Red Letter Year: 6/5

Matthew 26:59-75

59 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. 60 But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward 61 who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?”

“Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”

67 Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”

69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”

70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.

73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”

74 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.

75 Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.


This is perhaps the most artfully crafted passage in all of Matthew’s Gospel. You should take some time to appreciate the high art we have here, where meaning comes in layers and parallels and only comes by deep, prayerful reflection. To that end, I want to give you a few directional pointers without over commenting and ruining your own experience with Matthew’s masterpiece.

Matthew gives us the trial of Jesus and the denial of Peter together. Both face three rounds of questions and increasing tension. One example of the parallelism is in the second question for each. The high priest demands that Jesus take an oath and tell if he is the Christ or not. Jesus refuses to take any oath; he had already forbidden his followers from taking oaths. Yet at the same moment, Peter is taking an unsolicited oath in denying Jesus for the second time. The third level is the most tense. The servants of the high priest are beating Jesus, cursing, screaming, and demanding Jesus prophesy. Outside, Peter is also cursing and swearing and fulfilling the most recent prophecy Jesus had made.

There is a lot more here, paralleling how we are called to respond and how we are prone to respond, what faithful kingdom witness looks like and what failed kingdom witness looks like. This is Peter’s final appearance in Matthew’s Gospel. He has been Jesus’ closest disciple, the rock, the first one to confess Jesus as Messiah, the only one of the remaining eleven who even hung around. His failure was foretold but still seems surprising with its oaths and curses and movement further away from Jesus with each denial. At the last we see what a prophetic word can do, break through to us in the midst of our worst sin. Silent obedience and boisterous disobedience. I hope you spend some time letting this dual scene play out in your head like the best Hollywood drama you can imagine. There is truth here. Give your soul a chance to find it.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 6/3

Matthew 26:31-46

31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter: this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look — the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”


There are a few things to pay attention to in this passage. One is the internal struggle Jesus goes through here. He is depressed, confused, and so upset he feels like he is about to die (that he feels all this exonerates them as not being sinful). Ever been there? We can see some of this internal struggle in how his prayer shifts from “if some other way is possible, then no to this,” to “if no other way is possible, then okay.” This is a poignant example of how we work things out in prayer, how we come to terms with God’s will, with our own desires and weaknesses, with the full range of emotion that goes into being human. (It is also a needed corrective for prosperity-driven teachings that discourage people from praying “if this is possible” – Jesus himself prayed this.)

Gethsemane stands as the counterpoint to the Transfiguration. In both scenes, Jesus brought the same three disciples. In the Transfiguration, we see the fullest expression in the Gospels of Jesus’ divinity. In Gethsemane, we see the fullest expression of his humanity. The orthodox understanding of Jesus as fully God and fully human comes directly from holding these passages together in tension.

The other thing that really jumps out here is the disciples and their inability to stay awake, despite Jesus’ explicit command. They have only just declared their willingness to die for Jesus, but now they can’t even stay awake and pray when he asks them to. Thinking back to the Transfiguration again, we see interesting parallels. Faced with Jesus’ divinity, they became over-excited, talked and planned nonsense and had to be quieted. Faced with Jesus’ humanity, they are underwhelmed and keep falling asleep. Jesus’ disappointment with them is evident, he finally doesn’t bother waking them again. Like the foolish bridesmaids in chapter 25, they can’t keep focus, they can’t keep alert, they can’t keep praying. They claim to be ready for action, ready for glory, but they show here that they are not ready to lay the groundwork of prayer necessary for kingdom action and kingdom glory. Jesus shows us here that he himself went through a process in prayer coming to terms with his next steps in bringing about the kingdom (Heb. 5.8 describes this as Jesus “learning obedience”). He implores Peter and the others to do the same, but they don’t and will soon desert him. It is to their credit that we still have this account of their disobedient napping. They made sure we had this account to remind us that keeping alert comes by prayer, knowing our next steps in advancing the kingdom come by prayer, that all action and glory not grounded in prayer and founded on prayer are sure to go wrong.

Spend some time rereading and reflecting on how Jesus struggles in prayer in this passage. Keep alert and pray like that.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.