The King Denied – Mark 14:27-31, 53-54, 66-72; John 21:15-17
If you ever been to a carnival or to Navy Pier, you will often find what is called “fun house” mirrors. When you stood in front of these body length mirrors, they would stretch your image in weird ways and shapes. Sometimes those mirrors would make you way taller than you really were. Others would make you skinnier (I like looking at those nowadays) or fatter or make your neck look like a giraffe or your cheeks like a chipmunk.
Now the problem with these mirrors obviously is that they don’t show you the real you. You don’t really have a 20-inch high neck or a 6-inch torso. But if we are honest, we regularly convey images of ourselves that are distorted. And you don’t even have to be a Christian to realize that. Numerous research studies have been done to prove what psychologists call “illusory superiority,” which simply means that we tend to inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people.
For instance, when researches asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. As a matter of fact, 60% believed they were in the top 10%; 25% rated themselves in the top one percent. You’d think college professors might have more self-insight, but they were just as biased about their abilities. Two percent rated themselves below average; 10% were average and 63 were above average; while 25% rated themselves as truly exceptional. Statistically, that’s impossible! One researcher summarized it this way, “”It’s the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.”
When researchers asked husbands and wives what percentage of the housework they do, the wives say, “Are you kidding? I do almost everything, at least 90 percent.” And the husbands say, “I do a lot, about 40 percent.” Although the specific numbers differ from couple to couple, the total always exceeds 100 percent by a significant margin. It’s tempting to conclude that one spouse is lying, but it is more likely that each is remembering in a way that enhances his or her contribution.
We are really good at seeing other’s sin in vivid 3D HD, but we see our own faults in faint black and white. We tend to assume the worst in others while we assume the best in ourselves. I know some of us always assume the worst in ourselves and bathe in self-hate, but the root of that is the same. We are in a love affair with ourselves and the worst part is, we don’t see it. What is it that kills you? Is it your addiction to alcohol so much as it’s your denial of your addiction to alcohol that’s what kills you? The reason it’s so important is self-deception is not the worst thing we do, but it’s the reason we can do the worst things.
How can we grow to be authentic, big hearted, courageous, genuine and whole Christians? Where can we get the courage to be honest, transparent of our struggles and receive grace, yet find power to change? Today we will look at someone who understands our struggle of having distorted views of himself and in this passage we see that this is not just a small flaw or weakness, but the real cause of why we can ultimately deny our Lord. We are going to see that Peter, the rock, one of us and one of the best of us, who is overconfident, blind to his weaknesses, failing miserably to follow His Lord but through all of that, ends up becoming one of the greatest leaders in church history. What was the secret for this amazing transformation? The Gospel. It will be what our heart will need as well. First:
I. The Dangerous Downward Spiral of Self-Deception (vv.27-31, 53-54, 66-72)
Jesus had the last Passover meal with his disciples and the first Lord’s Supper meal. It’s Thursday night. He’s told them He is totally committed to them. But He also wants them to see that they are going to fail Him. Look at Luke 22:31-34. Jesus tells Peter that Satan is after him, but to be encouraged. I’m committed to you though you will fail. That was the first time.
Back in Mark, as they are walking to the Mount of Olives, Jesus says again that the disciples will fall away. He quotes Zech. 13:7 and uses the image of shepherd and sheep. You will fall away. In the present context the idea is not lose faith permanently but temporarily lose courage. Why will you fall away? Because you are sheep. Being called a sheep in Scripture is not a compliment. It’s an insult. Sheep need 24 hour comprehensive care. They are dumb. They run away. They’re always dirty. But notice, “it is written” and “I will” (emphasis mine). Despite your sheepishness and human weakness, Jesus says, I am far more committed to you than you are to me and so you are not caught up in out of control circumstances. I will find you, rescue and restore and reunite you as the Great Shepherd going before His sheep.
But Peter jumps in like Clark Kent, ripping his buttoned down t-shirt exposing a large S, and says, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” He thinks the S on his shirt stands for Superman. It stands for sheep. He doesn’t really hear what Jesus is saying. He is trying to demonstrate absolute commitment and loyalty, but in the process he’s overestimating his ability to succeed and underestimating his neediness and ability to fail. Jesus tries to help Peter see.
Actually Peter, you’re going to deny me in just a few hours, even before dawn when the rooster crows (this is the second time Jesus told him this). “Jesus, you are right about everything, but you are wrong about me. You don’t know how strong I am.” He refuses to look in the right mirror. He says he’s ready to die for the Lord. He’s insistent. He’s arrogant.
On a side note, Mark makes sure to let us know that Peter wasn’t the only one saying these things, either. Actually, I can see Peter, in being a source for Mark’s material, making sure he put that in. Including this denial also shows me that this Word is real. In an honor/shame culture, no leader would so blatantly include his failures in a critical document like this!
Anyway, how did this happen?
a) Sense of arrival
He’s been with Jesus 3 years+. So he’s got experience. He’s heard a lot of teaching and preaching. He’s got some knowledge. He’s one of the inner three with James and John. He saw Jesus transfigured and saw Moses and Elijah. He saw healings and miracles. He’s walked on water. Jesus said to Peter that he’s going to be a leader in the church. It’s hard not to think you’re special and have superpowers after a while. He’s looking at the carnival mirror of ministry experience and success and his gifts and abilities and it distorted him.
He had a sense of arrival. This is dangerous Living Hope. Arrival says things like, “I understand the gospel.” Maybe in our head, but not in our hearts. We think we are grace graduates. We forget that though we have knowledge and experience, we are still in the middle of our own sanctification. This means we are still capable of the worst things. This means we never move beyond a moment-by-moment need for grace. We never stop ministering out of brokenness and need for God in our own lives. We lose the wonder of the Gospel. It becomes familiar like people who live near the Niagra Falls and don’t hear the water anymore.
Are we self-deceived? Maybe we think things like, “No, I’m not lazy, it’s just that I’m just tired.” We are not greedy right? We just like to see things grow. I don’t flirt. No, I’m just really friendly. Like the great theologian Shrek said, “I’m an onion and onions have layers.” We have layers and layers of self-justification as we constantly look at the carnival mirrors that lie to us.
Small group leaders, do you shepherd out of a sense of your own need for Christ, i.e. sheepishness or from a position of arrival? Are we a painting people gaze at and admire or a window through whom people can see our own need for a Savior? Parents, do you minister to your children out of arrival or confess to them your own need of a Savior? Spouses, are you always defensive and argumentative when your spouse points out your flaws? Maybe they are God’s glasses to show you and save you from self-deception.
As a result, what happens? You don’t seek the ministry of the body of Christ. Look at Peter here, “Even if all fail you, I will not.” He thinks he’s better than all of them. Some of us have problems and we don’t tell anyone: “I can handle them myself.” If that’s you, you are underestimate the power of self-deception. Who can see self-deception except someone who’s not the self? You have to go to somebody who’s not you. If you think you’re wise, it is hard to seek out the wisdom of others. If you think you’re mature, it hard to seek help from others, all because you think you’ve arrived.
For me it sounds like, “How can so-and-so say that! That’s so messed up!” Implication: I am far more wiser that this person and have so much better social etiquette. Or it sounds like, “So-and-so is not gospel-centered!” Implication: I am better because I understand the gospel better.
c) Slow Drift
Later Peter’s sleeping when Jesus asked him to pray (v.37). This is the sleep of self-confidence. Arrival crushes personal worship! And then just as Jesus said, a pack of blood-hungry wolves come and take the Great Shepherd away, on His way to lay down His life for His sheep.
Remember also that when they were in the Garden and the soldiers show up to arrest their Master, Peter takes out his sword and cuts one soldier’s ear off? I wonder if Peter is thinking about his oath there. Jesus again rebukes him. But the disciples go from arguing about their greatness in the Kingdom to deserting the King. Jesus is arrested and stands before the Council and notice Mark letting us know, one sheep, Peter is alone lingering in the dark (vv.53-54). Note here that none of the other disciples followed Jesus this far. Actually John is with Peter too (John 18:16). But the rest of them left him way back in the Garden. We are hard on Peter, but I don’t think I would have made it this far like he did.
The hour is late. It is dark and chilly. Cloaked in anonymity, he finds a warm fire. The light of the fire shines on Peter’s face and this rock is about to crumble. The key phrase is in v.54, “And Peter had followed him at a distance.” He was following Jesus too far away. He was curious, but not courageous. He should have walked right into the hall and stood by Jesus. He would have been better off!
But once you think you’ve arrived and you’re superior to others, all you have left is yourself. God opposes the proud. And the only people God sends away are those full of themselves. Notice that Satan doesn’t trip him up when he has to do something great for the Lord like preach to thousands or go heal people. Satan gets him in the ordinary way of life. This is where our self-confidence really gets us into trouble. It’s in the day to day living self-sufficiently for ourselves.
When that happens, you only have your own resources left, but you are not enough for you. We never walk away from the Lord. We drift. You miss one time with the Lord, you stop sharing honestly in small group, you make one choice here and another there. You make excuse after excuse and before you know it, you have drifted far more than you thought you would. Small bricks make big monuments!
d) Swift Denial
A couple of things to be aware of here. Now these denials seem like they happened quickly. The text is brief, but we are talking about a two-three hour span. This means that the first denial was a quick reaction, but the next two are premeditated and thought through. They were not all knee-jerk reactions. Peter initially was shocked but he quickly downspiraled into denial.
The guy who stood up to a Roman soldier is now called out and has failed, all by a servant girl who noticed that he was a disciple of Christ. She notices in the flickering light that Peter is one of the 12. Peter pleads ignorance. Note also from the other gospels that there are lots of people on Peter during this time. It’s not just a little girl whispering to Peter on the side. She’s one of the main instigators, but there are lots of people like the Temple police, Roman guards, etc. and three different occasions of accusations. He denies.
After the first denial would be a great spot for the Southwest Airlines commercial to ask, “Wanna get away?” Peter quickly moves to the gateway, or porch (KJV), which is the corridor near the gate. Why? To get away and hide. That was denial #1. Rooster crow #1. Peter is hiding in the shadows, but again the servant girl accuses him. He denies it again. Denial #2. About an hour passes and someone notices his accent was Galilean and accuses him again. This time he began to invoke a curse on himself if he’s lying saying, “I don’t know the man!” People say this all the time, “I swear!” “I swear on my mamma’s grave!” And now we have rooster crow #2. Spurgeon notes, “Oh, how dreadful for him to call Christ “the man,” when he had boldly declared that he was the Son of God! What a terrible fall was this!”
Luke tells us in Luke 22:61 something else happened at this point: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” John Macarthur notes, “Perhaps his trial had just ended and He was coming back across the courtyard, headed to prison where he’d be kept for a few hours until the dawn, fake trial, scourging, crucifixion in the morning. His face covered with spit, black and blue puffy from being punched in the face and slapped…And as He’s bound, is taken through the courtyard. He looks right into the eyes of Peter. I’m pretty sure that’s a look that Peter never, ever, ever forgot.”
He broke down and wept. Spurgeon adds, ‘We cannot preach half such impressive sermons as that bird then delivered, for its message forced its way into Peter’s conscience.” Peter had reached the top. He was called by Christ, commissioned by Christ, set apart by Christ, loved by Christ, taught by Christ, given the keys to the Kingdom, granted, delegated, miraculous power to heal the sick and cast out demons, leader of the Twelve, privileged preacher and here he is in the lowest pit of his life, denying the very Lord he confessed.
We are not much different. We have denied Him in so many areas of our lives, in so many ways, and at so many different times during the day. When we are too busy to pray, we deny that you are the center of my life. When we neglect His Word, we deny that He is competent to guide our life. When we worry, we deny that He is Lord of our circumstances. When we turn our head and keep silent about Christ to those we love, we deny that He is a God of mercy mighty to save and who has put me here to be His hands and His feet. When we steal something from another person to enrich or enhance our life—whether that be something material or some credit that is rightly due another, which we have claimed for ourselves—we deny that you are the source of all blessings.
This passage is warning us not to be like Peter, but it is also telling us we are Peter. Despite our highest intentions and loudest protestations, we have too, very often failed him. Peter runs away finally seeing he is far more sinful than He ever imagined. Is there any hope? Thankfully God has the last word.
II. The Redeeming and Restoring Rescue of Grace (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-17)
Very often even before our failures, we think something like, “It’s ok. I’ll ask forgiveness later.” The problem is after we fail, we do not want to even ask for forgiveness. We won’t want to repent? Why? We would rather pay for our sin by wallowing in self-pity, sucking in our guilt and getting overwhelmed with self-hate. We think we will feel better in a day or two instead. It is a lot harder to apply grace than to expose our sin! What do we need? We need to see:
a) He takes our place
Did you notice in Mark that we had to collect and gather verses all over the place to get the full story? A lot of scholars notice here that, “Mark has deliberately interspersed and intertwined two stories (the story of Peter’s denial and the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial) because he wants us to compare and see the parallels between these two stories. Peter is also on trial just like Jesus. Peter is being questioned just like Jesus.”
However there is a difference. Author Mark Horne notes, “Jesus is silent and refuses to answer false accusations (v.61), while Peter pour out lies in response to true statements (vv.70-71). Jesus is accused of blasphemy because He stated the truth (vv.60-64), whereas Peter calls down curses on his own head in order to lie (v.71).
Peter is being charged with something which is true: you are a disciple. Jesus is being charged with something, which isn’t true. He’s not trying to blow up the temple. He’s not a vandal. He’s not a terrorist. But Peter, though he’s being charged with something that’s true, gets off. And Jesus, though he’s been charged with something false, is condemned.
Is this just irony? No what is Jesus really doing? He is suffering not just unjustly, but substitutionally. The next day, Jesus is condemned for His people’s sins, including Peter’s denial, self-deception and his pride, as well as ours. Peter just gets a look that melts His heart. Jesus should have came out, broke his chains and grabbed Peter and thrown him into the fire. Instead, Peter just gets a look from Jesus that broke him down, but Jesus goes to the cross is condemned for our sin and the Father can’t even look at Him. He can’t even get a look from the Father!
And Peter gets even more than that.
b) He restores our relationship
Look at Mark 16:7. The angels single out Peter as the ones Jesus is coming for. In the midst of his failure, he had run away (John 21). There is a huge catch and Peter runs to Jesus. Jesus makes a charcoal fire. What is He doing? I wonder if Peter thought Jesus is going to say, “Alright Coward, sit down.” Or “Some friend you turned out to be.” “Boy, was I wrong about you.” He doesn’t ask him, “Peter, are you sorry for what you’ve done? Do you promise to never fail me again? Will you try harder?” No, first things first. He is recreating the denial scene. That’s mean! To rub it in? No to heal Peter. Like a good surgeon, He opens the wound, so He can heal him.
c) He reinstates us for service
We know the story. Three denials. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him. Remember, Peter had said, “Lord, I love you more than all these other disciples. Nobody in the world is as faithful and as true and as passionate and as sold-out as I am.” Now here are Peter and Jesus meeting, and Jesus says, “Peter, are you still going to tell me you love me more than anyone else? That you are more sold-out and more pure in your devotion and more passionate for me and you’re a better man than any other man? Are you still going to tell me that?” And three times, Peter basically says, “No, Lord. I just love you.” Three times. Peter doesn’t explain; he doesn’t argue; he doesn’t deny. He repents. Every single time Jesus leads him to repentance and he repents, Jesus turns around and says, “Lead my church.” That’s nuts! 
What is Jesus saying here? In other words, “You are still the right man for the job.” “Jesus, I failed you.” Jesus says, “I know. Be a leader.” It’s not good you denied me, but I don’t waste anything, even your failures. Plunge your failure into my grace and I will make you a greater leader than ever before. If you have been forgiven much, you love much. Why would such a person be a great leader? The more you understand your own brokenness, the more you will understand how the human heart works, the more you will be able to minister to others, the more you will be reliant on the Lord. The more tender you will be, the less judgmental, the more compassionate and loving than ever…because you have embraced your own sheepishness. The best shepherds of mine are those who know they’re sheep. Not only has Peter seen that he is far more sinful than he imagined, He now also sees that he is far more loved than he ever dared hope. The Gospel changes him!
When I look at Him dying in my place for all of my self-denials, I repent that it cost that much that He had to die like that, but I rejoice because I am so loved that He was glad to die to save me and to transform me and transform even my worst failures into a demonstration of grace and power, even to use me for His glory. No we can’t have a sense of arrival then. We can’t boast then. We are free to be needy for help. We repent faster than ever before and grow in love and humility and usability. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
As the late preacher Vance Havner says, “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
Tripp, P. (2012). Dangerous Calling (152). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2010/november/6112910.html Retrieved March 6, 2014.
http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2011/september/5091211.html Retrieved March 7, 2014.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon “Sin as Self-Deceit,” on 1 Samuel 15:12-23 preached January 28, 1996. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Brooks, J. A. (1991). Mark (Vol. 23, p. 231). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Tripp, P. (151-163).
Tripp, P. (80-81).
Spurgeon, C. H. (1902). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 48, p. 136). London: Passmore & Alabaster.
Macarthur, J. (2011, May 8). “Peter’s Denial: A Warning About Self-Confidence” Grace to You. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-78/peters-denial-a-warning-about-selfconfidence.
Spurgeon, C. H. (Vol. 48, p. 138). Ibid.
Macarthur, J. Ibid.
Gire, Ken (2011-01-04). Moments with the Savior (Moments with the Savior Series) (p. 341). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon, “Witness 2007,” preached March 4, 2007. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Horne, M. (2003). The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel (178). Moscow, ID: Canon Press.
Keller, T. J. Ibid.
Keller, T. J. Ibid.
Manning, Brennan (2008-08-19). The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (p. 25). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/97169-god-uses-broken-things-it-takes-broken-soil-to-produce Retrieved March 8, 2014.