The setting within which Jesus foretold Peter’s infamous denial, as reported in the Gospel of John, is nothing short of astonishing. It is during the most intimate discourse recorded between Christ and His innermost disciples. It follows the announcement of imminent and ultimate betrayal. It echoes in the upper room, that banquet chamber that hosted the most sacred symbolic meal ever eaten; a meal that illustrated sacrificial provision through the substitution of the Christ in the place of His beloveds by His blood of the New Covenant. It trails the departure of Judas. It is felt in the shadows of Christ’s lowly service of condescension and tender provision in His voluntary act of stooping below them to wash their feet. It tracks within the very thought of Christ’s announcement of departure; He must continue on a course that He alone can walk, that which furnishes the substance of the Supper. And most immediately, it surfaces in the wake and profundity of the new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn 13:34).
This was a high moment of deep and personal devotion. A moment of greater intensity is hardly imaginable. It is here that Peter expresses his highest determination to follow Christ, and it is here that Christ issues the deepest and most sobering lesson on the believer’s need to believe. We are redeemed not by our faith or faithfulness, but by the precious substitutionary life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Let us not forget the cost of this lesson.
J. C. Ryle reminds us “The seeds of every sin are latent in our hearts, even when renewed, and they only need occasion, or carelessness and the withdrawal of God’s grace for a season, to put forth an abundant crop. Like Peter, we may think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we may learn by bitter experience that we have no power and might at all.”
Lest we miss the lesson and only see Peter in this scene, I will end with the well-framed words of Augustine:
When Peter’s infirmity acknowledged its sin, his acknowledgment was full; and the greatness of the evil he had committed in denying Christ, he showed by his tears. He himself reproves his defenders, and for their conviction, brings his tears forward as witnesses. Nor have we, on our part, in so speaking, any delight in accusing the first of the apostles; but in looking on him, we ought to take home the lesson to ourselves, that no man should place his confidence in human strength. For what else had our Teacher and Saviour in view, but to show us, by making the first of the apostles himself an example, that no one ought in any way to presume of himself?