Most of us can identify with Peter. He was like quicksilver, impossible to pin down. Hot one minute cold the next, ready to defend Jesus to the death and then denying that he even knew him. He as Jesus’ fiercest defender, and his most adamant denier.
It was Peter who was the first to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah; it was Peter who single-handed tried to fight off the temple guards when they came to arrest Jesus. And then it was Peter who wilted when asked by a simple serving maid, “Weren’t you with Jesus?”
I’m sure that Peter could identify with our friend Murphy. He argued with the other disciples over who would be greatest, he wouldn’t let Christ wash his feet and boasted that he would die for Christ. In Gethsemane he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying, then he freaked out in the garden with a sword and cut a dude’s ear off, and then vehemently denied Christ, not once, not twice, but three times. Ever have one of those days? Hey stuff happens. Does it ever.
This is the last Sunday of a Few of our Favourite things series. I know it’s gone on forever but it’s been a weird year.
I struggled with where I would finish up this series, and I decided to finish where I began, with the first sermon I ever preached. Now technically, this isn’t that actual sermon, but the points remain the same.
I was invited to preach in my home Church, First Wesleyan in Saint John, in the spring of 1980. I was 19 years old and had been a Christian for less than six months, coincidently those six months had been spent at Bethany Bible College, which is now Kingswood University.
It was an evening service, and I was well prepared, I was introduced, and I preached and preached and preached. It seemed to go on forever. And when I finished it had been 12 minutes. Oh well. And after the message my Pastor Jack McKenzie came up and shook my hands and gave me the greatest compliment I had ever had, he said, “Good job Preacher.”
And I have preached this message in one form or another in every church I’ve pastored, and in churches that I haven’t pastored, in four countries on three continents.
If you had to pick one of the apostles to deny Jesus, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been Peter. He was the leader of the apostles, one of Christ’s closest friends. Do you remember the old hymn that said, “He walks with me, and he talks with me”? Peter could have written that. Like how much more spiritual can you get?
But so often that is the very type of person who is subject to Satan’s greatest attack. The person in the highest position is the one with the farthest to fall.
But who was Peter? Well, his birth name was Simon, and he was the son of Jonas. He was the first apostle, brought to Christ by his brother Andrew, and was renamed Peter by Jesus. He was part of the inner circle with John and James, the “Sons of Thunder”. It was John and Peter who went ahead to arrange the upper room for the last supper. It was Peter who walked on the water, a man wholly devoted to Christ, and yet he was still just a man.
It was Peter who said, we know you are the Holy One of God.” And “you are the Messiah sent from God.” In Matthew 26:33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
The phrase that is translated deserts you is actually one word in the Greek and that is σκανδαλίζω skandalizō (scan da lid zo), it’s where we get our word scandalize, and it means to trip up, stumble, entice to sin or to offend. And so Peter is saying, “Jesus I would never sin against you.”
Let’s remember that whenever we use the word “never” we’d better watch out, it’s an awfully big word, and an awfully long time. About the time we use that word, Satan pulls out all the stops. “I don’t know how they could do that; I would never commit adultery.” “I would never cuss” “I would never lose my temper like that.” Never is a long time. The very word stumble is indicative of the kind of mistake it is. This isn’t “Well I think I’ll go out and murder 17 people today.” This is a slip of the tongue that hurts a fellow Christian. This is a flash of anger, and this is a careless thought or action.
The second part of Peter’s boast comes two verses later in Matthew 26:35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
How often have we heard such a boast? For that matter, how often have we made such a boast? “O Lord, I would never do anything to bring reproach on your name, even if I have to die for you.” I’m sure that Christ would concur. The problem isn’t getting people to die for you, it’s getting people to live for you.
Now let’s recognize that Peter didn’t plunge from saint to sinner overnight. How often we think that Peter got up and said, “Well this is the day.” It may appear that way, but if the truth was known, it just doesn’t happen that way.
Usually, a lot happens before the actual fall takes place. Satan knows that he doesn’t open up with the heavy stuff right off. He gradually wears down the defences and then zap he’s done it to you again.
They tell us, although I don’t know from actual experience, that if you put a frog in a cool pot of water and slowly bring it to a boil that said frog will stay in the pot until it is cooked, because the gradual rise in temperature doesn’t give him adequate warning about the danger, but if you were to toss the same frog in a boiling kettle, there would be all kinds of activity as he tried to get out. Now I want to know how did they find this out, and what other critters did they use first, a cat? A dog? You never hear about the horse in the kettle theory, do you?
Friends, Peter was walking a well-trod path. A path that others had walked before him and that plenty have walked since.
If we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper and before the arrest of Jesus, we hear him tell his apostles: Luke 22:40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”
And then in Luke 22:45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. The first downward step for Peter was when He Stopped Praying. Christ has gone to the garden to await the troops that Judas was bringing. And Jesus gathers the inner circle to him, John, James and Peter and in verse 40 he asks them to watch and pray.
Now, the one essential ingredient in any relationship is communication. You cannot sustain a relationship without talking. In work, sports, love, and God, the common denominator for success is communication. Nowhere in the bible are we commanded to preach always, or sing always, or teach always. But we are told in Luke 18:1 One day, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.
And Paul commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Never stop praying. Now that’s a short verse, and to the point as well. The first downward step for Peter was when his prayer life went on the skids. The best relationship in the world cannot stand up to silence.
When we stop talking to God, we lose the strength that he offers. I realize that some people think that their prayers have to be in King James English with all the thees and thous in the right places. And that is perfectly alright if that is what you are comfortable with. Other folks just can’t get into that, like they don’t talk to others like that, how many people come up to me following the service and say, “thou hast preached a fine message my sovereign preacher, I shalst endeavour to followest thy words in my daily endeavours.” Wow wouldn’t that freak me out real good. It really doesn’t matter how you talk to God as long as you talk to him.
Luke 22:54 So they arrested him and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. That last line is the second step in Peter’s downward trek. The scriptures tell us that Peter followed at a distance. He Stopped Following. I mean, sure he followed. Where were the other eleven? But he followed at a distance, not up close where you’d expect to see the leader of the twelve. After all, he was Christ’s friend and companion for three years. Like he wasn’t just an acquaintance. I can just hear Peter now, “don’t worry Jesus I’m behind you, way behind you.” Love made Peter ashamed to run, fear made him ashamed to get too close. The disciples chose the left side of the road and ran; Jesus chose the right side of the road and obeyed. But Peter chose the middle of the road; you know where you find yellow stripes and dead skunks.
Once you stop communicating with someone, then you no longer know where they are and where they are going. And it isn’t long before your paths usually diverge. In 1982 twenty-eight of us from bible college in New Brunswick headed for the world headquarters of the Wesleyan church which was located in Marion Indiana at the time (kind of like going to Mecca), something like a thirty-hour trip.
The problem was that we were driving six cars and only the driver of the lead car knew how to get to Marion. Along the way, we somehow managed to lose the last car and as he was struggling to keep up, he was pulled over by a Vermont state trooper for exceeding the speed limit by a mere 48 kmh. When he explained she told him that it didn’t matter how fast he drove, he wouldn’t catch up. How come? Because he had missed the right exit about thirty miles back. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if’n you’re going in the wrong direction.
It doesn’t take long for you to start following Christ from a distance once you have stopped talking to him on a regular basis.
Peter’s third step downward is recorded in Luke 22:55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there.
Joined Who? Who is them? Well, them is the temple police, them are those who arrested Christ, them are those who eventually and ultimately were responsible for the crucifixion. The path away from Christ eventually leads into the path of the ungodly. He Stopped fellowshipping. Fellowshipping is just a churchy word for hanging out with God’s people. Peter would have been better off hiding in the shadows with the disciples or standing in the courtyard with his master, but instead he was warming his hands over the devil’s fire.
And David told us a long time ago in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.
The converse of that is also true. The man who does follow the advice of the wicked and stands around with sinners and joins in with mockers, is not blessed and that is right where our old buddy Peter found himself. Now that does not mean that we isolate ourselves. Christ never intended us to live in monasteries. Remember, one of the chief complaints against him is that he was a friend of sinners. But they weren’t his primary social contact. Most of the time, he was in the company of his disciples.
And remember that Christ was intent on winning those sinners into the kingdom and not simply having a good time with them. Church is for fellowship as well as for worship. When we go into the New Testament, we discover that the entire lives of the early believers was interwoven with the church.
And right now, we aren’t doing a lot of that because of COVID, but normally that’s why we have coffee after the service, and why we have the Great I Hate Winter Beach Party, and men’s and ladies breakfasts, and ladies Christmas Events, so we can sit around and talk to people who aren’t using the Lord’s name in vain and cussing and telling smutty stories. Because like it or not, you are different from the world. Or at least you are supposed to be.
But once you start following Christ from a distance, then pretty soon you start to think that you have more in common with the world than with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mark 14:66-68 Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard below. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest came by and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.” But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed.
Here is the first denial, and it is fairly simple. He doesn’t actually deny Christ. He says, “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about”. Good going Pete, that stumped her. That first denial would be the equivalent to “do you go to Cornerstone Wesleyan Church?” “Ah, uh, well I’m not sure what you mean?” But don’t you love the brutal honesty of the New Testament? The scholars tell us that Mark was probably the first gospel written and that Mark undoubtedly got the narration from—Peter and he tells his story warts and all. But even after the first accusation, Peter still stuck around.
Matthew 26:71-72 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again, Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.
Pretty heavy stuff, we’ve gone from “I’m not sure what you mean” in the first denial to denying Christ with an oath in the second denial, that meant that basically Peter said, “I do not know Jesus, so help me God.” And that is serious stuff for the Jew who had developed a whole complex system for when oaths could and could not be sworn.” Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:33-37 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
You sure got a short memory Pete, you must have skipped that class.
Matthew 26:73-74 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.
Some translations say that Peter began to curse and swear. Boy, we’ve arrived now, haven’t we? Right at the bottom of the pile. Not only was he denying him in words, but now he was denying him in action. Those aren’t the words of Peter the apostle of Christ, those are the words of Simon, that grotty old fisherman from Galilee.
Profanity shows that you’ve been defeated, can’t think of anything constructive or intelligent to say, so you cuss. My Daddy’s he taught me that profanity is the refuge of illiterates and children. Besides that, most cussing is really uncreative, when was the last time you heard someone use something really original. I mean, they’ve just about exhausted all the body parts and bodily functions. And Peter knew that he was in effect saying, “if they won’t believe I’m not his disciple, I’ll show them I’m not.”
In closing this morning, I want you to ask yourself, “How will I deny Jesus?”
1) We Deny Jesus With Our Silence, It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards out of men.” Or as I’ve said before, silence isn’t always golden, sometimes it’s just yellow. Do people know that you are a Christian; do they know who you serve, and why you serve him?
2) We Deny Jesus With Our Inconsistencies, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying if your life doesn’t prove it, it has been said, “what you are doing speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” Let us reflect back on the words of my good friend C.K. Chitty by the way you will know this by heart someday, “you have to walk the walk and talk the talk, but you also have to talk the walk and walk the talk.” What about the Christian who cheats on his income tax, or is crooked in his business dealings, or the student who cheats on a test, or the person whose word isn’t any good. What about the Christian employee or student who doesn’t do their best?
Or the Christian employer who isn’t fair to his workers. Or what about the Christian who curses and swears? What did Paul say in Titus 1:16 Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.
Kind of like Peter cussing, isn’t it?
3) We Deny Jesus With Our Unchristlike Attitudes. How’s your forgiveness? Does it stack up to Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
What about your love? Christ defined how Christians would be judged in John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
What about your compassion? Matthew 25:34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
How is your daily walk? Does it testify to your knowledge of the Saviour or deny it? Only you can answer that.
Luke 22:61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
If Peter didn’t understand it before, he now had a firsthand grasp of Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
The scriptures tell us that there are things in your life that are preventing you from going further with Jesus? Remember the words that Jesus told the women caught in the act of adultery in John 8:11 “Go and sin no more.”