Friday — Holy Week 2013

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The sculpture depicting the moment of Peter’s third denial of Jesus is found in the courtyard of the Church of St. Peter en Gallicantu, or St. Peter of the Rooster’s Crow, it is built over the ruins of the House of Caiaphas, in Jerusalem where Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin. It was in this courtyard that Peter’s denial actually took place.

Friday – Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, and taken to the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Coucil, is called in the middle of the night to put Jesus on trial. And so the end has begun, events have been put into motion, beginning with Judas’ betrayal, that will lead to Jesus’ death on a Roman cross at just after 3:00 in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45) Of course, nothing is more significant on this day than his death, which is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. But since I am preaching on that later tonight, I am now drawn to Matthew 26:69-75, Peter’s denial which happens, presumably, in the wee hours, just before dawn on Friday morning.

We might not be so hard on Peter if he had not made such a big deal of his loyalty in verse 35. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” Big words. I’ve said them. Bet you have, too. They are the words of a man who dreams big, talks bigger, loves foolishly, and plans poorly. They are the words of a person who overestimates their ability and overstates their constancy. But they are the words of a person who has great intentions, not of a blowhard. Peter means what he says. He has a big heart, and an even bigger mouth. I believe the very things that led Peter to deny Jesus were the very things that Jesus loved about Peter.

Peter was just being Peter. And he would pay the price. “And he went away, weeping bitterly.” (verse 75) I imagine Peter’s sense of defeat was overwhelming as he heard the rooster crow. How could he face the other 10? Wasn’t he as bad as Judas? How could he face Jesus? Well, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about that one. Jesus would surely die. But how does he live with himself? How can he live with the fact that when Jesus needed him most, when he had the chance to be heard, when he could stand up and tell the whole world the wonders of Jesus, that he was the Son of God, just as he claimed; instead he could only find the words, “I don’t know the man!” (verse 74)

Sadly, the rooster crows for all of us. For who of us haven’t dreamed big, loved foolishly, planned poorly, or wanted to prove ourselves, but failed miserably. Who of us at one time or another hasn’t let fear, pride, or stupidity get in our way. Who of us hasn’t chosen safety over loyalty, denial over proclamation, apathy over love.

Peter does not deny Jesus in isolation. In verse 35, Peter says it first, but all the others chime in. If you watch Peter throughout Matthew’s gospel, he is usually the first among the 12 — first to speak, first to act, first to be rebuked. All the other disciples follow Peter. And Peter does his best to follow Jesus. But when he fails, it is always a big fail. On the sea of Galilee, he walks for a moment on the water, but then looses sight of Jesus. But he at least is out of the boat. (14:22-36) At Caesarea Philippi, Peter speaks up to say, “You are the Messiah”, and then is rebuked by Jesus when he says no harm should ever come to him. (16:13-23) And here, he denies Jesus, but where? In the courtyard of the Sanhedrin, just a few yards from the pit Jesus is being kept in. Right among the people who have opposed Jesus. Peter is behind enemy lines! So he is always out front, even in failure.

And after the resurrection, Jesus says to the women at the tomb, “Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (28:10) Jesus doesn’t see them as deny-ers, deserters, or failures. He sees them as brothers. O the grace of Jesus! When the rooster crows in your life, be glad it is Jesus who gets the last word!HL11Gallicantu_0045

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