THURSDAY NIGHT: PETER’S DENIAL
Thursday night: Peter’s deniES KNOWING JESUS.
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 Sea of Galilee. We are skilled fisherman who work the family business just like our father and grandfather had.
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. I think he’s 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 mother-in-law almost died or my wife complained about my long absences and our lack of income. Not when people ridiculed us for leaving the business or questioned our loyalty to this remarkable, ordinary rabbi.
I didn’t doubt Jesus when he rebuked me–and he did that a lot! No matter which of my idiotic statements brought down a reproach, I was still drawn to Jesus. My feet kept moving wherever He moved. I watched him transfigured into the radiant Son of God. I heard God’s voice speak over him. I saw him raise the dead, multiply a boy’s lunch for thousands, make leprosy vanish and withered hands straighten. Lame men stood up and danced. Children clamored into his eager arms. Women felt respected and protected. Sinners felt seen—and forgiven.
Jesus was absolutely unexplainable.
Still, some were skeptical about Jesus being the Messiah. And because I was so certain, I worried that He would be misunderstood or rejected. Or worse yet, hurt. The crowds had tried more than once to push him off a cliff or stone him to death. I made a habit of scanning the crowds and watching the sneering Pharisees for signs of aggression. I began wearing a sword, not because I was looking for a fight, but I sure wasn’t walking away from one.
I was bothered when Jesus began talking about his suffering and death. Once I took him aside so as not to worry the others and broached the topic. “Never, Lord,” I said. “This shall never happen to you!” I knew I would never back down from protecting him.
“Get behind me, Satan.” His words cut me deep. “You do not have in mind the things of God.”
Then He turned toward our 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 my urging. He said he knew the right time. We all were aching for Him to tell the masses who He was. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. The Great I AM.
At Passover, He washed our feet. Can you imagine that? Like a common servant, the God of the universe!
I couldn’t stand the degradation to his character. “No, Lord,” I said. “You cannot wash my feet.”
“Then you have no part in me,” He answered.
No part? Again, rebuke. I had only two choices with Jesus: all in or all out. “Then wash all of me!” I exclaimed.
Then Jesus told us that we would all desert Him. “No, Lord,” I said again. “Not me. I would die for you!”
His dark eyes burrowed into me. He smiled a sad smile, like he pitied me. “Tonight before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
No. It wasn’t true. It wouldn’t happen. I checked my sword.
We walked up to the Garden of Gethsemene because Jesus was heavy-hearted, and he often took us there to pray. He asked us to watch and wait with him, but we were so tired from the week’s events. So amped up, stressed out, and confused. We sat down among the olive trees to pray. I quickly fell to sleep.
After a few attempts by Jesus to wake us, he left us alone. I fell into a deep sleep until a loud ruckus woke me. A group of soldiers and religious officials were marching through the garden, and Judas was leading them!
I leaped to my feet and joined Jesus, standing calmly in the semi-darkness. In a matter of minutes, it was clear they were arresting him.
I quickly drew my sword and sliced off a man’s ear. Jesus could count on me!
But Jesus rebuked me yet again. “The Scripture must be fulfilled.”
I can’t describe the terror and anguish of that sequence of events. The realization that the Pharisees had won. That the law was against him. That Judas wasn’t one of us after all.
I don’t know why, but we all ran. John and I looped back to the High Priest Caiaphas’ palace, where they took Jesus to see what would happen. John knew someone who let him in, but I lurked in the shadows outside, hoping to catch word about the progress of the trial from John or someone else.
Then came the lowest point of my life, at least until Friday afternoon. 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.
It was all tumbling down, and Judas had gotten out in front of it. The dream was over. 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—had died. I paced about the fire, angry, tearful, anxious. Pulling my cloak over my head, I warmed my hands by the fire.
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, all vanished at once. 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 more 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.
Friday had come.
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 what he said.
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 Thursday night by the fire.
He let me say how much I loved Him. Then He gave me a job to do—to fish for people. The same job he gave me three years earlier.