There are fascinating details surrounding the final hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is comforting to know that the impending suffering of our Savior did not cause a panic in His heart: His matter-of -fact planning of the Passover, His peaceful interactions with the disciples (including His betrayer) and His willful arrest on bogus charges. It is also comforting to know that His concern was not on His future alone, but also for the future of those He loved. Above all, it is comforting to know that Jesus prayed for those around Him when His hour of darkness had arrived.
As the Lord and His followers made their way from Passover meal in the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has a conversation with Peter. Jesus told Peter that the enemy wanted His destruction, but Jesus also told him that He has prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. Jesus told him that he’d deny knowing Him three times before daybreak. Jesus finally promised Peter that he would be restored and, in turn, strengthen the others. And it all happened just as Jesus predicted – Peter did, in fact, cave into the pressure of the situation and deny the Lord three times, the last denial to a young servant girl.
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.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” Matthew 26:71-72
What would make a burly fisherman like Peter cower before a kid? What would make a grown man lie to a child just hours after being told he would? Was it self-preservation, a ruse to escape the same fate as Jesus? Was it fear, a deceptive word to avoid suspicion? It is impossible to know what was going through Peter’s mind as he fielded questions and followed Christ from a safe distance. It is possible to relate to Peter’s experience: we all have times when the risk of confrontation supersedes our core beliefs and common sense.
I am not good with confrontation: there have been times that a restaurant server gave me something other than what I ordered and said nothing, that I have listened to a long list of inaccurate statements and offered no corrections, that neighbors have taken my parking space or celebrated too late too loudly and I have suffered silently. I’d like to frame my inaction as a virtue – patience or tolerance – but this behavior ought to be more properly defined as something less noble. It may be better framed as cowardice or insecurity. I’d like to think that that I would stand tall when facing the big challenges. It is something that I am continually working on.
Like Peter, I am grateful that Jesus knows my heart, knows my need, knows my weaknesses, and intercedes for me. Like Peter, I am susceptible to denial in casual conversations and to cowardice when it comes to the things of faith. Like Peter, I have been restored and equipped for service in building the kingdom and strengthening the saints. It is good to have weekends like this to remind people like us that Jesus came to save sinners like me.