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Sermon: Denial

November 1, 2014

  Mark 14:66-72

35 years ago I stepped into the lukewarm water of my church baptistry. I was 16. I maybe wasn’t the quickest. I had been a Christian since the age of 7.

There are many reasons why Christians put off being baptised. I guess there were numerous reasons for me too. At that age, brought up in a Christian home, you can often waver in your faith. But one reason which was uppermost in my mind was my fear of water.

I was (and still am) a weak and nervous swimmer. Chief of my concerns was the experience of being under water. I hated it. And with baptism it was unavoidable.

So it took some effort for me to reach this moment. In those days baptism candidates didn’t tend to tell their stories of faith, something which I have come to believe is a lost opportunity. I don’t want just to be reminded of the theory of baptism. I want to know how this man or woman, boy or girl, has come to this point. Was it a dramatic conversion, a gradual change, a quiet moment or a Damascus road experience?

But often it was the hymns that we sang that put our testimonies into words. Mine was a hymn I have not now sung in many years. A real rousing number. Nowadays I would actually feel uncomfortable singing it, due to the words which concluded the chorus, which painted an experience of Christianity that few of us would honestly claim. “And now I am happy all the day”.

To be fair it is not the only hymn which might tend to suggest that to follow Jesus is to be constantly happy, trouble free, full of faith. It is still preached too often today that faith in Jesus brings prosperity and health. Why wouldn’t everyone want to follow jesus?

Having said that the verse was great for a baptism:

“I’m not ashamed to own my Lord
Or to defend his cause
Maintain the honour of his word
The glories of the cross”.

The words of the Apostle Paul echoed down the centuries. “I’m not ashamed of the gospel!”

But am I? Are you? Ashamed? Just a little bit embarrassed? More concerned for my own reputation and comfort perhaps.

Today we have read a story that is very familiar to us. We tend to consign it to Easter time. But I believe it comes as a challenge to us. We might struggle to say that we will ever find ourselves in the immediate position that Peter finds himself in. But increasingly we are conscious that for Christians in other parts of the world, the choice to deny or testify to faith in Jesus is real and vital.

Christians in Iraq or Syria are being encouraged to deny their faith or leave the country. To renounce or face death. For some Muslims to admit a conversion to Christianity is to pronounce a death sentence on oneself, so these things should never be trivialised by us. This is not just about making a point for a sermon.

So anyway, back to Peter. The disciple we are probably most familiar with. The one who had something to say on every occasion. The one who would often put his foot in it. The one whom Jesus had named. He was no longer the unsteady Simon, but he was now Peter the rock. Solid, unshakeable, totally dependable. And he believed it too!

At supper Jesus shared with his disciples again about the death he was going to die. He stunned them with the news that one of them would betray him to the authorities. None of them would be there for him when it counted. Peter the Rock stood firm. “Not me Lord. The others will all let you down. You know what they’re like. But you know me better than that. I am solid and dependable. I will NEVER let you down!”

His words hung in the air. Jesus quickly burst his balloon. “You ARE going to let me down. You will deny you even know me. Not once, not twice. Three times”.

And so we come to tonight’s reading.

Jesus was arrested and stood before the high priest in the company of the religious leaders. Disciples had scattered. Quite alone. But Peter the rock was not that far away. He was certainly nearer than most. It seems, if we piece together Mark’s and John’s accounts of the events, that Peter and John had followed at a distance and waited in the nearby courtyard. On the positive side, at least they had followed. 10 other disciples were nowhere to be seen. No other followers of Jesus are noted to be there.

At least something drove Peter to be in the vicinity, to see what was happening to his teacher and friend. But also I suppose these events drew a crowd. This man Jesus was news wherever he went. People liked him or loathed him. He divided people, but he was rarely dull. For a moment it seems that Peter was just one of the crowd. Warming himself by the fire, in the cold of the night.

The Rock sits by the fire. Mr Dependable. What will this night bring. He has little time to wait.

He is surrounded by armed guards, but it is a servant girl who speaks. She has been watching him closely. Something about him is familiar. “Hey! You’re one of Jesus the Nazarene’s followers”.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about”.

Almost before he has had time to think the words have left his mouth. He makes his way to the entrance hall. Round 1 and he has lost. Didn’t even put up a fight. Fell for the sucker punch.

The girl spots him again. She turns to those around her. “Look. I’m sure he is one of them. Him here in the entrance. He’s one of his followers”.

Peter is on the defensive and backing away. “You’re wrong!”

End of round 2 and he’s lost again.

Give him some credit. Peter is still there, but he is becoming less and less rock like. The rock is crumbling before our eyes. Jesus had once said he would build his church on this rock. That is looking like a very bad call now!

Peter is unable to make himself invisible. The pointing and whispering continues and the final blow come’s quickly. “You’re a Galilean. You’re not from round here. You must be one of his followers”. In one of the other gospels “your accent gives you away – you’ve come here with him”.

If someone wanted to accuse you of being a follower of Jesus, what would they have to go on? How would they know that you had been with Jesus? Is there much evidence?

Interesting that the final give away for the people is the way that Peter talks. Does your speech give you away? Does your lifestyle demonstrate the reality of your faith?

If people watch you and me, if they listen to us, will they find the evidence? Will they know what we stand for?

As someone once said “if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Betrayed by his accent or not, Peter was now in the downward spiral. He shouted and he swore “I don’t know this man!” With perfect timing the rooster crowed. The Rock was shattered. Peter was a broken man. He sid it couldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen. But it did. Peter ran and wept – inconsolable.

We know these events so well many of us. And maybe you and I can honestly say we have never denied our faith in Jesus. We would never do so. If asked the question we would not avoid the answer. We would not be ashamed to own our Lord.

Perhaps we can remember times when we have been confronted. And we have wriggled free. Easier to avoid the confrontation.

But I am guessing that most of us here have not denied Jesus. We do not deny him. We are happy to call ourselves Christians. Maybe we are good at justifying our beliefs to others who may not understand.

But my concern as I look at myself, is not that we deny Jesus’ lordship by his words, but rather by our actions. We say we believe one thing but we fail to live it out. Our lifestyle and our actions deny that we know Jesus.

You or I have spoken in a way that no Christian should speak. Unpleasant words come from our mouths. Hurtful words. Gossiping words.

We don’t put our trust in the things that Christians should. Instead of trusting in Jesus we trust in our money. We trust in our job security. We trust in our health. We trust in our relationships. These are the tht hat give us security. When we lose those things we feel helpless.

It’s so hard to judge our own motivations, but if, like some people in the world today, we had nothing but Jesus, would it be enough?

For Peter it was more important to save his own skin. In spite of all the big promises he made to Jesus. When the crunch came he crumbled.

Maybe too we don’t always treat people like a Christian should. We are happy to say that “God so loved the world”, but do we? Are we generous? Are we kind in our dealings with friends and strangers alike? Even Christians can walk all over people in their desire to get to the top.

The great thing is that there is hope even when we fail. We read later in the gospels that Peter was restored. He found forgiveness. He received a God given boldness, not just to stand up to a servant girl, but up before 1000s of people sharing the good news of Jesus. To stand his ground before authorities who told him to stop speaking.

Our example is Jesus. Of course he always is. He never lived for his own comfort. He never put his own safety first.

He was God but he didn’t hang on to that for all he was worth.

He was everything but he made himself nothing.

He was tempted to win fame and fortune, but he chose the way of the servant.

He was truly God but became a man.

He was all powerful and eternal and yet he allowed himself to be put to death.

He led a perfect life but died as a criminal.

His life was the ultimate example of self denial.

So how do we respond? Well one thing we can do is go home feeling bad about ourselves. Feeling a failure. Not good enough.

The thing to remember again is that this was not the end for Peter. Jesus restored him and commissioned him to speak for him.

Jesus question to Peter was “do you love me?”. Peter replied “you know everything about me – you know I do”.

And there is a key I believe. Jesus knows us better than we even know ourselves. Our motives, ambitions, weaknesses, doubts, fears.

Let’s seek him. Let’s trust him. Let’s live lives that clearly show that he is our Lord.

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From → Christianity

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