Easter Through the Eyes of Peter
Overview of all that is included in this Rotation:
- Story Background
- Video: Explore the story of Peter’s denial and restoration while watching the scripture come to life in The Gospel of John.
- Drama: Enact the story of Peter’s denial and restoration.
- Labyrinth: While walking the Labyrinth, the children will reflect on the story of Peter and how it relates to their own lives.
- Cooking: Create Peter’s Trail Mix to help them tell the Easter story.
Workshops also used but not included here:
Games: The children will play a game (using the game wheel) to reinforce their knowledge of the details of Peter’s denial of Jesus. We used Faith Quest Lesson Sets at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church. “Peter’s Denial - Antioch Arcade.” 2005.
Note: These workshops were written for 1st through 6th graders though not all grades visit all workshops.
Scripture Reference: John 13:33, 36-38 and John 18:15-18 and 25-27 and John 21:1-17
Key Verse: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” Acts 3:19a NIV
Rotation Objectives--at the end of the Rotation, kids should be able to:
- Locate the story of Peter’s denial and restoration in their Bibles (older children). Younger children will learn that the story is in the Gospel of John.
- Relate the story of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee.
- Know that Peter failed by denying Jesus, but Jesus always loved him anyway.
- Learn that we, too, do wrong things sometimes – but God can forgive us.
- Even though we all make mistakes, we can still do great things to honor God.
As Easter approaches once again, we tell the overall Easter account with an emphasis on a particular aspect of the Passion story. In other years we have focused on the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Empty Tomb/Resurrection Appearances. This year we will focus on Peter’s relationship with Jesus, specifically, Peter’s denial of Jesus during Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s restoration with Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection.
Who was Peter?
Peter was a Galilean fisherman, called to be one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Many consider him to be the “leader,” or at the least the disciple spokesperson. Originally named Simon, Peter acquired a nickname from Jesus. His new name was significant: it’s the Greek word for “rock” and translates into an Aramaic nickname, “Cephas” that also means rock.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:42
In Matthew’s telling of Peter’s name change there is an addition:
“And I tell you that you are Peter (meaning rock), and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18a)
Did Peter, a lowly fisherman, become a building block for the church? Indeed if we look ahead in time, at Pentecost we see Peter preaching joyfully, telling the good news of what Jesus has done (Act 2:14ff ). Other stories in the book of Acts tell of Peter’s efforts towards building the church. So we know that Peter lived up to his nickname but there was a time when it didn’t look as though Peter would make it. This is where our story starts.
Peter’s resolve to follow Christ
The setting is the evening before Jesus’ death. The disciples have had supper with Jesus in an upper room. Jesus is now teaching his disciples.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” John 13:33
A confused Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” As a trusty disciple, Peter likely had plans to follow Jesus anywhere! Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” An exasperated Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!”
That statement speaks of Peter’s resolve to follow Jesus. But Jesus knew that Peter was weaker than he thought. Thus Jesus’ reply is a surprising prediction of Peter’s denial of Christ:
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” John 13:36-38
Fast forward the story to the scene in the garden where Jesus is arrested and led away. His disciples flee into the darkness, fearful that they will be arrested too. However Peter and another disciple follow to the place where Jesus is taken. It is here that the first disowning occurs.
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.” John 18:17
In just a few brief hours, Jesus’ prediction is starting to be fulfilled: Peter denies that he knows Jesus. This is Peter, who a few hours earlier had said he would die for Jesus, now rejecting any association with him. Two more denials occur shortly there after. Peter stands in the courtyard of the high priest, warming himself by a charcoal fire.
As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. John 18:25-27
Feeling Peter’s weakness
Can you envision Peter’s shame and sorrow when suddenly the rooster crowed? Imagine him thinking of Jesus’ words: “before the rooster crows…” Picture his feelings of failure; surely he was guilt-ridden and demoralized.
All of the other Gospels tell of Peter’s denials, but they word his denials stronger, having Peter use an oath to deny Christ.
He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Mark 14:71
His use of an oath does not mean that he used any foul language. He was in effect saying, “May God strike me dead if I am lying.” Luke’s Gospel includes more information about this event, including adding Jesus to the scene:
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22: 60-62
It is easy for us to identify with Peter’s pain, for Peter’s disposition demonstrates that of someone who wants so desperately to follow Jesus but lets human frailty get in the way. Peter promised never to leave or deny Jesus; and only a short while later he was hiding and had denied Jesus three times. How are our own stories like Peter’s? In what ways do modern-day Christians deny Christ? Have our lifestyles, our actions or our attitudes caused us to deny Jesus? Many of us have experienced Peter’s denial; through fear, lack of faith and disobedience we have left the presence of Jesus.
Crucifixion and Resurrection
Jesus was led away to trial and subsequent crucifixion on a cross. All the disciples, but surely Peter, were defeated and desolate. Peter must have thought about how his chances to express his feelings of sorrow and repent, were gone forever. After his death, Jesus was taken from the cross and placed hurriedly in a tomb.
Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb but much to her surprise, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was rolled away! She ran and told Peter and Jesus’ favorite disciple (according to tradition, this is John). Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and saw that it was empty except for strips of cloth that had covered Jesus’ body and face. Mystified, the disciples went back to their homes but Mary stayed by the tomb. Then Mary saw Jesus! Later that day Jesus showed himself to his disciples. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. A week later, Jesus appeared to the disciples again.
One can imagine how the disciples felt – they had seen the risen Lord, some of them more than once. While they were full of joy, Jesus’ appearances seemed random, and they had no clear direction of what they should do next. Jesus was resurrected, but what would happen to them now, especially to Peter?
Breakfast on the beach
The Gospel of John includes one more resurrection appearance story. In this story Peter finds restoration with Jesus. It is interesting that none of the other Gospel writers chose to include this final incident. Many scholars think this chapter was a later addition. However, if this is the case, it was added very early on, for all early manuscripts include it.
Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other disciples were together, seven disciples in all. Peter had announced, “I’m going out to fish.” So the others went with him in their boat onto Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee). They didn’t catch a thing all night long. In the morning light, Jesus, unrecognized by the disciples, called to their boat from the shore, “Friends, have you caught anything?” Jesus told them to let their net down on the right side of the boat. They did and the net was so full of fish that they couldn’t drag it into the boat. Then they recognized Jesus and said, “It is the Lord!” When they got to the shore, they saw bread and a charcoal fire with fish on it. Jesus said, “Come and eat!”
After they had finished eating, Jesus had a conversation with Peter. Now had come the time for a reinstatement of Peter. Jesus asked Peter a question: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” It is interesting to note that Jesus does not call him Peter “the rock” but uses his given name, Simon. The question is also curious – do you love me more than these, what is meant by “these”?
Peter responded with “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then had a simple response, “Feed my lambs.” Three times Jesus asked Peter the same question: do you love me. Peter had denied Jesus three times, now Jesus is offering Peter three chances for redemption. Jesus does not place any guilt upon Peter for his earlier denials, but instead provides him an equal number of opportunities to affirm his love for his Lord. Peter readily accepts the opportunities, and each time Jesus instructs him to feed and take care of his flock. This is assurance for Peter that God has work for him to do – to nurture the church.
We are like Peter because we all lose courage and do the wrong thing sometimes. But even though we betray him, Jesus died for us. This powerful story of gentle forgiveness can be a great source of comfort and hope to all of us who have sinned and through our lifestyles, actions and attitudes, have denied Jesus. Through his tender mercies he forgives us too, and restores us to ministry (whatever that might be). All that he asks of us is to love him. And always his final command to us is “Follow me.” How do we love him and follow him? By following the call he has given to each of us, by serving his body, his church, using whatever gifts and abilities he has given.
- Achtemier, Paul J. ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985
- Deffinbaugh, Robert L. What Is This Thing Called Love? (John 21:1-25) http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=2394
- Edscorn, Kris. “Bible Background on John 21.” 2001.
- Johnson, Barton W. “Commentary on John 21”. People’s New Testament. 1891.
- Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.
- Lindsley, Steve. “Background for the Story of Peter Workshops.” (From a St. Elmo’s Choir Rotation Lesson Set).
Except as noted, Scripture quoted is taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
A Lesson Set from: First United Methodist Church
Ann Arbor, MI
Copyright 2006 First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material
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