He [Peter] began to call down curses and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you are talking about.”
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:71-72)
Peter’s denial of Jesus has always been both unsettling and comforting to me. In just a few short verses of the fourteenth chapter of Mark, Judas, one of the twelve, has betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Shortly afterward, all of Jesus’ followers desert him and flee (one even fleeing naked into the night). Only Peter follows Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest, where he disowns him three times. Desertion, denial, and betrayal mark Jesus’ closest followers.
This troubles me because these disciples had the greatest spiritual advantages imaginable and they still failed horribly. They spent years living and walking with Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, following in his footsteps. Yet, they failed. Even with all the benefits of a long life with Jesus, they still ran away when life got hard. The same Peter who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of the living God denied he ever knew him.
This story troubles me. The right upbringing, the right training, and the right environment are not guarantees for faithfulness. The disciples had every advantage imaginable, and they deserted Jesus. I want to think that if we raise our children the right way, if we ourselves walk closely with Jesus, that what happened with the disciples won’t be a repeat occurrence. I’d like to think we could stack the deck for ourselves and for our children so that they would never run away from Jesus. But that’s not what happens for the disciples.
If the Twelve could fall away and run, what hope is there for us?
But maybe that is the hope for us. If failing, stumbling, and running can be part of the life of the Apostle Peter, then maybe I’m not too messed up for grace either. The inclusion of the story of Peter’s denial is not the whole of the story. Peter denies Jesus and the disciples flee, but Jesus does not abandon them. Upon his resurrection, the Lord restores them. Jesus and Peter have a conversation over a meal of fish. Jesus goes ahead of his disciples into Galilee and promises to be with them to the end of the age.
Even the disciples screwed up, which means there is hope for us. Even the Twelve who walked with Jesus were clueless and unfaithful at times. But Jesus wasn’t. Jesus stuck with them, even when they fled and even when they denied him. His grace was sufficient for Peter. And it is sufficient for us.