All we have in Scripture are the facts: Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38). Peter did it. Jesus looked at Peter.

Usually, when we read this or hear it preached, Peter is portrayed as the bad guy, and we come away a little disappointed in him, maybe even a little offended.

  • How could he possibly deny Jesus like that after spending all that time with Him?!?
  • If I was Peter, I would have been proud to stand with Jesus.
  • Peter was WRONG!! How could he have made such a BAD choice?

As I read John’s account this week, however, I began to think about Peter a bit differently . . . and I confess I began to identify with him.

Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27.

Here’s the story (mostly from John’s point-of-view): Peter and John follow the crowd to Caiaphas’ house. Since John knows the family, he waltzes right in, but Peter has to stay outside. John leaves him out in the dark–literally and figuratively. It’s the middle of the night. It’s cold. Peter can’t see what is happening to Jesus and maybe the news he gets from inside is slanted or unreliable.

When John realizes Peter is still outside, he drifts over to the servant girl who is guarding the door. After a hushed conversation, she agrees to let Peter come in. As he passes, she asks him, “You’re not one of Jesus’ followers, are you?” Obviously, she expects a negative answer. Maybe she had been instructed not to let in any of Jesus’ followers, but John convinced her otherwise. Maybe she spoke with disdain. After all, Peter was an uneducated fisherman from Galilee–not exactly commiserate with the family of the high priest. She probably smelled him as he passed. Or maybe she was just curious. At any rate, she puts Peter ‘on the spot’, so he gives her the answer she expects.

“I am not” (John 18:17).

The end justifies the means, right?

It seems like such a harmless thing. John went to some effort to get Peter inside; it would be rude to get himself kicked out just because of a lowly servant girl. He doesn’t want to reject or offend John. Plus, this way, he could actually see what was happening and give Jesus the moral support He must surely need. The end justifies the means, right? Plus, there’s a fire in that courtyard, so Peter is thinking that he will be much more comfortable inside. Nothing but positive conclusions. No big deal. It was said and done before Peter could give it a second thought.

Surely Jesus wants Peter nearby,
even if it means a small sin.

Then someone around the fire asks Peter again, and he finds himself in that awkward position where he can either confess he told a ‘white lie’ the first time, or he can lie again and maintain the status quo: warming himself by the fire, able to see Jesus, and ‘in the know’ regarding everything that’s happening. This is better, isn’t it? Jesus can see him and know Peter is supporting Him. Surely Jesus wants him nearby, even if it means a ‘small’ sin. Right?

“I am not” (John 18:25).

Then another servant of the high priest (a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off, by the way) challenges Peter. The question is a little different this time, but Peter is in too deep. He knows this isn’t a friendly crowd. If he says ‘yes’ this time, they may think he’s planning a jailbreak or a revolt. Deep in enemy territory, surrounded by people who don’t like Jesus, he probably feels trapped. His answer could land him in prison right beside Jesus. That can’t be right. That can’t be Jesus’ plan. (Can’t you just see those thoughts rolling through his head?) What choice does he have but to continue the farce?

Again Peter denied it (John 18:27).

A moment later, the rooster crows. Luke says Jesus looks over at Peter. I know that hollow, sick feeling Peter immediately got deep in his gut—that mental nausea when he suddenly realizes he can’t do a ‘take back’ on this one…that he has wounded Jesus and damaged the Cause. Immediately, he understands that his carelessness, his casual approach to the commandments, isn’t acceptable, even when it seems justified. The other gospels say that Peter immediately went outside and wept bitterly. (e.g. Matthew 26:75).

I am SO much like this: able to logically justify my actions, able to make exceptions when it seems to be for the greater good. In the spiritual world, things are rarely what they seem.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

That’s all stuff we can’t see, stuff that doesn’t seem important or influential, but it is so important.

“Common sense is a gift that God gave to our human nature–but common sense is not the gift of His Son.”  -Oswald Chambers (My Utmost For His Highest, Aug 9)

Peter used common sense and probably tried to mentally justify his words/actions.  It was very logical for him to get inside, to try and show Jesus how much he cared. I can imagine him thinking, “Jesus is going to be so happy to see me here. Because of this, He will know how much I love Him.” But one simple look from Jesus revealed what Peter actually already knew: Common sense is for the common man. Jesus holds us to a higher standard.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 

Rethinking Peter’s Denial: 3 shallow steps any of us could navigate. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe #Crucifixion. (click to tweet)

Please tell me I’m not the only one who justifies my actions when they’re not up to the standards Jesus set for us. How do we prepare ourselves to make tough but honorable choices when there’s an easy, seemingly harmless alternative? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s talk about this!


My friend, Lori Roeleveld wrote a beautiful piece about Peter and Jesus. If you want more, click here:

11 thoughts on “Rethinking Peter’s Denial

  1. Hi Carole, This confirms my ever-present empathy for Peter. Of the many times I have heard sermons about him, my heart comes to his defense. He loved Jesus with so much vigor. How can you fault that? And I never batted an eye at these accounts of his denials. He was scared, grieving, in shock, maybe angry, who knows? Humbly I report, your words help me to look in the mirror at myself. I love Jesus with all my heart, but I still mess up. Maybe I was defending myself when I should have been asking for forgiveness. Thank you, Carole. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

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