Dear Christians here at Rome, I know that you are always interested to hear what happened when our Lord Jesus was here on earth. If only we had all realized fully then what a privilege it was to be with Him, to hear His wonderful words and to see His great acts of healing and deliverance. How often we, who were with Him day by day, failed Him. But at no time did I, Peter, fail Jesus more sadly than on that night He was betrayed and put on trial before the high priest.
To see Jesus taken into custody by those rough soldiers was a real test for me. I should have been prepared for it by the warnings Jesus had given me. But, as at other times, I was proud, hasty, impulsive, and thinking only of myself. John, James, and I had been with Jesus as He prayed that night in the Garden. He asked us to pray too. But we were tired and after a few prayers we fell asleep.
The whole week had been hard on us, just trying to keep up with Jesus. We couldn't figure out what it all meant. The excitement started in a grand way the day after the Sabbath. It was the beginning of the week of the Passover festival. On that day we got a donkey, as we were told to do, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey. I never saw such excitement. There were many people from our home in Galilee and from other countries in Jerusalem at the time. They had come to take part in the Passover festivities in the Jerusalem temple.
When some of them saw Jesus on the donkey, they remembered His words of hope, His miracles of healing and the rumors that He might be the promised Messiah. So they started to shout and sing. They were all glad to see Him; they hailed Him as a hero and deliverer. People even tore palm branches from the trees and threw them and their own coats down to make a royal pathway for Jesus to ride over.
During the next several days other things happened that we couldn't understand, though the 12 of us had been with Jesus for three years.
One day we went with Jesus to the temple, as we often did. We thought He was going there to pray or maybe to talk to people about the Father. When we got there the temple was crowded because of the Passover celebrations. The men who had stalls with goods for sale, animals for sacrifice, or temple coins to use for tithes and offerings were calling out to get people to come to their booths. Mostly they were scoundrels. They charged people too much for what the people needed.
But we didn't expect Jesus to do what He did! Jesus rushed in and turned over their tables of money and merchandise. Then Jesus grabbed a whip and started chasing those thieves out of the temple. We were scared. "It is written," He said to them, "My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" [Matthew 21:13]
For the next several days Jesus preached some strong sermons calling people to repent. During that time He also described some of the terrible things that would happen before the end of time and He told us what the great final judgment will be like. I'll never forget what he said. I pray to God that by His grace I can be faithful so that on that great day I'll hear His welcome words, "Enter into the joy of the Lord."
As Passover came near, Jesus sent John and me into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover lamb and arrange for the meal in the upper room. We did as He told us, not knowing that at that time one of our number, Judas Iscariot was plotting with the temple leaders to betray Jesus.
That night all 12 of us were in that upper room with Jesus to share in the Passover meal.
Though that meal is usually a joyful thankful celebration of God's goodness, we were all sad and uneasy because Jesus told us that He was eating with us for the last time. He said that His death was near. He even told us that one of us would betray Him. We all wondered who He was referring to.
As usual, I had to blurt out something to show my loyalty. I spoke up loudly to Jesus, so everyone could hear. I said that even if all the rest would desert Him, Jesus could be sure I would always stand by Him. Jesus warned me then that before the night was over I would three times publicly deny that I even knew Him. I was sure that would never happen.
Perhaps that's why, later that evening, when we were in the Garden and the soldiers and temple guards came to arrest Jesus I was so quick to rush to His defense. But they arrested Jesus. All of us - the 11 disciples, that is, were so confused and frightened, we ran away and hid. We thought they might arrest us too. We couldn't believe Jesus went with them so willingly.
After a while I got some of my courage back. I went to the high priest's palace, where I thought they might have taken Jesus. But I couldn't go inside where Jesus was, so I stood by the fire in the courtyard where some of the temple guard were warming themselves. I wanted to find out what would happen to Jesus. One of the serving girls said she had seen me with Jesus. I denied it.
A little later another person accused me of being a follower of Jesus. I was really scared now, so I blurted and swore and said, no, I wasn't with Jesus. But they heard my Galilean accent and laughed at me saying "Of course, you are a disciple of Jesus. Your accent gives you away. "I was more scared than ever, and I swore up and down that I didn't even know Jesus. It was a shameful, awful thing to do.
Then I heard a rooster crow! I remembered that Jesus had said I would deny Him three times that night before the rooster crowed in the morning. Just then, they led Jesus through the courtyard, and He turned and looked at me. It was more than I could stand. I ran out into the courtyard and in shame and grief and repentance I cried and cried.
Thank God Jesus had mercy on me! I found hope after failure. I know now and believe that Jesus' death of the cross was for me and for my sins and for yours. God in heaven will forgive us all because of Jesus when we cry to Him for mercy.
Thank God for Jesus our Savior, who was put to death for our sins but was raised to life again that we have the sure hope of our salvation. Trust Jesus, believe in Him, and be faithful unto death.
Concluding thoughts: Peter is like all of us, like all believers. We are all sure and strong in our faith at times but when we are tested by unexpected events or temptations, we often waver and fall. Like Peter, we need to recognize our sins and cry to God for mercy. That mercy is assured to all who repent. It is assured because Jesus, the sinless Son of God, bore our sins in His own body on the cross. Thanks be to God for the mercy found in Jesus Christ Amen.
Illustration from a woodcut by Baron Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872, a distinguished German artist known especially for his book, The Book of Books in Pictures. copyright © WELS used by permission for personal and congregational use.