Bible Note #43: Peter’s Denial & Following Jesus–A Lenten Meditation

Peter’s Denial and Following Jesus
Drawn from Mark 14

Peter was standing by a fire in the middle of the courtyard of the high priest’s compound.  He was standing among a group of men.  He was trying to be inconspicuous, trying to sort of blend in.     He was chilled to the core, so that the promise of warmth from the fire drew him.

He very much did not want to draw attention to himself, especially attention from these particular men who were standing around that fire.  They were armed temple police.  Some of them might have been involved in arresting Jesus just a little while earlier.  But it was a cold night, and Peter had just experienced a terrible trauma.  He was so cold.

So, he sidled up to the fire and kept his head down.  Why was he here?  What did he think he was going to do here?  That’s just it.  He wasn’t thinking.  He couldn’t think straight.

Detail from a stained glass window in the sanctuary of North Presbyterian Church, Elmira, NY; photo by GAC

Had he thought he could fight his way in to get Jesus and then fight their way out again?  That was crazy thinking.  He could see that now.  Look at these soldiers.  He couldn’t fight them.  He just needed to get warm.  Maybe then he could think straight.

Earlier, after dinner—that strange dinner—Jesus had told them that they would all abandon him in just a little while.  Peter had been furious.  How could Jesus think that of him?  All the other might run away.  Peter could believe that.  But not him, not Peter.  He wouldn’t run away.  He would fight to the death for Jesus.

But Jesus had just looked at him, looked down into his soul, in that way that only Jesus could do.  Peter shivered to remember it.  Then Jesus had said, “No, Peter, three times before morning breaks, you are going to deny that you even know me.”

Peter, stubborn Peter, pushed back, “Never, Lord.  I’ll die with you first.”  Jesus just held his gaze for a moment, then shook his head and left.

They’d all followed Jesus to that familiar garden spot where they had often spent the night when they were in Jerusalem.  Jesus seemed so upset, like they’d never seen before.  They didn’t know what to do.  In the end, they’d all just fallen asleep.  He wasn’t proud of that.

Then everything went crazy.  It was all a blur to Peter.  A crowd came into the garden.  They had torches and clubs, and some of these temple police were there too.  And Judas.  He couldn’t believe it.  Judas was with them; Judas was leading them.  Leading them to Jesus.  Jesus was talking to them.  They started to grab him.  They had ropes to tie him up.

Peter went kind of crazy then.  He’d told Jesus that he would die with him.  Now he’d show Jesus that he’d meant what he’d said.  He’d die fighting for Jesus.

He had his sword out.  He swung it.  He wasn’t very good with a sword.  He’d mean to cut the man’s head off.  He’d missed, sliced off part of an ear.

Then Jesus had turned on him, turned on him like a lion.  It was terrifying.  It had frozen him.  He still felt the chill.  “Stop it!” Jesus had growled.  He could still hear the sound of his sword hitting the ground.  It just fell out of his hand.

“They aren’t taking me against my will.  I give myself freely.  This is what I’ve come for.  There will be no fighting.”

Then Jesus turned and healed the man’s ear, healed the wound Peter had struck to defend Jesus.  And the act felt like a blow to Peter’s heart.  His courage had drained away in a moment.  He didn’t understand anything.

Then he was running with the rest of them into the shadows.  He didn’t run far.  Something drew him back to the edge of the shadows.  He followed the bound figure of Jesus being jostle and buffeted by the triumphant cluster of captors.  He followed them right up to the gate of the high priest’s compound, and then he was inside the courtyard.

He stood a bit behind the armed guards who were also warming themselves by the fire in the chilly night air.  The heat radiated from the fire.  The orange light flickered.  He tried to stay a little behind the guards, out of their line of sight.

Then he saw the little girl’s face peering at him through the crowd from the other side of the fire.  She was looking right at him.  She was staring at him.  His heart started pounding in his chest.

Before he could move, she pointed at him and said the words, “Hey, you were with that Nazarene, Jesus!”  He heard the creak of the soldiers leather armor as they turned to look at him.

He staggered back toward the shadows.  He croaked—he could barely speak—“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you stupid little girl.”

He slid through the shadows into the entryway of the courtyard.  The light was dim there.  He lingered.  He couldn’t tear himself away though.  Jesus was just inside.  He couldn’t leave.

He leaned against the stones of the entrance.  They were cold like the sweat on his face.  Then suddenly there she was again, that bratty little servant girl with her basket in her hand.  She pointed at him and said to some other men standing nearby, “This man was one of them.”

He couldn’t control his voice.  He could barely breathe.  He all but shouted at her, “You’re crazy!  Leave me alone!  You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He stared at her for a moment, breathing in gasps.  Then he suddenly realized that everyone nearby was staring at him.  With a tilt of the head, the man standing beside him said, “You must be one of them.  You talk like a bumpkin from Galilee.”

The dam bust, the torrent of curse words that he’d learned from fishing the Galilean sea poured out of him.  And he hear his own voice shouting, “May I be damned to hell if I know that man.”

The silence that followed his anathema was suddenly broken by a rooster announcing the approach of morning.  Peter broke.  His mind, his spirit, his heart broke.

He turned and ran into the shadows of the pre-dawn city.  In the dismal gray dawn, Peter found himself sitting in a heap in a filthy ally behind some rubbish.  His beard was wet with tears.

Something cold, sticky, and heavy was pressing into his thigh.  It was his sword.  He didn’t remember picking it up back in the garden.  But he did remember that look in Jesus’ eyes, when Jesus rounded on him and snapped, “Put that away!  This cross is what I was sent for.  I go willingly.  There will be no fighting.”  Jesus’ eyes still pierced his heart.

He had seen that fierce look in Jesus’ eyes once before.  It had terrified him then also.  “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus had said that time.  That was a long time before, a time when things seemed so wonderful, so full of promise.

He loved Jesus so much.  And yet Jesus could be so confusing, so hard to understand.  “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus’ word had cut him to the core.  That time too Peter had stood stunned and sulking. But Jesus had simply turned and called the crowd of bystanders over to him.  Peter had wanted to melt into the scenery, but Jesus had turned to Peter and said, “Hey, Peter, you too.  Get over here.  I want you to listen to this too.”

Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, NY; photo by GAC

“If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  (Mark 8:34 NET)

“Deny himself”
“Take up his cross”
“Follow me”
Follow Jesus.

Sitting in that filthy ally, Jesus’ words echoed around in his head.  Peter could hardly collect his thoughts.  Jesus was somewhere across the city, yet Peter kept hearing his voice.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NET)

And again, “This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again.  No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will.  I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again.  This commandment I received from my Father.”  (John 10:17-18 NET)

Peter pulled the sticky, cold sword out from under his cloak and stared at it blankly.  He’d intended to fight for Jesus’ kingdom with this sword.  The sword was suddenly disgusting to him.  He flung it across the ally.  It hit the stone wall on the other side of the ally.  The tip broke off and ricocheted away at an angle.

Peter didn’t understand yet how to follow this servant King or how to build his kingdom.  But in time, Peter would understand and would follow his crucified Lord to his own Roman cross, and he too would do it willingly.

(c) 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.


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