“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” (John 18:17)
Brain experts tell us that when confronted with a traumatic situation, a person will either fight, flee, or freeze. This is something we have no control over, and should not feel guilty about. Those are the initial automatic reactions. What we do after we have a chance to think about our options—that’s something else. The Apostle Peter had just experienced trauma. With startled eyes, he had seen an armed squad arrive to arrest Jesus. Automatic reaction kicked in. He did not freeze or flee. He fought. Out came his sword. Off came the high priest servant’s ear.
He had said he would do this. He had told Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” All the disciples said the same—including Judas. Jesus saved Peter’s life in the Garden of Gethsemane. He commanded Peter to put away his sword. He turned himself over to his captors. Brave Peter! Not afraid to face an armed force against overwhelming odds. But what happened next was not bravery in action but cowardice by denial. Not a soldier, but a servant girl brought him down. The question was simple: was he a disciple of Jesus? Surely the one who was willing to die for him would find it easy to answer the question.
It was not. It was terrifying. His faith buckled. His mouth lied. “I am not!”
The denial wasn’t one of those knee-jerk reactions. He had time to think about this before he denied knowing Jesus. He did it a second time. Then the third time he did this: “He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’” (Mark 14:71) How could this have happened? Who would have guessed this? Jesus! Jesus knew. Jesus had warned him: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31,32)
The prayer was answered. Peter’s faith did survive. He became a staunch leader of the faithful. The warning is there for us. We can turn into a spiritual coward just as easily as Peter did. The assurance is also there. We have the same Jesus watching over us. He can lift us up when we fall. He can restore us to spiritual health and return us to duty.
Jesus made Peter brave again. He became a coward no more. Neither are we. True?
We pray the words of an old hymn:
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways to keep his statutes still! Oh, that my God would grant me grace to know and do his will. Assist my soul, too apt to stray, a stricter watch to keep; And should I e’er forget your way, restore your wandering sheep. Make me to walk in your commands—‘tis a delightful road—Nor let my head or heart or hands offend against my God! Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military