Peter could not have imagined how he was going to feel in a few hours. He had immersed himself in the words of the Lord as they celebrated Passover together. Walking with Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane he listened intently as his Lord talked of the relationship shared with the disciples in the work of the Holy Spirit. Through all of this Peter could not get out of his head what happened during the Passover meal. “’Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times’” (John 13:37-38). Peter walks in the garden with the other disciples and Jesus. Suddenly a “detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons” (John 18:3). Peter prepares for battle and strikes at the servant of the high priest cutting off his ear. Jesus rebukes him and tells him to put up the sword.
Jesus is arrested and carried away to face trial. Peter is dazed and runs away a short distance. He follows the crowd taking Jesus as they lead him to Caiaphas the high priest. Loud accusations are made. Jesus keeps silent. People begin to spit in the face of Jesus and strike him. Peter sat outside in the courtyard warming himself by the fire. His mind is racing. What are they doing with Jesus? Why have they arrested him? Will they come for me also? Unexpectedly a servant girl points him out as a follower of Jesus. Peter denies this. His mind is burning. What will he do? He just told someone he did not know who His Lord was. How could he have done such a thing? What is going on?
Walking out to the gateway another girl sees him and declares to all that he was with Jesus of Nazareth. Denying with an oath he declares his innocence saying, “I do not know the Man.” Pain sears through his head as his mind races to understand what is going on. They are beating his Lord and he has no courage to defend him. What are they doing to Jesus? His hands tremble as his face shows the weariness of his own guilt.
About an hour later he is discovered again by those in the courtyard. “Surely you also are one of them, because your speech betrays you,” they declare. Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Before now looking into the eyes of Jesus never felt so painful and so shameful. Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly. Stumbling through the dark the Galilean fishermen escapes away from impending doom that waits him. He is terrified the mob will arrest him also and he is devastated at how easy he turned against his Lord. The night will be a long night for Peter. And then it will get much worse.
Friday evening Jesus is dead. The man who let Peter walk on water is crucified. Roman soldiers nailed his teacher and friend to a cross as the Jewish leaders cried for His blood. This cannot be happening. Joseph and Nicodemus bury him in a tomb in the garden. Peter can’t stop thing about what he did. He denied Jesus three times. That final look when his eyes met the wearied eyes of his Lord bore through the soul of the apostle as he tries to make sense of what has happened. What are the other apostles doing? What happened to Judas? Tears flow unceasingly down his torn face.
All night Peter turns in agony. The morning light brings no relief. It was not a bad dream. Just the other day His Lord was washing his feet. They talked together. Jesus had only recently been received into Jerusalem like a king. Not long ago they stood at Lazarus tomb and watched him come forth alive. Peter had witnessed sick being healed, lame made to walk, blind given sight and lepers cleansed. He remembers the miracle of the feeding when more than five thousand people were fed with five loaves and two fish. Someone slams a door and Peter is jolted by the loud noise. His head aches with sorrow. His eyes are dry of tears. Hands that once held nets full of fish now hang in weakened despair. He has no appetite. His only thought is what he had done to his Master and what he had said. And now Jesus is dead.
Peter was a defeated man. Satan was sifting this Galilean and pressing upon him the guilt of remorse. That Sabbath was a horrible day. There would be no joy for Peter. He sat dejected and ashamed. His heart was heavy. Proudly he had pronounced to Jesus that he would fight for Him only to find the strength of a coward to deny him. The agony of his defeat was almost more than he could bear. But then Sunday came.
Mary Magdalene is the first to tell him. She burst in the door excitedly crying, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). Peter runs to the tomb along with John. Entering the place where Jesus had been lain Peter sees the linen cloths and handkerchief but Jesus is not there. They are puzzled as they return home. Later that day as Peter was with some of the other disciples in a closed room Jesus appears before them. Gladness fills the room. Tears of joy replace the tears of sorrow. All things are beginning to be clear. It will be some time before these gathered fully understand the meaning of it all but suffice it say at this time – Jesus is alive.
The apostle Peter is a complicated study. He was impetuous and often spoke when he should have not. His declaration of the identity of Jesus to be the Christ of God resonates through the centuries. He was the great defender of Jesus and on one occasion even rebuked Jesus for thinking He would die. His loyalty was unmatched. Devotion was deep in his heart to the Lord and he proved it in the garden with a sword. But the mighty character of a proud man came crashing down in defeat when he denied the Lord. Everything was going along so well and then out of fear or cowardice he found himself swearing he never knew Jesus. There could be no greater agony to endure. But the real story of Peter is how he overcame his despair.
After Jesus rose from the dead Peter spent about forty days with Him learning of the new message of salvation. Watching Jesus ascend into a cloud the apostle could take heart that all was going to be well. He would go on to preach the great sermon on Pentecost and do mission work as recorded by Luke in the first twelve chapters of Acts.
Two epistles bear his name that shows the full circle of faith and love Peter found in his life for Christ. The agony of defeat experienced in the courtyard of Caiaphas had turned to his final admonition recorded in 2 Peter 3:17-18 – “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” His defeat or falling from his own steadfastness had turned to victory because he knew how to grow in Christ. His life lessons were a powerful testimony of how he failed his Lord but found courage in the forgiveness and love of God.
Defeat can cripple us. We all fail and sometimes miserably. Disappointments come our way that seem to overwhelm us with unending grief. We do not understand and we struggle to find answers. Those days are dark and difficult but then Sunday comes. The lesson from Peter is how to overcome defeat. Judas chose an answer that took his life; Peter chooses an answer that gives him life. The resurrection of Jesus gives light to darkness in the face of defeat. We can all overcome the misfortunes of life when we look to Jesus. Believe in His will. Accept His guidance and we will find happiness in Him. Paul declared, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Disappointment in life is not about turning lemons into lemonade but seeking the forgiveness of God through faith in His will in my life. I live for Christ! I will fail but I will endure to the end by growing more complete in the grace of Jesus Christ and the knowledge Jesus Christ. He arose on the first day to give me the answer to the agony of sin. Satan gives me defeat. Jesus gives me victory. “Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Peter 5:14).