March 4, 2018

Peter’s Denial

Passage: John 18:12-27

Grace and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are just 3 weeks out from the beginning of Holy Week and a short 4 weeks from Easter. And John’s gospel is strongly reminding us of the coming events that shape the last days of Jesus on this earth. Last week you heard of Jesus eating a meal with his disciple friends and washing their feet. The foot washing was an act of care the earthly bodies of his disciples as he prepares to be separated from them.

The love and compassion we see between teacher and disciple in last weeks gospel is starkly contrasted by the betrayal that we hear in this week’s text. Last week we heard Peter begging Jesus to wash him more, more than just his feet, so he could be made perfect before his master. That story demonstrated the intimate relationship of love between Jesus and his followers. Those were the good days before the radical work that those disciples had done caught up with them.

This week is a different story. It’s a tough time to be both Jesus and his disciples in chapter 18 of John’s gospel. All the miracles that Jesus has done, healing sick people, feeding the hungry, taking away the pain of the world, all of that has caused distrust and suspicion from authority.

Remember back a few weeks ago where we read about Jesus healing the blind man or when he raised Lazarus from the grave. Those moments shocked and startled the status quo. To a lot of people those were holy moments of God radically shifting the balance of the world. But to others they were dangerous. And they needed to stop.

Which brings us to the arrest and interrogation of Jesus. The message of Jesus is radical and life changing. And if we ever for one-minute think that the gospel is safe or that following Jesus will be easy then we need to read this gospel story again. We don’t have to look farther than Peter to know that even those who love him the most can be scared by the world’s anger.

This story is like a play with two scenes happening at once. We jump cut between the interrogation of Jesus by the High Priest to Peter in the courtyard being questioned by strangers. The two interrogation scenes mirror one another in the quest for truth. But both scenes have their own moments of deep frustration. The High Priests inability to accept the truth. And Peter’s inability to say the truth.

Peter is a wonderful part of the gospel story. He’s at the same moment one of the most devout disciples and the one who constantly falls short. He is the perfect example for us. At the same time all too human. And beloved by our savior Jesus. As Martin Luther put it, Saint and sinner in one.

Way back at the beginning of the gospel story, he dropped his nets when Jesus called to him to follow. He was there to feed hungry people loaves and fishes. He’s the only disciple who upon seeing Jesus walking on water, asks if he can get out of the boat and follow his master. Of course, he sinks like a stone. Peter’s lack of faith causes him to sink. Only to be saved by Jesus’ constant presence. Immediately before this scene in John 18, he is with Jesus and the other disciples in the garden. As Jesus is being arrested, Peter brandishes a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the slaves. Jesus must stop Peter once again from his own stupidity.

Despite Peter constantly demonstrating he can be a failure, Jesus choses him. He calls him “Rock” and gives him the ultimate mandate to be the foundation of the future church. On you I will build my church. Peter the Rock, the faithful yet foolish disciple is now put to the ultimate test. And it’s an utter disappointment.

We so badly want Peter to get this moment right. We so want him to stand up to the strangers in that courtyard and say loudly with conviction, “Yes, I am his disciples. I am the one you saw in the garden.” But unfortunately, Peter still proves to be Peter. Saint and sinner.

The question that is put to Peter is a strange way of asking him if he’s a follower of Jesus. “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” The implied negativity almost begs the person answering it to say, “NO!” It’s an easy out for Peter to say, “I am not.” And in doing so Peter does not just deny his association with Jesus. He denies his very identity as a disciple. All he’s done since dropping those fishing nets and following Jesus. The miracles he’s helped bring about, the word of God that has shaped his very being, the name that he has been baptized into, Peter, not Simon. Peter the Rock denies his whole personhood. I am not a disciple.

It’s a sad and frightening moment for all of us who dare follow Jesus. If Peter can deny his own discipleship, whose to say that I can do any better. After all Peter sat at Jesus’ feet, ate food with him, and was his closest companion. As it was foretold, three-times Peter denies his identity within feet of his master. And then the cock crows and the day of Jesus’ death has dawned. It makes us feel that our own denial of who Jesus is to us, has something to do with Jesus’ death, his torture and crucifixion.

On the other side of the doors of that courtyard a very different scene is taking place. Jesus is brought first before Annas and then Caiaphas, the high priest. These men represent the power and authority of the Jewish ruling class. Next week it will be Pilate, the Roman authority who will question Jesus. But this week it is Jesus’ own people who actively pursue his guilt.

There’s really no leg for this guilty verdict to stand on. And Jesus knows that. But he also knows how scared these leaders are. Everything about Jesus has pushed back against their laws and their authority. They are terrified of the radical change that Jesus has brought about. And that fear means that they will find any way possible to get rid of Jesus.

This gospel sits heavy with us. There is so much darkness that is cast on the good news. It’s sometimes hard to see through the world’s relentless pursuit to destroy good. But as Jesus stands in front of those two men, out to destroy him, he speaks honestly about the truth of his message. It was never given in secret. It was meant for the whole world to hear it. “Ask those who heard what I said to them;” Jesus says, “they know what I said.”

Even Peter who denies Jesus, turns around and follows him to the cross. His momentary lapse in discipleship is bookended by his deep acts of devotion. Peter’s denial does not make up the entirety of who he is. Neither does our lack of faithfulness makes up our identity. Because we have all heard what Jesus said to us. We have heard the words of our savior Jesus who called us to follow him. We have heard Jesus who challenged us to see the miracles all around us. We have heard Jesus calling us to question absolute judgment and replace it with absolute love. We have all heard the message of grace and redemption that Jesus preached for us and for the world. And because of all that we have heard and seen we are his disciples. We are flawed and failures. But we are his. We belong to Jesus who walked this dark and terrifying road to Calvary. He went on that terrible journey not to satisfy the world’s quest for hatred. He did this so that we might see his undying love for us. Love that covers even the great sin of denial.

We have so much in common with Peter. We are every day saint and sinner. Committing our lives to following Jesus but then failing to live out that calling. What can we do today to make a conscience choice to not only say we are Jesus’ but to live out that call? To be disciples on the good days and the bad.

We do so because Jesus our savior has gone down the dark road for us. He has step by step walked the way of Calvary.  His truthfulness, his honesty in bearing this good news reminds us of our call also to be disciples every day.

We are disciples like Peter, called to speak the truth of Jesus’ good news. But even when we fall short of that calling we know and trust that Jesus gets it right. He is the savior of the world. He is light in the darkness. He is the truth that sets us free. Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



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