Intentional Opposites: Jesus and Peter

Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”…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.

Mark 14:29, 71-72

You would serve yourself best to stop at this point and actually go read Mark 14:22-72.

A Familiar Narrative

Peter’s denial of Jesus is infamous. The account of the denial is one of only a handful of things that appear in all four gospel accounts. So to say the least, if you’re a Christian, you’re probably familiar with it. One thing I want to highlight from this familiar story is the juxtaposition of Jesus and Peter. These two leaders react to similar circumstances in such opposite ways. These opposing responses are on purpose, and important for us to see since they fit into the greater paradoxical theme of the upside-down nature of the gospel itself. Let me show you what I mean:

An Overview of the Juxtaposition

Jesus, the God-man, is about to face the completely just wrath of God toward sin, a punishment all mankind should rightfully endure on into eternity. He’s sweating drops of blood as he looks into the cup prepared for him (vv. 32-42). When he’s finished praying he’s betrayed by Judas who approaches with an angry and armed mob, but he doesn’t fight back (vv. 43-50). Instead, for the joy set before him he’s resolved to step into the sovereign will of God and drink our cup (John 18:11). Jesus, even though he could call down more that 12 legions of angles to help him and change the whole situation, is confident in the eternal plan and carries out his task to the point of death (Matthew 26:53-54). Jesus is given multiple opportunities to recant and turn back from the plan, but will not do so (vv. 61-62).

Conversely, Peter, the rock, still doesn’t get it. After spending so much time with Jesus, he still doesn’t believe that Jesus must suffer, and that means he too will suffer. Peter still thinks that Jesus is going out to overthrow Rome in an act of great power. He doesn’t see yet that God’s power is made perfect through weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). While Jesus is praying for God’s will to be done, Peter is sleeping (vv. 32-42). When the mob confronts Jesus, Peter draws his sword (v. 46, John 18:10). When Jesus is taken, even though he said he wouldn’t, Peter scatters along with everyone else (v. 50). When Peter is approached by a servant girl (not nearly as imposing as a crowd with weapons), he denies knowing Jesus (v. 66). When given the opportunity again to state that he is with Jesus, Peter continues to deny it (vv. 66-72).

We’re Peter…Kind of

We should identify with Peter. How many times have you said, “I won’t ever do that again” or “that was the last time, I promise”? How many times have you re-committed yourself to Christ after a failure that you swore you would never fall into again? This is Peter then, and this is us now.

The Bible is an extraordinary compilation because, while it was written so long ago, so many of the stories and instructions seem like they could have been penned yesterday, and about us (e.g., Romans 7). Maybe it’s because the divine writer is also the one who created the heart and knows its desires, tendencies, and needs. The multitude of ways we identify with just Peter extend far outside of this one passage. For instance, Peter was the one that Jesus called the rock that he would build his Church upon (Matthew 16:18). Yet, in the gospel accounts we see Peter continue to fumble, misinterpret, and fail. Though he still continues to make some mistakes (see Galatians 2:11-14 & John 21:20-23), Peter doesn’t seem to become the rock that Jesus called him until after he is grieved by his sin, repents, and is restored (John 21:15-19). We don’t really see him doing rock-like things until the book of Acts. Which would be some time after Jesus’ declaration about him.

Once Like Peter; Now Like Christ

We must read these gospel narratives for what they are: narratives. But we can also see ourselves, and the Church more broadly, in Peter. We fail. We fail even when we’ve declared we won’t. We misunderstood Jesus before he gave us faith. At times, we still misunderstand his leading now, even when the instructions are clear and after we’ve been enlightened to right relationship with him by his Spirit. We will declare our fidelity, and we are still, at times, unfaithful. But we have a Savior greater than our failures. We have a faithful high priest that has made propitiation for our sins (Hebrews 2:17). As Christians, our Heavenly Father sees us not in our sin but in his Son. This is the identity we must now call our attention to and live out of individually (as sons) and corporately (as the Body of Christ).

This is a small snippet of God’s working through his word to show us more about ourselves, thereby showing us more about himself. By dwelling upon his word he shows us a bit more of the depth of our sin, and for his glory alone he shows us how his grace goes further still.

Happy Reformation Day!