John 18: 15 – 27 Peter denies Jesus

John 18: 15 – 27 Peter denies Jesus

Peter’s first denial

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, 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.

‘You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’ she asked Peter.

He replied, ‘I am not.’

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood round a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

The high priest questions Jesus

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

‘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.’

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?’’ Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest

Peter’s second and third denials

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, ‘You aren’t oned of his disciples too, are you?’

He denied it, saying, ‘I am not.’

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 cock began to crow.

*       *       *

The way St John has written this is interesting. He tells us about Peter’s first denial, then he switches the action to the high priest’s (Annas’) questioning of Jesus; and then, he switches back to Peter again. In part this is just good story-telling; but I think it’s also done with a purpose. John wants us thinking about the two scenes at the same time, because each illuminates an aspect of human nature.

Let’s start with Annas’ questioning of Jesus.

Jesus was before the court for…well, why was he there? No charge has been mentioned. Instead, the high priest starts to ask him about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus responds:

‘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.’

The point Jesus is making is that his trial is not complying with the Law. The authorities should say what crime he has committed and produce witnesses. This is not idle quibbling about procedure. Both sides are fully aware that this is a capital case. If Jesus is found guilty, he will be put to death.

The Jews were (rightly) proud of their legal system. It was rigorous and demanded a high standard of proof. For a capital charge to be sustained, the court had to hear two witnesses who were present at the crime. Their testimony had to agree exactly. Furthermore, they had to have witnessed the act and shouted a warning that the perpetrator was about to commit a capital crime.

Jesus’ answer to the high priest prompts a violent response.

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.

Jesus replies calmly, once again drawing attention to the illegal nature of the hearing.

‘If I said something wrong,’ Jesus replied, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?’’

He’s reminding them that summary ‘punishment’ – in this case a slap in the face – is not sanctioned by the Law. If the official believes Jesus has done something wrong, he should testify against him.

St John’s account then has Jesus moved to Caiaphas. They sent him bound. What a threat he must have seemed!

These six verses are a remarkable piece of writing. They are Jesus’ life in miniature. The sinless one is falsely accused, and responds by pointing to the Jews’ own Law.

And this is what St John wants us to understand. The Law – however good it is – is limited. It can define good and bad. It can prescribe sanctions for those who break it. It can be administered fairly and justly, and even with compassion. But it can’t change human nature.

In this questioning of Jesus, we see how readily those with power resort to violence. They’re quite prepared, too, to set aside the rules when it suits their purpose.

The Law can’t change human nature. Only Jesus can do that.

Which brings us to Peter’s denial.

Peter isn’t in the high priest’s courtyard to fulfil the Law. He’s there because the man he loves, in whom he recognises the ultimate good, is in danger. He’s doing whatever it takes to be ready to help if the opportunity arises. I doubt if he has a plan, beyond a hope that Jesus will be released. And his readiness to help includes the readiness to tell lies, even to deny knowing Jesus.

Even after we’ve recognised that Jesus is the Son of God; even when we’ve committed our lives to him, we will still make mistakes. Peter made a hideous mistake, that haunted him. But his commitment to Jesus meant that he could repent, receive forgiveness, and be healed.

And that is one of the big differences between obedience to the Law and following Jesus. The Law cannot forgive us. Jesus, who loves each one of us personally, can. And, by that forgiveness, Jesus can change us and redeem our fallen human nature.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you so much for Jesus, and for the love that you have for each one of us. Please help me to dwell within that love.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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