“On the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus told his Disciples, ‘All of you will desert me For the Scriptures say, “God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ ‘No!’ Peter declared emphatically. ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.”
The word of God for the people of God, praise be to God. Let us pray.
Loving God, we are thankful for you and the Holy Spirit surrounding us. Please open our hearts, ears and minds to the message that you have inspired in me, and may the meditations of our hearts be a joy to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Last week we began a discussion on the “fear of man,” a phrase which describes the angst we feel when others disapprove of us in some way. Fear of man results when we replace our fear of God with fear of people. As relational human beings, we long for approval. We could modify the country-western song “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places” to “Lookin’ for Approval in all the Wrong Places.”
The story of the Apostle Peter and his denial of Jesus three times is an epic New Testament tale illustrating our failure to value God’s opinion first and man’s secondarily.
Peter needed to be put on a leash sometimes. He was impulsive, lacked deep faith, and was often very excitable. But Peter’s biggest weakness was fear. Had you accused him of being fearful, he probably would have put a Half-Nelson on you. But history would show that he feared disapproval so much that he let its shadow come between himself and the One he loved above all others—Jesus.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they will all desert Him, He is predicting that after his arrest they will all go into hiding, which, of course, they do. Peter is so certain that he will stand up for Jesus that he tells Jesus: “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”
You did notice that he used the “N” word didn’t you? Peter obviously hadn’t heard the old adage, “Never say never.” But remember, he was a headstrong, fired-up kind of guy who didn’t doubt his own strength of character. So he is indignant when Jesus tells him that he, Peter, will deny he even knows Jesus three times before dawn.
A short time after Peter’s emphatic denial that his allegiance to Jesus could even be questioned, Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest for trial. Peter and a few others follow at a distance to see what is going to happen. What happened to Peter’s bravado here? Why isn’t he on the heels of his Master defending him? Fear is holding him back, away from Jesus, and there’s a good lesson there. How many of us follow Jesus from a distance?
Peter does gain entrance into the courtyard with another disciple, probably John. Matthew tells the story this way: Peter was sitting in the courtyard when a servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”
Peter replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Later, out by the gate, another servant noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath, “I don’t even know the man.”
Then, a little later, some of the bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” Immediately the rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the words of Jesus and went away, weeping bitterly. The big, “tough guy” had become entangled in the snare of fear.
Peter’s denial of Jesus was addressed by three accusers, each representing a different dynamic in prompting his fear.
His first encounter was with a servant girl, whose youth and low-status should not have been threatening in those times. She was young, she was female, she opened and closed the door in the high priest’s house for heaven’s sake; how threatening could she be? First think of a pea-sized pebble in your hand. Not very formidable, huh? However, if that same pebble is thrown at you at 90-miles-an-hour, it catches you off guard and you may not be able to duck quickly enough before it hits you. Who ’da thunk a little bitty girl could have unnerved a big burly guy by her sudden and surprising question causing Peter to completely fold. Peter’s instant, unexpected fear of being associated with Jesus caught him off-guard, undermining his confidence in his own strength. Peter just didn’t see it coming. Unexpected fear should be a warning to us: decide in advance how you will stand by your convictions no matter who tries to intimidate you.
Peter’s alliance with Jesus is tested a second time when he slowly approaches a group which is gathered around a fire. Undoubtedly the fireside conversation revolves around Jesus and his arrest. Even though Peter probably hoped to remain anonymous, someone saw and recognized that he was not one of them and blurted, “You are not also one of His disciples are you?” All attention turns to Peter, who simply wants the earth to open up and swallow him.
Before we scoff at poor Peter, however, we must try to remember a time when we, too, have been caught off guard. For example, you’re in a social situation in which people are discussing another person named Eddie, who isn’t there. Eddie has been friendly and helpful to you, and you have the makings of a good friendship. But you’re also the new kid on the block and you want everyone to like you. So out of left field one of them says in an accusing tone, “You’re not a fan of Eddie’s are you?” Fearing the underlying, belligerent tone in your colleague’s voice, you say, “No, I barely know the guy,” thereby throwing Eddie under the bus. This is classic peer pressure. Why didn’t you come to Eddie’s defense? You feared the group’s disapproval. Your fear, like Peter’s fear, is understandable, but the lie is not defensible. Luke tells of Jesus’ warning to people about fearing a group more than fearing Him when he says in Luke 14:36: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” The word “hate” is used to signify preference, not emotional resentment in this passage. Simply stated, we must prefer Jesus more than all others, including family.
The third denial also occurred in the high priest’s courtyard around the fire. The first accusation had come from the servant girl, and the second from an anonymous man in the group around the fire. The last person to confront Peter had actually seen Peter defend Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane. Not only did this man see Peter with Jesus, he witnessed Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. This witness also happened to be Malchus’s cousin. Suddenly Peter was face to face with someone who might have an agenda, namely, avenging his cousin’s maiming. So when Malchus’s cousin asked: “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter stuck to his lie. Nope, he wasn’t with Jesus.
Despite his earlier conviction that He would follow Jesus even unto death, Peter was brought to his knees by the rooster’s crow. Perhaps Peter hadn’t had enough time to really internalize what following Jesus would truly entail. Peter is shocked and devastated by his own cowardice, undoubtedly left wondering how he could be so weak and disloyal.
We are fortunate. We have hindsight. Reading and hearing Peter’s story is our wake-up call that we can be blindsided. Not only should we be prepared to be confronted and disapproved by others, we should anticipate it. The egg-throwers are out there. Jesus warned in John 15:18: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.” Following Jesus never wins a popularity contest.
We should not fear or be intimidated by those who disapprove of our loyalty to our Savior. Our best defense if a good offense, so we must be prepared for the slings and arrows that will come our way. As Peter says in the book named for him, “…be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
Last week you had questions to ponder regarding the “fear of man.” Here are a few more take-home questions that I hope you will give serious consideration as you learn to plan a good defense:
- How do you react to peer pressure? Specifically, can you buck the crowd in defense of your Christianity?
- Who are the people in your everyday life that you fear? Why are you afraid of them? Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen to me if I make a stand?
- You are in a group of people. One person insists on dominating the conversation and refuses to let others finish a thought without interrupting. How did Christ respond in such a situation? How do you respond? (Throwing a lamp at the offender doesn’t count.)
Knowing the roots of our fears allows us to find ways to resolve those fears. Next week we’ll look at the reasons why fear is so prevalent in our lives and how we can go one-on-one to quash them.