John 18:12-27 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 81)
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people. 15Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17″You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” 18It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. 19Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20″I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23″If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. 25As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
Following Jesus was a risky thing to do that night. Peter was willing to follow Jesus that night; followed him straight into the high priests house and observed the trial. It was a risky thing to do. The scene centers on Jesus before the high priest, but woven into this story is what happened to Peter after he followed Jesus. The strange irony is that people asked Peter if he knew Jesus. And why shouldn’t they? I can’t imagine for a moment that Peter happened to look like he fit in among those people. He was probably very much out of place—haggard and tired looking. What was Peter doing that night as he followed Jesus into the house of the high priest? I think this scene is about Peter: What happens to Peter when he follows Jesus?
Well, the simple fact is, people are going to ask if we know him; Jesus, that is. What other reason would we have for following Jesus but to know him? They ask him three times: Are you one of his disciples? No. Are you one of his disciples? No. Weren’t you with him in the garden? No. Cock-a-doodle-do! Rebuked by a barn yard animal.
I think it is fair to ask: Why was Peter following Jesus that night if he was not prepared to announce his allegiance to Jesus? Was Peter merely wanting to watch the trial? Did he have some sick fascination with court room dramas? Was he hoping perhaps to break out his sword again and riot off a few more ears? Was he merely tagging along with the other disciple who was known to the high priest? I don’t really have an answer to that question to be honest with you. I don’t know why Peter was going along with him that night. I do admire his courage; I cringe at his failure. But I only cringe because I see too often my own failures at following Jesus.
Following Jesus is not cake and roses. We may as well be honest about it. Following Jesus is hard because there are a lot of people who are keen to cast aspersion and doubt on the followers and on the One we follow. Jesus is followed by a lot of people, but is it fair to ask why we follow? I think it is fair to ask why we follow and, in fact, I think that if we don’t ask why we follow we are likely to fail just as Peter did. That being said, perhaps even Peter was uncertain that night why he was following. Perhaps that is why he failed. It is supreme irony to me that Peter’s failure that night was that he didn’t know Jesus and Judas’ failure was that he did know Jesus. Strange, isn’t it?
Maybe Peter was thinking along these lines, “The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King” (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, 9). Maybe Peter was hoping that maybe it was all a joke and that after a little questioning Jesus would be let go and they could all get together again in the Garden for some sleep and prayer. Who knows? Maybe Peter hoped it would all go away and life could get back to normal: Teaching, rebuking, kingdoms. Maybe Peter had hoped that Jesus would light them up right then and there, call in the angels, set up the kingdom and Peter would be there ready at arms. It’s all speculation on my part.
I admire that Peter followed Jesus right into the courtroom. He was courageous. I like to think that I would have followed, but I probably wouldn’t have. Would any of us? Do any of us? Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” And right there was Peter. They could have asked Peter or the other unnamed disciple what Jesus said. Peter could have testified at the trial of Jesus, but he took the Fifth: “I do not know him, damn-it! Now leave me alone.” Can you imagine: The great defender of the faith, the great apostle, the one who promised to go to the death with Jesus refused to speak up at the trial of Jesus.
Along the way we are going to have that same problem. We are going to be asked: Do you know Jesus? Have you spent time with him? Didn’t I see you at that rally, that function, going into that church building on Sunday morning? You know Jesus don’t you? How will we answer? You see I think that knowing Jesus, following Jesus, entails a lot more than being a mere spectator at his trials, or a mere participant in His adulation, or a mere silent follower along the way. I think it means that when we are asked we should be ready with an answer. I think it means that we must be ready testify in His defense.
I’m not blaming Peter. Lord knows there have been plenty of times when I have failed in one way or another to acknowledge that I too belong to Jesus; that I too am not a mere voyeur in the courtroom; that I too am not just am not just a ‘hanger-onner’ or big-talker when in the company of friends. We will all fail. So why are we following Jesus? And along the way, when we are questioned, how will we answer? How will we respond to those who ask the reason for the hope we have? Following is not just walking behind. Following is knowing. If you are going to follow Jesus, you are going to have to know Jesus. And you are going to have to decide ahead of time how you are going to respond when people ask you if you know Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!