Mark 14 – Peter’s Fortunate Humiliation

This post is part of an on-going series meant to compliment the wonderful commentary provided in D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Vol 1, which tracks along with the M’Cheyne reading plan.  The links to both the reading plan and a free PDF of Carson’s book are available here.


Gerrit van Honthorst, (1592-1656): The Denial of St. Peter, 1623

Peter catches a lot of flack for his mistakes.  Likely too much.  It is very easy for many of us to sit comfortably in our seats, knowing how the story ends up, knowing the power of the resurrection, knowing the defeat of sin and death, and pronounce Peter a coward.  A redeemed coward, yes, but a coward nonetheless.

Mark 14 perhaps doesn’t help such a perception of Peter, as Mark here records Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus.  This denial was foretold by Jesus, some dozens of verses earlier:

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (ESV)

Yet, when push comes to shove, we find Peter denying Jesus.  And he doesn’t put up that great of a fight:

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (ESV)

What can we make of this?  Here are a couple of things to meditate on:

1. Peter was the representative of all the disciples.  He did not act on his own, but only where the others lacked the courage to.  Peter’s short impassioned speech in 14:31 was backed by the rest. All affirmed they wouldn’t leave; all were prophesied to fall away.  Therefore, we are not to think that Peter was somehow the weak link, but rather the strong one.  As much as the disciples looked up to Jesus, they also followed Peter’s lead.

2. The issue is also not how weak or strong Peter was, but how weak we all must be.  Those disciples who fell away witnessed all of the miracles of the Lord, heard his words, heard him pray, watched him eat, laughed with him; these were the people who still turned on him when he needed them most.  Who among us things we are stronger, more fit, or more capable?  Do not think that you can escape such a fate.  Pride comes before the fall.

3. We should also take note of how the Lord accomplished Peter’s denial.  Not through the point of a sword, the lick of a flame, the dull thud of a club, the rabble of the mob.  But rather through the simple and innocent questions of a young servant.  Peter, the leader of the disciples, closest to the Lord, who would fight for him to the death, is undone by the queries of a young woman.  How important a lesson this must have been for Peter!  So sure that he could hold on through anything, but blown away by one small whisper.  It was, likely, a lesson Peter never forgot, a humiliation that haunted him till his dying, martyred breath.  A humiliation on earth that saved him from humiliation before the throne.

Oh, that we all might be so humiliated!

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  Mark 8:38, ESV