The servant girl at the door said to Peter, "you also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?" he said, "I am not." John 18:17 (ESV)
It happened so quickly. Things were moving too fast, and they were hard to interpret. Jesus and his disciples were in the peaceful, secure garden of prayer when soldiers appeared. There was shouting and anger. Peter had whacked at one of the servants cutting off an ear. Jesus had replaced it and healed the man. Now they were in front of the ruling authorities who had the power to convict and ultimately to kill. Fear mounted. One of the disciples knew someone who let them into the area of inquisition. There they were - inside the enemy camp - alone. A little girl questioned Peter, and out came his denial.
He had been so sure! Just a few hours before he had been measuring his loyalty against the other disciples. He was absolutely sure there was nothing that could make him deny the Master (John 13:36-38).
Human commitment is never enough to follow Jesus. The heart must be transformed. This requires the exposure of the naïve heart. Peter really thought he was ready to represent Jesus to the world. He's not alone. There have been many who depended on their own loyalty. When the sun came up and beat down and the storms assailed, they were dismayed at their own temerity. Others have been defeated by the gradual distractions of the weeds in their garden until they had no stomach (or heart) to stand against fear.
In our effort to get people more committed, we have often resorted to an appeal to personal loyalty. It is a mistake. It will only delay the process of discovery. Only when we really see that Jesus alone can remain fully committed, and that our hope is in his loyalty will we be able to join the ranks of the faithful.
Jesus repeatedly gave people the chance to leave. Many did. But he was not measuring his success by how many attended his meetings. He was intent on representing the kingdom of God accurately. Just before his betrayal, he was confident that he was successful in his mission. He had made the Father's name known to the small circle of disciples who had been given him by the Father.
The kingdom of God is not built on showy professions of loyalty by zealous disciples. It is made up of the broken and faithless followers who have discovered they cannot keep the promises they made. Only Jesus can. They live based on his faithfulness to provide even the very words they need to say to return to him when they fail. They might not look like much. They probably won't be selected to be a TV spokesperson for some marketing scheme, but their quiet confidence in a Savior who has committed everything to them will serve them well in every situation.