Villains of the Bible

Peter: Denying Jesus

Peter is a coward of the Bible. In the courtyard of the High Priest, when Jesus was on trial, Peter’s fears got the better of him. He denied that he even knew Jesus.

Peter is a coward of the Bible.

Peter is not a villain of the Bible.  That label fits Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.

And, to be sure, Peter was not a coward for most of his life. Indeed, he died for Jesus by being crucified upside down.

But at a few key moments in his life, Peter’s fears got the better of him.

We are far more likely to get scared than to get crucified.

Therefore, we need to gain wisdom by seeing how Peter’s fears got the better of him. How his fears caused him to stray from the Way of Jesus. And how Peter’s friends enabled him to return to the Way of Jesus.

The most famous moment when Peter’s fears led him astray came on the night in which Jesus was arrested—the night before Jesus was tortured and crucified.

Peter found enough courage to follow Jesus at a distance, until they reached the courtyard of the High Priest. Then Peter “sat down with the guards to see the outcome” (Matthew 26:58).

The religious leaders “were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death” (Matthew 26:59).  Obviously, Peter himself was in great danger, if the guards realized that he was a close friend and supporter of Jesus!

Bystanders kept accusing Peter of being a friend of Jesus. Each time, Peter grew more and more agitated.  Finally, Peter began to curse. He swore three times to his accusers, “I don’t know the man” (Matthew 26:74).

As Peter cursed, Jesus “turned and looked straight at Peter.” A rooster crowed. Peter remembered what Jesus told him the night before at the Last Supper:  “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34).

Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).

What caused Peter to become a coward? We need to be vigilant when such things happen in our own lives, lest—like Peter—we deny that we follow the Way of Jesus.

Peter was overconfident. More precisely, he was overconfident about his own strength and his own bravery.

At the Last Supper, Peter promised Jesus: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). He assured Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35).

Nevertheless, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter fell asleep even though Jesus asked Peter to pray with him. (Matthew 26:40). He kept following Jesus, but only “at a distance” (Matthew 26:58). By the time Peter reached the courtyard of the High Priest, he swore that he didn’t even know Jesus.

How many times have we followed a similar pattern? Boasting about how much we love Jesus. Confident we’ll never stray from his Way.

Yet, when Jesus asks us to do something, we “fall asleep.”  This first failure to do what Jesus asks opens the way for more failures.

We continue following the Way of Jesus, but only “at a distance.” It gets easier to stray from the Way we should be living.

Soon, if following Jesus will get us into trouble, we deny that we are a friend of Jesus. We stray from the Way of Jesus, weeping bitterly.

Like Peter, our brave words end in cowardly deeds. We are like the seed sown on “shallow, rocky soil” that Jesus describes in his Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:20).

We hear the word of Jesus “and at once receive it with joy. But since [we] have no root, we last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, [we] quickly fall away.” (Mark 4:16-17).

How do we find our way back to the Way of Jesus?

Stop boasting. Start praying!

As Jesus warned Peter when he found him sleeping instead of praying: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We must watch and pray to overcome temptations. (Matthew 26:41).

But if temptation overcomes us—as it overcame Peter—what then?

When we become fearful failures, what then? When we lose our way, what then?

Find faithful friends. Friends who remain your friend even when you’ve become a fearful failure. Friends who remain your friend even when you lose your way.

John was a faithful friend of Peter.  Even though John saw Peter become a fearful failure. Even though John saw Peter stray from the Way of Jesus.

John was near Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest. John heard Peter curse. John heard Peter deny that he knew Jesus. John saw Peter break down. John saw Peter weep bitterly. (John 18:15-16).

Nevertheless, John remained Peter’s friend. The next time we see Peter, it is three days later. And John is with him! (John 20:2-10).

It is Easter morning. And John is racing Peter to see who can reach the empty tomb of Jesus first! They race to find out if it is true that “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”.

Who can doubt that John was the kind of person who would be good at comforting Peter after he broke down, weeping bitterly?

We know from Jesus himself that John was good at comforting people in their time of despair. How?

Jesus chose John to comfort his mother, Mary. As Jesus hung on the cross, dying, he appointed John to become the son of Mary. From that time on, John took Mary into his home. (John 19:25-27). Surely, Jesus picked John to take care of his mother because he knew John would be good at comforting her in times of despair.

When John saw Peter weeping, he knew that Jesus wanted him to comfort Peter. Why?

In his Gospel, John remembered Jesus saying at the Last Supper: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14). John “washed the feet” of Peter by comforting him in his time of despair.

John remembered Jesus saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34). John kept Jesus’ command to “love one another” by comforting Peter in his time of despair.

John showed us how to love one another.

John still loved Peter by staying with him and comforting him even after John saw Peter fail—cursing, lying and denying.

John still stayed friends with Peter by being with him and comforting him even after John saw Peter fail. (John 13:14).

John forgave Peter when John saw Peter fail. (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Luke 23:34).

As a faithful friend of Peter, John helped Peter find the courage and strength to return to the Way of Jesus.

i hope we all have at least one faithful friend like John.

But even if we don’t have such a human friend, each of us has at least one such faithful friend—Jesus!

Jesus is always our most faithful friend, restoring our courage and our strength.

Jesus is a faithful friend who always welcomes us back to the Way of Jesus. He remains our faithful friend even when we’ve become fearful failures. He remains our faithful friend even when we stray from the Way of Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:13).

In his Gospel, John remembered the time after the Resurrection when Jesus showed that he remained a faithful friend of Peter.

Peter and some other disciples, including John, were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They caught nothing all night. But early in the morning, Jesus met them. He told them to try again. This time they filled their net with fish! Jesus met them on shore, cooking breakfast. (John 21:1-14).

After they finished eating, Jesus gave Peter the chance to affirm publicly three times that he still loved Jesus. Jesus affirmed publicly three times that he still wanted Peter to care for his sheep.

In this way, Jesus welcomed Peter back into the Way of Jesus.

In response to this amazing grace, Peter led an amazingly fruitful life. He became like “seed sown on good soil,” producing an immense crop of righteousness. (Mark 4:20).

Peter became a courageous success!

And since Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed, he continues to be a faithful friend to us today. Even when we are fearful failures. Even when we stray from the Way of Jesus.

Jesus still welcomes us back into the Way of Jesus.

In response to his amazing grace, we can lead amazingly fruitful lives. We can become like “seed sown on good soil,” producing an immense crop of righteousness.

We can become a courageous success!

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For my full account of Peter denying Jesus, please read my book Hoping in the LORD, at pages 246-249, 253, 272-275, 327-333.

To see how followers of the Way of Jesus should be best friends with each other, please read my book Lighting the World, at 167-186.