All four gospels record the story of Jesus’ betrayal and death, and each has details which are unique to the specific gospel, but all four record Peter’s denial of Jesus. Matthew tells us that Peter vowed to follow Jesus to the end: “Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you’” (Matthew 26:33). But Jesus is aware of human weakness, and he prophesies that Peter will deny him before the cock crows the next morning.

As the story of the night before Jesus’ death unfolds, we learn that the disciples do desert him, and that Jesus is taken as a prisoner to the house of the of the high priest where he is questioned. Peter follows at a distance to see what will happen, and he stands with others in the courtyard of the house. Those around him suspect that he is a follower of Jesus the Galilean. Peter, as prophesied, denies it. After the denial, Jesus turns and looks at Peter across the courtyard. Peter remembers what Jesus said a few hours earlier and Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).

Peter failed as a witness to Jesus. He denied his lord. He realized the magnitude of his sin, and he wept tears of repentance. He was forgiven, and John tells the beautiful story of Peter’s reconciliation with the risen Lord at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2-17). Luke gives a detail which shows the depth of God’s love. Luke tells us that before Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s denial, and even before Peter’s vow to follow Jesus to the end, Jesus said to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32).

Jesus knew that night and following day would be a time of testing and great trial for himself and his disciples. Jesus prayed for himself and his disciples, and he urged his disciples to pray for strength also. Jesus gives Peter a warning of the test to come by saying that he had prayed for Peter. And Jesus tells Peter to strengthen his brothers after Peter has turned back, that is after he has repented. Jesus sees Peter’s sin of denial which will come later that night, and he is telling Peter that Peter can repent, turn back, and receive God’s forgiveness. When Jesus turns and looks at Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter sees the hurt on Jesus’ face and understands the magnitude of his sin. But he also sees love and forgiveness.

Peter was forgiven much and he loved much. He repented, received God’s forgiveness, and reconciled with Jesus. History tells us that Peter became a great leader in the early church. Through his ministry and preaching he strengthened other believers, just as Jesus had requested.

Sin makes us weak: sin is born of weakness, and it creates more weakness. God’s love forgives sin, and heals us. God’s love is strength, and it strengthens us. When we share God’s love through our words and deeds, we strengthen others. And it may seem odd, but when we strengthen others, we are also strengthened; as we share God’s love, that love increases within us.

We are forgiven and therefore we ought to forgive. We are strengthened and therefore we ought to strengthen others. This is Jesus’ request to us, as to Peter: after we have turned from our sin, we should strengthen our brothers and sisters. We accept God’s love and forgiveness; we share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness; and we love and forgive others.