By Dr. Mark Scott
A common struggle we face is consistent faith. On Palm Sunday the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9). But by Friday they shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:14).
Peter (and the other disciples) had that same struggle. His life did not match his lip. He intended well, but he was overwhelmed with excessive pride. When push came to shove, he caved in.
The disciples’ experience in the upper room had been intense. Jesus had washed their feet (John 13:1-20), he had instituted the Lord’s Supper at the Passover meal (Mark 14:22-25), he had given many promises about the Holy Spirit (John 14–16), and he had made two piercing predictions. The first was of Judas’s betrayal. The second was of Peter’s denial.
This betrayal prediction was evidently given en route to the Garden of Gethsemane (located partway up on the Mount of Olives). In the only passage in the Gospels where we find that Jesus sang, we read, When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Perhaps Jesus sang, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Psalm 118:22-24).
Somewhere between the upper room and Gethsemane, Jesus said: You will all fall away. This had to shock the disciples. Jesus had previously predicted his death and gave additional details each successive time (Mark 8, 9, and 10). Here he made a strange use of Zechariah 13:7 to prove his point. He was Israel’s true shepherd, and when he was struck the sheep (disciples) would scatter. No doubt the image of sheep was available to Jesus since they had just come from the Passover meal. But there was hope in the midst of this shocking revelation. Jesus would be raised from the dead and meet up with the disciples in Galilee.
This was too much for Peter. He made a presumptuous promise of loyalty. He meant well. Yet Jesus underlined his prediction by saying that during the night (when Jesus’ six trials were taking place) Peter would disown Jesus three times. This would be known to Peter by the crowing of a rooster twice (a detail that is unique to Mark). Peter insisted “emphatically” (ESV)—literally, “he spoke out excessively”—that he would be loyal. In fact, the other disciples said the same. Everyone intended well, but as the secular proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux).
Our text fast forwards through Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, the arrest, and the first Jewish trial that took place in the high priest’s house. Peter’s presence in the high priest’s courtyard is hard to discern. Did he feel bad about deserting Jesus in the garden? Was he trying to see what would happen to Jesus? Did he intend to use his sword (again) and spring Jesus from the kangaroo court? Whatever his motive, he found himself in the courtyard standing by a fire (John 21:9-19). A servant girl noticed him. You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus. Peter denied it. He lied by feigning ignorance and stepped away to stay incognito.
The servant girl tried again. This time she did not call him out. She mentioned him to the others present. It is amazing that a big strong fisherman could be intimidated by a servant girl. Things lesser than us can undo us when we are outside the will of God.
Peter was successful in hiding for a while, but people noticed his Galilean accent and drew attention to the fact that he was a disciple. This angered Peter and he swore (spoke with an oath; see Matthew 5:33-37; 23:16-22). It would be like us saying, “I would swear it on a stack of Bibles.” The rooster crowed a second time and Peter was enveloped in his own nightmare. God used a common barnyard animal to get Peter’s attention. What does it take to get your attention?
Peter struggled with faith. But he did find his way back to God. For him there were three steps: 1. He remembered the word Jesus had spoken. 2. He manifested a spirit of brokenness (broke down and wept). 3. He stayed in the group, in contrast to Judas. We would be wise to follow the example of faith in this regard.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.