Holy Tuesday - Peter's Betrayal
by Andrew Elder
Take a few minutes and read John 13:35-38.
There was tension in air. They could feel it. We’ve all felt it; going in for surgery, or the night before an exam, or like Pippin waiting with Gandalf on the eve of battle saying “I don’t want to be in a battle but waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.” Imagine the shift in atmosphere that evening, as the twelve gathered with Jesus for what should have been the main celebration of their Jewish year. They had made the preparations; the table was set, the room was ready, the lamb was slaughtered. Yet, as they reclined around the banquet it didn’t feel much like a celebration.
Peter had become used to the strange ways of Jesus by now, but this, this was something different. During dinner, Jesus (under protest from Peter, of course) had washed the disciples’ feet and started talking about one of them betraying Him. Peter wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about, but one thing he was certain of was that he would never, and could never, desert his Lord. Even when Jesus told Peter that he had to walk the next part of his journey alone, Peter wouldn’t accept it; “I am ready to die for you Jesus!”, he said. (John 14:37).
Peter, like many of us, not only massively over estimated his love for Jesus, but also missed the point of Jesus’ suffering all together. Peter thought he was willing to die for Jesus, but it was actually Jesus who would die for Peter. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given him authority over everything, knew how the events of that fateful night would transpire...
“Before the rooster crows, you will deny knowing me, not once, but three times.” (John 13:38)
Our devotion to Jesus, no matter how well- intentioned, can never match Jesus’ devotion to us.
You can imagine Peter’s thoughts as only he and another unnamed disciple followed Jesus into the temple courtyard after His arrest (John 18:15). Even at this point he must have still been determined to prove his loyalty to the Lord. "Not me Jesus, no way. I’m not betraying you." Still clinging on to hope in his own strength, "I’ll lay down my life for you Jesus."
But of course, the events of the night transpired just as Jesus said they would. As Peter denied knowing his Lord for the third time, the rooster crowed, and Jesus turned and looked at him.
Jesus. Looked. Straight. At. Him. (Luke 22:61)
I think it was at this moment that Peter started to get it; for at this moment he realised that even his very best efforts would let him down. This is why he weeps bitterly. (Luke 22:62). He doesn’t die for Jesus, Jesus dies for him. And three days later when he ran into the tomb and saw it empty, it all started to make sense and he believed. (John 20:3-7).
From this moment on, over the course of his lifetime, Peter would be sold out for Jesus; still gung-ho, over-zealous, one hundred percent all-in, but now, not relying on the strength of his own will, but relying on the death of his friend, his Lord, his Saviour. This is what would lead him to write to churches facing persecution; telling them that they should not be troubled, “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter3:18).
This is the source of our courage. His death is the source of our perseverance. The cross is the source of our boldness. We live for him, because He died for us.
And someday we will all have that same face-to-face encounter with Jesus that Peter had in the temple courtyard. He will look us in the eyes and we will know exactly how our words have betrayed our actions. We will know exactly all those times when our talking about loving Jesus didn’t match the way we actually lived our lives.
And our response in that moment can only be one thing: to say “Jesus, I didn’t die for you, you died for me.” In that moment, and in all the moments until then, all we can do is to worship the crucified Jesus.
He died for us, so that we can live for Him.