As he tells of Jesus’ trial before Annas and Caiaphas, John interweaves segments recounting Peter’s denial of Jesus (John 18:15-27). You are not surprised that the chief priests and the Council isolate Jesus, make him the scapegoat, and pursue his death. But you should be startled that Peter, Peter who had confessed his Lord, Peter who had insisted that he would never abandon Jesus, this Peter denies knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Not Peter, but Jesus is the central character in this account of Peter denying his Lord.
Herman Ridderbos comments:
“In the extreme restraint of the repeated ‘I am not’ the Evangelist is . . . echoing the repeated ‘I am’ with which Jesus answers his interrogators (vss. 5, 8). With this contrast the Evangelist lays bare the deeper meaning of Peter’s denial: Jesus goes alone on a road from which no one can keep him and on which no one, not even Peter, can join him or follow him (13:36; cf. 13:33). Peter tries to follow Jesus, and that only plunges him into denying Jesus. Jesus had foretold this. The cock crows ‘at once’ into Peter’s ears when for the third time he must say of himself: ‘I am not.’” (The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, p. 585.)
Notice the detail of the fire at which the guards were warming themselves. It was dangerous for Peter to joint that group and risk more questioning, but perhaps more dangerous to stand obviously apart. John may not record Peter’s tears, but he is preparing you for a group around another fire of coals (John 21). Peter will be forgiven. Peter will even be restored to his role as an apostle. The Lord who would forgive Peter stands willing to forgive you.
John does write of the sound of the rooster crowing, immediately upon Peter’s third denial. The crowing not only drives Peter to repentance, it assures you that Jesus, even in the midst of his own suffering, is concerned to call Peter and you to himself. That is the only way to prepare yourself to face the temptation to deny your Lord. Focus not on your strength, but on his faithfulness. Remember his willingness to die for you–and be willing to confess him before men.
(In preparation for the Wednesday evening Bible study and prayer time at Trinity Presbyterian Church, OPC)