First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (3rd Sunday in Lent, March 20, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“A Disciple’s Failure and Denial!”
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been captured and, quite frankly, terrified by the story of Peter’s failure and denial. How did this happen? How could Peter deny that he even knows the Lord Jesus? I always thought that after spending 3 years with Jesus, listening to His teaching, watching Him feed thousands, raise the dead, and seeing His almighty power, denying Him would be impossible.
Of course, as I grew older, I began to see different layers to the story. For one thing, I started to get the danger of the situation. At this point in time, Jesus has been arrested. It’s Passover week and political tension fills the air. The Jewish leadership set up a couple of Kangaroo Courts organized by the Sanhedrin being held in the courtyard and home of Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest.
At this point, most of the disciples have fled. Most of them, it seems, except for Peter and John according to John 18. Peter follows at a distance; he follows to see what happens. We probably should give Peter and John some credit here. They go further than all of the other disciples. Peter and John had some courage—courage and strength that none of the rest have. And yet, when push comes to shove Peter denies Christ three times.
At first, a servant girl saw him seated by the firepit; she looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But Peter denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw Peter and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Fear grips Peter with great force and so he denies Christ.
On one hand, I am tempted to think, “How do you say that, Peter?” But on the other hand, I realize how completely and totally we’ve denied Jesus. There’s more than one way to deny Jesus. You don’t have to say “I don’t know this man” with your words to do it. Every day we get up and live our lives as if we don’t belong to God, we say “We don’t know this man.” Every time we cultivate anger, pride, or lust in our heart, we say “We don’t know this man.” Every time we chase money instead of generosity, we say “We don’t know this man.” Every time we keep silent about Christ out of fear of rejection by our culture, or neighbors, for being one of those “Christians”, we say “We don’t know this man.” In a million different ways, our lives have screamed “We don’t know this man!”
The story of Peter’s failure and denial is our story too. So as we consider this story today, please allow me to offer two short observations:
First: The Path of Discipleship is One of Ups and Downs
This is our fifth lesson in our “Discipleship” series. Over the past few weeks, we got the chance to examine the three individuals who were interested to follow Jesus. Unlike these three individuals, Peter received Christ’s invitation, “come, follow me,” and immediately left everything and followed Jesus.
Peter’s failure and denial is a reminder that the path of discipleship is one of ups and downs. In our journey of faith, we will experience ups and downs, victories as well as defeats, gain and loss, joy and sorrow, brokenness and restoration. Peter’s failure and denial is a reminder that the path of discipleship is one of ups and downs.
Second: Failure Doesn’t Make us Become Less of a Disciple
If the life of discipleship includes all these different experiences, what happens when we struggle and fail? I want to assure you today that we do not become less of a disciple when we struggle. Even when we struggle, we know that God is with us. I like how Luke puts it in Luke 22:61, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” In his failure, Jesus wanted to say to Peter, “I am here for you. I am with you.”
Throughout his gospel, Luke shows a certain concern for those considered “lost.” For example, only in Luke’s gospel do we find stories concerning a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost child – all of which are eventually found. Luke also tells the story of the thief on the cross, the one whom Jesus invites into paradise – again one who is lost but now is found. Luke seems to have a soft spot in his heart for lost things. His treatment of Peter’s denial of Christ fits this theme. Peter falls into this category of being lost after denying and disowning Christ for three times, but, he too, would be found as Luke says in Luke 22:61. Of course, a full restoration of this broken disciple will take place after Christ’s resurrection. Failure doesn’t make us become less of a disciple.
Friends, like Peter, we fail the Lord and deny Him in many ways. The path of discipleship is one of ups and downs. If you’ve ever been to Israel, one of the sites that most tourists get to visit is the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. The word “Gallicantu” is Latin for “rooster’s crow.” It is the site that memorializes Peter’s failure and denial. It seems strange that we would choose to build a church at the very spot that Peter denied even knowing our Savior. Yet, we are to remember that failure doesn’t make us become less of a disciple. We are to remember where there is death, there is also rebirth. May our vulnerability today lead us to seek more of God’s strength and grace. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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