Archive for December, 2011

This is a transcript from my Good Friday sermon this past year. I’m just realizing I never posted this, so I hope it will be encouraging to you.

Just a quick note: my dad graciously pointed out that one of the paragraphs in this sermon was theologically inaccurate, so I have put a line through that paragraph with a note at the end of the sermon explaining why I have scratched it. 

Please turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter 2:22-24

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Have you ever read a book for the first time, and you enjoyed it just fine, but then you read it again and appreciate it even more? Having read it once before, you now perceive different literary features layered throughout. You see foreshadowing in the dialogue and events, and you anticipate the plot turns. Your sensitivity to character development is heightened with each reading.

As I began to research Peter’s life in the gospels with this passage from 1 Peter in mind, I had the feeling of reading a book a second time. The words from this beautiful passage certainly make sense apart from knowing the human author’s bio, and they can stand on their own as God’s words spoken through Peter. But I think understanding some of his background may aid us in apprehending the power these words possess. In particular, I want to show that Peter’s repeated refusals to listen to Jesus set him up for blatantly denying him three times.

            Have you ever been talking with somebody, giving instructions or correcting them, and they say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got this. I know. Right, right, yeah.” Those of you who are teachers have gotten this response at times, I’m sure. You explain some concept that you know they don’t understand, and they go, “Ok yeah, yeah, I got it,” only to bomb the next test. Or those of you who have coached sports have probably explained to an athlete how to run a play, and they nodded their head, “Yeah, yeah, coach, I got this, no worries,” only to show they weren’t even close. Really, you would rather them simply say, “I have no idea what I’m doing” until they truly get what you’re saying, than to hold this cocky, unteachable attitude. Maybe you’re even falling prey to this attitude tonight, thinking as you listen to these sermons, “Ok yeah, yeah, I got this, I’ve heard this before, I can check out and text or nod off until we get to the songs and good stuff” Let me plead with you to listen to what God would speak to you tonight, because I think this attitude of misplaced confidence is what set Peter up for denying Jesus. Peter often had a very dismissive approach to Jesus’ words, leading him to often respond in dangerous ways.

In Matthew 16:21-23 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Do you see what just happened here? Peter doesn’t understand at all why Jesus would suffer and die, but instead of listening attentively he outright contradicts Jesus. “Nah, no way, why would they do that to you? You’re being unrealistic, Jesus. Don’t be so paranoid.” Consider this building block one in the foundation for denial and devastation.

Secondly, in John 21:15-17, the account reads, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” I think, in this passage, Peter once again gives his automatic, self-confident answer to Jesus. “Of course I love you, what are you talking about? Come on now.” Yet, Jesus asks him three times in order to cut through that habitual self-confidence and get Peter to see the heart of the question. What makes this passage even more grieving is that Peter professes his love for Jesus three times, the same number of times he would vehemently deny him a short time later.*

All of the self-confidence and self-sufficiency that Peter has sown into over his years with Jesus is now about to be bitterly revealed on this night of Jesus crucifixion. See, though his eventual denial of Jesus seems to him to come out of nowhere, it is actually the harvest of many, many seeds of arrogance and independence.

Matthew 26:31-35:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:69-75

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

How heartbreaking is this story? Peter’s story cuts so strongly because it connects with me just a little too strongly, like an odor that conjures distant memories once thought to be vaulted away. How many times have you been in Peter’s place? Do you find yourself at times, like me, making promises to God as if you’re the one with the strength to sustain yourself? “Jesus, I will never deny you,” or, “I’ll never explode at my family again.” “I’ll never fall into temptation with lust again.” “Jesus, I’m done with slandering loved ones behind their backs, never again.” “I’ll never do anything to completely ruin my reputation, credibility, and testimony!” You see, when Jesus predicted his denial, Peter’s response was not, “Jesus, is it really so? Is there any way I can avoid this? What must I do to stay on guard? Pray for me that I might not fall into temptation, please. I don’t want to betray you, but it sickens me to hear this news because I know I am capable of everything you say.” No, his response is self-sufficiency: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” It’s a great sentiment, but it’s not grounded in the right place (or more accurately, the right person).

This self-sufficiency builds him up for failure, like a kindergarten boy who builds a Lego tower with pride, only to have it knocked to pieces by the bully he wasn’t paying attention to. Peter is not a man known for his restraint, caution, or cool-headedness. So, that night, when Jesus was captured, Peter’s mind got completely distracted from the betrayal warning as he fought bitterly to defend Jesus.

Now in the Jewish courts, Jesus is tried and mocked by an infuriated mob of religious hypocrites, with no one there on his side. Peter likely saw the treatment and was afraid to involve himself, fearing the mockery, torture, and the likely beatings and suffering he would endure. Suddenly, his promise of “Even if I must die with you” was exposed for the bravado it was, nothing more than high talk among friends. “Jesus, you know I’ve got your back no matter what happens.” But now, Peter is faced with the “no matter what,” and he’s in such a petrified state that even the threat of a young servant girl connecting him with Jesus seems horrifying. How did he get to this moment?

Does that resonate with you? Maybe you’ve fallen and you find yourself saying, “God, I was finished with anger, slander, discontentment, bitterness, jealousy, worry, but now it has me completely entangled and I can’t see any way out! How did I get here? I was so determined, so convinced that I was strong enough to never get ensnared by that one again!” You hear the rooster crowing loudly, and he seems to be crowing right in your ear. Jesus’ piercing look is burned into your mind, so that you’re unable to avoid the grip no matter where you turn your eyes. You go out and weep bitterly.

“God, why do I even bother anymore? I’ve disappointed you with this so many times. I feel like it’s not even worth fighting anymore, because every time I get determined to overcome it, I just get defeated and demoralized by it again. Over and over, I’ve tried swimming against this current, but I’m exhausted and I’m further back from where I started. I just can’t deal with it anymore. No more promises, no more commitments, no more swimming, no more fighting. I’m done.”

I think we now see a deeply personal conviction in Peter’s heart behind his words in 1 Peter 2:22-24. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

First, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” When Peter rebuked Jesus, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you,” deceit was found in Peter’s mouth. He committed sin in rebuking the One who rebuked storms. He committed sin in cutting off a guard’s ear, while guilty himself of not listening. And he committed sin in denying the One who would deny death. Peter now contrasts us with the One he vehemently disavowed. Lest we think we’re any better off, Romans 3:10-11 convicts us. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.” And yet, 1 Peter says “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Let this contrast settle in your heart until it sickens you as it sickened Peter.

Second, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Unlike Peter, who threatened and attacked in response to suffering, Jesus did not revile or threaten in return to mockery and accusations. When you read the description of Jesus “entrusting himself to him who judges justly,” you might accidentally think this has an almost negative connotation. You might unknowingly think this description means he is just holding all his anger back until God can give all these criminals what they deserve.  But that’s not the picture of Jesus’ heart we see in Scripture. Do you remember the words Jesus would speak on the cross when he was being reviled? Luke 23:34 tells us he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Here, Jesus Christ is in the throes of the most intense pain one can conceive of. Yet, with the few words for which his lungs can gasp the air to speak, he entrusts his murderers into the hands of him who judges justly. In the same way he entrusted those men to his Father, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” as Second Peter 3:9 says.

   Third, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to give us some example of self-sacrifice for us to follow. No, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” that we might have all our sins forgiven, be freed from slavery to sin, and enjoy innocence before our Holy God. If we get this, and I mean really get it, this understanding will inevitably lead to the “dying to sin” and “living to righteousness” this verse talks about. Peter went on to speak unashamedly for Christ, even telling Pharisees pointedly that they crucified the Messiah, winning thousands of converts to the faith by God’s grace. He conquered his arrogance and fear of man not because he mustered up the courage on his own to change, but I think because he finally understood that Jesus “bore his sins in his body.” When this became clear to him, his response was to die to sin and live to righteousness. A man once repulsed by the prospect of Jesus crucified now broadcasts it to millions of people over land and time.

I hold Peter’s story out to you not merely to present examples of what not to do, as if to join in what seems to be a popular trend that says, “Look how hard-headed Peter was, he just never got it. Let’s not be like that.” My goal in presenting Peter’s example is to say that we are like Peter. We have all relied on ourselves to obey God, and have suffered dearly the consequences of that self-reliance. Maybe you haven’t completely denied Jesus publicly, but I daresay if you continue to sow into this “I would never…” attitude, that time is coming. The good news is, Peter’s testimony can be our testimony.

 To those of you who know Christ personally as your Savior, you are free also to rejoice, saying “Christ died for my sins…He himself bore my sins in his body on the tree “ There is no double jeopardy in this verdict. Your sins cannot be counted twice, once against Jesus and then against you. You can know, as Romans 8:38-39 says so eloquently, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To those who have not trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of sins, I implore you with all my heart to trust in Christ. Peter’s only hope for forgiveness was that “He [Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” While the one who has believed in Christ never has to worry about judgment for his sins, apart from Jesus you cannot have this same comfort. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Please, please don’t leave this place until you can say with full conviction and confidence that “Christ died for my sins…He himself bore my sins in his body on the tree.”

 

*Note on the paragraph I have a strike through: In my sermon, the example I use of Jesus asking Peter, “Do you love me?” is applied out of context. This conversation takes place in very last chapter of John (ch. 21 to be exact) after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact, this passage is Jesus kindly reinstating Peter.Therefore, when I said, “What makes this passage even more grieving is that Peter professes his love for Jesus three times, the same number of times he would vehemently deny him a short time later,” I had not done my research and was not being faithful to the text.