Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)
Read: 1 Corinthians 8:1 – 11:1
Relate: After the night of Christ’s crucifixion I bet Peter hated roosters for the rest of his life. How could he not? It’s a common fact that certain smells and sounds can trigger memories. It normally is not just any type of memory that is triggered in this way. It is only the emotionally charged ones. It has been proven that memories born out of a strongly emotional moment, be it fear or joy or love, tend to be stored in a different part of the brain than normal ones. These emotional memories are stored in the sensory cortex, which is primarily used to process input from your senses: sight, smell, sound, etc.
Can there be a more emotionally charged moment than when Peter “woke up” and recognized that He had done exactly what Jesus had predicted he would? Just a few hours earlier, with a mixture of personal pride and loving devotion, Peter had promised His Savior that he would never deny Jesus even if everyone else did. Jesus simply turned to Peter and said, “Before the rooster crows, three times you will deny me.” Sure enough, as soon as his betrayal was complete, that stupid rooster crowed.
Roosters were the alarm clock of the premodern era. When the sun was about to break the horizon, roosters the world over would begin their singing to make sure everyone was awake to witness the miracle. I don’t know about you but I hate my alarm clock. I’ve tried different tones, I’ve tried having it play certain songs (there’s no surer way to knock a song off my favorites list than to hear it at the dawn of the day for a week or two straight), I’ve tried soft or loud and even soft gradually getting louder. Nothing makes it any better. No matter how it comes at me, that stupid alarm is evil. Now imagine if that alarm was also a reminder of the greatest failure of my life. If that were the case think I could joyfully eat rooster every meal, every day, for the rest of my life. It would be my personal mission to eat that bird right into extinction.
React: There is a difference between guilt and sorrow. What Peter must have felt that moment when the rooster crowed to “wake him” out of his sin would be sorrow. It is an immediate realization that I have done wrong. I need to stop and I must repent. The depth of Peter’s sorrow must have been almost beyond imagining. He was denying Christ in the very moment that Christ was dying for him. At the point in His journey when Jesus would most have needed a friend, an ally, Peter failed. Peter saw in a very real way the consequence of his sin in a way we can only know in the abstract. It was right for him to feel sorrow.
But Jesus forgave him. Jesus restored him. Later on Jesus would say, “Go tell the disciples… and Peter” Three times Jesus would ask Peter, “Do you love me… then feed my sheep.” Peter was forgiven and commissioned to share the love and the grace and the mercy of God with his world. So have we. If years later that rooster was still bringing up the same feelings in Peter then it would no longer be sorrow, now it would be guilt. Sorrow leads to repentance. Guilt leads to condemnation. When God forgives, He forgets. When we are forgiven… it’s not so easy to do the same. That is a good thing. The memories of our sin and failure should keep us humble and alert to the temptation of sinning in the same way again. Instead, we tend wallow in shame and give up the hope that we will ever become any better. So the question is, when that memory comes, when the rooster crows, will it wake me up to my dependence on my Savior or will it cause me to roll over and refuse to step into the life God has called for me?
Forgive me. For the times and in the ways I have betrayed You, forgive me. Use roosters both physical and metaphorical to wake me up to the ways I have failed You. Use them to keep me humble and alert to the danger of falling in the same way once again. Then, once You have forgiven me, help me to forgive myself. Let sorrow motivate me to change, don’t let it become an excuse to give up and wallow in my sin.