It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of those men that fateful night. What led them to the decision they made? The heaviness of heart knowing you just betrayed your friend, your teacher. Peter, only hours before, declaring that he would follow Jesus to prison, unto death, instead denied even knowing him to the crowd around the fire. Judas, having sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, struggles to come to grips with what he has done.
Two men, similar in some ways, vastly different in others. Each had seen the signs and wonders Jesus wrought throughout His ministry. They had been there when He opened the eyes of the blind, raised the dead, and fed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves. They had seen Him walk on the water, Peter himself even stepping out onto the sea to walk to Jesus. They had been given power to cast out demons, tread upon scorpions. And yet, now the Master is in chains, beaten, whipped, mocked, condemned to die on a cross, and they’ve betrayed him. The weight is unbearable for one, and he takes his life, unable to bear the burden of his transgression. The other, becomes the rock upon whom He would build His Church, standing up in Acts 2:38 declaring to all the path to salvation.
So what was so different between Judas Iscariot and Peter? Why is Judas remembered and reviled throughout history as the betrayer? Judas, once a popular name is rarely given to children, while Peter remains one of the most popular. Judas is synonymous with betrayal, along with Brutus and Benedict Arnold. Why isn’t Peter held in such a light? While his denial is often taught around the Easter season, most think of Peter as the one who stepped out of the boat, one of Jesus’s closest disciples. What was different that led to such different outcomes for these two men? In a word, faith.
Judas, despite witnessing the miracles and having heard the lord speak found in his heart he did not believe Jesus was who He said he was. Even at the table, when each disciple was asking Jesus if it was he who would betray Him notice the contrast between Judas and other the 11. The other disciples ask “Lord, is it I.” Judas asked “Master, is it I?” Master, or teacher, is a stark difference from Lord.
The seed of betrayal was planted after he was rebuked by Jesus after Judas became angry with the woman who broke the precious ointment over Jesus’ feet. Some believe Judas thought Jesus to be a revolutionary, who would come and overthrow the Roman government, the signs and wonders He did a display of power to gather support to start the revolution. Judas became bitter and angry when he realized Jesus was preparing to die, not to lead an attack on the Roman oppressors. He resented that Jesus was going into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and not at the head of an army. Judas couldn’t see that Jesus planned to overthrow death and hell itself through His death.
Whatever the motive that Judas may have had for following Jesus, it diverged from his fellow disciples and put Judas on the path of infamy. As Jesus is accused and sentenced to die, Judas cannot find it in himself to believe on Him. He returns to the priests in an attempt to rid himself of the immense burden of betrayal, flinging the silver onto the floor of the temple. However, the most Judas could think of Jesus was simply as an innocent man. In Matthew 27:3-4, he seeks absolution from his fellow man, instead of the One who was preparing to die for him. Unable to find the consolation he needs in the words and minds of man, he goes and takes his life.
Then, there’s Peter. His betrayal isn’t born out of hate, greed, or disappointment, but fear. But does that lessen the weight of the words Peter spoke around the fire that night? Going so far as to curse and deny any knowledge of the One he had been so close with.
Peter would be the one to answer Jesus’s question, “Whom do you say I am?” While the other disciples timidly present the opinions of others, Peter declares “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Unlike Judas, Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah. Faith caused Peter to step out of the boat to walk upon the water. It was because of his faith that Jesus called him blessed and the rock His church would be built upon.
Faith was the difference that helped Peter overcome his burden of betrayal. I can imagine Peter, sitting on the edge of his boat, weeping broken heartedly, the horrible sound of that third crow haunting his thoughts. His mind constantly going back to that table where he declares his loyalty to Jesus, then switching back to those horrible words around the fire, “I do not know the man.” Could it have been Peter himself considered the same path Judas took to escape his guilt?
Then, in the quiet of the night, the waves hitting the sides of his fishing boat, the words of Jesus come floating to him…
Peter, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you.
Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, upon this rock I will build my church.
“Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter can almost feel the hand of the Master again, pulling him to the surface of the water that had caused him to take his eyes off Jesus.
It was faith, against the insurmountable weight of betrayal that kept him till the morning.
The dawn comes three days later: Judas lays dead, but Peter is running. Running to the tomb to see for himself what Mary had reported. John slightly ahead, pauses at the sight of the stone that once sealed the tomb laying to the side. Peter doesn’t stop, moving past John and into the the tomb. His heart, already beating from running quickens even more at the sight of the grave clothes, no longer containing his Lord, folded neatly on the rock where He was lain. The turmoil going on in his mind, daring to hope that He had indeed rose again, and questioning whether the risen Savior would even speak to him. Did he dare believe that Jesus could possibly forgive him?
To clear his mind, Peter falls back on the one thing he knows he can do. Mending nets, long set to the side to answer the call of Jesus to become fishers of men, allows Peter to lose himself in thought. Gathering some of his brethren, he heads out fishing. They fish all night but catch nothing. Finally as the morning sun begins to rise over the horizon the tired men head for the shore.
As they get close, they see a man standing on the beach, the man questions them about their catch. Peter admits they return empty handed. He feels like there is something familiar about this man but he cannot place him. The man asks them to let down the net, one more time. Peter and the other disciples oblige the man’s request, there was little to lose. Suddenly the ropes go taut, the boat begins to sway in the water as the weight of net and its contents begin to pull at the boat.
This is the clincher for Peter, only one man could do that, Peter has seen Him do it before. So as the disciples begin to haul the net, laden with enough fish it could break, Peter jumps ship and heads for land, he must get to the Lord. As Jesus breaks bread with them once more, He asks “Peter, do you love me?” Peter, weeping, replies that he does. Jesus asks again, and Peter assured him he loves Him. One more time Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, Peter recognizing the significance of the three questions, answered with tears in his eyes, remorse in his heart that yes he loves Him.
Peter, finally finding the forgiveness he had thought he might never find takes his place as the leader of the disciples. He is there in the upper room as the Holy Ghost sweeps through the room and sets on each of them like a fire. He stands up boldly at the Day of Pentecost to declare for all to hear that they must repent, be baptized in Jesus name, receive the Holy Ghost to be saved.
Peter is at the forefront of the new church, becoming what Jesus said he would be, the rock upon which His church was be built, upon which it still stands.