The Matthew Series - Denial and Bitterness
Matthew 26:69-75 New International Version (NIV)
Peter Disowns Jesus
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
We are in the last part of Matthew’s Gospel. Last year we had finished off with the arrest of Jesus and His trial. We saw the mockery of justice and how the truly just one was punished unjustly for the us the incriminated. What I hope is becoming obvious is that the main focus of everything in the gospel, and even the entire Bible is not our response, it is not the characters (such as the disciples etc) it is Christ Himself. He is what the whole story is about.
So when we come to a part of the story like tonight – with Peter’s betrayal – we might be tempted to sit with it and take all the moral lessons and warning from this story and walk away with a “do this, don’t do that” sermon from tonight.
The problem is that the story is not about Peter, Peter is a side character a “subplot” that drives the story of Jesus forward. Peter’s actions are meant to point to Christ and what He has done . It is there and through the lesson of Jesus’ work in Peters’ life even in the future that our lesson for tonight comes.
Now, to get to the main plot to focus on Jesus we have to look at Peter. Peter is a testimony of God’s willingness to take something weak and broken and use it to honour His name.
So, let’s look at who Peter was:
Who Peter was (26vs35)
Now, many of us know that Peter was a fisherman. This was his trade, he was also Galilean, meaning that he came from the “wrong side of the tracks”. In fact, in verse 73 we see that the girl identifies Peter from his accent. Now, this is a thought that struck me the other day, but, the disciple and Jesus probably had a “common accent”. So, Peter was a commoner from a blue-collar occupation, however, he was wilful and often spoke without fully comprehending what he was saying. Jesus has rebuked Peter in the gospel before for his boastful and thoughtless words. But what is of particular interest to us is what Peter says earlier in the chapter in Matthew 26:35. Now what Peter says comes after Jesus predicts his death and in the typical boastfulness of Peter, he says;
Matthew 26:35 New International Version (NIV)
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.
Peter is self-assured in this declaration. In terms of modern ideological statements this is up there. Peter does not lack self-assurance here. Now, you don’t have to look far today to see similar messages being put forward. “Believe in yourself – that is the real power.” Or “The power was within you the whole time”. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” and the countless other “self-esteem” mantras that are saturating our world.
In fact, most religions in the world, and self-help guides are this in practice. Follow the 9-fold path, uphold the laws, discipline yourself and become better. Work hard, earn your way. If you just believe in yourself you are more powerful, better, more wonderful than you could ever imagine.
Christianity says the opposite, it is not the good, or powerful, or confident who inherent the kingdom. It is the weak, the powerless those who do not consider themselves. These are the ones who God uses. And ironically it is these people who have true and unaffectable confidence. As we will see in the life of Peter.
The gospel destroys false confidence and false aggrandisement to establish a confidence that is unshakable. You see, Peter was confidence, he believed in himself, and he let himself down. In the passage tonight we see that for all his self-belief and confidence, it was a servant girl that cause it all to come crashing down.
You see, self-esteem and self-confidence is a lie. Because at our core, at the bases level of our lives we are not what we believe we are. Oh we would like to believe that we are good, but our hypocrisy betrays us. We would like to believe that we are honest, until we need to protect our reputation or lives. We would love it if we were as capable as we think we are, but the constant striving for affirmation shows us that deep down we know we are not as brilliant as we hope people believe us to be.
The gospel gives us confidence, but not in ourselves but in Jesus, and this makes us bolder and more able than “self-confident” people could ever be. We see this in who Peter becomes.
Who Peter would become
This same Peter who would betray his friend because of the threat of a servant girl exposing him becomes the pillar of the church, the one who brings the first sermon of the church, and who would one day be crucified upside down in a bold declaration of his saviour.
In Acts 2 and 5 you can read of Peter’s post resurrection boldness in Christ. It is Peter who stand and address the crowd, it is Peter who says, “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22). It is Peter who then later in Acts boldly address the leaders of Israel saying to them, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).
It is this same Peter who would lead the church in its inception and boldly claim the gospel until his death in Rome, which tradition says that he was crucified by Nero asking to be crucified upside down as he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his saviour.
We have a complete change of character and boldness. The Peter in the gospels is presented as boastful as brash. The Peter of Acts and the early church records is bold, but only in the gospel. In fact, his death speaks of his continuing humility.
The difference is chalk and cheese. One is of a boastful yet incompetent self-confidence, the other is a humble but capable leader.
What happened? What caused the change? Well, this is what my third point is tonight.
The bitter weeping that would change him (26:75)
What changed in Peter’s life is what has been truly changing people throughout the history of the church. It’s what Jesus preached about in Matthew 5. “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). Peter was shown that he was poor in spirit, broken and unable to save himself and it was that which made him change.
Now, there are many people out there that complain that is what is the problem with Christianity. It is a pity party, a bunch of people gathering around saying how bad they are grovelling around in self-deprecation. But this is not the gospel and is not Christianity. Christianity is the recognition of the truth of our reality. It is not an “oh woe is me”a “I am so useless” understanding of the world. It is a recognition that there is indeed something wrong with the world, and yes, I now see clearly that it is me. More than that there is hope. Because it is the declaration that God, in His infinite love came into the world for people who see that truth. Jesus came for sinners.
The world is full of people who think that everything wrong in the world is other people’s faults, and they are stuck, stuck in an endless blame game and true pity party. There are few people who have the fortitude, the courage, to look square at the face of the evil of this world and see themselves in it.
The reason we don’t, in fact, the reason we can’t, is how do we make atonement? Maybe that is the reason for our endless posturing. Why we obsess about having the right posts that make us look good in everyone’s eyes. Or doing the best in our studies or works. Maybe it is the reason we are so desperate to be loved. Because if we can do these things or get that one thing, maybe, just maybe it will prove that we are okay.
The gospel is not just the acceptance of wrong. It is not just weeping over your sins. In fact, if Peter’s story had ended here it would have been hopeless. But this weeping does not end here, it moves Peter through the event of the cross and out the other side with true atonement.
The gospel is not that the world is full of sinners and that God just forgets sins. No, the gospel is that God has made a way to atone, really atone (to make right) sinners once and for all time. So that we finally stop the endless cycle of trying to prove ourselves.
Peter was not made right because of his weeping. His weeping, however, led him, in desperation, to see what the cross meant for him. And he would live the rest of his life in the light of the cross of Jesus. What else could he do? He knew how much he owed, how much he had failed his God, and yet it was his God who loved him enough to die to atone for the failures and mistakes, the sin that he had committed.
And this is the lesson to us today. We too are called to weep, to look deeply into the face of evil and see our faces there, and weep over that. But to not get stuck in that weeping. Rather, we are to see that it was there, it was in our worst that Jesus died for us.
This is one the greatest struggles of being a preacher of the gospel. I don’t want to shame you, to make you feel like rubbish. Because who am I to expose your sins; I am not a guiltless sage. I am, like you, a sinner. And as a sinner I know that I had no appreciation, no concept of how deep and great the love of God was and is, until I was taken through my own weeping.
The gospel is good news, oh it is good news. But we have to weep over it. We have to allow ourselves to be exposed. Many of us here tonight are simply not willing. We think we can do it. We think that we are okay. We think that we can make life work. I pray that the grace of God will lead you to your own moment of weeping.
You see church Peter had to weep. He had to see that he in his own strength had already betrayed Christ, because he never wanted to see that the Messiah had to die. But through the grace of the cross, Peter saw that the Messiah had to die for him. So, let the grace of God expose you, let that shame come to the surface and may you weep. But may you then be embraced by the restoring love of God in Christ Jesus, knowing that that shame, that failure is why Jesus died. And He died for you.
It is weeping, weak people who really change the world, because they allow the love of God to flow through them seeing others as they are, sinners in need of a loving God. The good news is that there is a God who saves sinners: Jesus Christ.