Does this seem like a big deal? It is.
a big deal if you do not have self denial in hand. Peter does not; make
what you like of that. He’s cold. He doesn’t want to be cold. For the
price of denial there is warmth at the fire.
if there is self denial, it must be based upon the providence of God.
Peter is trying to do it all himself.
hindsight the question of keeping warm by the fire seems so trivial. It’s easy
to say that Peter erred where we would not. But consider: isn’t it usually
the case that the causes of our insecurity are highly visible – and the root of
our security is not? We say we trust God – until our eyes tell us we can’t.
do most of us handle such a thing? We are confident of the Lord when we can
see his works – when we’re at the church the providence of God seems much more
reasonable that it does on Monday morning.
enough, denial comes so that we may “enough.” We rationalize that we have to
eat, so a little denial is not really a problem. It’s not like we are greedy
or profiteering about this; we simply want “enough.”
do we recognize “enough?” Do you ever challenge your ideas of what you
want and what you need? Can you put a measure at “enough?”
we don’t think in terms of “enough” as much as we do “all I want is...” a
new car, a nicer house, a sexier wife, … Where does it end?
ends when “enough” has gradually, slowly turned into “more.”
thing for sure. The first type of denial left us reassuring ourselves that
everything was still OK. The second one ends with us rationalizing our denial.
Third Denial: no pain and suffering
as often as our Lord warned us that we would suffer in this world, we spend a
lot of time and money avoiding it. When we deny our Lord to do this, we run
quite contrary to his commands and indeed his statement of how life is. This
is one denial that will not work, but it will show us the depths we can descend
into – and how little we get for it.
seems so devastating: we are “out” and everyone else in the whole world is
“in.” We therefore are desperately attempting to be “in.” We are so insecure
we must begin to talk about mature Christianity. Such a denial means that we
value our crowd more than our Christ. We are like a little child with his
teddy bear or blanket. This is something we must have, at all costs.
the temptation is a little more subtle than that. Sometimes we just want to
maintain our place in the pecking order. We know we’re never going to be
number one in the group – that’s reserved for the totally cool, of course – but
we definitely want to be ahead of number twenty. At the top of the group, the
signs of status are obvious. They’re obvious too at the bottom. It’s in the
middle that the signs of status are uncertain, and therefore cause much more
worry. After all, we could be sliding in position and not know it. But there
is a worse case.
could be worse than losing our place in the pecking order? Our status? Try
this: be the one the group humiliates and laughs at. The only reason they
allow you to stay in the group is that it’s wildly funny to laugh at you.
You’re “in” but your role is class clown.
can be a cruelly effective way of getting people to deny their faith. All you
really need to encounter is one member of the group with a quicker wit and more
acid tongue than your own.
does this do? It means that you value your membership in that group so much
that you are willing to play the part of village idiot to retain it.
leaves you in the group – without Christ. How Satan must laugh that we prefer
being in our little group even to the point of being humiliated in public
to the love and fellowship of Christ! Just as Peter called down curses on himself,
we rationalize that being the clown means that at least we’re in. How is it
that such a thing could happen in the church?
is simple enough. All that is required is for God’s people to do nothing. God
knows that we need the fellowship of other human beings. He has provided the
church for us – because solo Christianity is not real. It is in the church
that the odd, the different, those who are at the bottom of the pecking order
of life may find refuge. They will find that refuge only if we provide it.
solution is so simple. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How do you want to
be loved? Don’t you want to be “in” instead of “out”? Then consider: what do
you do to welcome and include those who feel left out? Are you glad you’re one
of the beautiful people at church, or are your arms open for those who never
will be beautiful?
often as you have done it for the least of these, my brothers, you have done it
to me. Even Dumbo had one friend – a mouse.