Peter Remembers (3 of 3)
The house was hot. Even though large and well appointed, it held far too many people to be comfortable. Jesus stood at the front of a large room, surrounded by the cream of religious society. He was being viciously beaten. At the same time, some shouted insults, while others demanded answers. Except for the involuntary grunts, groans, and forced exhalations that naturally result from such a brutal beating, Jesus remained silent. Finally, his tormentors ceased their cruel work, removing from him the blindfold that they had earlier placed over his eyes.
Outside the house, in the courtyard, Peter was terrified. Twice he had almost been identified as a follower. Twice he had been accused, and within a stone’s throw of the high priest’s house! Yet he remained. But Peter’s personal trial was not quite over, for a third accuser approached, assured because of his manner of speech that he must be a Galilean. Peter had had enough of this talk, so he pronounced an oath, calling down curses upon himself, and declared for the third and final time that he had no idea who THAT man was. “I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN!!” In what felt like an eternity, his voice echoed in the night air. For a moment no one spoke. No one made a sound. As the echo died, a cry pierced the darkness . . .
At that precise moment, the recently un-blindfolded teacher turned his head toward the window and looked directly at Peter. At this Peter’s heart failed. “Oh, no, what have I done?” he thought. Running away as fast as he could, he searched for a safe place—a place where he could hide. A place where he wept and wept and wept.
Day broke soon after, and activity inside the house increased. Many Sanhedrin members stood in small groups, discussing matters and shaking or wagging their heads. Others continued to question Jesus about his origins and about his teaching. Climactically, the chief priests and scribes raised this question, “Tell us, are you the Christ?” Jesus replied immediately to this query, “If I answer, you will not believe.” They were elated that he had spoken at last! “Finally,” they thought, “Finally, we will hear from the man himself. This is the moment!” At this there was a palpable energy buzzing through the gathered religious leaders. Now they pressed, “Are you then the Son of God?” The room fell preternaturally silent. The only noise was the sound of breathing—the heavy, hot breaths of anticipation. It looked as if this teacher from Nazareth was going to answer. But no one was sure. Then, after what seemed an interminable period, Jesus spoke for the second time, and he proclaimed, “I am.”
“I am not,” said Peter.
“I am,” said Jesus
“I am not,” argued Peter
“I AM,” declared the Incarnate God
It is no accident that we find in the gospels this juxtaposition of opposing declarations, and in virtually the same scene. One says, “I am,” while another defiantly pronounces, “I am not.” This is essential because it highlights something that is at the very core of the gospel message: that what God is we are not, and that what we are, God is not. Even more, when confronted with the reality of who God is, our tendency is often, like Peter’s, to run away, to hide, to lie, and to deny. On the other hand, when confronted with the reality of who we are as God’s creation, God decides—over and over again—to love, to serve, to draw us to him, and to sacrifice for our salvation. It is in this dissonance between our response and God’s that we see most clearly what it is that God has done for us. It is in this moment of clarity that we begin to come to grips with the truth about our salvation. It is crucial that we understand that we have in no way been qualified to earn the salvation that God has granted us in Jesus. On the contrary, if we learn anything from the cross, it is that our only qualification is as recipients of a grace that defies even our wildest imagination. We learn that we are being rewarded not for our goodness, or for our worth, or for any other self-value that we may also have ignorantly miscalculated. Instead, we are being welcomed into a life—through our faith in Jesus Christ—that has totally, completely, and utterly originated in the mind of God. God has placed eternal value on us, and God has decided that we are worth everything to him. In other words, we do well to remember this:
He is, and we are not.