Lord, you are worthy of my undivided devotion. Yet I am prone to wander. I am prone to serve other masters, which leave me thirsty and unfulfilled. Help me today to love you more than I did yesterday. Help me today to follow you more faithfully than I did yesterday. Help me to serve you more completely today than I did yesterday.
Today we’re looking at a very, very familiar passage. Even if the actual passage is not something we’ve read, the story it depicts—Peter’s betrayal of Christ—will likely be very familiar. Don’t let that cause you to speed through. Read through Mark 14:66-72 at least three times or more. Read phrase by phrase, and imagine the scene as you go.
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.”But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (ESV)
I must have read through this passage six or eight times this morning. Each time I read it, I tried to put myself in the scene with Peter. (I am an actor, after all. This is what I do.)
He’s in the courtyard. There are others around—probably crowds of people, judging from some of the interactions that are described. A girl sees him and speaks. And he speaks, too.
He’s in the gateway or forecourt. She follows him and speaks again, this time to bystanders. And he speaks, too. And after a little while, the bystanders, having heard how he pronounced works like, “I” and “neither” and “know” and “nor” and “understand” and “what” and “you” and “mean,”—the bystanders, having discerned from his accent that he must be a Galilean, also speak. And Peter speaks, too. He speaks emphatically. He swears to the fact that they are wrong.
And the rooster crows. And he remembers that Jesus also spoke. And Peter breaks down and weeps.
# # #
As I read through this passage over and over, a very fun memory came to mind. In 2011, I moved to Seattle after living in New York City for over twelve years. But before New York, there was Richmond, Virginia. And before Richmond, there was a year in Tennessee. And before Tennessee, there was Roanoke, Virginia, where I lived from the time I was in second grade until I graduated from high school, and the place where my parents still live today.
One of my favorite things to do is to shop in thrift stores. Most of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores, and I also love to poke around the household items section of thrift stores as well. One day last spring, I was in my favorite thrift store, Value Village in Burien, and I was looking at glass wares. I had a shopping cart “just in case” I found some things I wanted to buy. As I pushed my cart down one of the aisles, office supplies on my left, kitchen wares on my right, a woman about my mother’s age was coming toward me, also pushing a cart. When we got close, we each pulled left to give one another space, and she said, “Excuse me.”
I stopped short. I looked right at her and said, “Where are you from?” She looked at me with surprise and said, “Salem, Virginia.” I started to laugh. “I know! I’m from Roanoke! I’d recognize that accent anywhere!” Salem is the town right next to Roanoke. The accent is exactly the same. With two words—”Excuse me!”—I knew exactly where she was from.
Here name was Charlotte. Her daughter had moved to Seattle and had a baby, and she had come to help. Charlotte owns an antiques store in Salem, which I shopped at last November.
We’re still in touch.
# # #
For some reason, that experience makes this passage come alive to me in a whole new way. As soon as Charlotte spoke two words, I knew where she was from, because it was where I am from. And the same was true for Peter. Like people from Southwest Virginia, Galileans have their own unique accents. Remember where Peter was when Jesus called him to be a disciple? He was casting a net into the Sea of Galilee. So were Andrew, James and John. In fact, Jesus called all of his disciples from that region.
Yet in this story, they’re not in Galilee. They’re in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is around sixty-eight miles away from Galilee. We’re talking a whole different accent. Peter was totally caught. They knew he was from Galilee, and that all of Jesus’s closest twelve disciples were from Galilee. Peter was caught. Yet still, he denied it. Three times. Emphatically, definitively, decisively. “I do not know the man of whom you speak.”
# # #
When I was five years old, I asked my mom if I could go to the Quik Pik a few blocks away with my friends to buy some candy. My mom, who taught piano lessons out of our living room in the afternoons, of course, said no. But, knowing she would be distracted and not looking out the window, I told her I was going next door to play at Jennifer’s house, and then went with Jin-Ho and Yun-Ho to Quik Pik.
Everything went well. I bought my Hubba Bubba with coins from my allowance jar. I brought it home in a tiny brown bag inside my jacket. And I came back into the house, intending to go straight to my bedroom and hide it away. But when I walked in the door, my mother was standing there waiting for me. She was not happy. She asked me where I had been. I told her I had been at Jennifer’s house. She asked me where I got the gum in my mouth. I told her Jennifer had given it to me. She asked me if I was lying to her. Heart pounding, panic rising, I said, “No! Mom, I promise you, I was at Jennifer’s house!”
Just then, I looked and saw my brother standing next to her, with a knowing smile on his face. What I did not know was that Matt and In-Ho had followed us on their bikes. Matt had gotten home ahead of me and told my mom exactly where I had been.
The spanking I got that day ensured that I would think twice before ever lying again. And thirty-three years after the fact, I remember every detail of that day. I remember the pink jacket I was wearing. I remember the flavor of Hubba Bubba (strawberry and blueberry). I remember how I felt when my mom said, “Go wait for me in your room.” I remember sitting on my bed with my feet buried in the red carpeting on the floor, listening to the sounds of my mother teaching one more piano lesson before coming upstairs and telling me to turn over on my stomach. My mother did not spank often. She’ll probably be mortified that I’m telling this story. But my mother—my amazing mother, who is my best friend and for whom I wrote this song when she retired from teaching in 2006—my mother wanted me to know how serious lying was. And she wanted to make darn sure I understood and never forgot how dangerous it was for a five-year-old to walk to Quik Pik for bubble gum in a suburb of Detroit in 1980.
# # #
I share this story because, as I read this passage over and over and processed the details of it, it occurred to me that Peter must have told the writer of Mark about this. How else could we possibly have all of these details? Warming himself by the fire in the courtyard, conversing with the servant girl, where he was when the rooster crowed, the bystanders, the association with Galilee, the rooster again, the emphatic assertion that he does not know the man… these are details that only Peter could have known. Why would he possibly have told all of this to someone who was writing an account of that week?
Peter’s moral failure here, his shameful act of cowardice, his utter and complete betrayal of a man he loves, a man he has pledged his total devotion to (Mark 14:26-31)—this fulfillment of prophecy makes what comes later in Peter’s life all the more glorious.
SPOILER ALERT: Peter repents. SPOILER ALERT: Jesus forgives. SPOILER ALERT: Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and less than two months after this scene, preaches a sermon where thousands of people become followers of Christ. He prays for sick people and they are healed, in fact, his healing power through Christ is so great that multitudes of men and women carried the sick into the streets so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by (Acts 5:14-16). He leads the first church of Jesus Christ as a pastor/apostle.
The story of Peter’s betrayal of Christ is one of the most beautiful testimonies of forgiveness and restoration in all of scripture.
Do you ever let a personal failure convince you that you are unfit for ministry? Let this passage be an encouragement that with true repentance and restoration, Christ can do mighty things through you. Do not believe the lie that all is lost if you mess up. Even if your sin is decisive, willful, and emphatic. Even that, with true repentance, can be restored.
Do you want to hide your past failures? Would you prefer to sweep parts of your story under the rug? Don’t. Even your failures can be part of testifying to God’s greatness. We have Peter’s story because Peter didn’t hold back from sharing it. Does it make him look good? No. It makes him look terrible. But it makes Christ look awesome. It makes the mercy of God and the redemptive power of God and the incredible forgiveness of God look amazing. These details, these shameful details about our lives, show the unsurpassing greatness of God, when we can say with humility, “Look what God can do through someone like me…”