“What have I done?”
I couldn’t help it. At that crucial moment of standing up for what I believed in, I was overcome with fear. I’d been a professing follower of Jesus for three years by that point, yet every ounce of conviction seemed to drain from me when the stakes were suddenly raised and being associated with the faith spelled potential trouble with the law.
I hated myself for talking so big before this. I’d had it all sorted out in my head – I could never deny Christ, even if it meant death. People died for what they knew to be true all the time, and I’d seen too much truth to ever walk away.
Until that night, when they turned their questions on me.
It was the worst night of my life. Everything we’d been mentally prepared to do once such a crisis hit had essentially flown out the window. The arrest had been made, most of us were keeping low and out of the public eye, but I couldn’t just stay put and in the dark of what was going on.
I knew where to go, but could go no further than the courtyard because security was tight. I didn’t know what happened during such investigations – they wouldn’t lay their hands on men yet to be proven guilty, right?
There was a crowd gathering outside where I was, probably trying to get a scoop into the latest saga that was unfolding in our city. Suddenly, a girl who’d been standing with several others started making her way in my direction.
“The man that was arrested, you’re with him right?”
The answer used to be so simple! Yes! But that had all changed in the past few hours. What if they wanted to interrogate anyone associated with this case? What was going to happen to my family … My entire future?
My throat tightened and alarm bells were ringing in my head. It didn’t make sense to risk everyone’s life – if it was just me, fine – but to potentially drag everyone along …
“I don’t know him,” I mumbled, hoping she’d leave me alone once she had her answer. She looked at me, not quite believing, but went back to her group. I could see her whispering to them, and they all glanced in my direction.
I looked away and made my move to another corner to wait.
But the courtyard was filling with people even though it was the wee hours of the night, and before I knew it someone, a middle-aged man who probably came to check out the unfolding neighbourhood drama, loudly asked me if I was one of those involved. I didn’t want to attract any attention, so again, I said no.
It definitely pricked my conscience, but the atmosphere was so thick with threat and frenzy, I just wanted to keep everyone back home safe. We didn’t need any more eyes on us.
And to be really honest, I was terrified.
Another hour went by, thankfully without anyone else talking to me. But just as I’d decided it was safe to make some conversation with an enthusiastic youth sitting beside me, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the guys from that girl’s group of friends.
He looked squarely at me, and to my horror, turned and announced to whoever was within earshot: “Look at him! He’s from Galilee, just like Jesus. I know he’s one of them.”
Panic rose in my heart, and I got up to leave. I should never have come. Those around me were now demanding to know whether I was part of the team, and why hadn’t they taken me for questioning too?
I had to get out. Fast. So I said what came to my mind then: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know him at all.”
Just as those words left my mouth, I saw Jesus, led out of the High Priest’s house and through the courtyard. The crowd went wild, but He was looking straight at me, as though no one else was standing between us.
Above the cacophony of voices, I could hear the rooster crowing.
Only then did his words from earlier that day come back to me: “Before the rooster crows today, Peter, you will deny me three times.”
A different torment overtook me that day.
“Peter, do you love me more than these?” I could barely lift my eyes to meet his. Not since I’d let him down that way. I’d denied him after all he had done for me. Thrown him aside when he needed me most.
I was trying my best not to cry, but I managed to say, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” Jesus said. Then, again, “Peter, do you love me?”
Was he trying to make an example of me in front of the rest? Did he no longer believe me because of what I’d done?
With great sadness in my heart, I said again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!”
“Tend my sheep,” was all he said, not appearing to have heard my answer. “Do you love me?”
I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face now. He really didn’t believe me! He was trying to prove to me that I didn’t love him one bit – which is why I betrayed him in cold blood!
“Lord, you know everything!” I wept. But I also never knew it more clearly in my heart – “You know that I love you!” You had to know!
“Feed my sheep,” he said, and it would only be much later did I understand what he fully meant. “Follow me.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d said those two words to me, and I remembered them from the very first time we’d met by the lake where I’d been fishing. And here we were again, by a lake, and here he was, the Jesus I loved and let down, calling me once more to walk with him. Forgiving me for my great sin.
In that very moment, I knew that this would be the man I would truly die for one day.
This is an adapted account of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and his reinstatement, taken from Luke 22:54-62 and John 21:15-19.