Or, the subtitle of this devotional is “How to Deny Jesus.” Peter, as recorded in every gospel, affirms that though every other apostle should be offended because of Jesus he would never be offended, even though it should cost him his life. Jesus, however, gave Peter a reality check when he announced that on that very night even before the cock would crow broadcasting the news of a new day, Peter would deny his Lord three times. And, he did. As did every one of the other 10 remaining apostles who had supped with Jesus at the Upper Room Passover meal when Jesus announced to them that He was going to institute a new covenant, by His body and His blood. It came as a shock to Peter that Jesus could even think that the fisherman follower of the Christ who days earlier had confessed that Jesus was Messiah would/could deny His Lord! But deny he did, and it is possible if not probable that each of us has done the same or surely that had we been in that select group with the Savior as they walked toward the Garden of Gethsemane we would have done likewise. So, it is instructive to remind ourselves here in this 21st century how we too might deny the Lord who bought us.
Hot and bitter tears tore down the weather-beaten fisherman’s face and bathed the beard of the follower who had only hours before exclaimed, “I am ready to go with thee both to prison and to death!” A chorus of Amens had echoed from the mouths of the other 10 apostles, Judas having already departed from their midst on his mission of betrayal. All of these men who had heard and held Him for more than three years pledged unswerving loyalty to their Lord and Savior, even to the death.
But to Peter, in the face of his vow, Jesus simply said, “Peter, the cock will not crow today before you deny me three times.”
And, the incredulous story is related for us in Luke’s account of the words and works of Jesus. As you follow Peter to the High Priest’s house and watch him through the eyes of Luke as he warms by the fire and in the space of one hour denies three times that he knew Jesus, you’ll probably respond in one of two ways: (1) “How could he ever have done such a thing?” Or, (2) “I can understand how he could have done that; I might have done the same thing myself!”
Regardless of how you did respond, I can say with certainty: “Every one of us quite possibly might have done the same as Peter; and, what’s more, “Every one of us quite possibly—if not quite probably—either has done, is doing or will do at some time, what Peter did!” No, we did not intend to do it; we did not mean to do it, but we did! How did it happen? Let me give you six simple steps to follow that will put you in a dangerous place where denying Jesus might be your lot:
- Get into a quarrel with another believer. See Luke 22:24 where, just after those tender moments in the Upper Room where Jesus led them in the Passover Supper and instituted what we now call “The Lord’s Table,” the disciples began to debate amongst themselves which of them should be accounted as the greatest in Christ’s kingdom. Luke says “And there was strife among them….” It was just after that incident that, the Lord, having rebuked them, announced to Peter that on that very night he would deny three times that he even knew the Lord. Peter remonstrated that such a thing would never happen, but of course it did and in fact every disciple before morning had fled from following the One that they had followed through thick and thin for three years;
- Underestimate the power of the flesh. Peter did as he unequivocally declared that “…I am ready to go with thee, both to prison and to death.” Peter no doubt was sincere in his affirmation, but he was naïve in his underestimation of the flesh. Jesus had warned of this in the Garden when He taught his followers that their spirit might be willing, but “the flesh is weak.” The flesh: just when we think we are on top of it, puts a choke-hold on us. Paul warned that when any person thinks he has it all together that he should “take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor.10:12) Solomon the wise said, “A man’s pride shall bring him low.” (Provs. 29:23)
- Going to sleep at prayer is another way to set yourself up to deny Him, or at least to put yourself in a precarious place that may well lead to a denial. The inner circle of our Savior, at a prayer meeting with Jesus, in the shadows of Calvary, while He was in agony, praying earnestly and sweating great drops of blood, were sleeping a few yards away. It was in that frame of spiritual stupor that they left the Garden and went out, all of them, and denied their Lord and Savior. We “go to sleep” at prayer to our spiritual peril. The antidote to denying our best Friend is to remain active at prayer. Going to meetings to pray and praying in going to meetings. “Above all…praying with all prayer and supplication….” (Eph. 6:16-18)
- Another way to put yourself on the path of denying Jesus is to take God’s business into your own hands. Just after the garden prayer meeting that Peter, James and John slept through, soldiers came to arrest Christ and take Him to the High Priest’s house for examination. Luke tells us that one of His disciples smote the servant of the High Priest and cut off his ear. (Luke 22:49); whereas John is more specific and reveals that it was, you guessed it, Peter who took out his sword and began whacking away to defend the One whom he would shortly deny. This incident revealed that Peter did not yet understand the nature of the kingdom, that it was not of this world; and it revealed that Peter did not yet understand the purpose of the crucifixion. His kingdom is spiritual and His death was sacrificial. If we, like Peter, fail, to understand that distinction, we will put ourselves in the precarious place of being ready to deny Jesus, who He is and what He is all about. Yes, there was coming a crown, but first the cross, and it that order.
- Next, deny Jesus if you would by following Him from afar, Luke 22:54. After the sleepy prayer meeting and the ill-timed attempt to fight off with a sword Jesus’ arrest, Peter found himself lurking back into the shadows. On a practical note, when we’ve suffered a few setbacks in our walk with Him, we too can find a lurking corner to crouch in. It’s missing a prayer meeting occasionally, then more and more; then a Sunday service here and there, then more and more; spiritually, we are in the shadows, alone, spiritually stunned and stunted and ripe for denying that you are a Christian at all!
- Finally, we can put ourselves in that dread denial dilemma when we choose, as did Peter, to sit down among the enemies of Jesus Christ, v. 55. Peter warmed his hands at their fire. He was not where he should have been and thus, he did what he should not have done, he denied his Lord. We do the same today when we worship in their churches (i.e., churches where God’s Word is not preeminent); when we attend their banquets, or their seminars or join their associations. In other words, we deny Jesus when we take our position alongside of those who reject His Word and rebel against His will.
When I had finished my undergraduate training with a degree in Bible, and had received a graduate degree called M.Div. and another Master’s degree from a conservative school, I contemplated rounding out my education by attending a liberal school in pursuit of a Ph.D. In so doing, I needed a reference, so I wrote to one of the professors at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary, a teacher whom I deeply respected and dearly loved, asking him to write a letter of reference for me. I received from the dear doctor a kindly framed letter in which he politely said that he could not grant my petition. He said, in tender tone, that he was close to finishing his course and he would not want to meet his Lord and Savior having commended me to a liberal institution of “higher” education that was not known for its staunch stand upon God’s Word even though it had been started as a school for training young men and women for God’s service. That was more than half a century ago and the faithful prof was graduated to glory soon after he had written me that letter. I have always appreciated his watch care for his former student and hope I get to thank him “when we all get to heaven.” That wise mentor did not want to be a part of putting me into a place where I might be tempted to deny my Lord and Savior. I shall ever be indebted to him. I had no intention of denying Christ but neither did Peter, James and John; and neither do you, but remember, “…. the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” so be vigilant.
“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
If you would like to see this sermon online, you can at https://youtu.be/BZnQMEOvy4c . It was preached at Pleasant View Baptist in Noblesville, September 5, 2021.