Best of Daily Reflections: Good News in the Story of Peter’s Denial of Jesus

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!”

Luke 22:57

The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus is one of the most gut-wrenching in the Gospels. We watch with horror as Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and most committed followers, denies him, not just once, but three times. As we remember Peter’s confusion and fear, we can understand why he felt tempted to disavow his Lord. After all, Peter would rightly have been afraid that he would be arrested if he admitted that he knew Jesus. But, still, it is heart-breaking to hear Peter say, “I don’t even know him....No, man, I’m not....Man, I don’t know what you are talking about” (22:57-60).

Is there good news in this story? Yes, I believe there is. For one thing, the fact that it is found in the Gospels (all four!) speaks volumes about their historical reliability. Given that Peter was one of the most important leaders of the early church, we might think that such a story would have been suppressed. But, in fact, the earliest Christians were so committed to telling the truth about Jesus that they kept in the Gospels lots of material that reflected poorly on their leaders. (I expand this argument in my book, Can We Trust the Gospels?)

For me, an even more significant bit of good news comes from the fact that Peter ended up playing such a prominent role in the church. Jesus did not reject Peter although Peter rejected Jesus. Jesus did not “fire” Peter from his role as a leading apostle. Jesus did not expect perfection, or anything close to it. Why is this good news for me? Because it means that I can be useful in Jesus’ mission today in spite of shortcomings and outright failings. It means that I can be forgiven when I fail. I am not suggesting that Christian leaders ought to forget about living as moral exemplars. But I am taking comfort in the fact that when I fail to live as I should, God is able not only to forgive but also to restore me as a leader in his kingdom.

When viewed in a broad perspective, Peter’s denial of Jesus sets the stage for his deeper experience of God’s grace. This same, amazing grace, enables you and me to serve the Lord. And this is good news!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus? In what ways is this story good news for you?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, when I think of the fact that you chose Peter as one of your closest disciples, and when I think of how often he didn’t get it right, and especially when I think of his denying you, I am encouraged. I don’t have to be perfect to be one of your followers or a leader in your church. That’s good news, because I am so very far from perfect. I am so thankful for your grace and mercy. I’m thankful that I am set apart for your service, not because of anything I have done, but because you have chosen me as your own, and because you forgive me when I fail.

Nevertheless, I pray for your help to live each day for you, not to presume upon your grace, but to let your grace permeate all that I do. Amen.

P.S. Photos from Jerusalem of Peter’s Church: This past summer, while in Jerusalem, I visited the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. (Gallicantu comes from the Latin meaning “rooster crowing.”) This church sits close to the very location where Peter denied Jesus. In the church courtyard is a striking sculpture that brings Peter’s denials of Jesus to life. For pictures of this church and sculpture, visit this page of my blog.