54Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." 57But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." 60But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." 62And he went out and wept bitterly.
63Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" 65They kept heaping many other insults on him.
66When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; 68and if I question you, you will not answer. 69But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God."
Outside of Jesus the most vivid figure in the Gospels has to be Peter. And we can add, the most relatable, for Peter says and does things that we ourselves would say and do (if we are honest).
Picture the scene above in your mind. Chaos, commotion, threatening voices, rattling swords, pushing and shoving, all under the darkness of night with the only light coming from torches and makeshift fire pits. Place yourself in Peter's shoes/sandals.
Confused, bewildered, afraid. Where are they taking Jesus? What's happening? Where are the rest? You are trying to get your bearing. You sit down by the courtyard fire pit with things moving too fast inside and outside your mind. And then a servant-girl points her finger at you, her eyes glaring, "This man also was with him!" You blurt out with fear and with a liar's loud anger, "Woman, I do not know him." Whatever measly drop of courage you had in your veins has now completely evaporated. The second and third denials are a done deal. It would not have mattered if it were ten or twenty. Denial, denial, denial, ... No courage, no self-respect, no strength, no hope.
Can there be anything worse than betraying someone you love because you want to save your skin, out of fear and shameful self-preservation? Indeed it's hard to think of anything that comes close. Not only are you willing to save yourself at the cost of your friend's life but you are also willing to lose your moral integrity. You are willing to sell your soul. And for those who are sensitively aware of this deep betrayal, they find themselves broken and haunted, emptied of respect and honor. They see the cowardly fraud that they've become.
That's where Peter finds himself at the end of this episode.
We won't at this time quickly jump ahead and speak about how the resurrected Jesus restores Peter in John 21. We will resist this move for now.
I do believe it's healthy occasionally to see ourselves at our weakest and worst. At our most dejected. At our lowest in terms of self-respect even. And then ask ourselves, Is there anything that can help us? Or, have I come to an end, a hopeless end? If I can't look at myself in the mirror, is it possible to see others with honest eyes? Such questions and doubts drive us to the lowest level of how we truly feel about ourselves. The loss of self-respect is the beginning of the great unraveling of self, including self-worth.
Is there anything that can help us? One answer, perhaps true of how Peter was thinking ("Lord, I will never forsake you!"), looks to one's own moral strength and integrity. Now there's something that's good and praiseworthy about strong, moral character traits. We rightfully admire brave people, compassionate people, and self-sacrificial people. But what do you do when that moral strength has been compromised? It's gone. Rather, you gave it away. You sold it to the highest bidder or the greatest threat. What do you do then?
Only Heaven knows. Seriously. Only Heaven and Heaven's grace know. Only the Person of Heaven -- Jesus the Restorer -- knows. Only Jesus the Healer of Hearts and Integrity and the Bringer of Second Chances knows.
When we are at our weakest and most vulnerable and self-hating, there is still Hope. This Hope comes from the Outside. From a Place where Hope naturally Thrives. A Place called Heaven. A Place called God's Dwelling.
So there is another answer for our weakness. This answer comes from Beyond. It's the place of our true source of strength and recovery: Heaven, the Fountain of God's Grace and Love. Let's enter into this Place. Whether you're feeling good about yourself today or whether you are feeling lousy about yourself. Let's enter this Place and get restored to our strength and integrity, grounded in God's Hope and His mercies for us.
Let's pray: Father God, we confess our weakness. We are frail creatures. We are dependent creatures. But we confess that our weakness is not fatal. In our weakness we turn to you for our everlasting strength. We turn to you for the strength we need physically, emotionally, mentally, and morally. Holy Spirit, come fill us today, even right now, with your mighty presence and power so that the challenges of this day may be met with the overcoming grace and power of God in Christ. In Jesus' Mighty Name, Amen.