This Week’s Scripture
“Then, seizing him, they took him away…
Illusions of Grandeur
Have you ever had a moment in which you realized you aren’t who you thought you were? That you are weaker, less accomplished… less brave?
More than 12 years ago now, I was the victim of a violent crime while I was out running. I say, “running” loosely here. I have never been much of a runner, but this day, I was trying.
I was in much better shape back then, a bit of a gym rat. One of the classes I took regularly was a boxing class in which we trained as if we were prepping for a boxing match. We jumped rope, did push-ups, walking lunges, and ran stairs among other things, but we also worked out with the heavy bag and spent time in the ring.
I thought I was pretty tough.
Then one day I decided to go for a run after I dropped the kids off at school, and I found out I wasn’t so impressive after all.
The Screaming Jogger
I was going through some hard things at the time, and it was all on my mind when I pulled into the parking lot near the trail. I didn’t pay much attention when another car pulled in right next to me, and a young man hopped out and ran down the trail except to notice he wasn’t really dressed for a run.
Gray hoodie, jeans, and work boots.
Much to my surprise he was just… gone by the time I slipped into the quiet of the woods. But as I ran, a weird thing happened. Occasionally, I heard something in the trees to my right.
A sudden splash in the river just beyond the tree line.
It was odd, but the reality of it never occurred to me- He was a hunter and I was his prey. He was stalking me. Like any hunter, he was patient. When, I slipped past the woods on my right and into a more open area, he simply picked a nice spot in the bend of the trail, shielded from sight from nearby houses, and waited.
I reached my turn-around, and under a brilliant autumn sky, headed back along the trail toward my car. Suddenly, there was a crashing noise from the tree line. Startled, I turned toward the noise to find him running toward me, and I thought…
“There he is.”
Then, I saw the knife in his hand, and I forgot all about how I knew how to throw a punch, or evade attack. I simply backed away and screamed. Well, sort of screamed. It was this strange, strangled noise, sort of like if you try to scream during a nightmare and can’t quite make it.
He closed in on me quickly, and just when he was about to grab me with his free hand, he gasped.
He froze for just a moment, then turned and ran the other way. God, very simply, delivered me. The details of what happened next are long, but the bottom line is this- He was apprehended and when the baffled police asked him why he, a convicted felon with a history of violent assaults on women, let me go, he said that something about my scream awakened his conscience.
For the longest time afterward, at the least little sound from the woods, I would literally jump off the trail, I began carrying a knife when hiking or running.
I adopted a huge pit bull.
All because that day shattered all illusions for me about my ability to defend myself. I wasn’t nearly as courageous, capable, or tough as I thought I was.
I wasn’t a fighter at all. I was, simply, the screaming jogger.
Peter’s Painful Wake-Up Call
In today’s reading, Peter suffers a similar shattering of his illusions. Peter, God bless him, was zealous, boastful, passionate, and principled.
I love Peter so much. I have so much compassion for him. I feel for him in that moment, when all eyes turn to him around the fire pit and his lack of courage causes him to do the one thing he never wanted to do- He denied Jesus and fled to save his own skin.
It was the kind of personal failure one doesn’t recover from easily. Scripture tells us that once safely out of the high priest’s home, Peter wept bitterly.
Peter really did love Jesus. It would take a lot for him to forgive himself for abandoning his friend. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he would have been able to do it without Jesus’s direct intervention. (John 21)
Behind the Story-
In Luke 22, Jesus famously predicts Peter’s denial in warning him that before the rooster crowed, he would deny Him three times. On the surface, to the western mind, this seems like an obvious reference to a rooster crowing to announce the sunrise. But is that is not what Jesus meant.
At the time of Christ, the priests would blow a shofar from the southwestern corner of the temple to announce the different times of day. Excavations have found a stone inscribed, “to the place of the trumpeting.” This was known as… the cock crowing. Jesus’s reference was to this priestly marker of time, not an actual rooster.
A Priestly Mansion
Archeologists have excavated the mansion where Jesus is believed to have been held on trial. The trial would most likely have taken place in the reception hall (the large front room on the right of the drawing.) Peter would have been in the courtyard (back left). The vestibule connected these two areas. This means that to exit, he would have passed right by the room where Jesus held, allowing Jesus to view his retreat through the open door at the end of the room as noted by Luke. Luke 22:61
Peter’s Failure, Our Hope
The moment Peter fled from the high priest’s luxurious mansion where Jesus was on trial was life-changing for him. He began that long day full of swagger and pride. He had some serious blind spots in his life to flaws of character that made him dangerously vulnerable.
When he came face to face with these weaknesses, he was crushed. It was an important moment in his life, and in the future of the church.
Peter’s later writings reveal a man who was changed by that night in Jerusalem. He talks a lot about grace and peace. He challenges the new church to live humbly, and self-controlled. He warns them that the Kingdom of God is not about personal glory, as he once thought. It was, as a matter of fact, about the pursuit of an eternal kingdom, one that God was faithful to bring to pass.
Peter became one of the great leaders of the new church. I don’t think he would have been ready for that if he hadn’t first had the opportunity to face his weaknesses.
Think About It
Journal about the following questions, or begin a discussion in the comments.
- Do you remember a moment in your life when you were surprised by the realization that you weren’t as together as you thought you were? When was this? How did it fuel your future growth?
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 says God’s strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. This has been a huge comfort for me in times of failure. What verses have strengthened you and why?
- Peter didn’t seem to have a lot of grace for others before his denial of Christ. He even openly rebuked Jesus on occasion. How does our failure help us have compassion for others in their weaknesses?