This morning I spent some time rereading the testimonies of Christ’s betrayal, trial, and death. This is by no means the first time I have read these verses. In fact, some of them I know almost by heart because of their importance in the growing of the faith. But the amazing wonderful thing about the Bible is that Scripture is Spirit-breathed and will speak anew to you when you are open to it.
Perhaps for the very first time, I made some quick notes as I read through these Scriptures. Each note has to do with an impression that the Spirit left upon my heart, things that I may or may not have gotten in subsequent readings of Jesus’ passion. And immediately, without much hesitation, five impressions were left on my heart. It is my hope that the Spirit will use me to relay these impressions with as little of me in the way as possible, that my writing may touch or deepen your experience as we prepare for the celebration tomorrow of our Lord’s resurrection.
Part One: Peter--I don’t know You
The first account that I read of the Passion was from Luke’s gospel, Chapters 22 through 24. In Luke 22, verses 31-34, Jesus speaks with Simon Peter:
(31)“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
(32)But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And
when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
(33)But he replied,
“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times
that you know me.”
The story continues in verses 54 through 62:
(54)Then seizing him [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of
the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.
(55)But when they had kindled
a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down
(56)A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She
loked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
(57)But he denied it.
“Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
(58)A little later someone else saw him
and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter
(59)About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was
with him, for he is a Galilean.”
(60)Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what
you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.
Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words the
Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me
(62)And he [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly.
As Christians two thousand years after Christ’s death, I think we find it easy to jump to a hasty judgment of Peter. It is easy to point the finger at him and question his faith and his true devotion to the Lord. And yet, before you do this once again…stop and look at it differently. We cannot go back in time and be at the house of the High Priest on that night. And yet, each of us will have many opportunities in our own lives to admit or deny that we know Christ.
In verse 57, Peter tells the woman, “I don’t know him.” In some ways, in that moment, I believe that Peter was telling the truth. As he watched the traumatic events of that day, I wonder if Peter did in fact feel as though he did not know Jesus. Sure, he had been beside Christ throughout the majority of his earthly ministry, and quite often, Jesus met with resistance or taught what was considered controversial teachings, but I wonder if Peter really knew the Jesus who was taken into the custody of the San Hedron for a secret trial. Wasn’t this man, the same one who had broken bread and shared wine with them a few hours earlier somehow different?
I believe that in some ways, Jesus was different at this point. He had gone after the Last Supper to the garden to pray. Peter and the disciples had been asked to keep watch and to pray while Jesus stepped away from them for a very personal conversation with the Father. During that time in the garden, Jesus--both God and man--struggled with his flesh. He knew that the time was come when he would be handed over and sacrificed, and yet his body was weak.
I believe that we experience pain only because of sin. I naively want to believe that without sin in our world, there would be no pain. And yet we know that Christ was without sin, a blameless lamb without blemish, offered as a sacrifice--a Passover Lamb--to purchase our redemption. And the Bible recounts that Jesus struggled with his flesh before he was to die. Why? Because death equals pain. Up to this point, Christ had not endured earthly, human pain. He was blameless. He was without sin or fault. He had felt no pain physically.
But as he hung from the cross, he would take on all sin onto his body. Every ounce of pain that could be felt, he would endure. And although I don’t believe he was afraid, I believe that his flesh like our own was designed to avoid danger and pain. After his time in the garden that evening, I believe that Jesus’ countenance may have changed some. And Peter did not “know” this Jesus who was about to take on himself all that sin.
But Peter is not alone in this story. The Bible does not recount this part of the story so that we can judge Peter. It is retold so that we can see ourselves in the Passion. I am Peter. You are Peter. At some point, perhaps at many points in our journeys of faith, we will all be Peter.
At some point, you have or will be called to testify to your faith. It may be as a child at school, it may be as an adult in the workplace, or it may be in your neighborhood on the weekend. But I know that at some point you are going to be in a position to stand up and live as Christ would, and out of fear you will choose not to do what is right. You will feel like standing up for what is right will alienate you, like it is too hard, or just not know what or how to do the right thing. And in that moment, you too are saying, “I do not know him.”
And it may be for you that when you stop and think about it, you realize that you said this at a point where no one but Jesus was watching you. And perhaps, it will point out to you why Christ had to die. As I write this, I feel heavy conviction for something I did in the “dark”. Something as simple as watching a movie with gratuitous sex in it is choosing to say, “I don’t know him.”
Just before Jesus is taken to the house of the High Priest, in verse 53, he declares to the Jewish officials: “But this is your hour--when darkness reigns.”
Are you like me? Have you done something in secret that screamed to the Lord, I don’t know you? It’s not too late to confess it, repent of it, and ask for forgiveness. Don’t go into the celebration of victory with this bearing down upon you. Lay it at the foot of the cross and let Jesus take away your sin.
Oh, Father, forgive me for judging Peter! I am Peter. It’s been said that a person’s character is fully seen when no one else is looking. And I know that although Peter denied you in public, it is my own denial of you in the “darkness” when no one but you can see me that is most heart-wrenching. Forgive me! What is done in secret will be made known to all, and I repent of my weakness. But I find hope in the knowing that you forgave Peter and used him. Forgive me, strengthen me, and use me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.