What Happened When He Quit Crying
Darkness reigned. Violence had the upper hand that night in the city of Jerusalem. Moments from praying in anguish, on his knees in the Mount of Olives garden, Jesus had been seized by callous Roman soldiers. Forcefully they marched him like a criminal toward the home of the high priest.
Jesus’ disciples had fled, except for Peter. Having followed the soldiers at a distance, he was now in the courtyard, bewildered and cold. He joined others who were warming their hands by a fire. Looking closely at him, a servant girl cried out, “This man was with Jesus!” Peter replied acidly, “Woman, I don’t even know the man!” Soon, someone else accused Peter of being a friend of Jesus. Again, Peter responded sharply, “Man, I am not!” Later, when it was almost morning, another man declared he was certain Peter was a disciple of Jesus. Angrily, Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!”
At that very moment, as Peter was spitting out those words, he heard the sound of a rooster crowing. He immediately looked toward Jesus, who was standing nearby with the soldiers. Jesus was looking straight at him. As their eyes met, Peter wanted to die as he remembered the words Jesus had spoken to him hours earlier, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Shattered by his shame, Peter turned and ran outside the courtyard, weeping bitterly.
He was a broken man. Only days before he had been the outspoken leader of the disciples. He was “the Big Fisherman.” Now, embarrassed and humiliated, he felt the terrible weight of his denial crushing his soul. A faithful disciple of Jesus? No, he thought, “I am a fraud! a hypocrite! I boasted that I would die for Jesus, but now I am hiding like a coward while Jesus is out there being beaten half to death!”
You can see him there sobbing, his body shaking, his heart breaking with anguish that made breathing difficult. Disgrace was never more burdensome for a man. Yet he did not opt for suicide, as Judas had. What happened? Why did he stop crying and repent of his sins? How did a man who was such a failure become a great leader of the Christian movement?
I believe it was what he saw in the eyes of Jesus while the rooster was crowing. What Peter saw was the compassion of the God whose love endures forever. He saw no condemnation in the eyes of Jesus. He saw grace, the unmerited grace of the Lord who loves us in spite of our sins. He saw love, the redeeming love that can deliver us from the shame of our failures and give us new lives of fruitful service. He saw forgiveness, that beautiful gift of God that frees us from sin and gives us the power to live a life that honors the Christ who died so we might come alive to God.
In a world where so many people define themselves by their failures, should we not invite them to define themselves by the grace of God? Should we not tell those who are weeping in shameful failure the beautiful story of a man called Peter? Please say Yes, we should; and go do it! + + +