O Sacred Head Now Wounded
The Wound of Denial
A sermon based on Matthew 26:69-75
Sunday, March 26, 2017 – Lent 4
Rachel Joy Scott was an outspoken Christian. The 17 year-old girl wanted to change the world by a chain reaction of compassion. She figured that if she could consistently show Jesus' love to others, it would enable her to share her faith. That, it turn, might bring others to faith in Jesus, so they too might show his love to still others and the chain would go on and on.
But not everyone shared Rachel's vision. Two her classmates, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, went into their school one morning heavily armed. And after pointing a gun at Rachel's head and asking if she still believed in God, she replied, "You know I do." And for giving such an answer, Rachel was the first of 12 students and one teacher who were gunned down at Columbine on April 20, 1999. Rachel refused to deny her Savior, even if it meant her death. What courage!
What a contrast to Simon Peter. When he felt his safety might be threatened, he was quick to deny Jesus to avoid any trouble. He swore he didn't know the man to avoid getting hurt! Later, Peter came to his senses. He knew what he had done and how cowardly it was. And he wept over his sin in genuine sorrow and contrition. And thankfully for Peter, Jesus never denied him.
We too have denied that we know Jesus. We've denied him blatantly when we've hidden our faith. We've denied him subtly when we don't live our faith, showing Jesus' love to others. But thank God that he's never denied us.
The account of Peter's denial and subsequent contrition is recorded for us in Matthew 26:69-75…
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72 He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."
74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter, Peter, Peter! What happened? Where did he go wrong? One minute, swearing that he was ready to die with Jesus, the next, swearing that he didn't know Jesus. What went wrong? Well, a number of factors led to Peter's change of heart: First, there was the obvious, that the soldiers had arrested Jesus and he was in trouble. It looked like those who sided with Jesus would be in trouble too. And Peter may have overheard the plans to kill Jesus. He didn't want that for Jesus to be sure! But he didn't want that for himself either.
Second, Jesus' reaction to his arrest wasn't at all what Peter expected. Jesus didn't fight back. He didn't use their bold move as the catalyst for his move to take over as Peter had hoped. In fact, Peter got scolded when he tried to stop them with his sword. Jesus let himself be arrested and abused. And Peter must have wondered, what would Jesus let them to do to him?
But finally, Peter so quickly pulled this 180-degree turn because he overestimated his own courage and his own strength. And he underestimated his own sinful nature. Peter denied that he knew Jesus in part because he had early denied that he ever could.
Earlier that night Jesus had warned his disciples, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'" (Matthew 26:31) But Peter knew this could never happened to him. "Peter replied, 'Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.'" (v. 32) And when Jesus insisted that he would, pointing to the sign of the rooster, "Peter declared, 'Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.'" And believing that he could never commit such a heinous sin, such a cowardly denial, he let down his guard and satan swooped in, bringing fear, and self-preservation, and Peter's triple denial.
How about you? Would you ever deny that you know Jesus? Would you hide your faith and pretend he's a stranger like Peter did? What if you were in danger? What if your life was threatened? Would you still stand strong? What if someone held a gun to your head and asked you, "Do you still believe in God?" Then would you answer, "You know I do," and risk taking a bullet? Or would you deny that you knew him?
I honestly don't know what I would do in Rachel Scott's shoes. I like to think that I'd be bold and find the courage to love Jesus more than I love my life that I might hear him say to me moments later, "Whoever loses his life for me will find it," (Matthew 16:25) then, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:23)
I like to think that anyway. But who knows how one would really respond to such a threat until you're actually put into that situation. And honestly, I've already denied Jesus and pretended that I didn't know him for so much less. When I have the chance to talk about my Savior, my church, or even my job, but choose not to because I'm not sure how the other person may respond, I deny knowing Jesus just like Peter did. Just because I don't call down curses on myself makes it no less a sin.
Don't make the same mistake as Peter. Don't overestimate your own courage and strength. Don't underestimate your sinful nature. The truth is that every one of us is capable of the most heinous of sins if put in the right circumstances. Don't believe that you're capable of murder? Then talk to me later. I'll bet I could paint a scenario that would get you to admit, "Well, okay, in that situation I would kill." You've just never been in that situation.
And, honestly, I don't even need to do that exercise because all of you, like me, have already denied that you know Jesus. When you've gone along with the crowd, when you've kept quiet, when you've pretended that you didn't know Jesus by your sin, you denied him just like Peter did. Just because you didn't call down curses on yourself makes it no less a sin.
How does it feel to have someone you thought was a friend, pretend they don't know you when they're among other company. What would you think if your spouse said to you, "When we get together with my co-workers tonight, can you pretend you're my assistant? Don't tell them we're married. I'm not sure what they're going to think of you." It would hurt, wouldn't it? To have one you love deny that they know you.
And that's the wound Peter inflicted on Jesus that night. That's the wound I have inflicted on Jesus when I've pretended he was a stranger. That's the wound you have inflicted on Jesus by denying that you know him. None of us deserve to have Jesus say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" but, "If anyone is ashamed of me… the Son of Man will be ashamed of him…" (Mark 8:38) and "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41) In fact, every time we deny Jesus, every time we sin, we, like Peter, call down that curse on ourselves.
When Jesus turned and looked at Peter, how that look must have stung. It was then, at Jesus' piercing glance, that Peter remembered what Jesus had told him earlier that night, "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." Now there was no proud denial that he could ever do such a thing. Now the pride was replaced with guilt and shame at what he had done. "And he went outside and wept bitterly." And that was a good thing. His guilt produced a godly sorrow over his denial of Jesus. That sorrow led him to weep tears of genuine repentance.
And you know that even though Peter denied knowing Jesus, Jesus never denied knowing him. In fact, it was for Peter's very denial that Jesus was on trial being denied justice that he might go to the cross to be denied by the Father. There he took Peter's denial on himself and paid the penalty of hell that Peter deserved. And later, after his resurrection, Jesus singled Peter out. The angel at the empty tomb told the women, "Don't be alarmed… You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" (Mark 16:6-7)
And later still, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him (a reminder of three times that Peter had denied him). When Peter appealed to Jesus' omniscience to see his genuine repentance, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you," Jesus forgave him and commissioned him, "Feed my sheep."
Friends, when you see your sin, when Jesus looks at you with his soul-piecing glance, don't deny your sin. Deny the urge to cover it up or pretend it didn't happen. You can't hide it from him anyway. Instead, let the guilt and shame that you feel over what you've done lead you to go outside and week bitterly. Let it lead you to repent as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:10: "Godly sorrow brings repentance…" Let your repentance lead you to confess your sin to Jesus that he might deal with it. Because you know that though you have denied him, he has never—he will never!—deny you!
For it was for your denial that Jesus was denied justice, that he went to the cross, that he was denied by the Father. There he took your denial and your every sin on himself and paid the penalty of hell that you deserved.
Now he promises that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Then, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…" (1 Corinthians 7:10) Then you can be at peace that you are forgiven.
Later, after Jesus' ascension, Peter found his courage again. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled him with a bravery and a passion to preach Christ crucified to thousands, come what may—even if it meant his death. He refused to stop preaching even after he had been jailed (Acts 4:4), flogged (Acts 5:40), and put on death row (Acts 12:1-4). And, tradition tells us that in the end Peter found the courage to die for Jesus, being tortured to death by crucifixion. Peter found his courage in the forgiveness that Jesus won for him on the cross and in the eternal life guaranteed him by the resurrection.
He knew that after his persecution and death, a perfect paradise of peace with Jesus awaited him in heaven. So in the end he wrote, "Look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." (1 Peter 3:12-13)
And friends, that's where we find our courage too: in the forgives of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross, in the eternal life guaranteed by his resurrection, in the perfect paradise of peace with him that awaits us after death. These give us the courage to die for him if we're ever called upon to do so as Peter and Rachel Scott were. And in the meantime, they give us the courage to die to self when called upon to do so and to live for him who died for us. They give us the courage to "deny [ourselves] and take up [our crosses] daily and follow [him]," (Luke 9:23) until we , like Peter and Rachel Scott, go to live with him in glory.
And the forgiveness, new life, and salvation Jesus won for us, give us the courage to share our faith like Peter, like Rachel Scott. They move us to live our faith and show Jesus' love to others. For as we consistently show Jesus' love to others, it will enable us to share our faith. That, it turn, might bring others to faith in Jesus, so they too might show his love to still others and the chain will go on and on until Jesus returns in glory.
So be bold, dear friends! Don't deny your sin, that you've denied Jesus. But trust that he never has and never will deny you. Then trusting in his forgiveness, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.