Peter Pays the Precious Price
After thrice denying he knew Jesus the fateful night of his illegal trial, Peter wept bitterly. A nearby cock had crowed—twice, apparently, if we go by Luke’s account—and the Savior’s prediction had come to pass. Remembrance came crashing down … and not just of that specific prophecy. Jesus had warned Peter and the other apostles several times that he would be delivered into the hands of evil men who sought to kill him, and that it needed to happen so that he could rise in the resurrection with healing in his wings.
Simon’s devotion to his Savior was powerful. He was the stout-hearted champion the Lord needed, which is why Jesus had nicknamed him Cephas, or unpolished stone, which translates from the Greek into Peter. Indeed, Peter must have wondered at the seriousness of the commitment of some of his compatriots when, during the Last Supper, Christ predicted that someone would be betray him, and more than one disciple asked, “Is it I?”
The apostles were familiar with Messianic prophecy. And yet it was difficult to reconcile in their minds, since Mary’s son was with them and he clearly wielded the power of God at will. So, they tried to find alternative explanations. Surely, the all-powerful Messiah could not be killed by common men! And the propitiation for sin—the Atonement—could be performed without the interposition of angry Jewish leaders bent on violence. Jesus of Nazareth could live a long, full life, choosing to die at an older age, or perhaps be taken up, like Moses, death and resurrection happening in a sequential instant.
All of that was plausible, but God’s exquisite plan, perfectly implemented, was to provide a series of events that would prove to be far more powerful—across geography and across time—than anything simple mortal minds could conjure up, much less execute.
We might wonder why the apostles—including bold, courageous Simon—feared to air their questions about the Father’s plan before their Lord. Jesus was eminently approachable, and certainly willing to help them progress toward the truth according to their willingness. And yet, they held back, trying to figure it out on their own. At least three lessons can be gleaned from this.
First, the Lord doesn’t force us to learn or be obedient, even though some of his gracious lessons may at first appear that way (even after multiple warnings). It is our choice to ask, and then to listen and obey.
Second, we can’t learn everything all at once, not just because of our imperfect fallen state, but because of the nature of knowledge itself. All knowledge is gained through the successful placement of the requisite building blocks, step by step. Sometimes progress may look like a normal pyramid, while at other times it is a funnel, narrow at the bottom and impossibly broad at the top, with the distilling of knowledge directly into our soul through carefully constructed channels.
Third, the Lord wants us to ask him questions, and he isn’t nearly as disappointed in us as we imagine he is when we do. Yes, he is demanding and has high expectations, but that is for our sake, not his, and he respects—even relishes—our unlimited eternal potential. He is also infinitely understanding—again, for our sake and not his. Every single thing he does on this Earth is for us. There are no ulterior motives, no selfish purposes, no prideful remonstrances when we fall short and need his help. Sure, we don’t want to disappoint him, and neither did the twelve apostles he called during his mortal ministry. But he isn’t a callous taskmaster. In fact, taking upon ourselves his burden is far easier than resisting the truth he represents. It is also infinitely more useful and rewarding, given consistent, determined application over time.
Matthew recorded the Lord’s description of this crucial dynamic as follows: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Peter knew with absolute certainty that Jesus was the Messiah, and he would never knowingly betray him. But he didn’t understand Christ’s mission fully enough, and that manifested itself in a lack of trust in Jesus which he didn’t recognize at the time.
There is a powerful verse in LDS scripture that describes a key insight: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:67)
Clearly, on the eve of the crucifixion, Simon Peter wasn’t quite ready to lead Christ’s church as the Chief Apostle. His eye hadn’t yet become single to the Lord’s glory, which for most is a lengthy process, even if faithfully and persistently undertaken. However, the Father and Son had devised a beautifully-tailored lesson for him. Of course, like any lesson God gives us, Peter could have chosen not to learn from it. We should all be grateful he did.
Peter’s View of the Night’s Events
When Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times that night, Peter protested vigorously. Such a thing was impossible. Nobody save the Lord’s mother Mary, and perhaps Mary of Magdala, loved him more, or was more dedicated to him. Perhaps, Peter may have thought, it wasn’t truly a prophecy, but another of Christ’s warnings to be vigilant. Peter could understand that.
He and the other disciples followed Jesus to the Mount of Olives. There, the Lord directed them to pray and keep watch while he proceeded further into the garden. He tarried long, returning three times to find Peter, James, and John asleep in a different part of Gethsemane to which he had led them. The first time he admonished them—specifically calling out Peter—for falling asleep. By the third time, his empathy for them overflowed, and he knew Judas was approaching with officers and servants of the chief priests and elders of the Jews.
Peter, perhaps still stinging from the Lord’s two previous rebukes of him that night, drew his sword and fended off one of those who had come to arrest Jesus, ruining his ear. Christ chastised him yet again, then healed the man’s ear in an unmistakable show of divine power and public disapproval of Peter’s actions.
At this point, Peter must have been reeling. He wasn’t sure what his Lord wanted him to do. Jesus was obviously displeased with him, and apparently even distrusted him. But he was determined to find a way to please his master, to show courage and loyalty as he helped him complete his mission. And so he furtively followed the fateful procession, which ended up at the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas.
Matthew mentions that Peter entered the palace and mingled with the servants to “see the end,” as if he had resigned himself to the fact that Jesus was going to allow himself to be killed. But Peter knew the Lord could easily escape his predicament. Maybe, he may have thought, this was another test, to see how devoted Peter was to him, and how quickly he would answer his call. So he stayed close.
As he waited, people began to recognize him, perhaps by his appearance, but also by his Galilean accent or dialect, which means he was talking to the other servants, trying to ascertain what was going on inside the palace as they came and went, performing their duties for the high priest’s large household.
The first was likely a female, as all four gospel writers agree on that, referred to as a “damsel” or a “maid of the high priest.” She seemed to recognize his face, but Peter denied knowing Jesus. He was undercover, after all, and he still needed to learn more so he would know what he could do to serve his Lord. In Mark’s record, a cock crowed at this point, but Peter didn’t seem to be affected by it.
Matthew and Mark identify the second accuser as also being a maid, though Luke and John indicate it may have been a man or even a group of people. Again, Peter denied knowing Jesus or being associated with him, again surely thinking that he had an important mission he needed to protect and then perform.
The third may have been a servant of the high priest, as indicated by John, or another group of people, who claimed his manner of speech betrayed him. Luke states the accusation was a confident one, as if the person or persons were absolutely certain. Again, Peter denied, vehemently and with an oath. He needed to stay near the Savior, and these people would surely expel him from the palace. Or worse.
The cock crowed again, and realization dawned on Peter. Jesus had predicted exactly what had happened. Shame washed over him. He knew that somehow he had failed yet again that night, and he wept bitterly.
What Happened Next?
We don’t know where Peter went next. At some point, he would have had to leave the palace, and he likely would have rejoined the other disciples somewhere, safe in someone’s house. Did he witness Pilate’s decision to release the man called Barabbas and remand Jesus of Nazareth for execution? We don’t know. But somebody witnessed the scene and heard the profound conversations it generated, which knowledge was eventually passed along to the gospel writers.
Did Peter immediately confess to the others that he had indeed denied his association with Jesus three times that night, as prophesied by the Lord himself? We don’t know that, either. But he clearly would have been distraught, along with the others. They would have sought to console each other, paying special attention to the Savior’s mother.
I picture Mary as likely the strongest among them, who instead of needing the most consolation, provided the most. It was she who knew Jesus best. Her son, his parentage shared with her by the Father himself, had confided much to her over the years. She understood his mission, and though she would be sad to see him leave, she knew to rejoice in his perfect life and in the choice he was making for all mankind.
Of course, even understanding all of this, seeing his intense suffering the next day would have been extremely difficult to bear, especially as he was nailed to the cruel Roman cross and the timbers were then erected. Peter likely witnessed this scene, also observing the command that John the Beloved was to take care of Mary. When it was done, Peter may have assisted Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in securing the preparing the body for interment in a new tomb, but we don’t have a record of that.
Nothing is said of the next day, which was the Sabbath, but Christ wasted no time on the third day. Very early in the morning, Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb with additional spices for his burial. Mary the mother of Joses, James, and Salome is also mentioned as being there, along with Joanna and other women. John’s account, which places only Mary Magdalene there, is perhaps the most dramatic, as she sees the empty tomb and immediately runs to tell Peter and the other disciples. Peter and John then rush to the site, John outrunning Peter, and discover that the body is indeed gone. It is only then that Mary sees the angels, and then the Lord himself, whereas in the other accounts the angels are immediately seen.
In any case, Peter is still prominent among the disciples, despite his apparent recent failures to understand and do as the Lord would wish. He and the other ten apostles are among the first to receive a visit from the resurrected Jesus, whose purpose wasn’t just to prove his resurrection was real, but also to teach, comfort, and celebrate. Then, the newly resurrected Savior, his primary mission complete, continued to visit his apostles and disciples for forty days, training them how to build and administer his kingdom on the Earth.
What an incredible time that must have been! The men and women who would lead and expand the Church were trained by the Lord himself. In person. Many of them had traveled extensively with him during his Earthly ministry, where they had learned something of his divine power and purpose, but now … now the grand vistas of eternal progress began to open up to them. They weren’t freed from the trials and harsh necessities of mortal life, but they received incredible strength in body, mind, and spirit.
For Peter, this was no less a transformative time than for any of the other men and women called to serve and lead. The lessons recently learned were reinforced and expanded, taking root in that brave breast. After Christ ascended, leaving his nascent church without his physical presence, the first order of business was to replace Judas Iscariot, so that twelve apostles would be in place to order the work. Then came the great day of Pentecost, with its amazing outpouring of the Spirit. Peter took the lead in testifying of Christ’s atonement for sin and his marvelous resurrection, then welcomed the conversion of thousands to the Christian faith.
Some call this Peter’s first sermon, but it most certainly wasn’t. The apostles and disciples had preached Christ’s word for much of his ministry, and even performed healings. However, this may well have been Peter’s first public sermon of any note since becoming the leader of the Lord’s church on the Earth. Acts Chapter Two contains, I believe, the longest exposition we have from the chief apostle outside of the First and Second Books of Peter.
Then follows the healing of the lame man at the temple by Peter and John, which caused quite a stir among the people and the Jewish leaders. Eventually, they were arrested, then freed by an angel, after which they continued teaching of Christ, of him crucified and resurrected, of the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, and of the New Covenant. The foundation Peter and the other men and women of the church laid, under the direction of the Lord himself, became an astonishingly powerful force for truth, hope, and righteousness across the world.
Mortals being mortals, of course, this power has often been abused over the centuries, but the core of the gospel message has survived, thriving in the hearts and minds of untold millions who humbly and earnestly seek to emulate the literal, redemptive Son of God and participate fully in his grace.
One of the critical reasons it has survived is the hard, loyal work of an unlearned fisherman named Simon, called Peter, of the Galilee.