Luke 22:60-62 Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter is one of the most fascinating and complex people in the Gospels. He’s loud and brash. He speaks his mind. He often leaps before he looks. He’s capable of tremendous insight and yet two seconds later can put both feet in his mouth. One moment he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; the next he tries to keep Jesus from going to the cross. One moment he says he doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet; the next he’s wanting a complete bath. That’s Peter—wonderful heights of insight and intellect or falling flat on his face in front of everyone.
Nowhere are Peter’s contradictions more obvious than during Jesus’ passion. There we see Peter, brash and bold, treading recklessly where others fear to walk. And yet so quickly, at another moment, his feet turn to clay, and he falters before those around him.
The night begins during the Last Supper. The disciples knew that something special was happening that night, but they didn’t understand exactly what. I think most of them were taken aback as Jesus talked about sorrow, worry, betrayal, and death. Certainly it had to be the most interesting dinner conversation they had ever had! Then they sang the final psalm of the Passover and walked to the Mount of Olives.
As they were going out of the city, Jesus told the disciples, “This very night, you will all fall away” (Mt 26:31). They would all leave him, each hiding in his own way. That was too much for Peter. He didn’t understand why Jesus was so upset; he didn’t know why there was all this talk about betrayal and death; but he did know one thing: He loved his Lord, and he was never, ever going to fall away from him. “No, Lord!” he bellowed. “Everyone else may fall away, but I will never fall away. Even if I have to die with you, I’ll never leave you!” There it is—classic Peter, bold, brash, loud, and confident. The others might let Jesus down, but he never would.
You can see sadness in Jesus’ eyes. He loved Peter so very much. But he knew Peter’s faults only too well. “Peter, tonight, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Peter was stung. How could Jesus ever say such a thing? Didn’t Jesus know his love, his loyalty? Peter was loyal to the end! The others might leave, but Peter would never leave. He protested with all his vigor: “Never, Lord! I’ll never leave you! Even if I have to die with you, I’ll never deny you!” Jesus must have smiled back, gently but knowingly.
They continued up the mountain, going into the garden. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and asked them to pray with him. Surely they meant to. As Jesus left them a stone’s throw, Peter might have folded his hands and begun. “Oh, Lord, I ask you to be with me this night, that I fall into no sin nor any kind of danger . . .”
He jerked awake. He wasn’t sleeping, just dozing for a moment. Jesus was next to him. “Peter, can’t you even pray with me for one hour?” Peter was filled with shame. “I’m sorry, Lord. I’ll try harder this time.” Jesus left again. Peter started to pray. But somehow, no matter how he began, the prayer trailed off. Asleep again. And again.
“Peter, wake up! Here comes my betrayer now!” Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Peter tried to understand what was going on. His mind was foggy from his, uh, “rest.” He tried to clear it and figure out what was happening. Then he heard what Jesus was talking about—the sound of an angry mob coming up the mountain. It was a small army of men with swords, spears, and clubs. And leading the crowd was Judas Iscariot—one of Jesus’ own disciples. Yes, Jesus had told them that Judas would betray him, but actually seeing it . . . Well, that was something else again!
Peter grew angry—the coy look on Judas’s face, the swords and clubs of the temple guard, all there to arrest Jesus. It all built up inside him. He couldn’t just stand there and do nothing, could he? Then he remembered the short sword he’d packed that night. Not much of a weapon, but it might help Jesus escape. How he must have wished all the disciples had come so prepared. Well, Jesus might want to go along calmly, but he wasn’t going without a fight. Pulling the sword out of its scabbard, Peter ran forward, aiming to cut off the head of the first person he encountered. He missed. He managed to cut off an ear, which at least drew some blood.
“Peter!” called Jesus. “Put that thing away! Don’t you know I could call out to my Father and he would send more than 12 legions of angels? But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed it.
Peter took a step back and thought about what he’d done. What had he been thinking, pulling a sword against a contingent of soldiers? Did he have a death wish? Was he crazy? He didn’t know; he just ran. He was scared to death and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
He ran into John. Jesus was being taken to the house of Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, and then to the palace of Caiaphas himself. John knew some of the servants in the high priest’s house. He was going to see if they would let him into the courtyard. Peter might go in too.
I wonder what Peter would have done had he known what lay ahead. He was truly torn. On the one hand, he wanted to be close to his Lord. He loved Jesus. He really did. On the other hand, he was scared to death. He’d cut off a man’s ear! He’d threatened to attack a group of the temple guard! He could be killed on sight! But he wanted to be close to Jesus. He would go with John. If he pulled up his cloak and stayed in the background, he could probably get away with it.
No sooner did he walk into the courtyard, than he was recognized. “You, you were with him too!” said the girl who opened the courtyard gate. What could Peter do? He’d been spotted. Could he pretend to be someone else? He hardly had a moment to think. “No, that wasn’t me,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
It was cold. Peter hadn’t noticed it before. Now he felt a cold sweat. He was freezing. Someone had built a fire. Pulling his cloak over him, he walked over to the fire to warm himself. Immediately the accusations started again. Another servant girl looked closely at him: “You were with that man, Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I don’t know him,” Peter declared. “I’ve never met the man.” He walked away. In the distance, a rooster crowed.
But the inquisitors weren’t satisfied. “He is one of them! I know he is!” someone insisted. “Yeah, he’s one of them! Can’t you hear that accent? He’s from Galilee!” “I know he’s one of them! He was the guy who cut off my cousin’s ear!”
Peter was scared to death. What could he say? Summoning up all the courage he had left inside, he began to scream. “What’s wrong with you people? I said I don’t know the man, and I don’t! As surely as the Lord lives, I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN!” And again the rooster crowed.
The sound reverberated through the early morning light. And there was Jesus, looking right at Peter. Peter ran out and began to weep.
How often we’re just like Peter! We think we have it all figured out. No way will we be disloyal to Jesus! Others might fail him, but we never will. We’ll stay close to Jesus! Even if everyone else falls away, we will never fall away!
But the truth is we do deny Jesus. Each day, in a hundred different ways, we let our Lord down. We fail him. Called to proudly proclaim our faith, we keep our mouths closed tight. Commanded by God to stand up for the weak and abused, the hurting and the oppressed, we stand on the sidelines and watch as others are hurt and wounded. We deny our Lord; we deny that we know him. Again and again, we deny.
And then—something happens to make us aware of our actions. A rooster crows; a bell rings; someone calls for help; and something we’ve learned before comes back to mind. Pastor declares to us the Law in Holy Scripture, or we remember what this or that commandment means, or we come upon a passage that hits home, and we know that we have failed God. Maybe we, too, are overwhelmed with guilt. Like Peter, we run out and weep bitter tears.
But that sound—the Word of the Law, or the rooster or the bell or the call for help that reminds us of it—God himself sounded.
The crowing of the rooster is God’s gracious wake-up call to us! He sounded that wake-up call to bring us to repentance. And he called us to repentance because he wants to forgive.
The Good News for Peter and for us is that God forgives us. Jesus went to the cross for a reason, to win forgiveness for all people, even for those who deny him three times or a hundred times. Jesus takes away all our sin. That’s the Good News for God’s people; that’s wonderful news for you, for me, and for the St. Peter in each one of us. God takes away our sins, our failures, for Jesus’ sake. “Be of good cheer,” he says to us, “your sins are forgiven!” More than that, he wipes away every tear from our eyes and holds us close to himself.
Brothers and sisters, rejoice this night. For while it’s true that we have failed our God time and time again, denying our Lord and Savior, it’s also true that he loves and forgives us. God takes away our sin for Jesus’ sake. In him we are forgiven and freed. Through his death and resurrection our bitter tears are turned into everlasting joy. The sound of the crowing rooster has been replaced with the sound of the angels rejoicing that another sinner has repented. Amen.