Sometimes we attempt to serve God the best we know how and are rebuffed, not only by men but also by God. Such rebukes sting and I know I am tempted to withdraw and sulk when it happens to me.
Not so with Peter – after two rebukes from Jesus within a few hours ( Matthew 26:33-35, John 18:10-11), Peter follows the armed mob who arrested Jesus right into the courtyard of the high priest. This is a very dangerous place for him to be, a large band of soldiers are in there under orders from the elders to crush Jesus and his followers.
Nevertheless, there was another disciple¹ who was known to the high priest and obtained access for Peter into the courtyard (John 18:15-16). Peter is eager to get close to Jesus but knows it is dangerous. Perhaps he is bracing himself for another situation in which he may need to put his life on the line to protect Jesus. Then the slave girl at the gate says, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter’s answer slips out all too easily – “I am not”. He doesn’t seem to even realize what he has done.
With his mind on much more important things and emotions already stretched thin the very question possibly caught him unprepared, coming not from a soldier or guard but from a servant girl. In a seemingly inconsequential incident Peter gives a throwaway answer that he assumes will keep him out of trouble. From here the slope just gets steeper and more slippery.
For those of us who live and work amongst secular folks, these situations are surprisingly common. Satan doesn’t leap into our path dressed in a silly red suit with pointy horns and pitchfork in hand, announcing he will now proceed to test our faith. Instead, someone who we actually quite like and respect says in a slightly incredulous tone, “you don’t honestly believe God created the universe do you?”, or “how can you seriously think there is only one path to eternal life?” or “only a nutter would believe in the devil”.
In fact, even these examples are fairly blatant. Often it is much more subtle. I find myself agreeing with some comment about peace being much easier when religious people recognize their shared humanity rather than their doctrinal differences, only to realize hours later that I’ve effectively knocked down my credibility to even state that I believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Son of God.
I’m not sure about others, but I know I am particularly vulnerable to such ‘servant girl denials’ – not even realizing what I’ve done at the time. Perhaps this is why one of my favourite passages in the Bible is John 21:15-19. After all my denials and failings Jesus continues to say, “Follow me.” I firmly believe that the reason we exist is to proclaim the glory of God. Unfortunately the words of my mouth can end up doing the opposite – concealing that I consider God to be the greatest being in existence and that what I most want to do is to worship Him. It is not that I set out to conceal God’s glory or deny Christ, but when caught off guard I slip into conformity with the world rather than love for God. The Tempter and indwelling sin conspire to bring me down.
But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
(Luke 22:60-62 ESV)
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
(John 21:17 ESV)
And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
(John 21:19 ESV)
¹Note: Although it is commonly thought the ‘other disciple’ of John 18:16 is the apostle John, it is also possible that this disciple may have been someone like Nicodemus or another member of the Sanhedrin – this would better explain how the unknown disciple had the authority to let Peter in.