The moment when Peter denies him (Luke 22:61) — What does Jesus’ face look like then? Luke invites you to imagine it.
The Lord turned and looked directly at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how the Lord had told him that before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times.
What does Jesus think and feel when we fail despite our best intentions? Your answer to this question is the heart of the issue.
How you imagine Jesus’ face is so relevant to this scene for a couple reasons. First, the text explicitly says, “the Lord turned and looked directly (ἐνέβλεψεν) at Peter.” I think we all catch at least some glimpse of Jesus’ eyes or mouth as we stand in Peter’s shoes and feel the warmth of the fire.
Second, as we look at his face in this moment, we do so as someone who just failed. We did exactly what we said we wouldn’t. He was right, and we were wrong. We denied him explicitly and repeatedly.
We are likely to see a smirk communicating disappointment. The smirk says, “I told you. Just like I said. Pathetic.” But is that the Jesus we see in other parts of the Gospels? If you have read my posts over the past couple months, you know that isn’t what I see elsewhere. If you hear “Pathetic” as you look at the Lord’s face, you must dare to reimagine it. Just try to see something else.
Of all the times it is fitting and good to imagine a smirk on Jesus’ face, this is certainly not one of those moments. Jesus was harsh with those on the outside, but not with those who beat their chest and shed tears over their brokenness.
Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10–14)? The tax collector wept over his brokenness, and Jesus says this man, not the other, went to his home justified. How would Jesus look at the tax collector? That’s how Jesus would have looked at Peter, except with more compassion and pain. This was Jesus’ best friend.
The very next words tell us how Peter responded: “He went out and wept bitterly.” I imagine it was difficult for Peter to have done what he did and not be able to talk to Jesus as he tossed and turned that night. I imagine Jesus wanted desperately to run to Peter. But it wasn’t the right time.
It is easier on some days than others, but I imagine in this scene Jesus’ face is sorrowful. It’s not so because of what Peter did to him. Jesus is thick skinned, and he saw this coming a mile away. What breaks Jesus’ heart is that Peter is slammed face-to-face with his own brokenness like never before. It’s too much to handle. Will it break Peter like Judas? If Jesus could cry over “Jerusalem,” an abstract, collective group, because they refused to acknowledge him, then surely tears welled up here as Peter does the same.
No smirk this time — tears, a frown, a half step toward you before being jerked back by the chains. Seeing it this way makes all the difference.