In Front of Witnesses.
John 18:15-18, 25-27
Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciple. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. – John 18:15-16 NLT
John’s account of what happened that fateful night when Jesus was arrested and Peter denied Him sheds a whole new light on things. In his usual style, John refers to himself in the third person, saying, “as did the other disciple” and “then the disciple who knew the high priest.” Previously unnoticed by most of us, John was at the scene of Peter’s worst moment and witnessed it all. If you’re like me, you probably pictured Peter as having been alone that night. And if you only read the three synoptic gospels, you would never have realized that John accompanied Peter and even made it possible for him to gain entry into the inner courtyard of the high priest’s house. Somehow John was acquainted with the high priest and was recognized by the woman who was manning the gate, so he was afforded immediate access into the courtyard. Peter, unknown to the woman, was denied entry. But a word from John made it possible for Peter to join him inside the courtyard. And it was there that Peter’s already devastating night turned into a personal nightmare. His denial of Jesus did not take place in anonymity, but was witnessed by one of his closest friends and fellow disciples. John seems to be gracious in his account, somewhat softening the force of Peter’s three denials. And yet, it was probably he who informed Matthew, Mark and Luke just what was said that night. Or perhaps, some time after Pentecost, Peter himself was the one who shared the exact words he used that night.
But it is painful to think just how embarrassing and humiliating Peter’s actions must have been to him, having been witnessed by his friend John. But John makes to statement or levels no indictment against Peter. He draws no conclusions or reaches no verdict. He simply states what happened in a somewhat matter-of-fact manner. “Again Peter denied it. And immediately the rooster crowed” (John 18:27 NLT). But the weight of what Peter had done drove him to run from the courtyard weeping bitterly. He had denied His Lord and Savior. He had done exactly what Jesus had predicted he would do. And he had done it right in front of one of his own friends. It is one thing to fail alone. It is another thing to fail in front of witnesses. It is quite another thing to fail in front of those you know and whose opinion of you matters. And failure had to have been one of the feelings Peter encountered that evening. He had failed to live up to his own hype. He was the disciple who had sworn that he would die for Jesus before He ever denied Him. Strong words. Weak resolve.
While we are not told what happened next in the courtyard, we can assume that John stayed right where he was as Peter ran away. And John seems to have stayed by the Lord’s side all the way to the cross. He will be the only one mentioned as having been at the cross the day Jesus died. Everyone else, including Peter, had run away. There is not a lot to conclude from all this. There is no real moral lesson at this point. Jesus is under arrest. He has been beaten about the head and face, spit upon and ridiculed. Peter has denied him. John has had to witness it all and must have felt incredibly alone and despondent as he watched his friend slink away in shame and His Master be led away in chains. It was not a good night. And the next day would not get any better. But for those of us who know how the story ends, we know there is a light shining in the darkness. There is hope right around the corner. Peter’s shame will turned to rejoicing. John, all alone for the moment, will once again find himself surrounded by friends and fellow believers. This dark moment was necessary. Peter’s denial had to happen, but he would one day proclaim unashamedly and boldly, “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted at the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand” (Acts 2:32-33 NLT). And John would be there to witness his transformation from a denier into a proclaimer.
Father, the story of Peter is the story of us all. We are all capable of denying Your Son at any given moment. We are all guilty of having denied Your Son on numerous occasions over our lifetimes. But You are the God who transforms deniers into proclaimers. You are always using our weakest moments to remind us of our need for You. You even use those who witness our failures to encourage us to remain faithful. You are still writing the next chapter of each of our lives. Because You are faithful, loving and gracious. You were not done with Peter and You are not done with me. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men