Every student of the life of Christ knows about Peter’s denials of the Lord. It is very appropriate for us to look at what happened to Peter and ask the Lord to keep us from denying Him with our words or our actions. We all should recognize that we can be guilty of denying the Lord.
Peter found himself in that situation because he was afraid. He feared what speaking the truth about Christ would mean for him. The Jewish religious leaders were putting Jesus on trial in a room right above where Peter was standing. They would condemn the Lord to death. When confronted by those who gave him the opportunity to do the right thing, his personal comfort won out over doing what he knew he should have done.
As sobering as it is to realize that we can be like Peter, it is perhaps even more sobering to realize we can be like a notorious unbeliever. That unbeliever is Pilate, the Roman governor who condemned the Lord to death.
Mark’s Gospel places the denials of Peter (14:66-72) immediately before Jesus’ appearance before Pilate (15:1-15). The similarities between these two accounts are striking.
Both Peter and Pilate are given numerous opportunities to do the right thing. Both know Jesus is innocent. In both cases the Lord is on trial for His life and is falsely accused. In both accounts the religious leaders are the ones causing the trials to take place.
Like Peter, Pilate was afraid. Historians tell us that he was on shaky political ground. His boss in Syria and the authorities in Rome had heard complaints about him. There was even a question about his loyalty to Rome. He was afraid that if he let Christ go free, the Jews would report him to his superiors and accuse him of treason. After all, Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews, and Caesar claimed that title for himself. Pilate was afraid of what would happen to him if he let an innocent man go free, even though that was the right thing to do. In the end, he chose his own comfort, just as Peter did.
To be fair, both Peter and Pilate tried to avoid denying and condemning Christ. Peter walked away from the girl who asked him if he knew Christ. Later, when he was confronted by more who accused him of knowing Him, he brushed them off as well. Only at the end, when confronted by another larger crowd, did he swear a curse on himself if he were a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.
Pilate came up with various ways to avoid putting Jesus to death. He claimed that the Lord was innocent. He offered to set Him free as an act of grace because it was the Passover. He scourged Him in hopes that that would be a sufficient punishment. However, in the end, the pressure of the crowd caused him to put Jesus to death.
Both Peter and Pilate did not do what was right because they feared what others would think and do to them. It is believed that Peter was the primary source for Mark’s Gospel. I wonder if he encouraged Mark to put the account of Pilate immediately after his own denials of Christ. Did he tell Mark that he was just as bad as Pilate? We know that Peter wept bitterly after denying the Lord. We can only wonder how he felt when he realized that he was just like Pilate in so many ways.
There are many who say that a “true” Christian can never deny the Lord. Peter shows us, however, that we can commit any sin—even that one. Let’s not fool ourselves. To understand the depth of the sin we can fall into if we are not walking with the Lord, we need to realize that we can even be just like Pilate. Peter was.