This week’s post continues our blog series on Jesus’ 12 Disciples. These posts are recaps of sermons preached by Pastor Harper. We hope that the unique format we use to look at the lives of these men will really make this interesting and impactful for all of us.
Each of the disciples’ stories will be based off what the Bible shows us about their lives and what they were like, but also understand that for the sake of keeping the overall narrative of their lives moving forward as it’s told, some of what we could call “sanctified imagination” will be used, and just logical conclusions in general will be drawn from the facts we know.
A hand grasped my shoulder from behind!
My knees weakened and I felt my breath escape me. John.
He spoke to me with concern, “I requested to the High Priest. You may enter.” Forcing a grateful smile, I marveled at John’s composure and rounded the gatepost with him to enter the courtyard.
Still I inwardly deliberated for a means to leave. The night was far spent along with my emotions and body, and dawn was nearing. But when I saw the courtyard servants had kindled a fire, I drew to its warmth and found rest sitting beside it with the servants. John continued on into the High Priest’s palace.
My mind kept replaying Judas’s betrayal. Would he betray me to the Jewish leaders too? Hatred flamed in me the more I stared at the fire in front of me. Then I began to feel the burn of something else as well, but not from the direction of the fire. My head slowly turned, exposing the side of my face. Without meaning to, I made eye contact with the gatemaid John and I had passed when we entered. She locked her gaze and wouldn’t blink. I flinched my head back around. Thankfully no one else seemed to notice.
“You also are a disciple of Jesus!”
It was as if her words grabbed my chin and twisted my head back around. There she stood, extending an accusing finger and still staring. The others around the fire stopped talking, or opened their eyes. Now everyone noticed me. Time didn’t move. The faintest crackles of the fire seemed to echo off the stone walls.
In the emotional charge of all the events that evening, Jesus’ hurtful prediction that I would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice, left my mind and never returned. Without pausing to think I accused back,
“I don’t know Him. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
In the panic of that moment, I couldn’t hear anything but the scream of my own conscience. Remembering back, though, there was the sound of a rooster’s crow. Although, even now I remember it as being distant. Everything right then seemed distant, as I tried to remove myself from reality.
Jumping up, I ran back out the gate and onto the porch, feeling trapped by the very air around me. Guilt overwhelmed me, making it impossible to appear innocent. If I tried to stand still I discovered myself pacing. When I attempted to continue a casual walk my weak legs made me look drunk. I attempted to relax my eyes in a single direction, but they wouldn’t quit darting. Then, allowing them to gaze around they only darted shiftily from the huddled groups of people who were all now spying me from the corners of their own eyes.
Feeling weak and humbled, I briefly recall the faintest glimmer of hope when I caught my heart wishing more than anything for Jesus to appear and speak truth into my life, and take command of what seemed like a chaotic situation. Abandoning all attempts of concealment, I carelessly stepped back into the gateway, earnestly looking from passageway to passageway, thinking I might call out to Jesus if He should appear.
Instead, another voice echoing across the courtyard called out to me, “You are one of them!” With this, something strange took place. All sense of fear left me. My legs held me, my eyes focused, my hands steadied. Now, I was angry. Feeling no need for help from Jesus or John or anyone, I strode back through the gate. My voice rang clear with an oath, then said,
“I do not know the Man!”
With that, everyone quieted and left me alone, going back to their night shift duties and normal business. Oh how that felt good. I could still defend myself after all. There was the old me again.
Yet that was my downfall. I was mastering myself again … just like the old me. That old me had almost given in when I felt that sense of hope by looking for help from Jesus. Sadly, sometimes a person’s “old me” dies hard.
For the next hour or so I found my place confidently back by the comfort of the fire. People looked away from me now, even if I looked at them. The first sign of the sun’s deep crimson began to crest the distant hills. Though no longer afraid, if John didn’t come back with an update before first full light, I knew it would still be safest to leave and wait for him at his house. John was in no danger since he knew the High Priest, but I had already caused enough suspicion, and didn’t want to place John under suspicion either.
I stood and readied myself to leave, but paused when a man came through one of the corridors and two or three of the courtyard servants gathered around him, talking and looking in my direction. A few people appeared from the same corridor, then several others, and I could hear more coming from behind them. Since John wasn’t among them, it was obvious that I had outstayed myself.
When I turned to leave one of the group called me back, with the others nodding in agreement, “Surely you are one of them. You are a Galilean. Your accent betrays you.”
Instinctively those old curse words tumbled out freely, and whirling around to face my accusers, shouting loudly enough for everyone in the courtyard and entering the courtyard to hear, I blared,
“I do not know the Man!”
This time when the rooster crowed, it was very near. His sound seemed to stop everyone mid-stride. Again, they all looked at me, including the group that had just come out of the corridor … and Jesus was with them. His head was down … but then He turned, and looked at me too.
That same omniscient gaze that saw through to my heart the day He changed my name, now saw through me once more. Broken beyond words, I realized I had become Simon again. Jesus had actually appeared, but now I wanted to run and hide. Yet I couldn’t, because of His eyes—instead of a smoldering glare, I saw love, eternal sadness, and forgiveness. And I remembered His prediction about me.
All the confidence and braggadocio drained from my soul. I was exposed, and everyone knew it. The guards yanked Jesus forward as people started moving again. Desperate for some kind of penitence, now I wanted them to arrest me too. I could prove to Jesus that I would die with Him. But instead of arresting me, they only ignored me with looks of contempt. I stood there unable to move while normal business carried on all around me as if I could not be seen. Hatred and more accusations would have been welcome. Now, no one would dignify me with even that. Overcome by the blasphemous crime I had committed, and void of all human recognition, the crushing weight of my sin and the end of my emotions overpowered me. I collapsed against the wall just outside the gate, crying from a grief so deep I thought I would die.
The old Simon had finally surrendered. I wouldn’t understand it then, as my face lay in the mud of my own tears, but that’s what it would take for Peter to emerge.
Strength … comes from brokenness. My first letter encourages all followers of Jesus to remember that: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory …” (1 Peter 1:6-7). The furnace that melts us down is only meant to burn away the contaminations from the gold of our lives so that, in the end, our faith will be purer and stronger than ever before. God does not heat the fire to burn us up, just the parts of the “old us” that hold us back from becoming all of the new us that He calls us to be.
Does it work?
Well … sure enough, they executed Jesus that day—crucified him Roman-style on a cross. It was the lowest point for all of us—at least, those of us who were left. We were now numbered 11. After he betrayed Jesus, Judas hanged himself. I don’t have critical words for Judas, only pity. I’d be lying if I told you that in the torment of my own grief I didn’t consider the same thing. All that stopped me from sharing Judas’ fate was the mustard seed of belief that somehow, some way, Jesus could still help me. It would seem Judas gave up on that belief … or never had it.
Three days later, we of course heard rumors from some of the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty. That angels said Jesus was risen. Finally, after showing Himself to many of us, more than once, we all began to believe that He really had died, and that He really had risen from the dead.
Even still, I knew I could never be one of Jesus’ close followers again—not after what I’d done. All the others knew about it. They were kind to me, but I was a shame and disgrace, and I knew it. There was nothing left for me to do other than what I had always known—fishing. Since I had failed so badly at learning to be a fisher of men, maybe I’d be able to at least still be a fisher of … fish. I may not have been a successful disciple, but I knew I knew how to fish.
Regretfully, my giving up as a disciple affected some of the others, including James and John. Loyal to a fault, after leaving their fishing with me to go to Jesus, now we were all leaving Jesus to go back to fishing. It felt great to be back at it again. The old skills were still second nature. The only problem was, we couldn’t find the fish like we used to. No matter where we navigated on that lake we knew so well, our nets never once pulled up a single fish. Not a single fish! All night long we fished, and still … nothing.
By morning we were exhausted, angry, and defeated. And we still had to dock the boat, dry the nets in the sun, and wrap up the nets for storage. You never saw a more wretched lot. And we were hungry. But we had no food, and no fish to sell for money to buy food.
Just then, when we thought things couldn’t get any more wearisome, a Man on the shore yells to ask us if we caught anything. Now we would be exhausted, angry, defeated, hungry, and humiliated.
“No!” I called back, not even trying to hide my annoyance at the man’s meddlesome question. Then, without any sense of awareness, the Man calls a second time, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find fish.” Well that just about did it for me. What kind of nonsense motivates a person to have the gall to tell a worn-out fisherman how to do his job?
So just to spite the Man, I mustered the guys, and sarcastically threw the net over the right side of the boat.
And would you know, that net came up with so many fish we couldn’t lift it into the boat. John’s eyes trickled with tears. He pointed to the Man on the shore and said, “It is the Lord!” And I knew John was right.
I dove into the water to get to Jesus first. After the others had landed the boat and we had pulled in the fish, Jesus served us the most delicious breakfast fish we ever ate. I learned the hard way that I’d never be a disciple without Jesus’ help, but now I knew I couldn’t be a fisherman without His help either. And that was ok.
We finished breakfast, and right in front of the others Jesus questioned my love for Him … three times.
The pain of my betrayal pierced my heart again as I answered Him with no lofty vows now, only humble desire, “Lord, You know that I want to love You.” And as I had denied three times, now, three individual times, Jesus, in front of the others, recommissioned me as the leader of His disciples.
Hallelujah … what a Savior. I like how I wrote it in my letter, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Peter 4:8). Jesus never gave up on me, and He will never give up on you. And we should never give up on each other.
Tradition tells us Peter was crucified, but made to watch his wife be crucified first. The ancient church historian, Eusebius, recounts how Peter stood at the foot of his wife’s cross, repeating, “Remember the Lord, remember the Lord.” When she had died and they began to crucify Peter, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he was unworthy to die like his Lord.
If we could sum up Peter’s life, we might do so with the last verse from his second letter: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)