SERMON TEXT BELOW
Fourth Wednesday of Lent
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Jesus has been arrested. Betrayed by one of His own. He didn’t even fight. He just let them take Him. Now they’ve brought Him into Caiphas’ house to put Him on trial. Peter wants to know what’s going on inside, he’s afraid that he might get caught. If they want to kill Jesus, they probably want to kill him too. So Peter sneaks into the courtyard of the high priest.
He’s warming himself by a fire, trying to overhear what is going to happen to Jesus. If he can’t stop Jesus from being arrested, he can at least be there as his teacher, his Lord, his friend is sentenced. Peter hears false witness after false witness be brought against Christ, but none of them agree. Peter breathes a sigh of relief. After all, Jesus is the Son of God. There’s not a lot that He’s done wrong, maybe they wouldn’t be able to convict Him. Then, a serving girl comes up to Peter and looks at him.
Peter gets nervous. Uncomfortable. He tries to turn away and hide his face, but she says:
“You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”
Now, this was a serving girl. Not a Roman soldier. Not someone who could arrest Peter. But Peter is panicking. Everything has already come crashing down around him this night. He doesn’t want to be put on trial too, so he plays dumb. Peter says:
“I do not know what you mean.”
Peter’s first denial. He has just lied to those gathered around the fire. He has claimed no association with Jesus. Even though Peter was the first disciple whom Jesus called, even though Peter was willing to die for Jesus, he gets cold feet. He’s caught off guard. Maybe Peter began to have doubts about Jesus. If He really is the Son of God, then why is He tied up? Why is the high priest interrogating Him? Why does He look so weak?
At the fire, Peter is flustered. Everyone is staring at him now, sure he is one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter hastily excuses himself. He needs to get away from their accusing gazes before the situation gets out of hand. He needs to flee from his lie. Maybe he can watch the proceedings from another place, so he goes further out, toward the entrance. Further away from his Lord. He pulls his cloak tightly around himself, hoping to hide his face from any others who might recognize him.
But after a little while, another serving girl recognizes Peter and says to the bystanders, pointing at him:
“This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
Peter is scared. He wants to make sure they don’t recognize him. This time he denies it, swearing an oath and saying:
“I do not know the man.”
Peter probably raised his voice, denying Christ more loudly than the first time. In the trial, the high priest stands up and gets in Jesus’ face, asking if He has any answer to make. As Jesus remains silent, Peter’s denial echoes through the courtyard.
Peter moves off to a different place. He sees Jesus finally answer the high priest. Caiaphas has demanded that Jesus tell him if he is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus replies:
“You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.”
The council begins their sentencing. Jesus deserves death, they say. Peter wants to cry out against them, but he is too afraid of being discovered. Even now, the bystanders from before follow him and point to him and say
“Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
Peter was a Galilean. Jesus was currently in Jerusalem. The people would have known that many of Jesus’ disciples came from Galilee and had identified Peter by his Galilean accent. The trial goes on. They are mocking Jesus now, slapping Him across the face and demanding that He prophesy who hit Him. They spit in His face, showing their disdain for the very Son of God.
As blows begin to fall on Jesus, Peter denies Christ for a third time.
…he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.”
‘I do not know the man’ Peter says. I do not know the man whom I have traveled with these last three years. I do not know the man whom I have seen do miracle after miracle. I do not know the man, the very same man whom I confessed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Let me be accursed if I lie. I swear to you and before God, I do not know Him.
As Peter’s final denial rings out, a rooster crows. Before the words have finished echoing throughout the courtyard, Peter remembers Jesus’ prophecy.
“Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Immediately, Peter is filled with guilt and shame. At the sound of the rooster, he realizes what he has done. What he has done. He has denied Christ. Three times. He denied his Lord with an oath and a curse. He. Peter. Peter flees the courtyard as tears stream down his face. Regret and pain fill him. Peter has denied Jesus. Peter has betrayed his Lord. Not for money like Judas, but just to save his own skin.
Once, in a time that seems so long ago, Jesus had said to Peter
“On this rock, I will build my church”
Peter doesn’t feel like a foundation for a church right now. He feels cracked and broken, for he has broken faith with Jesus. He has abandoned Jesus entirely, confessing publicly that he does not know the man. Utter and complete denial.
Peter is about the last person you would expect to deny his Lord. Peter was the last person Peter expected to deny Jesus. And yet, he did. Swearing, cursing himself, denying that he ever even knew Christ.
Peter’s example exposes the weakness of human will. He was the strongest-willed of the disciples. Always the first to speak, always the first to defend Jesus. But when everything comes crashing down, Peter does worse than the other disciples. He doesn’t just leave Jesus. He denies Him. Publicly. Before all the people in the high priest’s courtyard. Not once, but three times. Anyone hearing Peter had no doubt that he had abandoned Jesus.
In hindsight, it’s easy to shake our heads at Peter’s denial. How could he? Didn’t he know who Jesus was? Didn’t he hear the prophecies? How could he stand there and deny Jesus? If I was in his shoes, I wouldn’t have denied Him. I would do better. I would have stood next to Jesus, putting myself on trial with Him. I would have come forward as a witness to condemn Caiphas and his kangaroo court. I wouldn’t have denied Jesus, I would have died with Him.
This is sheer arrogance. You shouldn’t presume that you wouldn’t fall into Peter’s sin. Peter was the first of the disciples. Peter was the one who confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter was the rock upon whom Christ would build His church. It’s foolish to imagine you’d do any better. You would deny Christ too.
Denying Christ is all too easy. Christ is denied when His church doesn’t act like His church. He is denied when the godly lead godless lives. He is denied when you try to cling to Him by your own efforts, works and will. To rely on yourself is to deny Christ, like Peter did.
Peter left his Lord bound and sentenced to death, even death upon a cross. For Jesus was still going to the cross. Jesus would die that day. He would die for Peter. For the denier. For you.
Jesus’ death on the cross covers all sin, no matter how heinous. No matter how personal. No matter if that sin was denying Christ. Peter was repentant. He would return to Christ after the resurrection. Christ would restore him three times on the side of the Sea of Galilee. He would receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He would become the rock upon whom Christ would build His church.
None of this was done by his own strength of will. None of this by his own bravado or the strength of his commitment. All of this was done by the grace of God. Peter by himself couldn’t stand with Jesus. So instead, Jesus stands with Peter. In all his imperfections. Even in the face of his denial, Jesus stands with Peter. Forgiving him and restoring him.
Neither then, do you stand with Christ by your own strength of will. Instead, Jesus stands with you. He stands with you even though you would deny Him. Even though you have lived a godless life, Jesus stands with you, forgiving your sin and restoring you over and over again. Even in the face of your denial, Christ stands firm. He welcomes you back into the church with open arms. He works repentance in your heart. Jesus holds on to you.
So you don’t need to fear that you aren’t holding onto Christ hard enough. The reality is, you can’t. Instead, rejoice that Jesus holds onto you. He holds you fast in an embrace that does not waver, forgiving you your sins. He holds you up so that you can stand, not of your own power, but of His. He is the One who called you. He is faithful. He will surely do it.