Witnesses of the Cross series:
Peter’s perspective on denial
Everyone experiences high and low points in their spiritual journey. Mine are pretty obvious. The first high occurred while my brother Andrew and I were casting our nets out over the lake. An ordinary-looking man walked along the shore and called to us.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Andrew tugged on my sleeve. “This was the man I was telling you about. We have found the Messiah!”
That’s all it took. We rowed back to shore and left our boat and nets sitting right there on the sandy beach. My feet followed Jesus from then on. I never looked back–not till those awful days surrounding His death. Not even when my wife fretted over my long absences or when people ridiculed us for leaving our family business or questioned our loyalty to this remarkable rabbi from nowhere. Not even after Jesus’ rebuked me–and there are many times He did that! No matter which of my idiotic statements brought down a reproach, I still drew drew to Jesus. My feet kept moving wherever He moved.
But not everyone was as certain as I was about Jesus being the Messiah. And because I was so certain, I was afraid that He would be rejected–or worse yet, hurt, and God’s plan for redemption of our people would never come to pass. I made a habit of scanning the crowds and watching the sneering Pharisees. Sometimes I wore a sword, not because I was looking for a fight, but I sure wasn’t walking away from one.
So it really bothered me when Jesus began talking about his coming suffering and death. I took Him aside so as not to concern the others. “Never, Lord,” I said. “This shall never happen to you!” I would protect Him.
“Get behind me, Satan.” His words cut me deep. “You do not have in mind the things of God.” Then He turned toward the group. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul . . .”
My eyes travelled, my mind spinning. What was He saying? These words did not speak of the kingdom. My eyes locked on Judas Iscariot’s, dark and deep in thought. His expression wore confusion, perhaps even disgust. He shook his head slightly.
That was a low point for me. I wanted to encourage Jesus to take His place as a leader of our people, to reveal Himself as the Messiah. But He always resisted me. We all were aching for Him to tell the masses who He was. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. The Great I AM.
Yet at Passover, He washed our feet. I couldn’t stand the thought of it. God Himself washing my feet like some lowly servant! “No, Lord,” I said. “You cannot wash my feet.”
“Then you have no part in me,” He answered.
No part? Again, rebuked. “Then wash all of me!”
Then He told us that we would all desert Him. “No, Lord,” I said again. “Not me. I would die for you!”
“Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
After Judas brought soldiers to arrest Him in the garden, I pulled out my sword to defend Him, and He rebuked me yet again. “The Scripture must be fulfilled.”
I don’t know why, but we all ran. I hung about outside Caiaphas’ palace, hoping to catch word about the progress of the trial from John or someone else.
Then came my lowest point, at least until Friday. Somehow, during that agonizing wait in the courtyard, I realized my dreams were dust. Jesus wasn’t being released. Instead, He was allowing them to convict Him as a criminal, a blasphemer, of all things! We would be the next targets, all of us. Why else would Judas have switched his allegiance? It was all coming down–Jesus’ kingdom–the ideal we’d labored over for the last few years, the plan we’d forfeited our businesses for and missed our families for. It was over. I paced about the fire, pulling my cloak over my head, warming my hands and keeping in the shadows.
A terror I had never known crept over me. It was the terror of the unknown, certainly, but mostly of a lost dream, a spiritual, emotional, and political dream, vanished. My life as I had envisioned it was finished.
Servants and bystanders kept peering into my face, asking me questions about my affiliation to Jesus. I grew angry and desperate. No, I don’t know him. No, I’ve never met him. No, I’m not one of them! Leave me alone! And then the rooster crowed morning.
I stumbled into a shadowed street and slumped against a wall. My tears came in violent shudders, full of grief and despair and shame. I was not worthy of Him. I would never be worthy of Him. Oh, how could God love a man like me?
I had made a habit of following the plans I loved and denying the plans I hated, or at least, I had made a habit of correcting Jesus when His plans didn’t line up with mine. Although I said “yes” most of the time, I was in the habit of saying “no” when I couldn’t make sense of His commands.
Praise God some highs were in my future–Sunday morning, then twice in the upper room, then on the shores of the sea, after we had gone back to fishing. He came to me again, with another invitation for me to follow Him. He gave me three chances to undo what I had said that terrible night by the fire. He let me say how much I loved Him. Then He gave me a job to do.
I will never say “no” again.
images: Linnaea Mallette and Lynn Greyling