Jesus’ Eyes: Do You Know “the Look”?

One of the most vivid scenes in Luke is Peter’s 3x denial, particularly “the look.”

         “The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61, GNB).

The verbs are intensive, descriptive, and full of significance.  “Turned around,” which is actually a participle in the Greek text, involves twisting or reversing; it is turning the back 180% degrees. Jesus turned around–he “converted” as the term is sometimes translated–to look at Peter. But it was no mere glance; it was an intense gaze. Jesus looked at Peter with piercing, discerning eyes.

         Turning his body toward Peter, the Lord’s eyes rested on Peter (JMH amplified).

The next verbs in Luke 22:61-62 describe Peter’s actions.  He “remembered” what Jesus had predicted about the denial….he went and wept bitterly.” Confronted with his betrayal, Peter “remembered.”  He then escaped; he ran away. And then he wailed violently–a visible, audible, wrenching sob. Peter, faced with his denial and memory, was a totally broken man. Remembering Jesus’ prediction–and, no doubt, his own insistence that it would never happen–he burst into tears.

What  did Peter see in the eyes of Jesus that pierced his heart?  What did those eyes tell him?

I think how we answer that question will probably say more about our own vision of God than it would Peter’s.  We can’t get inside of Peter’s head, but we can examine our own.  Our root image of God–perhaps one we learned in childhood, one that is at the core of our inner being–will probably shape how we “feel” this text.

We can easily imagine what Peter felt.  No doubt he felt shame and guilt.  We have all felt the same when confronted with our sins. That shame and guilt taps into something deep within us, and our core understanding of God will shape how we deal with it.

For some the eyes of Jesus may be primarily condemning. Peter sinned; he did not measure up. He did not keep the law; he betrayed a friend. The law condemns him, and Jesus condemns him. At the root of this perception is an angry God, a judge who strictly administers the law without mercy. Jesus, with these eyes, is insulted and offended.  “How dare Peter deny me!  I thought he was my friend!   Didn’t he say he would go to the death with me! He deserves whatever he gets!” This God is the Zeus who sits on the throne ready to cast his lightning bolts to earth on those who deserve his vengeance. These eyes convey no hope, no redemption. Unfortunately, they are the eyes that many have lived with for years, even when intellectually they know the story of grace much better than their guts will let them feel. It is what some got from their parents–a series of spankings, condemnations. They heard the message that they were bad kids and deserved punishment. Are these the eyes that met Peter’s eyes?

For others the eyes of Jesus may be primarily filled with disappointment. Peter disappointed Jesus; he had hoped for better.  Peter knew better; he knew he should not deny his Lord, but he did nevertheless. Peter had expectations of himself. Even if everyone else ran away, he would not.  He would die with Jesus if necessary. The disappointed eyes are the opposite of what Peter wanted. He wanted approval, praise, and honor. To feel Jesus’ disappointment means he was seeking Jesus’ commendation. It is what we often seek from parents as children; we don’t want to disappoint our parents. Some parents, when disappointed, shame their children.  “I knew you couldn’t do it.  Why can’t you be like Johnny? When will you ever learn?  Do I have to do everything myself? I can’t trust you with anything. I’ll have to finish what you could not complete.”  We tend to project this onto God so that he becomes like the shaming parent who voices disapproval, disappointment, and dissatisfaction. Are these the eyes that met Peter’s eyes?

At my core, my childhood images–images that I learned but surely few, if any, ever intentionally taught me–tend to see the eyes of an angry, disappointed God. My sin gave me a toxic shame that meant that I was worthless, a mistake, a screwup. I needed to get God’s approval, to get on his good side. I wanted God to like me and certainly not punish me. So, I needed to work harder, better, even faster…to do more, to do enough.

Intellectually, I know that last paragraph is bogus. Emotionally, however, it has been a different story. And so when I worked my way to a hellacious screwup (read: sin)–working for what I thought God wanted but actually working myself to death, even a spiritual death–I immediately felt God’s disappointment.  “John Mark, you should’ve known better.”  Or, “John Mark, how could you?!”  Or, “John Mark, what were you thinking?”

This week I have been meditating on these eyes–the eyes that pierced Peter’s heart.  I am Peter. What did Peter see?

I don’t think he saw condemning, judgmental eyes.  Neither do I think he saw disappointed eyes.  I think he saw sadness, a compassionate and hopeful sadness.  Jesus grieved for Peter. His eyes expressed sympathy and caring. They were redemptive eyes. Jesus is more interested in relationship with Peter than excluding, punishing or shaming Peter. Jesus reveals the divine loving parent who grieves over the failures of his children but does not give up on them. Peter saw in Jesus’ eyes his ongoing compassionate, forgiving, loving prayer that Peter would be strengthened by this experience and the hope in his eyes was the assurance that indeed Peter would.

In our betrayals, our sins, our denials, what do we see in the eyes of Jesus? With Peter we will remember and weep bitterly. That is understandable and healthy.  But also with Peter we may gain strength through the compassionate hope in those eyes.

In The Shack, Mack asked Papa: “honestly, don’t you enjoy punishing those who disappoint you?”  Papa “turned toward Mack” and with “deep sadness in her eyes,” said:  “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (pp. 119-120).

I think Paul Young got that just about right. Intellectually, I understand it.  Emotionally, well, I’m learning.

Jesus’ eyes, though sad, anticipated the joy of redemption for Peter….and for me…for all of us.

18 Responses to “Jesus’ Eyes: Do You Know “the Look”?”

  1.   Steve Kenney Says:

    Amen and amen. This post shows an understanding of the Father’s heart.

    I once heard a preacher say “There’s a place in hell for you and I’m glad of it.” Such proclamation is not good news.

    Grace & Peace,
    Steve Kenney

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I don’t know if I project on to God the images my parents projected on me when I misbehaved or made a mistake. I tend (or at least I think) to project on to God the images of how I react in my mind to others who make mistakes.

    Sometimes we feel God’s condemnation or disappoinment because that is how we treat others and ourselves. When we sin and others sin, it sure is hard to anticipate any redemption.

    Great post!


  3.   rich constant Says:

    define sin for me please…
    the short def. 🙂

    what kind of law are you under other than a law of righteousness unto life.
    Judo / Christian “ETHIC” by way traditional theology, it’s speaks of penance, it speaks of original sin, it speaks of total depravity of the human condition(although I’m not sure what that really means John Mark), it speaks of faith only, it speaks of the five points of salvation, it speaks of the disparity of the unity the oneness of the Spirit and faith hope and love, by being right.
    And we all know what being right is… being wrong is a left-hand turn liberal.

    What did Peter find after his knee jerk reaction and falling into the pit of his despair,after a couple three days. he found the blessing of god that no one or anything can strip away, redemption that was a mystery, and the joy of self forgetting, because that’s what God does he forgets who we were and pushes us on to who we want to be where our desire is where our heart is by his love exercised in his anointed one.

    we are the the worse off for our lack of growth by way of our indifference to the truth of the gospel, and seeking men to tickle are itching ears.
    As James would say in his gospel.
    And I’m sure everyone has read it.
    But maybe we should just get it right God is no respecter of persons..

    When I get further into that were all in the same boat and we should really try and help each other work through our issues are embarrassments are failures are heart aches.
    But know if everyone sees what I really did what I really thought I would be less than…

    Shameful John Mark purely shameful..
    confess your sins one to another…. what does that mean….
    when you find your brother in a fault restore such are one and the spirit of meekness… what does that mean…
    you know what’s really interesting is Peter got up side down with Paul one day in the Galatian letter.
    Did Paul cut in any slack absolutely not… what Paul tell him.

    Can you imagine doing that today…
    seems to me that’s a divine example…

    But then when we start talking about our difficulties I think most of them are our own perceptions put on us in very subtle ways by traditional theology or maybe it’s reformed theology John Mark I’m not really sure probably reformed probably the whole stinking thing.
    Kind of makes me a bit mad to see a guy like you John Mark get in a pit of despair and have to stay there.
    But then there is the warp rewards of being in the pit one should climb out, anyway our theology hopefully will be changed by men like you John Mark figure out we don’t need to be right we just need to be loved.
    blessings my brother


    most likely by the end of the day peter (maybe sooner) said, paul i am so thankful for you.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Let not your heart be troubled, my friend. I am not in a pit of despair. I am engaged in an emotional journey of forgiveness–receiving it, giving, experiencing it. It is a blessed journey and I live in gratitude rather than regret.

    I like your notion of “self-forgetting”–we do not regret the past but neither do we live in it.

    As to defining sin, I tend to think of it as the failure to image God, that is, we fall short of God’s intent for us to share his life, be like him. We fall short of his glory, the glory of his loving communion and life. It is not so much a matter of law, but relationality; it is not so much about doing but being.

    Our problem is that we tend not only try to “do” our way through life but also have a tendency to “be” in our own head rather than “be” in relation with God and others. This is essentially the same as, I think, when you say we don’t need to be “right,” we need to be “loved.” That hits it on the head–its about relationship rather than legal compliance. “Doing” will never get us there…but we can live and enjoy life through “being-in-relation.”


    John Mark

  5.   Keith Brenton Says:

    Mark the gospel writer includes one detail in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man that neither of the other two Synoptic writers does:

    “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

    I have to wonder if that look at Peter was one full of love; one that said, “See? I told you that you would. I love you anyway.”

    That would break my heart.

  6.   rich constant Says:

    Rom 4:24 but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
    Rom 4:25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.
    Rom 5:1 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;
    Rom 5:2 through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
    Rom 5:3 And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness;
    Rom 5:4 and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope:
    Rom 5:5 and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.



  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Yes, I agree it is a look of love…compassionate, hopeful, grieving love…grieving for Peter as he does for us. I think love is the look in general terms but I was attempting to be more specific in terms of my own existential experience.

  8.   rich constant Says:

    john mark : question 🙂

    at what point in Scripture is “God”s Love” used also is there a development of the useage.
    if so or in any case, i am thinking about the creation being good and god vendicating his good.


  9.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    If you want to see what the look is, watch this video:

    Pay close attention in the second chorus round for the look.

    Grace and peace,


  10.   rich constant Says:

    boy oh boy REX.
    this internet thing just blows my mind it is wonderful

    thank you


  11.   Matthew Says:

    My parents had a look too. Is this a sermon, if so it is a great one.

  12.   phil Says:

    I suppose Judas probably got the same look in Gethsemane; the look so piercing, full of forgiveness and a hope that had become so foreign to him. A hope he lost, that led to his death.

  13.   Penney Winiarski Says:

    Just read Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

    compassion: to let one’s innards embrace the feeling or situation of another.

    pg.89 Thus Jesus embodies the hurt the marginal ones know by taking it into his own person and his own history.

    Brueggmann suggest’s that the dismantiling of the old begins in the groans and complaints of His people. That this public expression of grief is the door to energizing a new person/community.

  14.   Dan Smith Says:

    Great job, JM.

    I must confess, however, that I expected something about Pat Summit!!

  15.   rich constant Says:

    Jesus wept.
    THEIR UTTER Unbelief.
    And then he turns looks upon Pater’s epiphany.

  16.   edgar Says:

    In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
    Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
    When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
    Nor for fear or favor suffer me to fall.

    –James Montgomery

  17.   Ray Amrine Says:

    I just heard Greg Laurie mention that look, and my spirit resonated with the Amazing Grace and “Oh How He Loves You and Me!” What a desperately human mess-up I am, especially when you calculate the 67 years I have been given to learn, since salvation at age 5!

    Right on! And belated THANKS!

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