Later that evening, Peter, James and John went with Jesus into the inner part of the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went there to pass through the awesome experience of separation from His Father. This would answer a couple of questions, “Does sin result in death?” Yes, but what kind of death? “Is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God?” No, He suffered there alone, apparently abandoned by the Father (for more on these questions see the section “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). Three times He came over to where the disciples were dozing, wanting their companionship and comfort. In the end, did He scold them for not helping Him? No, He made an excuse for them. He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I understand, you three. You were just too tired.”
Think what they missed! What if the three of them had knelt around Christ, and put their hands on His shoulder while He went through that experience. Imagine Jesus running into those three from time to time in the Kingdom and saying, “Peter, James, and John, I’ll never forget how you knelt with Me in Gethsemane when I needed you so much.” What a memory they would have had for the rest of eternity! But they slept through it all. And Jesus didn’t scold them.
The same Peter had earlier made a bold speech in the upper room, “Though all the others would desert You, I will give my life for You” (based on Mark 14:29, 31). Yet a few hours later Peter was cursing and swearing to prove that he didn’t even know this Christ (Matt 26:74). Then the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said it would, and Peter wondered if Jesus had noticed. And though Jesus was on trial for His life, and had already suffered much, He was more concerned about His erring disciple in the courtyard than He was about Himself. Luke says that Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter (Luke 22:61-62). Peter may well have expected to see indignation and disapproval on Christ’s face. He certainly would have deserved it. But while he saw sorrow and disappointment to be sure, he also saw pity. It was the face of the One who had washed his dirty feet the night before. When Peter saw that look on Jesus’ face, he ran out of the courtyard and wept bitterly.
Consider the account as written by three of the gospel writers; Matthew, Mark and Luke; beginning with Mark: “And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away. . . .’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though they all fall away, I will not. . . . If I must die with you, I will not deny you’” (Mark 14: 27, 29, 31, RSV). Then Matthew adds:
A maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean. . . . I do not know the man. . . .” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:69-70, 72, 74, RSV).
Then Luke adds:
The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered that the Lord had said to him, “Before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62, GNB).
Later, Judas came in to the same courtyard. He threw down the thirty pieces of silver and confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood (Matt 27:3-4). No doubt He, too, looked at Jesus. Do you think he saw a different look on Jesus’ face? Did he see anger there? Was there rejection? He deserved it. But no, Judas was also one of Jesus’ children, and He was about to lose him. Jesus looked at Judas just as He had looked at Peter. There was the same sorrow, the same disappointment, the same pity. Again, it was the face of the One who had just the night before knelt down and washed Judas’ dirty feet. Overcome with it all, Judas ran out and committed suicide (Matt 27:5).
What a wonderful ending it would have been if Judas had been touched by that look on Jesus’ face, just as Peter had been. How much better would it have been if he had found where Peter was weeping and the two of them together had become new men. What a happy ending to the story that would have been! But all heaven watched a different story unfold.
Imagine also how Peter must have felt all that Sabbath. During the previous twenty-four hours he had made a fool of himself repeatedly. Twice he had made impetuous statements in the upper room. Then twice he had disgraced himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then came the cowardly behavior in the courtyard, denying that he even knew Christ. Now Christ was dead, and there was no way he could make it up to Him, no way he could make it right.