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Anthony Van Dyke (Flemish painter,1599-1641), detail of "Penitent Apostle Peter" (1617-1618), Oil on canvas, Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia.
Profound sadness coupled with terror wrapped Peter's stomach and clenched it into tight, painful knot.
Yes, Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed, even that he would be crucified. But Peter hadn't believed it. When you see daily miracles and hear incisive teaching from a confident public figure, you refuse to acknowledge that anything could ever change.
But overnight, Peter's world collapsed.
They had eaten Passover together on Thursday night. But only few hours later, Jesus was under arrest. A hasty trial lit by flickering lamps in the high priest's palace condemned Jesus. Then early-morning shuttles to Pilate, then Herod, then back again to Pilate sealed his fate. By 9 am soldiers were pounding nails into his hands and feet, jerking him upright on a cross to let him hang in the sun -- until the sun itself hid its face and left the onlookers to watch the Master die in the eerie chill of this very black day.
Peter had fled. In fact, none of the Twelve remained to see him buried. Only Mary Magdalene and a couple of wealthy followers were left to take his body down, carry it outside the city, and entomb it.
If you've ever felt despair at the pit of your stomach, then you know what Peter felt. When he did go out, he would walk in a kind of daze, utterly disoriented, shattered, the center of his world now a black hole, an empty void.
How could the Messiah, the heir of David's throne, be executed? It went against all logic. It was impossible — yet it had happened, and oh so swiftly!
Peter slept fitfully Saturday night and when his eyes opened Sunday morning, the doom of death was heavy upon him. He pulled his cloak over his eyes, hoping he could fall back to sleep, but knowing he wouldn't.
All of a sudden someone was banging on the door. Soldiers! Peter got up with a start. How can I escape? Then he heard Mary Magdalene's voice, and his terror fell back into depression. Mary was breathless, troubled, her face stained with tears.
Peter grumbled, "Why did you have to wake me so early?"
Mary blurted out: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb!"
Peter pulled his fellow-disciple John to his feet, slammed the door behind them, and began to run through the narrow streets, out the city gate, and then on to the tomb.
The great stone that had sealed the tomb stood open. As they entered, the sepulcher was empty, except for some folded graveclothes. The body was gone.
Folded? That was strange. Folded graveclothes but no body. Hardly what you'd expect from grave robbers.
John seemed convinced by the graveclothes that somehow Jesus had been resurrected or something, but Peter wasn't so sure. How could he believe that after so much had happened? He walked slowly back towards the city pondering, thinking, wanting to believe, but afraid to hope.
Suddenly, Jesus appeared. Peter, the so-called "rock," had publically betrayed him. He had shouted, "I don't know the man!" He was so unworthy. And yet here was Jesus before him. Peter fell to his knees and wept for joy.
Peter never said much to the others about this meeting — what had been said, what had transpired. But after that you'd sometimes see Peter deep in thought, pensive. Then he would nod his head and traces of a smile would begin to transform his face into one written with thankfulness and joy and peace.
Peter had been whipsawed from his pit of despair and pulled by the Master into peace. Life had changed for the good. And since then many have found this same peace, this same smile of wonder at Jesus' amazing grace. Maybe you too. Jesus had risen — and Peter never doubted him again.
Copyright 2012, Ralph F. Wilson. All rights reserved. This story is fiction, of course, based on the mention of Jesus' resurrection appearance to Peter in Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5. Dr. Wilson is author of a Bible study on Peter's first epistle, 1 Peter: Discipleship Lessons from the Fisherman (JesusWalk, 2011), available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.
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