Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant-girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Just as he was speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
To his great credit, when the chief priests and soldiers seized Jesus, Peter followed. At a distance, but still he followed, unlike the other disciples who had all fled. Unfortunately for him he quickly found himself in a very awkward position. Following Jesus at a distance meant that he wasn’t with Christ but instead was left outside in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, amongst the entourage of those who had taken Jesus. Peter was to discover that any hopes he might have had of remaining a hidden, neutral observer were soon to be dashed.
First it was the firelight. As it lit up his face, others noticed immediately that he was an outsider. “This man was with Jesus”, a servant girl stated. There was no neutrality here. Either he was or he wasn’t. Peter denied it. A little later a similar thing happened, with the same response from Peter. But as they had got him talking, his accent now gave him away. “Certainly this man was with him, for he is a Galilean,” a third person said. Again Peter denied he had any association with Jesus.
At that moment a cock crowed. Jesus turned and looked directly at Peter. Not a word was required, for Peter remembered the words Jesus had already spoken. Jesus had been right. Peter in his attempt to follow and stay unnoticed had found it impossible. Rather, he now found himself on the wrong side of loyalty to Christ and on the wrong side of the truth.
With his heart breaking, Peter went out into the darkness. We can probably understand his distress. He had discovered the unpleasant truth about himself, about his own weaknesses and his misplaced confidence. Yet, at the same time he had also discovered that Jesus’ words to him had been true. His over confidence in himself had been badly shaken – no bad thing – but his faith in Christ’s words had never been stronger.
And if Jesus had been right about this, then surely he also had been right when he promised Peter that he would recover and that he would be able to use his painful experience to strengthen others. In the darkness and sorrow of that night there was also hope.
Peter was not lost or abandoned. Christ loved him still, prayed for him, would stand alone for him and die for him on the cross. There was hope and a future.