Luke 22:55-62 (NIV) But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter had faithfully followed Jesus all the way into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. He had fled the scene of Jesus’ arrest after he had cut off Malchus’ ear, and had hidden in the shadows, trailing the mob that had come to arrest Jesus. When they had come to the high priest’s house, the leaders went in with Jesus in tow, and many of the others had simply waited in the courtyard. It was very early spring, and the night air was increasingly cool. So someone lit a charcoal fire in the middle of the courtyard.
Peter joined the group around the fire. He figured that, at that point, his personal danger was over. They had Jesus, and it looked like that was all that they cared about. Besides, no one would know who he was in the flickering firelight.
But as Peter sat there, lost in thought, and listening to the proceedings going on just through the open windows, he felt eyes gazing at him. When he lifted his head, he saw one of the servant girls staring intently at him. Suddenly she nodded her head slightly, and pointing an accusing finger squarely at Peter, declared, “This man was with him.”
All eyes snapped over to Peter, who looked around, his heart suddenly filled with indescribable panic. His mind was racing. What if they told the high priest, “Hey, one of His followers was just grabbed in the courtyard.” There is no way that he could see that scenario ending well. Before He could think, he heard himself say, “Woman, I don’t know Him.”
The conversation around the fire turned to the man inside the house. They could all hear the shouted questions and the silences between, whether it was Jesus giving an answer in His typical calm, quiet voice, or Him freezing them out with silence; no one in the courtyard could tell for sure. The people were wondering aloud what kind of man this Jesus was, and suddenly one of the men nearby pointed a finger at Peter, and said, “Well, he’s one of His followers!” Again, all eyes flashed over to Peter. The second denial flowed easier from his lips than the first had: “Man, I am not.”
The early morning wore on, and the crowd huddled closer to the fire. Peter engaged in some idle talk with some of the people nearby, his eyes, and his heart, occasionally drifting over to the window, where he could catch glimpses of Jesus standing before the high priest, His gaze fixed firmly on the floor.
Suddenly there came the sound of slaps and grunts, as the guards nearby began beating Jesus. It was then that a man nearby looked at Peter and said, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” His Galilean accent, with the clipped vowels had given him away! More sounds of abuse came from the window, as Peter yelled out, a little louder and more vehemently than he had intended, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Just as the words left his lips, he heard, they all heard, the sound of a rooster crowing nearby, signaling the first, nearly indiscernable, shades of light peeking over the Mount of Olives to the east. Peter froze. Jesus’ words flashed back into his mind: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” Peter didn’t even have to count. He knew that, despite his earlier protestations that he would be willing to die alongside Jesus, he had indeed denied knowing Jesus exactly three times.
Guiltily, Peter’s eyes flicked over to the window. To his horror and dismay, Jesus, clearly framed in the opening, turned and stared straight at Peter, His eyes gazing with pity out of a bruised and bleeding face. Peter felt something crash in his chest, and his sight dimmed as his eyes flooded with tears of regret and self-loathing. And he stood and ran out of the gate, into the fading night.
Father, we are all so cock-sure of our faithfulness to You, no matter what. But if we try to rely on our own strength to even stand firm for You, we are doomed to disappointment and failure, just like Peter. We need a new heart, a new Spirit moving us from within, so that we can stand firm for You when the time of testing comes – and it will come sooner or later. That was what all of the disciples learned that night, and what they finally received just a few weeks later, on the day of Pentecost. From that moment on, they were as bold as lions, and didn’t back down, even at the cost of their own lives. Lord, fill us with Your Spirit, so that we can be bold as well, bold in our witness, bold in our testimony, and bold in our actions for Your kingdom. Amen.