Tuesday, May 30, 2023

           In John 18, Jesus was arrested.  The Lord was quickly moving forward in a current that led to the cross.  There will be no turning back.  There will be no concessions or compromises.  A cross has been built for the Son of God—from ordinary wood from an ordinary tree that descended from the first tree that He called into being at creation long ago.  Peter popped up again in John 18.  We already know the pivotal role that he is about to play in the crucifixion story.  He will deny Jesus—not once, not twice but three times.  Three decisive times he will deny that he knows Jesus, walked with Jesus, trusted Jesus and even loved Jesus.  In three terse responses, he will throw away three years with Jesus.    
            Perhaps one denial could be chalked up to the pressure of the moment.  But three?  Three different denials uttered at three different times to three different people.  How could this be?  How could this have happened?  How could Peter, the one who had pledged and promised to stand with Jesus, do this?  When questioned about being a disciple, he simply stated, in a matter-of-fact way, “I am not” (John 18:17b, 25b and 27).  There is almost a coldness or edge to a denial that is delivered so curtly and quickly.  He made no attempt to explain himself.  He gave no extended explanation.  He offered no commentary.  Unlike what we often hear today from places of power, he did not create some sort of plausible deniability where he could straddle the fence between being loyal to Jesus and saving his own neck.  Just a three word “I am not.”  Cold!
            Before we go too far in tossing Peter under the bus, we might have to examine ourselves.  We are told by Jesus to take the plank out of our eye before we endeavor to remove a speck from someone else (Matthew 7:3-5).  We have denied Jesus too.  I have.  And I suspect anyone reading this has done so too.  We certainly denied Him before we knew Him.  But we have also denied Him in our walk and ways.  We have held onto the old things at the expense of the new work He would like to do for us.  We have chosen our contentment at the expense of His glory.  We have looked away rather than looking at Him.  We have stood proudly rather than kneeling humbly.  We have made idols rather than ruthlessly rooting them out of our lives and hearts.
            Yes, we are deniers too.  Our denials usually are not written down, recorded and preserved for all the world to see like Peter’s three denials were.  We might be more adept and adroit at concealing our denials and keeping the eyes of others occupied by the things we would prefer that they see or find in us.  Matthew recorded Peter’s denials with slightly more detail.  First, Peter said, “I don’t know what you are talking about” (Matthew 26:70b).  Second, he said, “I don’t know the man” (Matthew 27:72).  And third, Peter answered again, “I don’t know the man” (Matthew 27:74b).  More detail perhaps but certainly not any better or justifiable.  Cold, detached and even dismissive. 
            Peter seemed rather proficient at putting distance between himself and Jesus.  We can easily choose Christ out of convenience and banish Him from sight and mind when the cost seems much higher than we would like to pay.  His use of the expression “the man” would suggest that Jesus was little more than a passerby to Peter.  He spoke of Jesus in the way we might describe someone who shared an elevator ride with us and then departed.  There is a big difference between saying “the man” and saying “THE MAN.”  The former is just another chump while the latter is a hero.  In his own words, Peter could not bring himself to call Jesus a hero or anything remotely good.  In a moment of pressure, Jesus became just another man.
            Likely, we all have those days where we treat Jesus as just another man.  We have those pressure-filled moments where we wilt and wither rather than stand and sing.  Matthew told us that following these three denials, Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 27:75c).  The tears confessed what his lips could not.  He did know Jesus.  He did love Jesus. He did belong to Jesus.  He had left everything for Jesus.  There was courage and confession in the tears even when his voice had little to say.  Faith can often be born or even reborn from a crushing experience that brings us to tears.  Faith can be forged in fires that once melted us in defeat and denial.  When the tears come, they can often be a sign of contrition and compassion—feelings and conviction that we simply could not muster in the moment of testing or the crucible of questions. 
            Who is Jesus?  That question is posed to each of us—and usually more than once.  The way we answer matters and shapes who and what we are.  Peter failed at his time of testing.  And we have failed too.  The good news is grace is greater than any failing grade.  And grace can turn deniers into disciples.  There was grace for Peter and there is grace for us.  He would not be defined by that cold night where he chose to stand alone rather than stand with Jesus; where he chose a hasty exit rather than a trip to the cross.  We do not have to be defined by our worst moments either.  There is grace—amazing grace for deniers, betrayers and anything else.  Have a great Tuesday!                      

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