The bitter bile of remorse rose up from his stomach, causing him to retch painfully as he sobbed, crying like a distraught child. Waves of pain and sorrow, guilt and regret washed over him as he cried unashamedly, while memories of another time played on the screen of his mind’s eye in vivid high definition. Meanwhile, he stumbled, weeping and gagging, as he made his way past the rioting crowds in the darkness as he sought a place of refuge, some place where he could escape the noise of the angry mob.
Finally, he collapsed in a heap beside the Dung Gate, while he continued to weep bitterly. “O Jesus,” he sobbed in anguish, “I have denied Messiah, Son of the Living God!”
Without warning, as he spoke those words of agony, another image flashed before his mind’s eye, of him and his eleven comrades, co-disciples near Caesarea Philippi with Jesus. It was a barren place of emptiness and waste. There was nothing remarkable about the place to stand out in his mind, but it was what happened there that forever changed Peter.
Earlier that day, they had seen Jesus feed over five thousand people with just two fish and five loaves of bread, and afterwards, they crossed the lake to the other side. They were all so excited about all they had witnessed, that they forgot to bring any food along with them, until they got to the other side, and Jesus told them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. Not understanding what He was saying, they thought He must be referring to the fact that they had no bread.
They were so earthly minded, that it was often difficult for them to understand what Jesus was really trying to tell them, and yet, He continued to love them, and explain those things they didn’t understand, much like a mother teaches her children… “You have so little faith! Why are you worried about having no food? Won’t you ever understand? Don’t you remember the five thousand I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of food that were left over? Don’t you remember the four thousand I fed with seven loaves, with baskets of food left over? How could you even think I was talking about food? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'” Slowly, understanding dawned on them, and they nodded knowingly, like children, eager to please their father.
And then Jesus asked them another question, and like children eager to redeem themselves from their previous misunderstanding, they took turns answering their Teacher’s next question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Some say John the Baptist,” a few of them burst forth eagerly.
“Yes, and some say Elijah!” still others eagerly stated, their eyes glistening with the hopes that their answer was the correct one.
“That’s true,” others responded, “but we’ve heard people say that You’re Jeremiah or one of the other prophets!”
While all of this questioning and answering was going on, Peter, who was normally so boisterous and vocal, stood there in silence, watching his Master’s every move, thinking of the miracles of healing and deliverance, the feeding of the multitudes, and the raising of the dead. He felt his heart begin to pound loudly in his chest, and his ears began to ring, as Jesus posed another question to the disciples, “Who do you say I am?”
A sudden blinding revelation came to Peter, as the answer to the question burst forth from him, like the flood waters forcing their way past a dam, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Sitting beside the Dung Gate, Peter continued to weep bitterly, as he remembered Jesus’ response to him that day, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because My Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven.”
“Heavenly Father,” Peter now prayed on the darkest night of his soul, “Forgive me. In my foolish pride and arrogance, I was so sure I would do the right thing, even though no one else did. I was so sure that I would stand with Jesus, that I would be the rock that He could depend on. I had so much confidence in my own strength and character, that I forgot my strength comes from You. Forgive me, Lord, for strutting around like a pompous rooster, so proud of all my achievements, when apart from Jesus, I can do nothing! El Hakadosh, apart from Him I have nothing — apart from Him, I am nothing,” Peter wept brokenly, as memories of his time with Jesus washed over him.
He remembered His first meeting with Jesus, who looked intently at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John — but you will be called Cephas (which means Peter).” A few days later, he saw Jesus again, walking along the shore of Galilee, where he and his brother, Andrew, who were commercial fishermen, were busy fishing with a net, while the sweat rolled off them. “Peter and Andrew,” Jesus called, as they stood in their boat holding the net. Both waved, happy to see Him again, as Jesus beckoned them, “Come,” He shouted to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Just like that, without even a second glance, both Peter and his brother Andrew drew the net back in, beached their boat, on the shore, and left it all, to follow Jesus from that day forward. He remembered that day on the Mount of Olives, when Jesus taught the people for hours. His words were like manna from heaven and Peter loved feasting on them, savoring each tasty morsel that came forth from Jesus’ tongue. He spoke with such authority — like no one Peter had ever heard before. He saw Him heal lepers, and many others who were sick. Jesus even healed his mother-in-law, who had fallen ill with a fever! He watched in awe, as Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, a voice to the mute, and even life to the dead!
There was nothing He couldn’t do! He cast demons out of men and women, and calmed the raging seas! He even walked on water, and invited Peter to join Him! Never had there been someone more loving and compassionate than Jesus, forgiving people of their sins, no matter how great they were, “And how did I repay Him, Lord?” Peter groaned miserably. “I denied that I even knew Him,” Peter shuddered as he remembered his vehement denial of Jesus, as not once, not twice, but three times, he denied knowing the One who had given him the abundant life he had never dreamed possible.
He would never forget the look on his Savior’s face, when he denied knowing Him that third and final time, cursing and swearing as he did so, and then, as the cock crowed for the third time, in the midst of his cursing, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. For what seemed like forever, but in reality, was probably a matter of seconds, their eyes locked, and Peter was shocked at what he saw in Jesus’ eyes. As He stood there battered and bleeding, Jesus gazed at Peter with compassion and sorrow in His eyes! There Peter stood, ranting like a lunatic in order to convince everyone that he didn’t know the King of glory, while the King of kings stood swaying from the onslaught of the brutal beatings He had received, feeling sympathy for Peter!
Overwhelming shame engulfed Peter, as he took off running and crying like a baby. He had hurt the One that he loved most, and the last memory Jesus would ever have of Peter, the fool who had declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will…” and when Jesus had responded that Peter would deny Him three times, Peter had passionately exclaimed, “No! Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!” Those words tasted like bile in his mouth now.
After a night spent weeping bitterly, Peter picked himself up early the next morning, slowly making his way to the upper room, where they had gathered the night before for what was their last supper with their Master. His eyes and his nose were red from sleeplessness and crying, and he felt as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Jerusalem was abuzz with gossip, and he had heard the outcome of the sham they called a trial, as he made his way back. He had heard the vociferous crowd as he quietly skirted around the back of them, wending his way to the last place where he and his brothers had been united as one with Messiah. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” the angry crowd shouted, and Peter fought not to begin retching again. “Give us Barabbas,” he heard them cry, as he entered the upper room and quickly slammed the door shut.
He saw that most of the disciples had already returned there, and though some wanted to talk, he just waved them off, stalking over to the darkest corner of the room, and resting his weight there on the floor, he drifted off into a troubled sleep. In his dreams, he again saw Jesus looking at him with love and compassion, while he wept inconsolably. Scenes of the times they had shared together were woven into his dreams, and Peter heard the voice of his Savior speaking to him, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because My Father in heaven has revealed this to you… Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven… Get away from Me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to Me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s…
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow Me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for Me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?
“For I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of My Father with His angels and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see Me, the Son of Man, coming in My Kingdom.
“No one can take My life from Me. I lay down My life voluntarily. For I have the right to lay it down when I want to and also the power to take it again. For my Father has given Me this command…
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have all of you, to sift you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to Me again, strengthen and build up your brothers.”
He was awakened later that evening to the sounds of screaming, both inside the upper room, and outside as well, as the tremors of a violent earthquake shook the city of Jerusalem. There was an eerie darkness that spread throughout the land, and they watched through the window in fear and amazement, as many tombs were ripped open, and the dead rose up out of those tombs. The men and women in the upper room were just as frightened as those outside were, and Peter again heard the voice of His Savior last night when He told him, “Simon, Simon… I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to Me again, strengthen and build up your brothers.”
“I repent, Lord,” Peter whispered brokenly, “Forgive me, and help me to be the man You want me to be, Lord.” He looked around the room, at the frightened men and women who had gathered there trembling and crying, and he spoke to them. “Fear not, brothers and sisters, no one took Messiah’s life,” he said, as the tears traveled down his dirt stained, care worn face. “He gave His life willingly, for our sake. Even though there is darkness all around, let us trust in the Lord, with all our heart, and lean not on our own understanding. Let us pray together and stay together, until our heavenly Father shows us what to do next,” he said, as the men and women in the room nodded and knelt to pray.
Three days later, Mary Magdalene came running into the upper room and told Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter and John ran to the tomb to see, and John outran Peter and got there first, stopping at the entrance, where he stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there. Peter arrived shortly after, and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side. Then the John also went in, and he saw and believed — for until then they hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said He would rise from the dead.
John looked at Peter with fire in his eyes, “He’s alive, Peter!” Both were stunned as they continued to stare at the empty tomb and the burial cloths, and then looked back to one another. “He’s alive!” John said exuberantly.
Later that evening, Jesus miraculously appeared in the midst of them, from out of nowhere, showing them His nail pierced hands and feet, as well as His side…
Cheryl A. Showers