Peter Denies Him
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:73-74)
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Paul’s warning to the Christians in Corinth is a Spirit-inspired caution we all need to hear. Peter’s denial is a commentary on that verse.
You know what he claimed: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Peter could handle the heat. So he thought. Yet the instinct for self-preservation—for saving face—is strong. So he denied his Lord. And afterwards: “But it was just a quick reaction—unthinking, careless!” No, there is no excuse.
Life’s an ongoing struggle against sin. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” . . . but I desperately want to fit in and talk like everyone else. “You shall not commit adultery” . . . but I have intense physical desires. “You shall not covet” . . . but I crave what the world offers. At its core, sin is denial. It is denial and defiance against God, whose will is good and holy.
To ponder the Passion History of Jesus Christ is to consider the depth of what it means to be human—in nearly every sense of that phrase. There is human depravity: what humans are capable of doing. There is human drama: how humans deal with the difficulties of life. Then there is human sorrow: the broken-heartedness of strained relationships. And there is human suffering: palpable pain and anguish.
Jesus, God from eternity, became a human to live among humans. He was sinless, yet he felt the sting of sin deeply. Even though he knew what Peter was about to do, it still hurt. Peter was a dear friend! “I don’t know the man” was crass and cutting.
But Jesus, the Suffering Servant, turned his gaze. That look. Disappointment—yes. Love—absolutely! As if to say, “Soon you will understand why all of this is happening.” Later, the resurrected Jesus asked: “Simon [Peter], son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know.” Peter was forgiven and restored. And by Jesus’ death, so are we.
Dearest Jesus, we are so very conscious of our own sin and shame. Thank you for enduring our punishment. Forgive us in your mercy and strengthen us to live in faith and love. Amen.
Rev. Paul Koelpin serves Martin Luther College as a professor of theology and history.