He Mucked It Up
Where Peter is—and isn't—in the final hours of Jesus' life and after His death.
Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome...
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.1
Finally Pilate handed [Jesus] over to them to be crucified…
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.2
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.3
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.4
—selections from John, Mark and Luke
What does this story tell me about Jesus?
It has been thought by some that as long as Peter lived, the fountain of his tears began to flow whenever he remembered his denying his Lord. It is not unlikely that it was so, for his sin was very great, and grace in him had afterwards a perfect work. This same experience is common to all the redeemed family according to the degree in which the Spirit of God has removed the natural heart of stone. We, like Peter, remember our boastful promise: “Though all men shall forsake thee, yet will not I.”
We eat our own words with the bitter herbs of repentance. When we think of what we vowed we would be, and of what we have been, we may weep whole showers of grief. He thought on his denying his Lord. The place in which he did it, the little cause which led him into such heinous sin, the oaths and blasphemies with which he sought to confirm his falsehood, and the dreadful hardness of heart which drove him to do so again and yet again…
Peter also thought upon his Master's look of love. The Lord followed up the cock’s warning voice with an admonitory look of sorrow, pity, and love. That glance… was far more effectual than ten thousand sermons would have been without the Spirit. The penitent apostle would be sure to weep when he recollected the Saviour’s full forgiveness, which restored him to his former place. To think that we have offended so kind and good a Lord is more than sufficient reason for being constant weepers. Lord, smite our rocky hearts, and make the waters flow.
How does this passage help me make sense of my own story?
It’s easy to mock Peter on account of his denial. But Peter does follow him when no one else is recorded as doing so. Oh, I see myself in this. I want to do the bold and right thing. But in the last minute, fear (of others, for my safety, etc.) overwhelms and I take the cowardly way at the last minute.
Jesus looks at Peter. “We do not know where Jesus was at this moment… He was in some place from which He could see Peter and He turned and looked at him. Only Luke mentions this, but apparently it was this look that awakened in Peter the memory of Jesus’ prophecy… The effect on Peter was shattering: he went out and wept bitterly.”5
In my life when deep in patterns of sin—that is, my propensity to muck things up— this has been effect of Jesus’ gaze in my life. We also recall in this moment, even if Peter doesn’t, Jesus’ promise that Peter will be restored. And that promise is ours as well. The one who can undo us with his knowledge of us also hold the power to restore us.
Peter and most of the apostles are not with Jesus in his dying, but Jesus is not alone. The “beloved” (assumed to be the apostle John) is there.
And notably, all four gospel authors invite us to witness Jesus’ female disciples with/near him at the cross, weeping, ready to serve him in his dying and death. It’s a surprise twist… These women whom we’ve heard so little from and know so little about are the ones who show themselves faithful, standing in stark contrast to Peter and the other disciples. Let this convict and challenge us.
Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus (John 19:38-42) and the women are the unusual group that take care of preparing Jesus body for burial. While some of the disciples lock themselves in a room for protection from the Jewish leaders, this small band cares for Jesus in his death. Again, this feels like a bit of a plot twist. The faithful and sacrificial are found in unexpected places.
Then the Sabbath begins. And this is where we find ourselves today in our commemoration of Holy Week.
I love the way that Erin over at Spacemaking pays attention to this small detail in Luke 23. She writes: “This has been called the Longest Sabbath. Jesus’s mother and friends and disciples have lost their dearest friend and because of the customs of the Sabbath they can’t busy or distract themselves with work or activities. Imagine what that day might have been like for them.”
We don’t know what Simon Peter was thinking, feeling and doing on this Sabbath. But we can imagine. Shame over his denial? Grief over his friend’s brutal death? Guilt over not being present in his death? Anger that he died? Wondering, hoping if his words will prove true and he’ll rise?
Yet, fear that Jesus will rise and he will be confronted with his denial, his seemingly irredeemable betrayal of this powerful God?
Side note: I hope you had a chance to go to a Good Friday service yesterday. There’s something moving about hearing the story of Jesus final hours alongside one’s spiritual family. Our church did a tenebrae service. It was beautiful.
As much as I’d love to attempt to replicate the emotional and spiritual weight of that service, I knew my attempts would be lacking. That’s why I kept looking at Peter, and where he is (and isn’t) in the final hours of Jesus’ life.
But I’d encourage you to read through those final chapters of Jesus life in one of the gospels and listen to a song or two if you haven’t already. I’ve really come to love this little chorus from the French religious community of Taize. And this song from Johnny Cash is a favorite.
John 19:16, 25-30
Luke 23: 44-56
Leon Morris in his IVP Luke commentary