The Easter story includes the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion—the last supper He shared with His followers, His time of prayer in the garden, Judas’s betrayal of Him, His ensuing arrest, and Peter’s denial that he knew Him.
For the most part I think Christians have been harsh on Peter. True, we often identify with him, and we use him as an example of God’s amazing forgiveness, restoration, and power to use someone who was as close to walking away from God as a person can get.
And yet, it’s hard to get past the fact that Peter did, in fact, publicly declare that he didn’t follow Jesus or even know Him. Not once. Not twice. He denied Jesus three times and sealed the deal by swearing that what he said was true.
Apparently it convinced the people around him, because they let him alone after that. Of course, God didn’t let him alone. When the rooster crowed—confirming the prophecy Jesus had made about these denials—Peter was broken, went out of the high priest’s courtyard where he’d been waiting to see what would happen to Jesus, and wept.
But what if he hadn’t denied Christ? Would God have protected him or would he have been arrested and crucified along with the three who ended up on Golgotha?
Thinking about what Peter did has never seemed more practical than in our world today. We’ve watched news coverage of terrorists in the Middle East marching Christians en masse outside their village to behead them. Now the report has reached us that another terrorist group stormed a town in Kenya. After opening fire, they systematically worked their way through a school asking who was Muslim and who was Christian. The Christians they killed on the spot.
A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes covered the terrorist takeover of Mosul in Iraq. Christians were singled out, then given the choice to convert to Islam or be killed. One man interviewed on the program, with a wife and child (maybe more than one) at risk, said he agreed to convert, but afterward he took the chance to escape and again embraces Christianity.
Which brings me back to Peter. And to me.
It’s so easy to say I would never deny Jesus, but I wonder. I mean, Peter said over and over that he would never deny Jesus. He said he was willing to die with Jesus. And yet, when the time came, all his bold assertions escaped him. And he was left with what? His fear? His belief that he could figure a way to get Jesus out if he managed to avoid arrest himself? We don’t know what went through his mind, but what came out of his mouth was, I don’t know the man. Yet days before he’d proclaimed that Jesus was God’s Messiah.
My heart breaks for those Christians who were terrorized, for those who lost family members, for those left to pick up and go on after such devastation, and for those who may have denied they knew Jesus in that moment of crisis.
May the latter find the same forgiveness Peter found, and may God use them in the same powerful way to spread the good news about our resurrected Savior as He used Peter. May God send His comfort to those who remain, and may they have His assurance that they do not grieve as those who have no hope.
May Easter remind them of God’s triumph over death and sin. May it reassure them that those who died for their faith have not died in vain. May their courage be fuel to fire the spread of the gospel, even as the persecution of the early Church did in the first century.
May God give us in the West boldness to proclaim His name while we can without fear. May we be faithful to pray for our brothers and sisters who are on the front lines suffering because they follow Jesus.