Conversations with Peter: Peter’s worst day

We’ve come to Peter’s day of reckoning.   Not his death, but the day where Peter’s character is challenged and he fails and falls in a flaming ball of wreckage.   This is also a tale of redemption, but it will take a couple of days to play out, as it stands for the moment though, all we see is a man who spoke loudly about following Jesus, yet hours later loudly denied the fact that he even knew Jesus while cowering by a fire on the fringe of his masters trial.   Let’s take a closer look at this moment.

Matthew 26:36-45,69-75

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.

Here we are given a glimpse of the beginning of Peter’s most embarrassing and humiliating moment in his life.   He’s had a couple of “OMG, did he really say that” moments, and moments when I’m sure Jesus just looked at him and pinched the bridge of HIS nose and shook his head, but here are we see the first of two moments in which all of Peter’s professions of loyalty are proven shallow.  It’s after the feast, and JESUS goes to Gethsemane with HIS disciples to pray for the coming crucifixion.   Now, let’s be fair here, the Disciples probably only know that they’re going to the Garden to pray, they have no idea what’s going to happen.   They’ve just experienced CHRIST’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then just had the Passover feast where JESUS taught them some amazing lessons, so its been a busy and emotional day for them.   The passage states that JESUS left 9 of the disciples in one spot and instructed them to pray, and then took Peter, James, and John a little further into the garden.   Peter along with James and John, are CHRIST’s best friends while on earth.  Peter may have been a loose cannon, probably had a damaged filter, but in the three years that he was with JESUS, he was a loyal and unwavering friend, so it wasn’t surprising when JESUS took those three a little further into the garden with HIM.   As JESUS get’s to the place HE has chosen to pray, HE becomes burdened and upset, and asks the three to keep watch with HIM as HE prays.   It’s an intense and powerful moment for JESUS, HE knows what’s coming and HE’s honestly dreading the experience, BUT, HE knows this is the only way, so HE submits to the Fathers will.   Now, here’s where the disappointment comes.   He comes back to where HE left Peter, James and John, and all three of them are asleep.   It doesn’t say HE woke them up, but the statement HE made in vs 40, to me, implies that HE woke them up and chewed them out a little, HE even calls out Peter and says “Couldn’t you pray with me for an hour?”  Again, let’s be fair here, long day, emotional day, big feast, night-time, who wouldn’t fall asleep under those conditions?    To the disciples, this is just another day, they have no idea of what’s about to happen.  You would think, however, that after being busted and called out once, that they would have tried to stay awake, but it didn’t happen.   It says that Jesus came back twice more and both times, they were asleep and the third time, that’s when Peter comes face to face with failure.

At this point Judas arrives with the soldiers and temple guards and Jesus is arrested.   An interesting event happens at this point however.  All of the gospels state that at some point one of the disciples draws a sword and attacks one of the temple guards and cuts off his ear.  John 18:10-11 identifies the disciple as Peter, and then in Luke 22:51 it states that JESUS healed the man’s ear.    This is typical of Peter though, he sprang to Christ’s defense, even though the odds were against him, yet, while he’s told he didn’t do anything wrong, it just wasn’t the right time for it.   Jesus makes two statements before HE’s arrested:  1.  I could have angels down here immediately to defend me, but this is the will of GOD, and 2.  I was with you every day in the temple, and you come and arrest me at night.  The first is a statement of HIS power and how HE’s willingly going to face this trial, and the second statement, well, let’s come right out and say it, HE’s calling the priests and pharisees cowards for their timing.    It’s at this point that Jesus is arrested, and the gospels state that all of HIS disciples fled, with the exception of John who stayed with HIM, and Peter who followed along somewhere in the crowd.

Luke 26:69-75

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”  Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Now we come to Peter’s worst moment.   It was bad enough that he had disappointed Jesus by falling asleep when HE had asked him to pray with HIM, and then it was just as bad when he sliced off the High Priests servants ear for nothing only to have JESUS heal the man, now comes Peter’s ultimate test of character.   John 18 goes on to say that John had gone into the temple courtyard with Jesus and the guards because he was known to them, yet Peter is outside with the other servants.   John, sees Peter and sends one of the servant girls out to get him and that’s when it happens.   The question, or maybe a statement was made about Peter being with JESUS, and instead of loudly stating he was one of JESUS’s best friends, he sates he has no idea who the man is.   l can imagine a lot is going on in Peter’s head now, primarily self-preservation is the foremost thought, so denial is a quick and easy answer.  At this point he gets up and moves to another group, where he’s recognized again.   It’s probably not immediately,but  a couple of hours go by and the recognition happens again, the question is asked again and what’s Peter’s reaction the third time:  EXTREME DENIAL!!!!  Matthew states that Peter called down curses and swore that he had no idea who JESUS was, and it’s strike three for Peter.    The rooster crows, daybreak; Christ’s prophecy concerning Peter came true.   Peter realizes what happens and he walks away weeping bitterly.   Let’s keep this in context though.   How many of us would do the same in that instance.   We make pronunciations of faith and friendship and loyalty, but when our moment of truth happens we fail.   Not just with JESUS, but with everyday friendships as well.   All of us at one point have been a Peter and all of us at one point have been John, the friend that stuck with JESUS. But let’s go a little further and say that all of us at one point have been a Judas as well.   Peter Denied Christ, and Judas betrayed Christ.   Two men who failed JESUS horribly, so what’s the difference?  The difference is Grace and redemption.  In Acts 1:18-19 it states that Judas, out of guilt hung himself and becomes a historical and moral footnote.   Peter?   Well, Peter becomes a historical figure, a foundation stone in the movement that was to become Christianity.   Peter didn’t give up or give in to his grief and embarrassment.  He learned from it, but it would take a couple of days to be honest.   At this point, all he can see is failure, all he can see is that he denied his best friend and proved everything that he had said about loyalty as false.  I’ve been there, it’s devastating when you come face to face with your failure and feel like you’ve betrayed everyone and worse, you’ve let yourself down.   This is why I connect with Peter so well, he’s me.   I’m not saying I’m Peter reincarnated, that’s ridiculous, no, I’m saying I’ve done the same things as Peter has, and yet, like Peter, I’m finding grace and redemption in the failures because of CHRIST’s sacrifice.    Peter’s story gives me hope and relief, because it doesn’t end here like Judas’s story does.  Peter hung in there and believed and hoped, and it got not just better, but amazing.   Just not immediately.  That, however is for another time.   Right now, we leave you at his worst moment.

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