It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. (verse 18)
It’s a lonely place where Peter stands.
The other disciple in this piece (likely the author of this Gospel, John himself) has entrée to the courtyard, since he is known to the high priest. This phrase – “known to the high priest” – is repeated twice over (vv. 15-16) to make the point, using a word that conveys much more than mere acquaintance, but rather intimate connection through family or well-established friendship. Arriving at the high priest’s house, this “other disciple” went right in, leaving Peter out in the cold, all alone. Cold and alone he waited.
Finally, that disciple returns and, speaking to the servant girl, secures free passage for Peter, also. Peter enters, finally in the place he thinks he wants to be.
But then it all turns sour. The girl on duty at the door confronts him with an unexpected question: “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” Since the “other disciple” was already familiar to her, it’s just possible she was well aware he himself was a follower of Jesus. Her question, then, presses the same assumption on Peter: “Are you one, too?” On the other hand, the phrasing of the question may indicate she fully expected Peter wasn’t a disciple, but was simply confirming her conclusion: “You’re not, are you?”
We don’t get to hear her tone of voice or see the look in her eye. But Peter did. Whichever way he understood her question, he clearly, in that split second, calculated it was safest to answer in the negative. Which is exactly what he did. “I am not.”
Once again we see Peter alone. The interrogation was directed solely at him. He confronted the question all on his own. Alone, he is singled out by the servant girl. Alone, he denies connection with his Lord. Alone he stands.
Immediately, the Gospel tells us “It was cold.” Yes. The crowd gathered round the fire – servants and officials in the high priest’s household, those who worked together and knew one another – had collectively built a fire to keep themselves warm. Peter is at that same fire, “standing with them”, but we see him singly. On his own. “Warming himself.”
It’s a lonely place to be.
Ultimately, his aloneness and cold come not from the unfamiliar surroundings, nor the confrontational company, nor the chill of night, but from disconnection with the very one who has become the centre of his life, the focus of his existence. He’s separated from his Master, from Jesus himself, and that separation produces profound isolation.
In Peter’s case, it also leads to trouble. He multiplies the isolation by denial. It’s a cautionary tale.
For us, we need never be in such a place. We stand on the other side of the cross. Our Lord’s sure promise is that he will never leave us nor forsake us. He will come to us, not leaving us orphaned, but bestowing upon us the ongoing presence of his indwelling Spirit, a presence to warm the very heart of our lives.
Peter was alone. We are not. But for both him and us, there is forgiveness when we fall. That’s why Jesus headed to the cross.
Lord Jesus, thank you that though I may find myself in circumstances as trying and fear-filled as Peter’s, I will never face them alone. Thank you for the constant presence of your Spirit. Strengthen me to press into your strength in those moments when I am in danger of being overwhelmed. And remind me always of your ongoing grace and forgiveness when I, like Peter, stumble and fall.
Reflect: Where are you most in danger of getting disconnected from your Lord? Place the circumstance before him, acknowledging the danger and re-affirming his living presence with you. Pray for his fresh filling. Receive.