Critics of Christianity rightly point out that those of us who are church members fail miserably when it comes to practicing what we preach. I am reminded of a Facebook meme that basically says, “People covered with tatoos and piercings are often some of the nicest people you will meet while those who sit in church pews on Sunday morning are often some of the most judgmental you will meet.” There is some truth to this saying, although you cannot use it as a blanket statement. Not all tatooed and pierced people are extremely kind and nice, and not all church attendees are judgmental.
You simply cannot judge a book by its cover. But, I think you can easily say that those of us who attend church do not, by any means, live up to the expectations that God has for us. In fact, we fail miserably. It is not something to be celebrated, but it is something to be admitted. It’s part of being humble. Pride can do an awful lot of damage. Just look at what happens to Peter.
Peter is the chief disciple. Throughout the book of Mark, he’s the guy who is always out spoken. He’s the one who speaks when no one else will. He’s the guy who takes action when everyone else seems frozen. He’s the one who takes risks; who is brash and daring; who is self-confident when everyone else seems weak. Earlier in Mark’s gospel, Peter has had the audacity to question Jesus and try and put Jesus in His place. Peter didn’t come out on the good end of that exchange, by the way. And at the beginning of this chapter, Peter made some brash statements.
When the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper, Jesus announced that one would betray Him and that all would abandon Him. Peter confronted Jesus. “Though all may fall away, I will not abandon you.” Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Peter doubles down at this moment. Peter becomes vehement, “If I have to die with you, I will not deny you!” In a very real way, Peter is chiding Jesus. Peter is saying, “Jesus, I know myself better than you do. You can’t tell me I will do this. You don’t know my heart. You are absolutely wrong, Jesus. I know better.”
Peter is a classic example of two wonderful sayings. The first: Pride goeth before the fall. Second: Your alligator mouth is going to get your parakeet rear end in trouble. (Sorry, I can’t use the real quote in a sermon.) Both of these statements come to fruition as Jesus’ prophecy about Peter comes true.
We turn our attention now to our Gospel text as we finish up the 14th chapter of the book of Mark. Jesus is on trail in the home of Caiaphas–the high priest. He has been falsely accused. False witnesses have been presented. None have been able to agree. Jesus is more than holding His own. Caiaphas then asks Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” If Jesus would have remained silent; if Jesus would have lied; He could have saved Himself. But Jesus would not lie. Neither would He remain silent at this critical juncture. “I AM,” Jesus says, “And you will see the Son of Man coming with the Power and seated on the clouds.” This statement is seen as blasphemy, and the court decides to put Jesus to death.
In stark contrast to Jesus who stands trial without fear and without compromising the truth, we now have Peter. Mark puts this here intentionally to show us just how different we as humans are from Jesus.
Interestingly enough, Peter is there, at the high priest’s house. When Jesus was arrested in the garden of Getshemane, Peter initially fled, but something within him made him follow. His brash assertions in the upper room were taking hold, so he knew he had to follow through with his declarations. He managed to get to the chief priest’s house and follow the proceedings. However, Peter didn’t anticipate that he would not remain anonymous.
A servant girl sees Peter warming himself by the fire and says, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” The girl’s words in Greek are actually strong and contemptuous. They are better translated, “You were with that Nazarene, Jesus!” Peter is now put on the spot. He is now being accused, and the accusation is true. What will Peter do? Will he admit his connection with Jesus, or will he seek to save his skin?
Peter replies, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” The two Greek words are interesting here. Literally, the sentence should be translated, “I do not know or know what you are talking about.” It sounds strange, but you need to know exactly what Peter is saying in the Greek. You need to know the depths of his denial and his lie. Mark Edwards says this in his commentary, “Mark’s two Greek verbs for “know” are only an apparent redundancy. The first (oida) tends to denote theoretical knowledge, and the second (epistamai) practical knowledge; Peter’s denial is thus a total denial–in theory and practice!” Walter Liefield adds this, “Peter denied her charge by “using the form common in rabbinical law for a formal, legal denial.” Think about the extent of what Peter says here. Think about how Peter is essentially covering his tail legally with his denial, AND how Peter unequivocally states that he has no type of knowledge what-so-ever of who Jesus is. It is a bald faced lie. An utter and complete denial. The cock crows the first time.
Oh, and it gets worse.
The servant girl is undaunted by Peter’s lie. She begins working the crowd around Peter. She tells them that Peter undoubtably was with Jesus, and Peter offers up his second denial.
I have to wonder just what continued to transpire here. Did the servant girl continue to talk with the crowd? Did they begin working things out for themselves? Did they question Peter from time to time? Something must have been going on, because the final time it is not the servant girl who confronts Peter. It is the crowd itself. They turn to Peter and say, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” How did they know Peter was a Galilean? The other Gospels report that they heard Peter’s accent. It would have been like you or me talking in our southern drawl up in New York City. We would stick out like a sore thumb because of the way we talk. This is what happened to Peter. They heard his speech. They knew Peter was Galilean. They knew Jesus came from Galilee. The association was made. The accusation followed.
And this time, Peter becomes vehement again. Mark tells us, “But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’” Several of the scholars I consulted say that Peter is swearing to God. Peter is basically saying, “May God rain condemnation upon me if I am lying–I do not know the man.” Peter is so scared out of his mind that he is calling down the wrath of God upon himself with his lies so utter and complete is his denial of Jesus.
One calls to mind what Jesus says in Mark chapter 8 verse 38, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Or Matthew chapter 10 verses 32-33, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
The cock crows again.
Peter realizes what he has done and weeps. He is a broken man. He has failed.
Boy do I know how Peter feels. Maybe you do too. I mean, I know that it is the job of every Christian, including myself to proclaim Jesus without reservation. I know it is the job of every Christian, including myself to unashamedly bring Jesus into the conversation and point to His will in the world. But when those opportunities arise, my backbone seems to disappear. You may scratch your head at that because I am a pastor. Yes, I am, and it is one thing to stand in front of you here this morning and preach where generally I get very little criticism, and another thing to be out in the public interacting with people who could go off and get offended at the drop of a hat.
For example, on several occasions, I’ve had people drop the spiritual but not religious card. They are happy to report that they believe in God, but they just don’t go to church or feel the need to worship or believe that everyone has their own path they need to follow to find God. I mean, I know what I am supposed to say here. I know I’m supposed to confront the fallacy in this thinking. I know I am supposed to gently say, “You know, that’s really a cop out. That kind of religion costs you nothing. It’s basically self-affirming, and you are really worshiping a god you created instead of the god who created you. I know when it comes to the many path approach, I’m supposed to say something to the effect of, “You know, the world’s religions make all sorts of different claims about God. The Muslims do not believe Jesus was God, but Christians do. How can they both be correct paths?” I know I’m supposed to do this. I know I’m supposed to bear witness, but most of the time, I take the easy way out. I either don’t say anything or simply say, “Well, that’s interesting.” I fail to bear witness to Jesus, and I shake my head in bewilderment. And don’t think that you are off the hook. We all have a responsibility of doing the same thing. We all have the responsibility of proclaiming Jesus.
But we fail. We don’t measure up, and I believe it’s high time we admit it. I believe it’s high time we recognize our failure. And I also believe it’s time that we recognize that growth in faith is a process. It can and does take many years before we reach that point where we courageously proclaim our faith. And the good news in this: yes there is good news, is that Jesus shows us the utmost compassion even in our failure.
I am now going to turn to the book of John to show how this works. I am going to look at an encounter between the risen Jesus and Peter. Now, I am going to read this text using the nuances of the Greek because I think it will help us immensely.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me–unconditionally with all your heart--more than these?’ Peter said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you–like a brother.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me–unconditionally with all your heart?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you–like a brother.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me like a brother?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me like a brother?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you like a brother.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Now, what is the significance of this exchange between Peter and Jesus? First off, it is a three fold
admission of love paralleling Peter’s three fold denial. Peter is getting a chance to redeem himself. Secondly, we see Jesus asking Peter whether or not he loved him with agape love–the unconditional love of one who is willing to lay down one’s life. And Peter cannot admit this love. Peter cannot love Jesus in this manner. Peter cannot get to that point where he loves Jesus as much as Jesus loves him. And yet, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; Feed my sheep.”
Then Jesus tells Peter that one day, in the future, Peter will have that kind of love. Peter one day will suffer and die for Jesus. Peter one day will be dragged before governors and councils and be threatened with death, and Peter will die with the name of Jesus on his lips. Peter’s heart is in a process of being transformed. Fear is not easily overcome, but when you stay rooted and grounded in the gospel, it will be transformed.
This is the good news for you and me. God is not done with us yet. God is still working and moving within us. God is still in the process of transforming us, but we need to realize this. We need to realize that we haven’t arrived yet. We need to realize we still do not proclaim Jesus with our lips. We need to realize we don’t love Him with our whole heart and mind and soul and strength. We need to admit our brokenness before him and weep for it.
For it is in the midst of our brokenness that Jesus dies for us. It is in the midst of our brokenness that He saves us. It is in the midst of our brokenness that He lays down His life to redeem us. And it is His love that will transform that brokenness. This is the power of the Gospel. The power of the love of God who came to save the world. To save you. To save me.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Do not think too highly of yourself for you continue to deny Jesus. Do not become too down on yourself because God is still transforming you. Live in this tension and pray for the day when you will have the confidence to proclaim Jesus without fear. Amen.