Matthew 26:31-35

(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 Then Jesus told them, “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.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Maybe I should have called this sermon “Never say Never!” As the darkness of Lent deepens, on this day we look closer at the disciples’ denials, especially Peter,   If ever there was an occasion that he should have not said “Never,” it was this one.

Around this Last Supper table there were disciples, the very ones who had heard the words “If any would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” These were the ones who choose to respond in the affirmative, like you and I. And of the disciples with promise Peter looked so very promising.  He was:

Spiritually sensitive,  probably more so than the other disciples. It was Peter that came to understand that Jesus was the Christ of God by revelation from God, while the other disciples were certainly still confused.

Courageous.  It was Peter who had the guts to step out and walk on water toward Jesus. The other disciples looked good because they did not try!

Visionary, after all, at the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was the one who wanted to build temples in honour of Moses and Elijah and Jesus. You don’t hear the other disciples dreaming up such big plans.

He had a good Value system. When Jesus offered to wash his feet, he voiced the inappropriateness of this foot washing, he understood himself a servant who ought to be washing his masters feet

Committed.  It was Peter who said that he was willing to die for Jesus and then in the face of inescapable odds took out his sword to defend Jesus and he cut off the high priest servant’s ear. And not only these qualities, especially the last quality that made Peter a stand out disciples was that the Lord had changed his name, given him a new identity and made great promises concerning something about him. 
Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter. Simon meant literally “one who listens,” but there was a sense about the name that meant weak and wavering, like someone who listens to everyone’s opinion and just doesn’t know what to do. Jesus in Matthew 16 changed his name to Peter, the Rock, and with the name gave him a promise that it would be on that Rock that Christ’s church would be built and that the keys of the kingdom would be in his hands.

Matthew 16: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

If we think that Peter had a problem with pride, in the sense of arrogance, boastfulness, a looking down his nose at others, we are not understanding how fine a disciple he was by Jesus own definition of a disciple. And our passage brings out that following Peter’s lead, they all said the same thing, that not one of them would disown Jesus. This was a disciples commitment to his master. Peter wasn't boasting in the negative sense of the word, he was describing his heart,  but the problem was, Peter, like the other disciples, like all of us, did not know how fragile and weak his heart was, how frail and distorted his Spirituality was, how feeble his courage was, how puny his vision was, how wavering his value system was or how brittle his commitment was!

As the darkness of those last hours increased, as Satan started to shake the very foundations of these disciples lives, every weakness would be exposed. As God took the sword of his wrath against his own, the Shepherd wounded would no longer be able to guard the sheep, and the sheep discovered a very painful truth: without the Good Shepherds staff and rod, they were nothing, defenceless. Everything they were as disciples of Christ would seem to tumble to the dust.

As the dark hours progressed, the disciples all disappear from the picture, fall away from the scene. Peter however still remains the strongest, following behind, even daring to enter the courtyard of the High Priest and sit down with the guards waiting the outcome of the trial (Matthew 26:58). John the beloved disciple hides in the shadows further behind. The rest were gone.

And then, Peter the promising disciple was recognized.
First a Servant girl came to him
“You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter responded.

Another girl saw him, recognizing him told the bystanders
“This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
And Peter responded with an oath...
“I don’t know the man!”

More people came up to Peter, now as a group they said
“Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” His accent was a dead give away. People from all over the world were in Jerusalem during this Passover feast celebration. He had a Galilean accent and very few people there would have that accent except those who had started following Jesus from the beginning when he started his ministry, when he choose his disciples, fishermen from the sea of Galilee. Peter responded, May heaven strike me dead...
“I don’t know the man!”

And the cock crowed!

Have you heard that sound, not just about Peter, but about you? Have you discovered that though you have made claims and held commitments, that if God removes his sustaining hand, they are nothing and your weaknesses overwhelming...

I will never forget Wim’s (not his real name) story. Wim was an elderly man, in his 70's when he told me this story. He said it with tears of regret, of repentance. At one time he had been a young man. He was following on the pathway of discipleship, committed to Christ. His life was going the way so many lives do, a young wife, a child on the way, and he had to earn a living and he did it as a brick layer. It was the late 50's, he was working on a large union project with many other brick layers and labourers. The times were rough and the men doing the work fit the rough times.

Lunch room conversations bothered him. The language was foul. The jokes were distasteful. He did not join in. But what bothered him more than this was another man, a Christian, who seemed to have no sense, at least no shame. He would talk about Christ to all who would listen, and even those who would not listen heard about Christ from him, and it wasn’t long before this vocal Christian was the object of mockery in the lunch room, Wim did not join in. One lunch time, once again, this man was preaching to his table when one especially rough bricklayer, who wanted the preaching to stop, decided to throw a brick at him. It struck the man on the head, doing obvious damage. He was rushed to hospital, but the man, now brain injured, never returned to work again. Wim said and did nothing! He had disowned his Lord and Savior by his silence! Anxious fear clouded his eyes, tears dropped freely off this tough man’s chin. Could he be forgiven? That was his question. That was Peter’s question. Maybe this morning, that is your question. It certainly, at times, has been my question. Can I be forgiven for the times I denied my Savior?

Maybe this is your question. Were there times when you know you should have spoken for Christ, and you did not? Were there times when you should have withheld your anger, and kept your witness, but instead in weak self control you let it out, and disqualified yourself from speaking for Christ? Were there times you should have spoken to your children but for fear of losing them did not? Were there times you should have spoken to your fellow students about Christ, about what is right, and you did not because you very much wanted to fit in? Have there been times when you should have seized the opportunity to speak, or to love, or to forgive, or to help someone, and wrapped in weakness you did not, and in so doing, you denied? Can you be forgiven?

I invite you to prayer and a few minutes of silent confession, and this morning again, as an act of confession and repentance, I invite you to sign the card that was on your chair, and then before you bring it up to the front, look on the back of that card - it may be that those are words from God for you today.

Prayer - lead to silence

Our assurance come from Peter himself. Having denied vocally, forcibly to save his own skin, having discovered how weak he really was, and having grieved deeply for his failure, Christ restored him and told him again and again to feed his sheep. And Peter in his letters to his brothers and sisters uses his own discovery of weakness and experience of failure to help his brothers and sisters to assurance and recovery and then strength. Listen to these words.

1 Peter 1
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 5
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, (have an accurate measurement of self, including your weakness) therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Song of response, “There is a Redeemer”
Prayer teams forward - during singing

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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