Read John 18:15-27
John provides a brief glimpse into the details of Jesus’ interrogation by Annas surrounded by Peter’s failure. As we read this section, it’s interesting to note the contrast painted by John. Peter lies. Jesus tells the truth. Lies, truth, lies. As we watch Peter keep warm with the late night party, there is no outward consequence of denying his association with Jesus. He’s a strong man with a convincing voice. When he says, “I am not,” those around him believed him. The way the story unfolds, there’s no indication that the three accusers heard his denial. One at a time the clock ticks.
A Servant Girl Asks an Innocent Question
The first test is an easy one to deny. A mere servant girl appears and asks the penetrating question. Would anyone believe her if she heard Peter admit his relationship with Jesus? As much as females were discounted in this society, someone else might have overheard the conversation. In my imagination, she has an annoying voice that everyone can hear. You know, that high-pitched whine the pierces through the silence — shut up girl! Enough of my embellishment. John is less dramatic:
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” John 18:15-17
The question asked is a definitive statement. She didn’t just ask if Peter knew Jesus or perhaps heard of Him. The tone of her question is accuses him of being a close follower, one who is complicit in the current trial. Peter certainly picked up on this when his first denial is uttered. I am not.
At the same time, Annas is questioning Jesus, no doubt trying to trap Him with any one of the 600+ rules that governed the Jewish community. These were tense times. The Passover is about to start and literally, thousands of people would be making their way to Jerusalem. Any form of sedition must be stopped! Well, that’s the best I can do to support Annas’ questioning. We know it is pointless, but Jesus doesn’t give him the satisfaction of confessing something that is worthy of death. From John’s account, Annas only had a few questions, though I’m sure it took a while before Jesus responded.
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” John 18:20-21
Finally, Jesus breaks His silence with words that can’t be refuted. We recall several of the times when Jesus spoke with a loud voice in the temple courts. He wasn’t going around in secret!
One of those present couldn’t take it anymore!
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” John 18:22-23
No other words. Annas simply dismissed Jesus. It’s no surprise that Jesus doesn’t press the point. His rhetorical question is for the benefit of the fool that slapped the Savior. Such arrogant behavior is not new to this world. We are taught to pray for our enemies; Jesus provides the ultimate example.
Back to the Campfire
Another denial slips from Peter’s mouth as those gathered around the fire shift for warmer positions. The night is lingering on while the trial is moved to Caiaphas’ courtyard. Peter is quick to deny his relationship this second time. The third time is not so easy.
One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. John 18:26-27
Honestly, I’m really surprised that Peter was still hanging out so close to the action. Sunrise is coming and his face will be seen clearly very soon. The last person Peter wanted to see was a relative of Malchus, someone who would be keen to track down Peter with a sword of his own. I’d be pretty ticked, even if Jesus miraculously healed my cousin.
Third time’s a charm, as they say. The rooster crows and Peter remembers. At this point, he fades into the sunrise.
When I think of my failures, misspoken words, lies or half-truths, I think about Peter. Not out of comparison, but of empathy. Anytime my personal agenda is elevated above that of Christ, which happens more than I want to admit, the reminder of the rooster plays in my head. Well, I hope it plays in my head at full volume.
Jesus taught us better than to lie, cheat, or steal. He showed us as well. More than just words, He walked among us and demonstrated His willingness to hold onto the truth, even when it meant death on a cross. I know His mission was infinitely greater than ours, but the lesson is there for our benefit.
Lord help us to walk in the light, unafraid of the consequences mere humans would inflict on us. Teach us to endure slaps in the face while holding fast to your truths.