The Crowing Rooster
“Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
Peter’s denial was emphatic. He reinforced it with expletives and oaths (Mark 14:71). A hasty denial might have been said without thinking, and a second chance could have led Peter to reconsider. But instead, his timidity grew, his resolve weakened, and he denied the Lord a second time with more conviction than the first. “I don’t know the man!” he announced. By now Peter’s rejection had worn a groove in his conscience. Having crossed the line twice, he didn’t hesitate to lie and deceive with as much boldness as he was capable of. He called down curses on himself and announced his denial for all to hear. Once, it might have been a moment of weakness quickly taken back. Twice, an unmistakable denial. Three times, an undeniable pattern of denial.
The abrasive sound of a crowing rooster cutting the predawn quiet reminded Peter of what Jesus said, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Jesus could have simply said that Peter would deny him before dawn. Instead, he tied Peter’s awareness to sound rather than to sight. Suddenly, the everyday, early morning sound of the crowing rooster became a soul-penetrating alarm. Peter’s memory flashed back to their earlier exchange. He instinctively turned toward Jesus and Luke tells us that “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61).
Up until this point we are not aware that Jesus and Peter were in visual range. How painful this moment must have been for Jesus. He was being spat upon, punched and slapped, but no blow had the force of Peter’s denials (Matthew 26:67). The early church found in Psalm 88 a sad description of this painful scene: “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.” Regardless of the intensity of the abuse he was suffering, he heard the rooster and looked at Peter. Kierkegaard asks, “And how did Christ look at Peter? Was it a repelling look, a look of dismissal? No, it was as a mother sees her child endangered through its own indiscretion; since she cannot approach and snatch the child, she catches him up with a reproachful but also saving look.” We are told that Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). The emerging dawn and the sound of the rooster forever associated in Peter’s mind with the blessing of a painful awareness. A necessary blessing on the way to repentance and reconciliation.
Many years ago a friend was arrested for drunk driving and spent a night in jail. To this day the sound of an iron gate clanging shut reminds him of that night when the jail door slammed behind him. Every time a dish falls and breaks, another friend remembers the time she broke a cherished dish belonging to her sister. She swept up the shattered pieces, buried them in the backyard and never told her sister. Thirty-five years passed before she admitted to her sister what she had done. Certain sounds trigger the conscience. Would Peter ever forget the deeper meaning of the crowing rooster? Long after forgiveness, the sound of a rooster recalled the pain: the sound of his curse, the look in Jesus’ eyes, and the agony of soul.
But Peter’s denial and the crowing rooster is only half the story. The unmistakable sound of the rooster reminded Peter of God’s love and mercy. For Peter, the crowing rooster signaled the demise of willful self-rule and ego strength. Pride came to an abrupt end in bitter tears of personal repentance. The night of denial gave way to the morning of deliverance. The sound of the rooster ended the night and heralded the light. It was fitting that some time later, after the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter one morning by the Sea of Galilee. You recall that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter answered three times, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you…Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:15-17).
Later when the apostle Peter emphasized the importance of the Word of God, he encouraged believers “to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Peter’s reference to the morning star was a reference to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (see Revelation 2:28; 22:16), and now when Peter woke in the morning to the sound of a rooster, he was not filled with grief, but with joy. As the psalmist said, “…Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). No one knew better than Peter the truth of Lamentations 3:23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
The rooster is a strange biblical image, but it was Jesus who drew it to Peter’s attention and subsequently to us. We were meant to hear the crowing rooster as a reminder to be watchful and vigilant. As Peter said, “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). We were never meant to trust in ourselves nor compare ourselves to others. The early morning crowing rooster was an effective daily reminder for Peter and the early church that each new day was to be lived in the presence and power of Jesus Christ. Peter’s willful activism was slowly, but surely, transformed into willed passivity, and among the disciples he became an example of the discipline of surrender. If you don’t live within the sound of a crowing rooster you could transfer the soul triggering significance of the rooster’s wake-up call to your alarm clock.
Upper Room Reflection
The crowing rooster provoked pain. How was it a blessing?
Do you agree with Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the way Jesus looked at Peter?
If you were Peter would you have been haunted by the sound of a crowing rooster?
Have you experienced repentance as a gift?
 Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love trans. Howard and Edna Hong (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 166.