Holy Week Reflection: Peter Denies Jesus

Mark 14: 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

Back up North, weeks earlier, on the mountain side Peter had been the first to speak out, to affirm the realisation that Jesus was Messiah, then shocked when Jesus spoke of himself dying. “Messiah can’t die!” Peter blurted out. Jesus had been hard on him – calling him the Tempter’s mouthpiece, for saying what must have been going round in Jesus’ own mind.

Six days later on the mountain top, when the glory of God surrounded Jesus as it had Moses before, Peter in good Jewish fashion wanted to mark the occasion with the Festival of Shelters, wanted to affirm him as fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

Then came the long journey South, and all that had taken place, with the hugely stressful few days in Jerusalem itself. There was excitement and palm leaves, with Peter supporting Jesus amongst the crowds and the curious, challenging the authorities in the very Temple, fearing arrest. The Passover meal in the small upper room brought its annual reminder of the ability of God to work wonders, bring hope. But also brought bewilderment when Jesus warned them they would all betray him! Peter, shocked, denied that this was possible, and all the others had agreed.

Immediately they went out into the night, amongst tens of thousands of pilgrims as this special Friday Sabbath Passover approached. Peter, exhausted, unable to stay awake, amongst the olive trees on the slope across the valley from the vast Temple towering over them. No moon of course – just the cold and stars. Until, in that state of exhaustion, anticipation, hope and anxiety, the secret police led by Judas arrived, torch lit, through the darkness of betrayal and fear.

All the others had indeed gone, fleeing in fright. Peter had somehow followed, through the dark, through the crowds, through the shadowy streets of the town, right into the public courtyard of the High Priest. Sitting alone in the cold dark, the swirling rumours, swirling senses, the watchful sentries on edge, fearing revolt and revolution. The flickering burning torches on the walls, the warmth of the fire drawing Peter from the shadows into its revealing light.

But the servant girl saw him, knew him. She was pointing, calling out words of recognition and alarm to the suddenly alert guards, while Peter hurriedly pushed away, shouting that he wasn’t a threat, he didn’t know the man – twice. He heard as the cock greeted the early dawn light, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said. Then it really was over. Finished.

Perhaps you can put yourself in Peter’s shoes. Maybe think of the times in your life when hopes were dashed, when what you thought must happen didn’t. When in darkness or confusion God seemed far away. And lift the memories to Jesus and his love.

But remember that you know for Peter it wasn’t actually the end. Just God doing things in ways that weren’t expected. God is with us in even our darkest times, and what for Peter seemed a disaster would turn into a new beginning.

– Alastair Wheeler