A New Look at an Old Story (at least for me)

Part of the sermon at church on Sunday included Peter. Peter and his infamous denial of Christ.
Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon,look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
   33 “Lord,” he told Him, “I’m ready to go with You both to prison and to death!”
   34 “I tell you, Peter,” He said, “the rooster will not crow today until you deny three times that you know Me!” ...  54 They seized Him, led Him away, and brought Him into the high priest’s house. Meanwhile Peter was following at a distance. 55 They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, and Peter sat among them. 56 When a servant saw him sitting in the firelight, and looked closely at him, she said, “This man was with Him too.”
   57 But he denied it: “Woman, I don’t know Him!”
   58 After a little while, someone else saw him and said, “You’re one of them too!”
   “Man, I am not!” Peter said.
   59 About an hour later, another kept insisting, “This man was certainly with Him, since he’s also a Galilean.”
   60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 Then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. So Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
The usual implications of Peter were made. He was scared. He didn't want to die quite yet. We accept these as part of Peter's personality. That may all be 100% accurate.

It struck me though, that maybe we're missing something. What if Peter wasn't scared of persecution? What if Peter had a sudden and complete lack of faith? Consider you've been following this guy that you think is the Messiah. You believe with all your heart that He is come here and now to save you and your people - finally. And then, he's arrested. He doesn't even fight it! You try to fight for him, chopping off some soldier's ear, and what does He do? He puts it right back on! Can't you just see Peter looking at Jesus, like, "Wait, whaaa?" (ok, so it might not have been Peter who cut off the guy's ear, but whatever.) How would you feel?

Then, in all of the Gospel accounts, Peter follows Jesus to the court. Maybe he didn't want to miss The Awesome Thing that Jesus was going to do! Show all these guys who's boss God! But, then He was convicted. He let these people lie about Him, and let this earthly ruler condemn Him to death. I can put myself in Peter's shoes, see him looking around and thinking, "Wait. This is not how this is supposed to work. If He dies, then what? What was all this for? What's the point?"

So he denies Christ. 

We often talk as if Peter did this because he was scared. That he sold out his beliefs to save his neck. What if, in that moment, it wasn't a matter of not being true to his beliefs? What if he truly felt that he wanted nothing further to do with Jesus? What if, he suddenly thought that all he believed had been a lie? A scam? What if he was being true to what he believed in that moment

Again, I see him in my mind's eye. He walks out of the court dazed. He doesn't know what to think or feel. All he knows is despair. He thought Christ was infallible. How could this happen? He's remembering the Road to Damascus, thinking, "Certainly, I didn't imagine that... could I?" Second-guessing every experience he's had. "How did I walk on water? Is there some scientific reason it worked for a minute? Is that why I fell in the end?"

Maybe Peter is just like me. There are moments when I look around think, "Wait. Why is this happening? I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing! Where is your power? Why aren't you fixing this?!" and "I thought this was the plan. Maybe I just tricked myself into believing. Maybe all of this faith is something I've created." What if I'm simply following in the footsteps of one of the Greats of our faith? 

Maybe in that moment, when he locked eyes with Jesus, he didn't feel guilty for not standing up for his faith, but instead remembered that Jesus told him this would happen. What if that was not just a moment of conviction, but of realization? Realizing there was so much more to the story than he knew? Realizing that only a Mighty God could tell him what would happen in the coming hours?

He ran off weeping. We assume it was contrition. What if it was amazement - or even joy? Knowing that his God had not abandoned him? That all hope was not lost? He did race John to the empty tomb a few days later, so maybe it's not too far off.

I've never heard this theory before, but I doubt I'm the first to come up with it. Do you think it holds water? Do you have evidence to support or smack down this idea? Please, share!


Beth at Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids said...

Love this story of faith and doubt, Kristi. Love the interpretation. Love that this is why STORY is so important... because there's more than just one truth to find in story. I think that's why Jesus used story so often and so very richly. I think OF COURSE it holds water because the Holy Spirit is ever revealing truth to us (active, active, active in this world and truth is ongoing, not static!), and this sounds like a very true truth that I'm GLAD you have to words to share.

xoxo. love your honesty.

Jamie T. said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate because that's what I normally do with all bible stories. What if it was just a self-fulfilling prophecy and Peter was just doing what Jesus told him to do? Jesus said he would deny him, and Peter did it because it was expected of him. There was nothing mystical or magical or future-predicting about it. Or let's go with your theory, but why the number three? It seems like the author elaborated and focused on the "three times before the cock crows" because it makes it more believable that Jesus said three times and then Peter did it three times. If Jesus just said "you will deny me" and Peter did it with no number attached, it holds less weight, in an argumentative sense. Looking at this story from a literary standpoint, the number three often has ties to mysticism. The author wanted to make sure this story had elements that forced you to suspend belief that someone could predict not only deception, but the exact number of times someone would deceive. <3 you... hope you don't get upset that I like to debate this stuff! :)

K Newman said...

In the Bible, the number 3 usually signifies completion. The Trinity, 3 days between burial and resurrection, these things are used to show that God is complete in a trinity, that Jesus was fully dead and raised. I hadn't even thought about how that played into this story, but it definitely could work with my theory. Peter's rejection of his faith could have been complete. He was ready to walk away forever. I know that's not where you were headed, but I find it fascinating!

I think the Author is doing just what you describe - making it easier to have faith in Jesus because he did predict the number of times. I think if it had been once it would have seemed much more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The passage says though, that he doesn't remember until the rooster crows and he looks at Jesus. I don't think he would have subconsciously done it three times. JMO.

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