This night was not shaping up the way Peter had hoped it would.
It was supposed to be a nice evening. A chance for the group of disciples to spend time together. A time to reflect on the blessings of God on the Israelite people. A nice holiday for their little family.
But moments ago, Judas had left in a huff. Jesus had spoken again about his death. The other disciples all looked downcast.
It must have been getting to Jesus. Because now he was talking about how all of them, would leave him. In just a few hours he would be alone. Abandoned.
Peter had to do something. He reached over. He put his hands on Jesus’ shoulder. He shushed Jesus.
“Not I Lord! I won’t ever leave you. Not now. Not ever.”
“Simon, Simon. Satan, has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Peter shook his head. Why was he calling him his given name? His new name was “Peter.” It was Peter because he was a rock. He didn’t get blown about by the air like a little piece of wheat. He was stronger than that.
“Never Lord!” Judas – sure. He’s a cheater. He’s always been greedy. And Philip? I could see it. He’s the one who didn’t believe you could feed the 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread. Even John – he’s supposed to be a son of thunder, but he’s more like a tiny thud. But not me. I walked on water with you. I was the first to call you the Christ. I saw your face shine like lightning up on the mountain (Which I’m not supposed to be telling anyone yet) but…still…the point is: I am ready to go with you! Even if it means prison…even if it means death.
Jesus repeated...eyes directly on Peter…more specifically, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today. You will deny three times that you know who I am.”
If you know this story and what happens next, you’re already shaking your head. Peter is setting himself up to fall even more so than before. It’s happening because Peter is forgetting an important Biblical principle. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful so that you don’t fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Peter forgot that.
But this is why God’s Word is so awesome, because look at how all encompassing that passage is: If you are hearing this message right now and you think it doesn’t apply to you, then, (guess what) it applies to you! If you think it applies to you, it applies to you. If you think that it does apply to you and therefore it doesn’t apply to you because it applies to you, it still applies to you.
- Oh good. That one person who needs to hear this message is here at church today. Good. They need this message so much more than I do.
- I can’t wait til Pastor puts this sermon online. Then I can share it with my friends who need it. Now – back to doodling and not paying any attention whatsoever.
- Who is this? My church elder? You are calling me because…I haven’t been to church in awhile? Are you kidding me? Listen. I don’t need your help. I’m doing just fine on my own.
- That was a tough phone call to make. I’m glad that I don’t have to be called. I am an Elder in the church. I’m strong enough to stand on my own.
- Ugh. If only my people would listen. They need this. Why don’t they get it? Me? I do get it. That’s why I don’t need this message. I’m a pastor.
Be careful. If you think this message isn’t for you, the devil’s got you right where he wants you. He's got you right next to the cliff -- and when you aren't looking -- push.
And you will fall.
Just like Peter.
II. Reality Sets In
Peter ducked behind a bush. “Did they see him?” His heart was beating so quickly.
Moments ago, Judas had appeared with a mob of soldiers. They had surrounded Jesus. They had arrested him. They other disciples had run away. And in the confusion, Peter had too!
But…he took a deep breath…he was better than this. He had promised not to abandon Jesus and he wouldn’t.
Peter walked the remaining few minutes to the courtyard of the high priest. This was where they would put Jesus on trial to determine whether he was guilty or not.
Peter stayed in the shadows. He should be in there with Jesus, but…first he needed to regain his composure.
He inched forward to the fire that was roaring in the middle of the room. It was night. He was cold. As soon as he warmed up, then…he’d go join Jesus.
As the light of the flames hit the sides of Peter’s face, a young servant girl – a teenager – noticed him. She did a double take. Then, she approached him. 56 “This man was with Jesus.”
Peter reacted quickly. “Woman, I don’t know him.” He said with a nervous giggle. Then turned his back to her and tried to focus in on warming his hands – as if the question had never been asked.
Someone else had heard her idea and after taking a long hard look at Peter, agreed, “You are also one of them.”
“I am not!” Peter replied – just a smidgen more sharply. This time he moved away from the fire. He moved back into the shadows. He needed a break from this stress. He needed to calm his spirit.
Finally a group confronted him. “You were with him. You are a Galilean. Your accent gives you away.”
Peter’s got vicious. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I swear to God I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know him. I don’t want to know him. I will never know him. Leave me alone!”
As Peter completed his tirade, the silence of the midnight air was cut through by a host of noises.
A rooster crowed.
A door opened.
The march of the officer’s boots hit the cobblestone.
The clanking of changes as the prisoner was moved.
Peter looked up. His eyes locked with Jesus. He saw his Savior’s disappointment.
And Peter remembered. “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept. Reality had set in. He was not the strong, courageous, immovable Christian that he had fancied himself to be.
He was weak just….like Jesus said.
It’s hard to look at the reality of our situation. But right now I need you to do just that. When we look at Peter’s story, do you see yourself?
1) The Runaway Christian
Do you see yourself in the garden? Like Peter, running away from your Christian friends when things get scary?
Whoa! Pastor just said that’s a sin…online. In a public forum. I’m totally abandoning him. He’s on his own.
Wait. We’re gonna say a prayer in public? Excuse me while I use the restroom.
Oh no! My Christian friend is starting to turn this conversation back to God. I’m really uncomfortable. I know, “Speaking of heavenly things, did anyone hear the heavenly voices on American Idol last night!?!”.
If you abandon your Christian friends, you’re abandoning Jesus. You aren’t as strong as you think.
2) The Follow at a Distance Christian
Maybe you’re more like Peter on the way to the courtyard. A “Follow at a distance” Christian.
Valentine’s Day was last weekend. Did you go for an afternoon walk with your honey? If so, did you have them walk about four blocks in front of you? “Honey, I’m having a blast?” Or did you go see a movie, tell her to sit in the front, while you went and sat in the back. “Wouldn’t want people to know we’re together.”
Following Jesus at a distance gives people that exact impression. If they look at you and they look at Jesus and they can’t tell that the two of you are walking hand in hand, you aren’t as strong as you think.
3) The "Panic-at-the-last-moment-and-flat-out-deny-Jesus-to-non-Jesus-followers" Chrsitian
Or maybe you’re tougher than that. Maybe you don’t run away. Maybe you don’t follow at a distance. Maybe you get straight up confronted about your Christianity.
I was on a plane trip not that long ago. I’ve always read that a plane ride is an excellent time for a Christian Pastor to share their faith. You’ve got an audience. They can’t leave. It’s a wonderful opportunity. I’ve read a few different stories from a few top notch pastors about how they’ve been able to share their faith and how God used that to bring people to faith.
So…I was prepared to do just that. Except. The first flight wasn’t that long. There wasn’t enough time for a conversation about religion. The second flight – that guy looked a little angry, so I didn’t want to offend him.
But the third flight. The person was very talkative. She told me about how she was from Germany. She told me about how she was lonely. She told me about how she missed her family and friends. This would have been the perfect time to tell her about her Savior who never leaves her.
Instead, I said, “Did you want some peanuts?”
When that plane ride was over…now not only did I struggle with fear, but I struggled with guilt. I thought, "Some pastor. Can’t even share the message of Jesus. Not good. Pathetic." It took a couple days for me to get over it.
That's hard. Because now the voices have changed.
That's what happened to Peter. He had heard voices pointing at him and saying, "You are one of his disciples, admit it!" Now he lay in a heap outside the building listening to the voice of the devil, "You are NOT one of his disciples. Admit it! You abandoned him. You denied him. You are not a believer."
III. Where to Find Strength
But here’s where I found strength and it’s where Peter found strength. It’s also where you can find strength.
Scripture says, "When we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
That’s exactly what Jesus was. Look at the story of Peter’s Denial again. Did you notice it all came true? Judas’ left to betray Jesus like Jesus had said. The disciples left Jesus like he had said. Peter abandoned Jesus like he had said.
But also Jesus. He did did exactly like he had said. Thank the LORD! He was arrested like he said. He was sentenced to die like he said. He was willing to give up his life to save you -- like he said and promised!
It’s amazing, too. Because if anyone should deny anyone, it should really be Jesus denying us! We are the ones with the sin problem. We are the ones whose hearts are filled with guilt. We are the ones who, if our moms knew all that we’ve done, even they would consider saying, “I don’t know the man.”
But Jesus knew the worst of you and he did not abandon you. He did not keep a distance from you. He didn’t deny knowing you.
Instead – he stood up for you. “See my friend, I don’t deny knowing her. She’s done wrong, but I’d like to suffer for her. I don’t want to abandon her. I want to take her place. I don’t want to keep my distance from her – I want to be with always to the very end of the age.”
Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. Forgiven for your lack of courage. Forgiven for letting fear win. Forgiven for your weaknesses.
And you know what – having weakness and having fears – they aren’t so bad. In fact, check out what 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Any of you ever lift weights before? If you are lifting weights, it’s smart to have a spotter. But sometimes – you get the impression that the musclehead who asked you to spot is just calling you over to show off. “Oh man that 400 pounds that on my chest feels just like a feather. Could you help me get it off…oops never mind. I did it on my own.”
But if you are spotting someone and they need help, then your power is on full display! It’s up to you to save them from injury.
When we admit our weaknesses, God’s power is on full display. His power to destroy sin. His power to defeat death. His power to overcome adversity.
His power – to help us be bold.
Fast forward with me. Peter is surrounded by angry, violent men. The exact men who had crucified Jesus just months earlier. Now Peter stood before them. Now they were threatening Peter with death.
This was a lot scary than that young teenage girl.
But listen to Peter now, “You crucified the Lord of glory. For Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name, given to men, by which we must be saved.”
Peter doesn’t stutter. Peter doesn’t blink. Peter is bold.
The difference? Well – there’s this little thing called Easter that happens in between there. A little thing where Jesu boldly defeats sin and boldly defeats death.
Jesus made Peter bold.
Jesus makes believers bold.
When you're with Jesus, he’ll make you bold too. Amen.