The first rays of morning crept through the windows. An icy stillness hung over this hall in the high priest’s palace, broken only by the pat-pat-pat of sandals pounding the floor. Simon Peter ran, heedless of where his footsteps were carrying him. He ran from the inquisitive stares of the servants, the all-knowing expressions that told him he’d been discovered. Their accusations followed after him.
“You were also with Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Yes; were you not one of his disciples?”
In fear he had sworn innocence, as if following the Son of God were a sin. Shame clawed at his heart. But what else could I have said? God knows what they are doing to him; surely they would do as much, and more, to one of his followers.
A tear formed in his eye. What were they doing to Jesus? His mind raced back over all that had happened in the hours leading up to this moment. How the high priest’s men came upon them in Gethsemane—led by Judas, may the wrath of God be upon him! How Jesus quietly surrendered himself, even healing the one Peter himself had wounded in his defense. And how they dragged him away to this accursed place; for what purpose, Peter didn’t want to imagine.
Why had God hidden himself? Why had he turned away this night?
A hand suddenly gripped his shoulder. “Slow down, friend. Where are you going?”
Peter looked into the suspicious eyes of a guard. “I . . . I do not know.”
He tried to turn away, but the guard tightened his grip. “Surely you are a follower of Jesus. You’re accent betrays you.”
Without thinking, Peter spewed curses at the guard. “By the living God, you are mistaken! I do not know the man!”
But as soon as he had uttered the words, all sounds faded but one: the unmistakable crowing of a rooster outside.
Then he realized he stood before an arched doorway, leading out to the courtyard. His heart froze. For there in the midst of the courtyard, surrounded by white-robed pharisees, stood a man. He was bent as if in pain; his robes were torn and dirty, his hair tangled. Blood and bruises stained his face.
Their eyes locked, and remembrance flooded Peter’s tortured thoughts. “Before the cock crows this day, three times you will deny that you know me.” For the first time, Peter had not believed his master’s words. Now, guilt as he had never known tore through his heart. He felt his knees begin to buckle under the crushing gravity of what he had just done.
He tried to turn away, but the Lord’s eyes held his own, penetrating his soul. They glinted in the pale light from tears—tears not shed for himself.
Peter felt his soul beginning to crack, all his old thoughts and ideas coming undone. He saw clearly that God had not turned away—that He stood right there in the courtyard, in the form of a beaten man.
My Lord, my Lord, Peter’s thought’s cried. I have betrayed you. I am no better than Judas! And yet the Lord’s gaze remained, cutting his heart, breaking every part of him. Then a whisper in his mind: “I love you none the less.”
At last he tore his eyes away. He ran out of the palace and into the chill, misty morning. He ran until he could run no more. And he wept.