Matthew 26:58, 69-75; Mark 14:54, 66-72; Luke 22:54-62
At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord's words flushed through Peter's mind: "Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” – Luke 22:61 NLT
When I first ran across the verse above, it hit me like a brick to the forehead. While it was hard enough to imagine what Peter must have felt like after having denied Jesus three times in a row, I could not fathom what went through his mind after having just done so and them making eye contact with Jesus Himself. This all took place in the courtyard of the high priest's home. It was late in the evening, and the Temple guards had lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard. It seems that Peter was the only disciple who risked following Jesus after He was arrested. Matthew and Mark tell us that he followed at a distance, and then sat in the courtyard among the guards warming himself by the fire. That's when the trouble began. It may have been dark, but there was enough light from the fire to illuminate Peter's face and, as a result, he was recognized. A servant girl noticed him and shouted out, "This man was one of Jesus' followers" (Luke 22:56 NLT). What Peter didn't seem to realize was that he and the disciples had become celebrities. With Jesus' growing reputation, they also gained a certain degree of notoriety. And this young servant girl had seen Peter with Jesus. But Peter denied it, exclaiming, "Woman, I don't even know him" (Luke 22:57 NLT). Which had to beg the question, then was he there? What was he doing in the high priest' courtyard in the middle of the night? But Peter would go on to deny Jesus two more times. And each time he was confronted, his denials became more intense and strident. He was feeling the heat of the moment. He was scared and all his bluster of a few hours earlier had faded away. While he had at one time swore that he was willing to die for Jesus, on this night he couldn't even bring himself to acknowledge that he knew Him. Then the rooster crowed. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Jesus glanced over and caught the eye of Jesus Himself. What a moment. What a scene.
We know from Matthew and Mark's account, that Jesus was interrogated inside the house. After Jesus acknowledged that He was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, Caiaphas ripped his own robe and accused Jesus of blasphemy. The other priests and religious leaders agreed and they condemned Him to death. Then Jesus was blindfolded, spit on, and slapped and punched repeatedly in the face, while they mocked and teased Him, saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?" (Matthew 26:68 NLT). And then He was led away. It was at this point that Jesus, beaten, bruised and bloody, would have had His encounter with Peter. While Peter had been warming himself by the fire and denying the truth about himself, Jesus had been suffering abuse for willingly admitting the truth of who He was. That moment when Peter glanced over and saw Jesus' eyes had to have been riveting and heart-sinking for him. They magnitude of what he had just done hit him like a freight train. We aren't told what kind of look Jesus gave Peter. We don't know if He was sad, angry, disappointed, hurt, or shocked. But that split second of eye contact with Jesus had to have been one of the most difficult moments in Peter's life. The reality of all that was happening began to sink in. The truth of all that Jesus had been trying to tell the disciples regarding His coming trials and death became all too clear. "And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly" (Luke 22:65 NLT).
When I think about what Peter may have seen when he locked eyes with Jesus, I tend to believe that Jesus showed love and compassion. His was not a look of disappointment or disgust. He did not try to make Peter feel ashamed or humiliate him with a knowing shake of His head. I truly believe that Jesus, bruised and bloody as He may have been, looked on Peter with love. He was the Good Shepherd. He knew Peter's weaknesses and He had even predicted Peter's denial of Himself. He was not shocked, surprised, or put out. I believe Jesus looked at Peter and smiled in a loving, gracious, forgiving way. He understood. And He knew that God was not done with Peter yet. Too often, when we fail Jesus or even deny Him in some way, we tend to think that He looks on us with anger, resentment, disappointment, and frustration, shaking His head in disgust at our inability to do even the most simple things well. But that view reflects a poor understanding of the character of Jesus. It reveals a misunderstanding of His love, mercy and grace. Jesus had come to die for just such a person as Peter. He had come to deliver Peter from the control of his own sinful flesh. That's why Peter could later write, "For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold and silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God" (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT). The look Peter received from Jesus was the same look He shows us when we stumble and fall. It is a look of compassion, understanding, empathy, and love. Jesus came to save sinners. He came to help those who have come to understand that they can't help themselves. Jesus isn't disappointed when we fail to measure up, as much as He is when we fail to look up to Him for help. A look to the Lord can be life changing. It will be difficult. It may even be humbling and humiliating, but it will always be a look of love. He loved you enough to die for you. He loves you enough to forgive and transform you. Look to Jesus. Even when you've denied Him.
Lord, I am so grateful that when You look at me, it is always with love, not disgust. I know I let You down in so many ways, but I also know that Your eyes are always filled with compassion and love for me. You died for me. You love me more than I will ever understand – at least in this lifetime. You suffered on my behalf. You bore my sins. You took my penalty and died the death I deserved. All because You love me. When I stumble and fall, You still love me. You never fall out of love for me. That's hard for me to understand, but help me grasp the truth of it in my daily life. You never stopped loving Peter, even after what he had done. You love him to the end. And You will love me to the end as well. Thank You. Amen.