Summary: Whatever shame you may have experienced, I assure you that Peter felt the shame and self-hatred all the more.
Can you remember (though you probably do not want to) the time when you where ashamed of yourself, so much so that you despised yourself for some act you committed or failed to commit. You knew that you could never sink so low as to…whatever it may be, and you did it to your great shame. Perhaps you had committed yourself to accomplishing some great feat, and you not only failed, you humiliated yourself in utter failure. Perhaps you broke a trust; perhaps you hurt terribly someone you loved; perhaps you boasted of what you could do and then publicly showed yourself a coward. Well, I don’t want to go on. I simply bring the topic up to introduce perhaps the most embarrassing and tragic episode in the Bible – Peter’s denial of his Lord. Whatever you may have experienced, I assure you that Peter felt the shame and self-hatred all the more.
Before we study the text, go back to the room of the last supper in verses 27-31.
27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
”‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ a
28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice b you yourself will disown me three times.”
31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Now to our text: While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.
Let’s construct the scene. Verse 54 reported that Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. This scene is taking place outside the high priest’s home, where Jesus is being tried by the Sanhedrin. We know that at Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane the disciples ran away. But at least Peter and John did not completely flee. Evidently they followed the arrest party at a distance to the high priest’s home. I suppose they did. It is possible that they already knew where he was being taken and took another route there. At least one servant of the high priest had been with the party and it was evident that the arrest was being made in the name of the Sanhedrin. Whatever the case, they make their way to the scene of the trial. From John’s gospel, we learn that John had some connection with the high priest – perhaps a relative of some kind. He is the one who gets them into the courtyard where he apparently leaves Peter to find out what is going on inside. Who knows, maybe it is John who reports what took place inside? Thus, Peter is left alone in the courtyard.
It is late at night, or rather, early morning. The second cock crow takes place approximately 1:30 a.m. Peter is approached by a servant girl. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.
“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.
68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.
This unnamed servant girl plays a big role in Peter’s downfall. It is evident that she does not take kindly to him or is sympathetic with Jesus, “that Nazarene.” She apparently has seen Peter before. It is doubtful that she was part of the arrest party, but she very well could have seen him sometime during the past week in Jerusalem with Jesus. Everybody wanted to get a look at Jesus.
She looked closely at him. Maybe she is just a busybody who doesn’t like strangers. Peter certainly has attracted her interest, which was probably the opposite of what he wanted to do. Then the what? An accusation? Simply an innocent identification? Whatever it was, Peter wanted nothing to do with it. He categorically denies her remark. Indeed, he is so disturbed by it, he walks away.
69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.
Unfortunately for Peter, this is a woman who will not be contradicted. Now she speaks directly to the others standing around, a number of whom are guards and officers. Remember, it is after midnight in the courtyard of the high priest. These bystanders all have some connection with the proceedings going on inside. Some were members of the arrest party. Peter is in an uncomfortable, indeed, a dangerous position, and this woman won’t leave him alone! Again he denied it.