Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter rememb`ered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Why did Peter deny Jesus? After all, he had been one of the first to follow Jesus, leaving so much behind to walk the uncertain road of discipleship. Peter had seen mighty wonders as his Master healed the sick, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. Peter had witnessed the miracle of the transfiguration. And he had even walked on water for a few brief moments. So why did Peter, of all people, deny Jesus?
Because he was afraid. Fear. Fear can startle us in the middle of the night and keep us awake for hours. It prevents us from reaching for our dreams or from reaching out to others in love. Fear cripples our souls and binds our hearts. It locks us in prison and throws away the key.
Fear. What power it can have over us! Fear leads us to do what we would otherwise never do, and it keeps us from doing that which we know to be right. When we’re afraid, we can forget our commitments, our values, and our loves. In fearful moments, all we think of is how to protect ourselves, perhaps at any cost. In fear we can strike out thoughtlessly against a perceived enemy. In fear we run away rather than standing for what we believe. Fear causes our adrenaline to race and compromises our judgment.
Peter was afraid, understandably so. All that he had hoped seemed to be crumbling before him. The one he believed to be the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, was now arrested. Jesus’s death seemed certain and with his death the end of Peter’s reason for living.
Moreover, seeing his powerful Master so helpless must have confused Peter. Why didn’t Jesus call down a legion of angels? Why did the one with the power to still the storm not use that power now? And if Jesus was helpless to defend himself, what did that mean for Peter? How could he escape a fate like that of Jesus . . . arrest, abuse, and finally execution?
In confused fear, Peter did what only hours before he swore he would never do, denying his Master. The one who had promised to go to prison and even to die with Jesus was now scurrying to protect himself. So he denied his Lord, not once, but three times, just as Jesus had promised. Fear had overtaken Peter’s consciousness and conscience.
Now, if you’ve never felt the powerful grip of fear, you may not understand Peter. You may look upon him with scorn, rather than empathic pity. But if you’ve known real fear, then you also know how fear can motivate you to act in ways you might never have imagined. You may even understand how Peter could have denied his Lord.
In saying this, I’m not excusing his behavior. Not by a long shot. What Peter did was wrong. But I am saying that I can understand what he might have been feeling, and why he did something that he later found so horrifying and inexcusable. Fear has the power to make all of us do or say that which we later regret.
Though you and I might never deny Jesus in such a blatant way as Peter did, I would suggest that we might indeed deny him is less obvious ways, also because of fear. Have you ever sensed that the Lord was urging you to do something for his sake, but then you chickened out because you were afraid? Have you known what it’s like to downplay the significance of your faith in some conversation because you were afraid of what people might think of you? Have you ever let fear keep you from experiencing the fullness of life in Christ? I know I have, too many times to count.
What is the antidote to such fear? It’s trusting God. It’s believing the Word of Christ. It’s experiencing the perfect love of God that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We don’t conquer fear through rationalization and mind-control. Rather, we overcome fear by leaning more fully into the strong arms of God and knowing that he will never let us go.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you remember times in your life when you were deeply afraid? If so, how did your fear make a difference in your actions?
Have you ever done something unwise or even sinful because you were afraid?
What helps you have confident trust in God? What enables you to be bold in the fact of fear?
Do you have any fear that is holding you back today? Are you willing to give it over to the Lord?
Gracious Lord Jesus, forgive me when I let fear get in the way of my relationship with you. Forgive me for all the times I’ve fallen short in my discipleship because I’ve been afraid. Forgive me for failing to trust you when you’ve proven yourself to be so utterly worthy of trust.
Help me, Lord, not to be like Peter in this story. When hard times come, help me to trust you more. When my adrenaline starts to pound, clouding my mind and suffocating my heart, help me to receive your peace. When I’m tempted to deny you, either in words or deeds, or by failing to speak or act, help me to trust and obey. May I live my whole life in honor of you, trusting you each moment and living with confidence in your grace! Amen.