“…you will deny me three times.”
This coming Sunday we will consider the low point in Peter’s life as Jackson Randall preaches from the book of Mark. We aren’t quite to advent yet, but John Piper has written an advent poem on Peter and the weight of his denial of Christ that will bring perspective to this story of failure, reminding us that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us” ~PSALM 103:12. Peter’s denial of Christ is a reminder of how even the strongest of follows can fail so completely.
An Advent Meditation at the Lord’s Table
These two great apostles and friends reunite after years of separation in the ministry of the gospel. As they reminisce, Peter confides in John that his denial of Jesus still haunts him. It’s a story of finding freedom from sins of the past.
For years their paths had never crossed.
John used to smile and say, “I’ve lost
Touch with the Rock.” And Peter thought
From time to time, “I really ought
To find old John.” They hadn’t seen
Each other since the time they’d been
Together in Jerusalem,
When Herod tried to murder them.
Like James. They’d said their last farewell
The night that Peter’s prison cell
Was opened by an angel’s hand.
And both remembered how they planned
Some day, somewhere, if God should will,
To meet again. And they could still
Recall the final words they spoke
That night: “O John, don’t let the stroke
That brought your brother down suppress
Your voice and make you any less
A ‘son of thunder’ without James.
The Lord has given us our names!”
“And yours is Peter now,” John said,
“A solid friend with none to dread:
How weak was Herod’s prison lock!
No powers of hell will crush this Rock.”
And that was all. Two decades passed
Without a meeting. Then at last
In Smyrna by the sea the two
Apostles met again. “It’s you,
It’s really you! How are you, John?”
“I’m well, Simon, and you?” “I’ve done
All right, I guess. The Lord is good.
You know my mouth! If Jesus weren’t
A patient God, I would have burnt
In hell a long, long time ago.
Instead I’ve watched the kingdom grow.
O John, the stories we could tell!
It’s true, you know – the gates of hell
Are falling everywhere. The Lord
Still speaks with power in his word.
Have you not found it so? Come, sit
With me beside the fire I’ve lit,
And tell me, brother, what one night
Do you recall, with Him that might
Go down in history as the best
And worst of nights?” “The night he blessed
The bread. It was the best and worst.
Why do you ask?” “Because I thirst –
I thirst to drink with him again!
O John, we will be different men.
When He returns, and I am sure
That when we eat we will be pure.
Can you believe the things we said
That night! And scorned the holy bread
Before his very face? The pride
That you and I could scarcely hide
That He had chosen us to bake
The bread and find the room and take
Charge of the meal. And then between
Us both to bicker and demean
Each other’s name: ‘Which is more great:
The sound of Thunder or the weight
Of Rock?’ And when he chastened me,
And showed me his humility,
And laid bare all my arrogance,
Did I accept his second chance
Like you? I strutted like a cock,
And crowed my strength: ‘I am a Rock!
If others turn away and fall,
Not I! At least the Rock stands tall.’
It haunts me, John. At every meal.
It haunts me till I scarce can feel
Forgiv’n. I preach, I heal the lame,
I suffer for the Savior’s name,
And I rejoice to bear the shame.
This is my passion, John, the flame
That burns and burns until I feel
That my heart could explode with zeal.
But I can scarcely lift my head
When someone breaks the holy bread.
It haunts me, John. For twenty years
The mem’ry . . .” Peter broke in tears.
John watched the Rock reduce and melt.
And then the Son of Thunder knelt
Beside his friend and said, “Tell me,
In all these years of sympathy
For God’s lost sheep, as you have healed
The sick, and secret thoughts revealed,
And made a thousand people new,
Has anyone laid hands on you?”
He shook his head. And so John laid
His hands on Peter’s head and prayed:
“The Lord, the Lord, a gracious God,
And slow to lift an angry rod,
Abounding now in mercy free,
And faithfulness for you and me,
Forgiving every kind of sin
That we have ever fallen in.
Come now, O Lord, and touch with me,
Come, Jesus, heal the memory
Come, Spirit, spread a table here:
No sin, no guilt, no pain, no fear.
Come pour the cup and break the bread,
And lift your servant Simon’s head,
And feed him with your righteousness,
And make the cup of blessing bless,
And speak now face to face, O Christ:
‘My body I have sacrificed;
I’ve loved you Peter unto death,
And love you now with every breath
You take. Come friend, lift up your head.
That is the meaning of the bread.
I meant it then; and still it’s true:
My heart’s desire – to eat with you.'”
And so today in Jesus’ name
I welcome you to do the same.
There is a quiet thunder here
And Jesus too is very near.
As we light advent candle one
Be healed and nourished in the Son.