When hearing that Jesus was to leave them, Peter promised to lay down his life for Him. However, Jesus tells Peter that before dawn, Peter will deny Him three times (John 13:37-38).
Things are at their darkest in John 18. Jesus is betrayed, arrested, mocked, whipped, deserted, and crucified. Jesus is cross-examined by Annas and Pontius Pilate. Peter, however, is cross-examined by a girl at the door to the high priest’s courtyard (v. 17); questioned by another in the courtyard (v. 25); and then challenged by one of the high priest’s servants (v. 26):
- The first and second girls: ″You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?″ (vv. 17, 25; Matthew 26:69).
- Peter’s response both times: ″I am not″ (vv. 17, 25).
- High priest’s servant: ″Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?″ (v. 26).
- And finally: ″Again Peter denied it″ (v. 27).
Jesus’ most vocal supporter denies any knowledge of Him, three times. Jesus knew this would happen and that it would be Peter, one of His three closest disciples (alongside James and John).
Another disciple (whom scholars believe to be John) helped Peter gain entry into the high priest’s house, and has undoubtedly been recognized as a disciple too. So what led Peter to respond the way he did? Perhaps he was feeling guilty-he may well have lied in gaining entry as he had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant earlier (John 18:10). And as D. A. Carson observes about the denial, ″Once performed, it was easy to repeat, with rising vehemence.″14
This episode is all too familiar for us today who, despite vows to the contrary, often fall short in our own commitments. Ecclesiastes contains this wisdom: ″Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few″ (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Beware the attitude of self-sufficiency that lies behind such vows-it is actually insufficiency. But the grace of the Lord Jesus, expressed in His three-fold reinstatement of Peter the denier (John 21:15-17), means that no matter what form our failure takes, we will find the rich grace of restoration in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As Bible commentator Bruce Milne writes, ″So as Jesus testifies faithfully, Peter denies pathetically.″15 Biblical scholar Raymond Brown agrees, noting that ″John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter comes before his questioners and denies everything.″16
Thine I am, O Lord, for ever,
To thy service set apart;
Suffer me to leave thee never;
Seal thine image on my heart.
14Carson, The Gospel According to John, 583.
15Bruce Milne, The Message of John (London: SPCK Publishing, 2014).
16Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 2:842.
Is there any self-sufficiency in your life that you need to surrender to the One who is all-sufficient?
Do you feel you’ve failed the Lord? Bring it to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is rich in grace, so He can reinstate you.