A rooster’s crow aroused me from sleep during a campout / speaking engagement last weekend. Normally that sound is pleasant to me, but this time I was annoyed. This rooster’s morning song apparently was on Eastern time or earlier, because here in the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t morning; it was only 1:30 a.m. Not only was the day not about to break, but I was pretty sure the sun was still hovering somewhere over Europe.
So for about half an hour, I lay listening to a time-challenged bird, desperately hoping to get some sleep before I had to speak in the morning. Then I caught the irony: my topic was the apostle Peter—who, after insisting he’d die for Jesus, in truth was so afraid to die that he denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, just as Jesus had predicted he would (John 13:38).
Peter denied knowing Jesus to a servant girl.
Then again to someone else.
Then a third time.
Finally, in the night, as rooster crowed.
And Peter, knowing he was guilty, stood reprimanded by a dinner entree.
Whenever I hear a rooster crow, I always wonder how that sound made Peter feel after his three denials of Christ. Did it remind him of that shame? Did it make him feel condemned? Maybe even hopeless?
The stereotypic rooster image is that of a rooster perched atop a fence by an old barn, welcoming in the sun on the horizon, waking the world to the start of a new day. But like the rooster near my campsite last week, Peter’s may have been time-challenged because some texts imply it was still night when the rooster crowed (for example, in Luke 22:56, shortly after Jesus’ arrest, people were gathered around a fire to keep warm). That premature crow proclaimed the darkest hour of Peter’s night: the arrest and trial of his Savior, plus a triple failure in denying that very one.
Yet the rooster also brought clarity. During the previous three years, while Peter kept falling all over himself trying to prove what an awesome disciple he was, the only thing he proved was his ability to get in the way of God’s work. Now, the shrill cry of a rooster confirmed it: Peter was a screwup, a failure.
And for the remainder of that night, Peter could only stand alone in this condemnation. The Messiah was on trial and surely headed for execution. Now there was no one who could save Peter from himself.
But that crow, in the dead of night, also announced something Peter didn’t yet understand: a new day was coming. Like the sun, the Son (an old pun, but still true) would rise again!
And unlike Judas, Peter hung around for that event. The rising sun was not yet visible, but it was coming. And with it came the risen Son, full of forgiveness and grace, who met Peter on the lakeshore and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter said, “Yes.”
Scripture says Peter was grieved (John 20:17) that Jesus kept asking the same question. But Jesus was giving Peter a do-over—three affirmations, one for each denial.
In fact, within just a few weeks, Peter the cowardly screwup was bravely proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to thousands. He even confronted the same religious group who had crucified Jesus by telling them, after a healing: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10).
What changed in Peter? Nothing, really. Peter was still Peter, a sinful screwup badly in need of grace. The only difference between Peter the denier and Peter the proclaimer was Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness—a new day, announced by the rooster in blackest night.
After that, I believe that whenever Peter heard a rooster crow, he was reminded of his failure, but in a context of grace.
Fast forward two millennia, to a happy camper in a tent near Rainer, Oregon. At first I was annoyed that the crow of a stupid bird had awakened me from a deep, much-needed sleep. Then I thought of Peter, hearing that same sound during the worst failure of his life—and then hearing it again later, after Jesus’ forgiveness. And the crowing sweetened to a tune filled with grace. The same grace which had poured over a screwup like Peter.
I drifted back to sleep with a new song of grace in my ears.