Scripture Reading: John 16:16-24, John 16:32-33, Mark 14:12-72, Psalm 41:7-13, Zechariah 13:7
Of all the betrayals of Jesus, Peter’s is the hardest for me to stomach. Peter, the one who was first to claim Jesus as the Messiah. Peter, who got out of the boat to walk on water to meet his Savior. Then, after all they had been through, it is Peter who denies he ever knew Christ. One minute Christ is his Messiah, and the next? Someone he didn’t want to be associated with.
I’ll never forget the deep shame I felt when I did something similar to a friend in college. To her face, I acted as if she were my best friend. But behind her back, I said something to the contrary. She heard about it. I heard that she heard about it. And then I was sick.
This is why Peter’s story is so difficult for me to stomach. I see a lot of myself in it. Not only in the way I’ve denied friends, but the times I’ve denied Christ too. Proclaiming Him as my Savior one minute, acting as if I don’t even know Him the next. Peter denied Christ three times, but I’ve denied Him countless times.
Jesus was not surprised—not by Peter’s denial, nor by mine. In fact, He predicted it during the Last Supper. Quoting the prophet Zechariah, He said, “All of you will run away, because it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27-28).
After He says this, who pipes up first? Peter, that’s who, declaring, “Even if everyone runs away, I will certainly not!” (v. 29). But just a few verses later, Peter is shocked at his own hypocrisy. “And he broke down and wept” (v. 72).
Jesus also predicted Peter’s behavior, as well as Peter’s response to that behavior, when He said, “You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy” (John 16:20). How? How could Peter’s weeping ever turn to joy? Even though he would see the risen Christ, wouldn’t that only bring him further shame?
Perhaps Peter experienced what I experienced with my friend in college. I dreaded facing her again. When I did, eyes to the floor, I apologized. She had all the power in that moment. She could have hurt me right back or told everyone how two-faced I was. But she didn’t. Instead, she looked at me and said, “It’s water under the bridge.” She forgave me. I will never forget that moment of undeserved mercy.
Undeserved mercy is what Peter received from Jesus. At the end of Mark, when the angel tells Mary Magdalene the good news of the resurrection, the angel also says, “Go, tell the disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there just as he told you’” (Mark 16:7). The disciples and Peter. Jesus calls him by name. Peter is still invited to meet the risen Christ.
In our times of sorrow, in the depths of sin, when facing the reality of our own hypocrisy, when joy feels absurd, reserved for someone who is “better” than we are—this is the story we ought to remember. We can have joy, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because we are still invited to meet the risen Christ.