Luther reminds us that we meditate on the sufferings of Christ rightly not by becoming angry at the Jews or indignant at Judas but, instead, when we reflect on our Lord’s Passion, we “look at it in such a way that” we “are frightened at heart” and our “conscience at once sinks into despair” (AE 76:426). It is in this light that we ponder today’s reading from the passion history according to Mark.
Peter weaves in and out of the story. In the episode we heard yesterday, Peter was bold, self-assured, and confident, pledging with every ounce of his being: “Even though they all fall away, I will not... If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Peter was making a promise he could not keep. He would not even be capable of fighting off the sleep, of staying awake in Gethsemane, while his Lord wrestled with God’s will and His destiny in prayer.
There is the arrest and the procession to the palace of the High Priest. Peter follows from a distance and takes his place in the courtyard as his Lord is interrogated. Witnesses are summoned as the council seeks evidence to put Jesus to death. Their testimonies do not agree. “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days build another one, not made with hands.’” Their hermeneutic is impeccable. Jesus is a blasphemer deserving death according to the Law. Jesus is silent. He will not defend Himself in the face of these twisted accusations. It is only when the high priest puts the question to Him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed,” that Jesus speaks. He confesses, “I am... and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power coming with the clouds of Heaven.” Enough said. Case closed. No more witnesses need testify. Blasphemy established.
Their hermeneutic is impeccable. Jesus is a blasphemer deserving death according to the Law. Jesus is silent.
All this is happening as Peter warms himself by a fire outside. Peter, the rock, crumbles. He is pulverized by the simple words of a servant girl: “This man is one of them.” Nameless citizens of Jerusalem had been eager to indulge in breaking the Eighth Commandment, telling lies about Jesus, betraying Him, slandering Him, and hurting His reputation before the High Priest. But not Peter. Yes, Peter. Not in the presence of a formidable high priest, but of a lowly domestic servant girl. Peter, the confessor, denies his Lord not once but three times. Peter, who had confessed of Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God,” now denies even knowing the man.
The rooster crows twice and Peter breaks down in grief. In South Africa, many of the Reformed church buildings have a rooster on the steeple, as a reminder of the preaching of repentance. Luther observes that, after the consciences of Adam and Eve had been convicted by the Law, the noise of a rustling leaf would have brought them terror. For Peter it is not the crackling of a dry leaf but the crowing of a rooster.
There is a warning here for us as well. Confessing Christ is easy in the confines of a seminary campus where you have the support of peers and professors. But out there in the courtyards of the world, where your convictions are strange and foreign, not so easy. A retreat into silence is more comfortable. The impulse to avoid confrontation and intimidation is powerful. Out there the instincts to protect yourself from embarrassment, ridicule, and rejection can easily overcome you as they did Peter. Our only hope is in Peter’s Lord.
Peter then fades out of the picture, for the moment at least. Jesus is delivered to Pilate. In contrast to the high priest who was eager to pin the charge of blasphemy on Jesus, Pilate seeks a way to release Him. Perhaps the crowds would favor the release of Jesus over the notorious murderer, Barabbas. But the crowds will not have it. They cry all the more that Jesus be crucified and Pilate consents.
So, Jesus goes to His cross, the righteous for the unrighteous, the One who is the Truth for those who deny the truth. The One who the Book of Revelation calls, “The faithful witness, the first born of the dead, the ruler of the kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5) goes to the cross for the High Priest, the lying witnesses, for Pilate, for Peter, and for you.
Listen to the Apostle:
“The saying is sure: If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13). Amen.