Rembrandt Peter's denial

With so much of life now seemingly out of control, this might be a good time to think about self-control. Rembrandt paints a picture of Peter telling a lie. It is a painful reminder not only for Peter but for all of us who know that without God, life is out of control. We are nothing but a bunch of little egos running wild. Psychological studies report the average person tells a lie approximately 2-3 times a day. They discuss further the degrees of a lie including deception, ambivalence, and what we often refer to as “shades of gray.”  Without getting overly theoretical, the point is—a lie is the outward denial and the inward avoidance of truth.

There is nothing that drives a parent crazier than when a child tells a lie. A business turns toxic overnight when an employee or employer lies. Of course, the list of culprits is endless. Nowadays, the media has what they call a “Pinocchio” assessment which records how many lies are recorded by a politician in any given speech. Fingers are then pointed back immediately at the media who is referred to as “fake” or bias. The problem is that over time, what suffers is a gradual erosion of truth, belief, and trust.

Never forget who is the “father of lies.” The devil is the source of lies, evil and destruction, which motivates us to step into darkness. Like Eve in the Garden, we hear the soothing whisper, “no harm, no foul.” However, this dark side of life, this area of “sin,” reveals our deep separation from God. It all begins with a simple lie—if there is such a thing—which can then be turned into a slippery slope that sends us spinning in a downward spiral and a life that is out of control. It is not right. It is wrong. Before we know it, we are living a lie. It is life of self-destruction. Our life is no longer constructive or productive.  Look at the after effect of addiction, affairs, and fraud. It starts small. It ends big and bad.

Three times Peter says he has nothing to do with Jesus. Three times Peter is denying the truth. “I do not know him.” Notice he makes his mighty defense to a servant girl. She has no name. She is not important. She is in the shadows of life. Yet even to the servant girl, Peter’s words are crystal clear. And they do not add up. It is as if she holds up a mirror and Peter sees his words, his simple lie, now cutting him to the core. Peter’s identity, character and reputation are stripped bare and appear false in God’s absence. As we look at the painting again, the light shines on Peter. Light reveals. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5).

Knowledge comes at times in the most painful manner. It is like the school of hard knocks. With the knowledge of God, we place our self under God’s control and no longer live like little egos running out of control.  Self-control means we are under God’s rule, God’s authority, and God’s love, where we are accountable to God and able to respond in truth.

Peter writes “add to knowledge self-control” (2 Peter 1:6). He means it.


Credit image: The Denial of Peter, by Rembrandt c.1660 (oil on wood) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The Bridgeman Art Gallery.

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Robin Jennings

Robin T. Jennings is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, and an accomplished author, speaker and teacher who inspires his audiences with Biblical guidance and spiritual insights into everyday life. Whether he has the opportunity to speak to churches, businesses or organizations, Robin’s lifetime of work in spiritual transformation and renewal connects individuals with timely topics such as the importance of community, hope, identity and the search for meaning which are inevitably woven into his message.

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