First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (4th Sunday in Lent, March 14, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“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? I always thought that after spending 3 years with Jesus, listening to His teaching, watching Him feed thousands, raise the dead, walk on water, 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 ask myself, “How different am I really?” I’m not sure I’ve ever denied Jesus publicly when pressed like that, but the older I get, the more 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. With every careless unloving action to those around us, we say, “We don’t know this man.” Every day we get up and live our day without reference to Christ, 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 third week in our Lent series on “Discipleship.” We have been looking at some key events in the life of Peter as a model for what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple. We looked at Christ’s invitation to Peter to “come, follow me” and how Peter and his brother, Andrew, immediately left everything and followed Jesus. We also looked at Peter’s confession in Caesarea Philippi “You’re the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
This week, we are reminded that the path of discipleship is one of ups and downs. Our minds would like to think that there is a set process when it comes to faith and that as long as the instruction manual is followed closely, everything will fit together nice and neatly. Our experience, however, proves the opposite. 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 a disciple includes all these different experiences, what happened 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, today’s lesson captures the essence of a disciple’s life that includes that which we could never have imagined, even denial and failure. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, one of the sites you will inevitably spend time touring will be 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 in the very spot that Peter denied even knowing our Savior. Yet, you and I need to remember that because when we remember our failures and weaknesses, we will seek the strength and the grace of God. We must never forget that where there is death, there is also rebirth. The life of a disciple includes it all, even that which we never could have imagined. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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