The Temptation of Peter

The Temptation of Peter

The Temptation of Peter.

(Please read all four accounts of Peter at his weakest: Matt. 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27).

St. Peter is a tough nut to crack. We shouldn’t try to read the mind of anyone, no less someone who lived 2,000 years ago and is as complicated as he is. So on the one hand we shouldn’t judge Peter as if we understood fully what he was thinking in that courtyard in the high priest’s house. But we can note various observations about his temptation and denials. The written accounts, in all four gospels no less, do allow the opportunity to note what seems to have happened and relate that to what we can learn from Peter’s momentous mistake. His series of denials seems out of character when Simon Peter is studied before and after his denials. Let’s explore the whole courtyard scenario, without going into his past history so much, or his future in Christian history.

(1.) Solitary. One might find fault with Peter as he seems to go it all alone after Jesus’ arrest. After all, there he was, all by himself and distant from any support or encouragement he might receive from his fellow disciples. Actually, Peter is not at fault here. The disciples had all fled for places unknown, and Peter remained with the one disciple, John, who wanted to stay with Jesus. John was granted permission to accompany Jesus into the house, while Peter was relegated to the high priest’s courtyard with all the high priest’s servants. He was surrounded by antagonists all by himself without protection from his friends, but it was unavoidable. What else could he have done?

(2.) Lack of Prayer. Peter, along with James and John, were asked by Jesus to accompany Him to the Garden to pray. The three disciples fell asleep at their post while Jesus agonized in prayer with the Father. After finding all three disciples asleep, Jesus singled out Peter for rebuke, and then told him, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38). Just before that word of caution, Jesus had told Peter personally that Satan had asked in particular for Peter’s soul, ‘”that he may sift you as wheat.” Jesus then tenderly said that He would pray for Peter, that his faith would not fail. It is then that Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny Him three times. (Luke22:31-34). It’s clear that there was a lot of spiritual warfare over Peter, the future leader of the new Christian church in Jerusalem. Not only did Jesus predict his denials, but He also said that Peter would return to Jesus and would strengthen the brothers. Could it be that Peter was simply not prayed up enough after his nap in the Garden, and that he was unprepared for Satan’s assault in the courtyard? On the other hand, were it not for Jesus’ prayers of protection over Peter, we may have never heard from Peter again.

(3.)  Overconfidence. Peter had made many strong statements about his belief in and support of Jesus earlier: “Lord, I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33); “I will lay down my life for your sake.” (John 13:37); “Even if everyone else falls away, I will not.” (Mark 14:29); “Even if all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble.” (Matt. 26:33); “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matt. 26:35). Peter meant well, and surely meant every word, but he overestimated his ability to remain true to Jesus. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak, just as Jesus had warned him only hours ago. Perhaps he talked himself into thinking he had the ability within himself to make his promises come true. It wasn’t long before he made all those promises come true at the end of his life.

(4.)  Short Memory. Peter seemed to panic at Jesus’ arrest and questioning before the authorities. He had forgotten the words of Jesus said earlier, on three separate occasions actually, that He would suffer death but then would rise again. The hope of the Resurrection certainly seemed to be the last thing on Peter’s mind during this scene in the courtyard. It seems that Peter also forgot Jesus’ earlier words that very evening, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)). Peter didn’t take those words to heart as he had a monumental weak moment and trusted in his own abilities to withstand stiff opposition and spiritual assault. Peter forgot that he was weak and needed Christ during that time. Apparently, Peter even temporarily forgot Jesus’ prediction that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. It wasn’t until Jesus glanced at him that Peter remembered about the rooster crowing and his denials. “And the Lord turned and looked at  Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord” about the denials (Luke 22:61). No wonder why Peter went away brokenhearted, and he wept so bitterly. He betrayed his best friend, he betrayed his Messiah, and he might have even been panicked about losing his salvation if he recalled Jesus words from earlier, “He who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:9). Fortunately for Peter, and the rest of us, Jesus is a God of mercy.

(5.)  Fear. It does seem out character for Peter to lose his nerve and become so fearful. He was the first disciple to declare the divinity of Jesus. He was the only disciple bold enough to walk on the water to Christ. He was impulsive sure, but he seemed to be filled with courage as well. Maybe he experienced some of what we all feel if we sense that our life is endangered. Maybe his fear was mixed with doubt upon seeing that Jesus was headed to execution. Maybe his fear was mixed with confusion, unsure about this Man he thought he knew, this Man who would lose his dignity by washing feet, this Man who wouldn’t lift a finger in self-defense. If it was fear that Peter battled with, the battle seemed to be over by the time of Pentecost. He was the first disciple to stand up and go on record as being a follower of Jesus, the first disciple to offer brilliant sermons to the crowds, the boldest disciple in the group as he continued to lead the early Christian movement. Peter’s fear was temporary, to be sure.

Peter is a solid representative of a human being, with his fears and his weak moments as well as his courage and redemptive qualities. The Bible doesn’t shy from exposing all of this regarding its historical characters. Peter’s denials are in all four gospels, right out there for all the world to see. Each of us could easily have done the very same thing as Peter in the high priest’s courtyard. If we have, it’s important to remember that Jesus took Peter aside after the Resurrection and asked Peter three times to declare his love for Jesus. That’s three times, once for each denial. Three times Peter had the opportunity to affirm his love and redeem himself. Jesus is the God of forgiveness. Pray for the long memories that will forever record that on our hearts.