Friday, March 17, 2023

The Wound of Denial

 Matthew 26:69-75

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a certain servant-girl came to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean."  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about."

And when he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth."  And again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man."

And a little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; for the way you talk gives you away."  Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man!"  And immediately a cock crowed.  And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a cock crows, you will deny Me three times."  And he went out and wept bitterly

Sermon for Lenten Wednesday #4                 3/15/23

The Wound of Denial

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Week after week, we are talking about the wounds of Christ in the Passion.  Of course, they are not individual wounds.  Each of these wounds is just part of the Passion.   Nevertheless, each of these wounds were likely to have been felt individually at the time.  Tonight we look at Peter, and his denial of the Lord in the courtyard of the high priest.  Our wound tonight is the wound of denial.

I have to admit, I am puzzled by this one.  I understand Peter.  He is in the courtyard of the enemy, and Jesus has just been taken captive.  Things aren't going too well for Jesus, so it is not unrealistic for Peter to fear that he might be associated too closely with the one who is suffering in the center of all of this.  He is afraid, especially as he hears the attitudes of his questioners in their voices, that he might end up in the hot-seat too.  His denial is understandable, even if it is regrettable.

What I am not clear on is how much trouble this denial would cause Jesus.  After all, Jesus predicted this denial.  He told Peter, who was so sure that he would stand with Jesus even if it mean his death, that before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.  I doubt that Jesus was much surprised.  I would guess he was not really disappointed either, since He knew without a doubt that Peter was going to do this.  I suspect for Jesus this was one of those moments when you are proven right and wish it were not so.  It marked another step in the Passion, and it demonstrated the absolute truth of what Jesus saw was going to happen to Him.  This wound did not have much power to hurt Jesus, I suspect.

If it hurt anyone, I suspect that it may have hurt Peter the most. He had to face the truth that he was the man Jesus described, the coward who would deny his Master repeatedly, for the sake of his own safety.
But what does that say about us today, when we follow in Peter's footsteps?  How often do we imitate Peter in denying our Lord?  We never face the courtyard of the High Priest.  Some Christians have faced far worse threats and more certainly deadly circumstances.  Such Christians are challenged concerning their faith, and the threat is explicit that if they confess Christ, they will suffer terribly and even die.  Many have faced such a moment, and many have confessed Christ.  Others, I suspect, have failed this test, sadly.

When we have faced this test, I would guess that few of us have faced it as a threat to life.  We face a threat to our standing in the eyes of others.  We imagine that if we confess Christ clearly we will be less liked, or less respected, or somewhat humiliated in front of others, but we haven't faced the sort of situation where we were clear that a solid confession could quite easily be an invitation to a death sentence.  Sometimes the danger to our respectability is explicit, and sometimes it is only in our fears and imaginations.  But when we face that test, how have we responded?  Have we confessed Christ?  Have we been bold and proud to be Lutheran and clear about our need for a Savior and our delight in Jesus Christ, that He has won forgiveness, life and salvation for us?

I hope so.  I am sure that we each have been bold confessors in such circumstances – at least some of the time.  Sometimes, I suspect, we have worked hard to avoid being caught in such a bind.  It may also be true that sometimes we have failed this test of confession.  I cannot say that I have always been bold and forthright in my confession.  I have allowed circumstances and the pressure of the moment to silence me, or mute my confession to a whisper.  It happens less now that I am older, but I guess it has happened.

And I have a rationalization for it each time it occurs.  It wasn't the right situation.  I drew a blank mentally (which was certainly true at times).  The Holy Spirit kept me quiet for some reason!  The problem was never me, or cowardice like Peter's.  Nevertheless, each time it happened, I could hear Jesus in the back of my mind saying that those who deny Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven.  I speak of myself because I cannot accuse any of you for sure, but I figure that if I could be cowed into a poor confession, it may have happened to some of you as well.

In such a situation, or remembering such behavior, I am led to repent.  I think about Jesus looking at Peter.  The look may have been only sorrow for Peter, of Jesus reminding him, "I told you this would happen."  Peter felt it as the preaching of the Law, the accusation of sin and cowardice and failure.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  I doubt that he ever forgot that moment for the rest of his life.  The wound of denial surely cut Jesus, but it also cut Peter – and me and you.  How can we deny the One who suffered so much for us and died in our place?

Who knows how?  We just know that we have.  Every time we are reluctant to speak of Jesus, to pray for a friend for fear of weirding them out, reluctant to speak the Gospel to bring someone the peace of God in their troubles, we are behaving just like Peter.  The risks of the circumstances aren't as deep, the dangers we perceive aren't as compelling, but our reaction to the situation is the same – we pretend we don't know Jesus, even if only for a moment.

Have you ever done it?  Yeah.  Me too.  All that we can do is repent.  We can admit it was not the right thing to do, but it was sin.  We can ask God to forgive us, and we can ask for strength and wisdom not to ever do it again.  Like Peter, we can realize the horror of what we have done.

Peter had to wait days, until Jesus rose from the dead and spoke with Him about it, to know what I am about to tell you.  Your sins are forgiven. Even the sin of denying Jesus.  When we repent, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  The denial of Jesus that is not repented, the denial that continues throughout life is the one that brings the denial by Jesus of you before His heavenly Father.

Jesus knows who we are.  Peter walked with Him for three years!  Yet Peter denied Him.  In fact, all of the disciple pretty much ran away and hid and tried to make sure they were safe while Jesus suffered and died.  They were all guilty – and they were all forgiven.  And they were the brave band of Apostles that spread the word and founded the Church of Christ, and died martyrs' deaths for their confession.  When we fail, it is important that we remember that it is sin to fail to confess Christ, and then, remembering, repent.  God will forgive.

One of the good things that came out of Peter's cowardice is that when the church face the Lapsarian Controversy - when it had to ask the question about those who denied the Lord in the first century of the Christian Church when threatened with death if they were Christians - it had the example of Peter, and of the Lord receiving him back.  You remember, when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him those three times.  It seems that He asked once for each denial.  And He welcomed Peter back into the group and told him to feed His sheep.  The Church concluded from Scriptures that one could repent, even of denying Christ, and return to the faith.  The problem with denying Jesus becomes something truly deadly when one does not repent and does not return.  We can make a mistake.  We don't want to, and should not plan to, but it might happen.  In a moment of fear, even a great Apostle can sin.  But a child of God feels his failure and sin as acutely as Peter did, and repents.

The wound of Denial is a wound which cuts both ways.  It hurts the denier, too.  But the denials by His people surely contributed to the Passion of our Lord.  He was denied explicitly by Peter, and less so by the others, but denied by all, none the less.  It was for our sins, not our good qualities and our strengths, that our Lord suffered and died.  We do not rejoice in our sins, but we rejoice that for our sakes our Lord endured all of the wounds of the Passion for us.  He was wounded for our transgressions - including the wound of denial.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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