WHAT DID THE SERVANT GIRL SEE?
Lent: Minor Characters About Calvary. No 1
20th February 2005
I remember a student friend of mine, a former farmer named Cliff. He was a big strong rugged fellow but he had problems with some of his words. He would frequently use a wrong word that sounded something like the right word, sometimes with disastrous results. He was preaching in the other little wooden church at Ascot Vale one day close to Easter. He was telling the story of how the Apostle Peter betrayed Christ on the night before his crucifixion. Cliff made the point quite clearly that Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest, and stood round the fire as it was burning in the centre of the courtyard.
Using a touch of dramatic realism Cliff said, “And there stood Peter, in the High Priest’s courtyard, warming his hands on the brassiere.” From that moment on none of the women in the congregation could stop laughing and several of the men guffawed out loudly. Poor Cliff’s sermon was lost, but I am quite sure that he learnt the distinction between a brazier and a brassiere.
What was going in the Courtyard of the High Priest’s house while Peter warmed himself by the brazier? In this Lenten series of sermons on the minor characters about Calvary, I will look at the drama through the eyes of a number of minor characters. I have always been intrigued by what the servant girl saw in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. The Temple police had taken Jesus into custody while He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. His disciples had been dozing nearby. Jesus was taken to the High Priest’s house.
Mk 14:53 “The temple police took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and lawyers came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards warming himself at the fire.” What was Peter doing there? While Jesus was being mocked, spat upon, and beaten in the upstairs room of the high priest’s palace, Peter was in the courtyard. Mark 14:66 He was waiting to see what would happen to Jesus. The fact that Peter was there at all indicates that he loved Jesus and was concerned about him. It also reveals his courage.
The servant girl, near “the door,” John 18:17 recognized Peter as he stood in the light of the fire. Perhaps she had seen Peter with Jesus in the temple during the days immediately preceding or remembered that she had admitted him at the request of John, another one of Jesus’ disciples. Her contempt for Jesus is revealed in the order of the words she used to speak about Jesus -”that Nazarene, Jesus.” Peter denied her charge that he had been with Jesus. It is one of the most dramatic moments in the hours before the crucifixion. Mark, who was a young man who traveled with the Apostle Peter and his wife years later on his great missionary journey to Rome, recorded Peter’s memories of Jesus as they traveled, and his record of those accounts are what we today call, “The Gospel of Mark”. This account of Peter in the courtyard came directly from the great man himself. And Peter pulls no punches about what happed, and he makes no excuses. What did the servant girl see in the courtyard? List to how Mark records the events as retold by the Apostle Peter:
Mk 14:66 “While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”
Peter used the form common in rabbinical law “I do not know what you are saying’, in replying to the servant girl. That was a lawyer’s evasion to avoid giving a direct answer. Fearful of being identified and apprehended, Peter retreated into the shadows of the archway that led into the street. He was anxious for his own safety, yet he wanted to overhear anything about what would happen to Jesus. So he slunk into the darkness and safety of the archway. But his retreat to safety was short-lived. The servant girl saw him slip into the entryway and reiterated her contention-this time to “those standing around,” presumably the guards. Her words — “This fellow is one of them”-seem to show that she recognized Peter as part of a group or movement whose leader was Jesus. Peter’s second denial Mark 14:70 was not convincing.
So the others, having their suspicions aroused by her and detecting Peter’s Galilean accent (Jesus was known to have come from Galilee), accused him. Peter was now like a cornered animal. He called down curses on himself if he was lying and swore that he didn’t know “this man you’re talking about” The third denial was followed by the second crowing of the rooster. Mark 14:72 Luke 22:61 tells us that at that very moment the Lord came out the door, “turned and looked straight at Peter.” The first time the rooster crowed, Peter’s conscience was not awakened. This time he remembered what Jesus had said about his denial of him. The look of Jesus and the reminder of the crowing rooster proved too much for Peter: “He broke down and wept.”
The importance and relevance of Peter’s denial for the church to which Mark writes is obvious. To a church under severe pressure of persecution it provided a warning. If denial of Jesus Christ was possible for one of the leaders of the apostles, then they must be constantly on guard lest they too deny Jesus. The story also provided assurance that if anyone did fail Jesus under the duress of persecution, there was always a way open for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. But the servant girl also saw the face of Jesus. That would have had an impact upon her. I remember Dr Frank Rayward, our retired Superintendent telling me how he discussed with the famous artist, Herbert Beecroft, how he came to paint one of the world’s most loved portraits of Jesus. He was moved to see the face of Jesus. Herbert Beecroft was an English portrait artist who was born in 1864. He painted hundreds of portraits.
He was invited to lecture in Australia in 1905 and then settled in Woollahra. He attended the Pitt Street Congregational Church. He told Dr Rayward that while he was praying one day in 1928, he was thinking of the scene outside the high priest’s house when Jesus was being taken after judgement through the courtyard at night when he heard Peter denying he even knew Jesus. The words of scripture flashed into his mind: “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and Peter remembered.” Luke 22:61 When Herbert Beecroft opened his eyes he saw a vision of Jesus standing before him. He rose and told his wife: “I”ve seen the face.” He had no need to say whose face. She replied: “I knew you had from the look on your own.” He started painting and she kept him at it day and night for a fortnight until it was completed. His painting has become one of the most loved in the world.
What is this about Peter’s Galilean accent? Philip Yancey, the American author says: “ Galilee got little respect from the rest of the country. It was the farthest province from Jerusalem and the most backward culturally. Rabbinic literature of the time portrays Galileans as bumpkins, fodder for ethnic jokes. Galileans who learned Hebrew pronounced it so crudely that they were not called on to read the Torah in other synagogues. The Aramaic words preserved in the Gospels show that Jesus spoke in that northern dialect, no doubt encouraging scepticism about him. “How can the Christ come from Galilee?” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Peter’s accent betrayed he had been with Jesus. I wonder if your accent on life shows you have been with Jesus?
What did the servant girl see in the Court yard? She had seen Peter: lying, tearful, regretful. He was so self-confident and courageous. Every fisherman on Galilee had to be courageous. I have seen the sign on Lake Galilee ‘Beware of the westerly whips’ warning fishermen today. The early church told how Peter, full of confidence, attempted to walk on water but sank. They told how he drew his sword to defend Jesus from the Temple police. Why then did such a courageous man deny Christ? Jesus had predicted His disciples would fail him. But Peter said, ‘Although the rest may deny you, I will never deny you.’ You can see his strength and self-confidence. ‘Lord I am ready to go to prison with you and to die with you!’ ‘I tell you, Peter,’ Jesus said, ‘the cock will not crow tonight until you have said three times that you do not know me.” Matt 26:33–34 But why should he deny he ever knew Christ? A young servant girl recognised him.
I think bravery led him to follow the captured Jesus to the house of the High Priest Caiaphas. Why was he there? I think he was listening — trying to find out what would happen to Jesus. He was waiting for some word from a servant or soldier. While listening, waiting, thinking if he could rescue Jesus, he was recognised. Then Peter denied he knew Jesus. That denial was not cowardice to save himself. But as an act of bravery trying to remain under cover. When a servant-girl said, ‘He was with Jesus of Nazareth,’ Peter replied, ‘I swear that I don’t know the man!’ When challenged again, he said, ‘I swear I do not know the man!’ Then a cock crowed and Peter remembered, and was heart-broken at his denial.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared a week later along the Galilee Lake shore. Peter and the others were fishing. Jesus called to them to come ashore and have some breakfast. John 21:15–19 “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Follow me!” With each fresh question, one of the denials was erased. These last words to Peter were same same as His first words on the same shore of GaIiIee, ‘Follow me!’. For the next thirty years, Peter was to lead the most incredible life as he followed the way of Jesus and cared for the young church.
What comes after “failure” in the dictionary? Faith! Faith is the answer to every failure. Faith to be forgiven. Faith to start again. Faith to find new ways. The future lies in faith. Our failure to honour Him may even be the means to come closer to the Saviour. You can start afresh by faith if you come to know Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour. Accept Jesus Christ by faith now. Learn to live that people will recognise that you have been with Jesus!
•REFERENCES. Philip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew.” p60.