Empathy for Peter

Doctrinal Emphasis: The Flesh Is Weak

The point of the story is not to bash Peter. The story of Peter’s denial of Christ provides valuable lessons as to how vulnerable man is to sin. We would like to think that if we were in Peter’s sandals, things would have been different. We would like to think that we would not have done that to Jesus. There are plenty of opportunities to deny Christ in today’s world: the culture, science, philosophy, family, and friends. Peter had an action packed day. Look at the conditions. How would we respond under these conditions?

First, let’s examine the setting. We know it was cold outside. This is noted in John 18:18. The high priest’s courtyard had a charcoal fire with others warming themselves. The text states directly that it is cold.

Peter was tired. He had put in a full day. His belly was full from supper. He was falling asleep in the garden as Jesus was praying. Jesus came three times to wake Peter, James, and John (Mark 14:32-42). This is at the beginning of the time sequence. The arrest, procession, and the illegal Jewish trials lasted throughout the night. Peter had been awake for quite a while with very little sleep.

The physical location of the denial is in the high priest’s courtyard. This is not exactly a place of comfort for Peter. He is a fisherman. The crowd at the courtyard is not who he is used to being with. The courtyard is where the religious elite congregate. Peter is used to being on a boat with the fellas. He is keeping himself warm with the friends of the enemy. For Peter, this is a clash of social classes.

I think it is fair to say fear and adrenaline are probably factors. Peter had watched Judas betray Jesus. Peter had drawn a sword and removed Malchus’ ear before the arrest in the garden. He had seen the arrest and removal of Jesus. He had seen his fellow disciples scattered. Peter followed Jesus to the courtyard and eventually entered. Then there was the pressure of people identifying Peter as a disciple, including a relative of Malchus who saw Peter take a sword to his family member’s ear.

Lastly there is an unseen spiritual component, Satan. Jesus informs Peter that Satan has requested permission to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). Satan’s power should not be underestimated, remember Job. It is important to remember that Satan is limited by what God allows. Permission is required by Satan and God does set limits (Job 1:12, 2:6).

Clearly Peter failed Christ in his denial. His arrogance and pride were on display in telling Jesus he would never fall away and was willing to die with Him. Peter was the super apostle. He would stick with Jesus even though the others would not (Matthew 26:32-34).

Legally, he could have been arrested for assault or attempted murder for his actions toward the slave Malchus. He lied and denied Christ as he entered the courtyard. He further denied association with Christ to others. Ultimately, Peter loses control of his emotions. He curses and swears at others. Then, the cock crows… (Mark 14:66-71).

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times.” (Luke 22:61)

In the end, Peter was forgiven of his sins. He was personally asked by Jesus to care for His sheep and lambs (John 21:15-17). And like Peter, as sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8b).

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