Mark 14:66-72 (NIV): While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Peter’s devotion to Jesus was unquestionable; it was just imperfect. Peter was devoted with all of the commitment that a human heart could muster up. But his devotion had not yet been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into something that was self-sacrificing in its nature.
Peter had followed Jesus at a distance right into the courtyard of the High Priest’s house (Mark 14:54), but he went no further. From the courtyard he would be able to hear snatches of what was going on upstairs at the trial. But at the same time, he figured that he would be safe from being too closely associated with Jesus. He was just someone warming himself by the fire.
As the night stretched toward the wee morning hours, it happened – he was recognized. Where the servant girl had seen Peter with Jesus was anybody’s guess. She had probably been one of the thousands in the crowd as Jesus taught in the temple court. But now she was pointing straight at Peter. She had looked closely, and even in the flickering firelight was sure that Peter was someone whom she had seen with Jesus.
At this point it was more curiosity than threat that was motivating her. Everybody had heard about Jesus; most of them had heard His teachings; and they could all hear the heated conversations going on upstairs. Who was this Jesus, really? What was His story? Why were the authorities so worked up about Him?
When the woman identified Peter, all eyes moved instantly to him, filled with curiosity. Here was someone who could tell them about this man who was causing such a stir. But in those stares, all that Peter felt was a threat. If they knew that he was one of Jesus’ disciples, he could be arrested and taken upstairs, too! Maybe they would force him to testify against Jesus. He stood and turned away from the fire, saying, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know that man.”
He was going to leave, to get away from this woman who knew who he was, but at the entryway he stopped and listened some more to what was happening above him. Things didn’t sound like they were going well. He strained his ears for every word. Then suddenly that woman was there again, telling the others nearby, “This fellow is one of them.” Again all eyes turned toward him, nailing him down. “Me? The woman is crazy. I don’t know the man! I just came in to get warm!”
Peter went back to listening to the conversation from the room upstairs, but he couldn’t help but notice that several of the people nearby were looking his way and talking in low voices. Finally one of them said, “You have to be one of His followers. We can tell by your accent that you’re from Galilee, just like him.”
Curious people started to move in his direction. All eyes seemed to be turned toward him, and he was filled with terror. From upstairs he could hear the sound of Jesus being slapped, and the loud cries of “Prophesy! Tell us who just hit you!” (Cf. Mark 14:65). And he panicked. He swore before God that he didn’t know Jesus; called down curses on his head if he was lying.
Just then the sound of a rooster crowing cut through the scene. And with that sound, Jesus’ voice came back to Peter, telling him that no matter how much he swore to go even to death for Jesus, before the rooster would crow in the morning, Peter would deny three times even knowing Him. Peter had scoffed at the time at the very idea that he would be able to deny Jesus, even swearing that he would die rather than deny Him. (Mark 14:31) But here he was at the cockcrow, and he had done it, just as Jesus had said.
The crowed was astonished as Peter suddenly burst into tears and ran out into the pre-dawn darkness.
Father, it’s easy to pledge allegiance to You when times are easy, and when things are going my way. But the real test is whether I will stand strong for You when times are harder – when people start calling me narrow-minded, or bigoted, or unloving for standing for You and Your word. They might even threaten my home, my business, my family, or my life. Will I stand firm for You then? Or will I deny you to save what is dearer to me than You? Lord, my words, and even my best intentions, mean nothing if they all fade away in the heat of mistreatment or persecution, as Peter found out. Help me to do better now than Peter did then. Help me to stand strong for You, no matter what, so that I can continue to glorify Your name every day of my life. Amen.