Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." And a little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not." And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, "Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about." And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. — Lk 22:54-62
Jesus has been arrested. Willful surrender, really. The other disciples fled, but Peter follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. He's watching from afar. At this point, Peter has to be scared-- but at least he's brave enough to go, whereas the others ran away, right? He told Jesus he'd stay with him until the end. Here he is, staying. He's proving Jesus' terrible prediction false-- he'll never abandon him. He's here.
And yet, the first person to speak to Peter-- a servant girl-- scares him to the point of denial. "I do not know him." And a second, then a third accusation. Peter vehemently denies knowing him. The concept that we can convince ourselves of lies fascinates me. Have you ever told a lie, or embellished a story, or stretched the truth in a way that you started to believe what you said? It's terribly frightening that we can manipulate our own minds to believe blatant falsehoods. I cannot judge Peter too strongly here, because I can see myself in his position. I'm terribly ashamed of the times I've done it, but I can't write here and pretend that lying or denial only happened to me as a child. While I have much greater conviction than I did as a kid, I still can find myself trying to conceal the entire truth or manipulate it to save face or stay away from embarrassment or fear.
We can convince ourselves that lying is in our best interest, that it's the best decision at the time, in the context, for all parties. Maybe that's what Peter was doing here-- it was best not to draw attention to himself, it was safer for Jesus to not make a big deal or cause anymore uprising in the courtyard, he just needed to blend in. And then, the rooster crows.
That moment. Where the realization of sin is made so blatantly clear. Where the justification in our heads meets the recognition of the true state of our hearts. The rooster crows-- and Jesus looks at us, and we at Him. And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
The footnote in the Bible links verse 60, "and the Lord turned and looked at Peter" to Mark 10:21, where Jesus interacts with the Rich Young Ruler. "And Jesus, looking at him, loved him..." The look Jesus gives Peter is one of love. What? In education, we have a term called "the teacher stare". You know it when you see it. It's that look of, "you know what you're doing is wrong, you know where you messed up, you know what you need to fix". The look alone can cause a misbehaving student to get their act together without a word being spoken. That's what I would expect from Jesus here. And, I can't be sure, because I wasn't there-- but the reference to Mark 10 makes me really question what's happening here. A look of love? All Peter has done has prove Jesus right-- he denied even knowing him, three times before the rooster crowed.
And yet, Jesus loves Peter, this incredibly human, impulsive, sinful man. Even when he denies Him, Jesus still loves Peter. And it's not judgment, but love, that convicts Peter's heart. There is an oft-shared quote from Tim Keller that I think describes what is happening in this moment so well:
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Peter couldn't even fathom that he'd deny Jesus. He couldn't believe the sin and flaws that existed deep inside himself. And yet, Jesus loves and accepts Peter in a way he could never hope to be accepted by anyone. Any mere human would have given up on Peter at this point-- he's messed up so many times, and then to deny even knowing your dearest friend? I'd have to draw the line there. But Jesus loves Peter still so deeply, and Peter knows it to the depth of his soul. nHe weeps bitterly, because he know how undeservedly loved he is, by a man he couldn't even stay awake with for an hour. Surely, he must not be a man, but the Son of God.
We all have our deeply flawed places, sins that are too painful and awful for us to even admit exist at times. We lie even to ourselves about the awful things inside us. And yet Jesus, to whom we absolutely cannot lie, sees those places and LOVES US ANYWAY. That love has got to do something to us. It has got to move us to a place of first repentance. We should weep bitterly over our sin. It is too awful to comprehend. And yet, that love calls us out of our weeping, into obedience through love. We love, because He first loved us. Peter didn't deserve a look of love, and I surely don't either. But the fact that we receive it has got to move us to change. It must.
Dear God, Your love knows no bounds-- even the bounds of our sin that builds deep moats and high walls around our hearts. Let us respond to your love for us in the face of our sin with repentance and with love. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dig Deeper: Is there a place of sin where Jesus is looking at you with eyes of love, calling you out of the darkness and into his marvelous light? How will you respond to that love?