Text: Mark 14: 27-31
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
The great Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said that there is no greater gift than to know yourself. I’d say that knowing Christ is superior to that, but you get his point. One wise man, when told to “know yourself” quipped back: “Who will introduce me?” The point here is that sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves. And perhaps the best way to learn about yourself is to open your ears.
Peter would have done well to do just that. He thought he knew himself quite well. Picture him with chest thrust out, head held high, as he walks with the others toward Gethsemane. He was confident of his path, but in a few hours his whole world would be turned upside down. It started with the foot-washing ceremony. He wasn’t going to let Jesus wash his feet. It was a slave’s job. But when Christ insisted, Peter was forced to accept what we would call: servant leadership. Humility. Then they had celebrated the Passover dinner. Peter had enjoined this since he was a little kid. It was like clockwork. Herbs, lamb, bread, wine. But then Jesus had turned it all around by inaugurating a “new covenant.” He had declared that the bread and wine were His body and blood. The old, familiar ground of sameness was shifting for Peter. Yet, he seemed confident as he walked toward Gethsemane. Little did he know that the surrounding darkness was bright compared to the spiritual darkness that awaited. If he had really listened to Christ as He spoke that night, Peter would have realized that Jesus knew Peter better than the disciple did.
It all began with Christ quoting Scripture. Nothing new there. Yet, it was a strange text Jesus picked for His post-Passover devotion. You’d expect a deliverance text, like our thanksgiving. Maybe something like our Christmas—upbeat. But, no, Jesus picked this one from Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.”
Peter was insulted by this. “Hold it right there, Jesus. Even if all fall away, I will not.” We can understand Peter’s emotional response. On Christmas or Easter, like this high holy day of Passover, our faith seems unshakable. So, Peter is confidently saying to Christ: “You don’t know me as well as you think.” And then Jesus plays His Lenten trump card: “I tell you the truth…today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
That’s quite a warning. Jesus doesn’t merely sound a storm watch for Peter’s faith, He gives a blizzard warning. “Today, tonight, you will disown me—not once, not twice, but three times.” But it’s as if Peter put his fingers in his ears and said: “Lalalala.” “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
You all know how the story ends. Around the fire in Caiaphas’ courtyard Peter swears that he doesn’t know Christ. He swears it three times: “I don’t know the man!” So, each time we hear this story we think: “Peter, you heard it. You should have listened. What an idiot!”
But, of course, the same could be said of us. How often do we confidently say: “Don’t worry! It will be o.k. It’s just one drink. Nothing will happen. Or, don’t worry, skipping church for a week or two won’t cause the world to end. Or, don’t worry, no one will care I said those off-color things. Don’t worry, it’s just a friendly wager. Don’t worry, it’s only flirting.”
How many “Don’t worries” do we employ each day, week, month or year? And how often do they turn into a whole lot of worries? “He who thinks he stands firm should be careful that he doesn’t fall.” That’s God’s take on it all. Or how about this one: “Watch and pray…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Because of our Christian pedigree it’s easy to put our fingers in our ears and ignore God and His warnings. But it always leads to trouble, doesn’t it?
Peter, Peter as spokesman for the whole group of disciples, thought he was immune from falling into sin and disowning Christ. Had he forgotten that he was able to walk on water until he took his eyes off Christ? And now he stops up his ears. Don’t be like Peter. Don’t miss God’s warnings. Don’t ignore those words: “I tell you the truth…you will disown me.”
The real tragedy here is not merely that Peter missed the warning, but was so concerned with self-righteously defending himself, he missed the promise. Did you hear it? For after the warning and before Peter rambles on, Jesus also spoke of how the sheep would be scattered and then He says: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
What a glorious promise! Christ is saying: “I know all of you are going to sin. But I’m going to win!” “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.” This is why it’s vital to listen to the One who knows best. For with God, we’ll always come out of the darkness into His marvelous light. It is the light of forgiveness, real love, total faithfulness, and ultimately a most blessed heavenly reunion. And that promise wasn’t just given to these 11 men with feet of clay, it was and is given to each and every one of you! Amen