Why did Peter deny Jesus three times?

You're sitting at home reading the newspaper when your door flies off its hinges with a bang so loud you jump out of your chair. "Hands up, and don't move," shouts the first officer of a SWAT team as he shoves a cocked .357 magnum in your face.

"You have the right to remain silent," says another as he grabs your wrists, pulls them behind your back and slaps handcuffs on them.

Two hours later at the police station, you're relieved to see your best friend walk into the room. You know he can verify you were with him earlier in the evening when a man was shot and killed at a convenience store one block from your house.

"I don't know this man," says your friend.

Your mouth drops open in disbelief, but then, you think this has to be a practical joke.

"Are you sure?" asks the detective.

"Absolutely!" he says.

Pointing to you, the detective says to your friend, "He claims you're his best friend."

After swearing, your friend says, "Never saw him before in my life!" and walks out of the room.

In some small way, this modern story illustrates the betrayal Jesus experienced from one of his closest disciples, but why?

"He thought he would never deny his master," says Wes, age 11.

Wes, you've right. After eating the Passover meal, Jesus told his disciples they would all be offended by him that very night. Peter said others might be offended, but not he (Matthew 26:31-35). He even offered to lay down his life for Jesus (see John 13:36-38).

"Peter forgot to have faith in Jesus," says Kelsey, 7. "He was weak," explains Kyle, 6. "He forgot that God was in control," says Raha, 7.

Like so many of us, Peter took control of the situation, using his own strength. He failed to assess correctly his own weakness. Sensing that the hour of his crucifixion was upon him, Jesus asked the disciples to pray with him. But three times, he found them sleeping.

Jesus endured this hour of severe testing alone. Humanly speaking, Jesus was never more alone than when he looked at Peter after that third denial.

This story of threes continues after Jesus rose from the dead. On Jesus' third resurrection appearance to his disciples, three times he asked Peter if he loved him.

"Do you love me more than these?" Jesus asked Peter the first time.

In saying "more than these," Jesus referred to Peter's boast of loyalty only hours before he had denied him three times. Peter responded, but he didn't claim greater love for Jesus than the other disciples. His arrogance was gone.

Peter avoided professions of future loyalty. He loved Jesus now, but he couldn't trust himself to be always faithful.

Instead of demoting Peter, three times Jesus charged him with a fresh commission. The chief shepherd needed someone to feed and tend his flock (Jesus' followers), and this new, humbled Peter was the man for the job.

As Dominique, 6, says, "Peter denied Jesus three times because he forgot that he had power in God."

It's so easy to wonder how Peter could deny Jesus and never consider that we may be denying him every day in the choices we make. Jesus could have so easily denied us entrance into his kingdom of life by dismissing the cruel cross on which he bore our sins. Jesus longs for us to know him, not only as the door by which we enter his kingdom but also as the Good Shepherd who leads us into paths of righteousness.

Point to ponder: Jesus will never deny his people. Scripture to remember: "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28).

Question to consider: Are you being faithful to God or denying him?

Inspire your children by reading this column with them and visiting the Kids Talk About God website at www.KidsTalkAboutGod.org. Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.

COPYRIGHT 2004 CAREY KINSOLVING