“Truly, truly, I say to you,
the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times."
Jesus is spending his last evening with his disciples. He has washed their feet, demonstrating that the greatest in his kingdom is the one who serves. He has broken bread and drunk wine with his disciples in the Passover meal -- a reminder to Jewish people of all times that it is God who rescues His people from the bondage in which they are entrapped. He has stated that one of their "band of brothers" will betray him to the authorities -- and Judas Iscariot departs to do so. He has given a new and more powerful command, "Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." He has stated it is time for him to depart to be glorified and he says "Where I am going you cannot come," "but you will follow afterward."
Peter, being Peter, then wants to dispute this idea with Jesus. "Lord, I will follow you, I will lay down my life for you." Jesus responds, "Truly, truly I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times."
It is always dangerous to rely on our own strength or our own will in our attempts to follow Jesus How many times have we resolved "I want to be a good Christian so I won't [do, think, say] that anymore," only to discover our good intentions simply lead us to another shortfall? Peter, who has been with Jesus from early on, is believing he can be perfect in following Jesus. His pride in his own efforts and abilities is shining through, and God and Jesus will have no part of it. Salvation comes from God alone. Only Jesus saves. There is nothing we do to change that. Peter learned that in a hard and embarrassing way. Paul learned it on the Damascus road. Martin Luther learned it in the monastery trying to be the perfect monk. Peter failed. Paul had to be turned around by Jesus himself. Luther was enlightened by the Holy Spirit as he studied Romans.
Charlemagne, King of the Franks and eventually, when crowned by the Pope as the first "Holy Roman Emperor," was reputed to have said, "If me and my Franks had been there, Jesus never would have been crucified." We can hope this statement was made before the full impact of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection became clear to the great emperor. Jesus knew the work he was sent to do. He knew it was his work alone. He knew no one else could work with him, even St. Peter.
There is a lesson in humility in this for all of us. Our strength is not sufficient to save us. We will be saved only because Jesus died and rose for us and has sent his Holy Spirit so we can believe the work has been done. When we think we have something of our own doing to add to this work of God, we are presuming to be better followers of Jesus than St. Peter, and we are heading for an embarrassing fall.
Peter will deny, we know the rest of the story, and he will be restored, and by the power of the Holy Spirit go on to be martyred for the Lord. Everything in its time and in its place according to the working of the Lord.
With this text, on that night so long ago, we are best reminded to hold to Luther's opening words of his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, "I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith."
Salvation is all God's work, and I for one am extremely glad it depends on him and not on me. Peter learned that the hard way. Thank God we can learn it from him.
Remember Whose you are --