Luke records a significant detail in Luke 22:61: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”
Jesus was in Caiaphas’s house, a man of sorrows approaching his death. At the precise moment of Peter’s denial, the rooster crowed, and Jesus, likely looking out the window, locked eyes with the apostle.
How do you think Jesus looked at Peter? Was Jesus surprised? Frustrated? Ashamed? If you are a Christian, then your understanding of how Jesus looked at Peter is foundational to your perception of how he looks at you when you sin.
While we can’t know with certainty how Jesus looked at Peter, I think we can make a reasonable deduction based on who Jesus is, how Peter responded, and how Jesus pursued him after his resurrection. I agree with Charles Spurgeon, who says, “I think it was a heart-piercing look and a heart-healing look all in one,— a look which revealed to Peter the blackness of his sin, and also the tenderness of his Master’s heart towards him.”1
This Look Was Heart-Piercing
God’s law reveals sin. It shines a light on our actions and exposes them for what they are. It shows our sin to be exceedingly sinful (Rom. 7:13). When we peer into the word of God, we see who God is: his character is revealed to us. At the same time, we see who we are: we see ourselves in light of God’s character. This simultaneous beholding of God and ourselves is unnerving. It made Adam and Eve want to hide in the garden. It made Isaiah cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). Looking at ourselves in light of God’s law, we experience the unsettling sense that someone is staring at us. We perceive the omnipresent eyes of holiness locked on us.
When Peter’s eyes met Christ’s, there’s little doubt that he acutely sensed his sin. This is because Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God (John 1:18; Heb. 1:1–3). He perfectly reflects and represents God (John 14:9; Col. 1:15). When Peter saw Jesus, he saw God incarnate, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the one whom the law aimed to reveal. This is why John Newton writes of Peter, “When the servants spoke to him, he cursed and swore; but when Jesus looked upon him, he wept.”2 As Spurgeon said, the look was heart-piercing.
This Look Was Heart-Healing
In addition to this look being heart-piercing, it was also heart-healing. Too often, even as Christians, we think of God only as a judge. But what do we learn from the Scriptures? The God who is righteous is also loving. He never loves at the expense of his holiness, but his love is perfectly holy. What happened in the garden when our first parents sinned? God pursued them in love, preached the promise of the gospel to them, and clothed them with new garments of another (Gen. 3:8–21). This is the promise and picture of salvation. Or consider what happened to Isaiah when he saw the Lord in his glory and himself in his sinfulness. The angel fetched coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it, removing his guilt and atoning for his sin (Isa. 6:6–7).
[God] never loves at the expense of his holiness, but his love is perfectly holy.
The same loving Lord confronted Peter. As the eyes of Christ our Lord met Peter’s, I believe he looked on Peter with loving compassion. The omnibenevolent one beheld Peter, and his face said,
And yet I love thee, Peter, I love thee still! Thou hast denied me, but I look upon thee still as mine. I cannot give thee up. I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and, notwithstanding all thine ill-conduct towards me, I am looking for thee, and expecting to receive thee. I have not turned my back on thee.3
Despite Peter’s sin, Christ would not abandon him. In Peter’s darkest hour, the eyes of mercy peered out Caiaphas’s window and locked on him. For Peter, and every other Christian, all of God’s acts are mediated through his love. His love was meant to pierce and heal the apostle.
As you think about your own life, can you relate to Peter? Perhaps your sin has not been as public and pronounced as Peter’s. Nevertheless, see that Christ’s heart is equally as inclined toward you. He wants to convince you of both the seriousness of your sin and the steadfastness of his love.