20 Nov Mark 37: Fallen but not forsaken
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Just wanted to start off by saying that I am beyond grateful to be sharing this pulpit yet again with my best friend, Stacey. For those of you who don’t know her, she used to be an RSIer before moving to our sister church in Melbourne. And although she may also seem like a person who doesn’t smile as much, I can tell you she’s got a big soft loving heart. So as always please cheer her on as we share the good news together.
Now I’ve never ever been admitted into hospital for anything, and God willing I won’t need to be for many years to come, but I’ve always been fascinated by people who go under anaesthetic just before they’re about to go into some major surgery. I always end up asking “how long did you fight it before you fell asleep?”, because what’s so fascinating is that once you have the anaesthetic applied, you pretty much have no control whatsoever of when you pass out. Your brain says one thing, but your body does another thing altogether. Even small doses of anaesthetic in the form of a green whistle is enough to also make an unnamed pastor of this church not be himself and sound very drunk as well. The fact is, no matter how hard you try to fight it or what you do to stay awake, sheer willpower and strength will not change the outcome. You will always lose.
But if you think about it, don’t we have the same approach to most if not all areas of our lives? By default when we face struggles and challenges, we automatically put our confidence in our own strengths and willpower to get through those hardships. This is very much how the secular world deals with its problems, muscle vs brain. Even Ghandi says “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will”. And though we may produce some kind of result for those temporary things in life, what we need to see is that we will always be at a loss when we rely on our own strengths and willpower for the things that matter to us eternally. Things that concern our faith and salvation. So then, if we’ll always be at a loss, what hope is there for us? What can we do?
In our story tonight, we’ll take a look at what happens to Peter when he puts his confidence in himself as a disciple of Christ. We’re going to have a look at 3 things tonight, the Fall, the Struggle and the Repentance.
Now if you’ve been following our series on Mark or grew up in church, the name Peter or ‘Simon Peter’ would be very familiar to you. Peter was one of the first OG disciples to be called by Jesus. Many saw Peter as the lead disciple because everywhere Jesus went, Peter wouldn’t be far away. He began as a poor fisherman but now was a leader of a Jesus movement. He was a nobody who had become somebody in everyone’s eyes. His resume and work experience was impressive! But in our passage today, this bold and confident disciple was nowhere to be seen.
So the narrative continues where we left off last week after Jesus is arrested and is put on trial somewhere in the high priest’s villa complex. It’s just past midnight where we read “66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed.” Wow, don’t you just feel disappointed at Peter. You can pretty much picture the setting, it’s cold, he’s huddled around a fire, he’s in enemy territory, probably still trying to figure out what to do or what he’s doing there and out of nowhere someone calls him out for just being “with the Nazarene”. What does he do? Without thinking about it, he denies it and tries to get away. I mean what happened to the disciple that was so on fire for Jesus and declared “even though they all fall away, I will not”, and “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” just a couple hours earlier in verse 29?! It’s given that by nature, we all have two main survival instincts; we either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. Meaning we either stay and fight what we face or we flee from it. Here, even though Peter had boldly promised Jesus that he’ll stay and die for him, he doesn’t even make it past the first hurdle and ends up choosing to flee “out into the gateway”. How shallow can Peter be! What he said and promised to Jesus could not be any further from the truth. And you know what makes it even more disappointing? The person who connected him with Jesus wasn’t even a senior ranking priest who was going to drag him and also falsely accuse him like they’re doing with Jesus or an elite Roman guard who was going to beat him up, but was an unexpected person, a “servant girl”. In those days, servants and women almost had no standing or influence, so for Peter to compromise his identity to a servant girl without thinking only makes his downfall even more so spectacular. Was this really the lead disciple of the 12?
The Peter that was with Jesus was different to the Peter that was without Jesus. Up to this point, he could easily confess that Jesus was the Christ and boldly promise to Jesus “til death do us part”, Why? Because his confidence was found within the comfort and security of his community of faith. The moment he is given a chance to make those same confirmations outside the church or outside his MC, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything other than “I neither know nor understand what you mean”. What’s important to Peter in this moment was how well he could avoid the question and just blend in to the crowd he was with. The church Peter was not a true reflection of the public Peter. But you know what, while many of us here may also be quick to say “Yeah, but I’m not like Peter. No way will I ever deny Jesus”, if we take a moment now to look our actions, don’t we also find similarities with Peter? I’m sure this is the reality for most of us here tonight – myself included. I mean think about it, do your non-Christian friends, family and colleagues know that you’re a Christian, a follower and disciple of Christ? What has been your response when given the opportunity to confess and talk about Jesus, not in church, but in the office or on campus? Because for most of us, we may be serving within these four walls every single Sunday, lead a ministry, bold to meet and greet new people that come to church, happy to share our testimonies with our brothers and sisters in our MCs, ready to lift our hands during praise and worship, flaunt our #GospelPeople and eager to confess that Christ is King during our liturgy but the moment we leave those two front doors, we are no different to the Peter we are reading about today. By default, we can’t help but find it so hard to acknowledge our relationship with Jesus and would just rather avoid the situation altogether. Don’t you agree that sometimes it even takes every ounce of effort to just say you went to church on Sunday? Maybe we find it hard all the time. If anything, this passage tells us that it doesn’t matter who you are and where you are, we all have a choice to make. You will either stay and confess Jesus or flee and deny him altogether. Ryken puts it this way “unless we speak up for what we believe, then we ourselves become the deniers of Christ”. Sure, we may have not denied Jesus before thousands of people, but like Peter who denied Jesus when he was just “warming himself” with a handful of people “in the courtyard, how many times have we done the same with the handful of people that are close to us? When we choose to avoid or not make use of an opportunity to talk about Jesus? It could be in the car, having lunch or sitting next to each other at work. If we can be honest, we’re only Christian if it suits us or when we know it’s safe to be a Christian.
But what we also need to understand from the passage is that our actions and our words are only a reflection of what’s really going on inside of us. Yes, it’s important to be intentional of how we act and respond to those around us, but they mean nothing if we don’t understand what drives and motivates those actions and responses.
69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.””
If our narrative tonight was a novel or a movie, this section of the passage would be where all the action and drama happens and where normally we would see the main character hit rock bottom. After making his first denial Peter leaves for the gateway and “the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them””. Uh oh, the situation just escalated from bad to worse! This girl just won’t give him a break and is now telling the bystanders to take one good look at him. It’s the last thing Peter needs right now. So what does Peter do now? He makes another denial. But this time it’s personal. Like a criminal with a guilty conscience, he knew they’re all looking at him, talking about him, and now even saying that he is one of Jesus’ followers. If he doesn’t stop them here, who knows what might just happen to him right? After all, Jesus has been arrested and is now on trial. He could’ve also heard the echoes throughout the night calling for Jesus to be condemned to death, so there’s a big chance they’ll be after him next. If he was going to deny Jesus, it’ll have to be now or never!
What Peter can’t deny though was the true nature of his heart had revealed itself. Church pay attention, Peter may have confessed with his lips that he’ll stick with Jesus to the grave, but his heart was not ready to go that far. What was truly more valuable than standing by Jesus was ultimately saving his own life. Can we see what’s happening here? As the stakes get higher, the easier it was for Peter to deny Jesus. The more people were involved, the more he was willing to give Jesus away. The bigger the threat was to his life, the more grievous his denials became. First it was denying being with Jesus, second it was denying ever being one of his disciples. What’s the lesson for us? We can only see what truly matters most to our hearts, when we give away everything for that one thing. The question tonight is, what is that one thing you are willing to give away everything for?
If I can be honest with you, when preparing tonight’s sermon what I saw in Peter was very much my sinful heart. Everything in my life has been dominated with what I want to and can do for myself. Perhaps that’s what some of you have come to realise tonight as well. Because like Peter, what I find myself continuously doing is putting my hope and identity into my own strengths and achievements. This really hit home only couple Sunday’s ago when someone made a reference to how challenging it is being around people who are competitive and just hate losing, to which my beloved wife patted me on the shoulder and whispered “that’s you baby”. I thought that can’t be me, but come to think of it, losing control of a situation or having something go against my plan can really turn me upside down. It could be as simple as having my football team smashed at half-time 4-0 or someone cutting me off on the road without saying thank you, to getting an average performance rating at work when I was expecting something far better than what I received or even when a loved one unexpectedly is diagnosed with cancer. How my heart reacts to such situations is that I become downcast, upset, impatient, selfish, angry and just don’t feel like doing anything at all. Yes I may hear the Gospel every week, I may know that my identity is found in Christ and that my performance is not what defines me, but out of my frustration and disappointment my heart willingly traded Christ away just for the temporary feeling that everything was still going according to my plan. In that very moment, what became more important to me than remembering and acknowledging Jesus in my life was the control I had over my own life. So again, what is that one thing that you are willing to give or have given away everything for? Is Jesus that one thing or does he simply make up the other things your heart gives away so that you can get what you want?
Church, tonight’s passage serves as a strong warning to all of us who call ourselves, Christian. That warning is that if we’re not careful, like Peter did, we can easily and unknowingly trade Jesus away for any of the 4 core idols of the heart that we have come to know so well in RSI. Because when push comes to shove, in the moments when we just can’t take it anymore, what becomes more important to our hearts than seeking and acknowledging Jesus could be the control you have over your children, the power you have with your finances, the approval you have of your colleagues and those in church, or the comfort you have to just get by in life. And let me tell you something, you can’t have both. You’re either all in for Jesus or you’re all in for the desires of your heart. In our story, Peter found himself torn and stuck between leaving Jesus behind and staying for Jesus. Do you know where Peter was after denying Jesus twice? He was still in the gateway! Mark also records that even “a little while” had passed before “the bystanders again” confronted Peter. Peter wanted to be close to Jesus, yet far enough so that he can still remain in control of the situation, far enough to maintain some approval of the bystanders, and far enough to know he’s comfortably safe. And you know what happens next? It wouldn’t take long before he slipped even further away into spiritual darkness. Mark writes “But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak””. When we lose sight of who Christ is in our lives, our sinful hearts will be drawn to becoming more like the world. It didn’t matter that Peter had the credentials of a leading disciple, spent so much time with Jesus, or even did his best using his strength and willpower, when it was all but certain to him that his life was in jeopardy, he eventually became like the very people who were bearing false witness against Jesus just a couple rooms away. Do you see what Peter does? Not only can he not bear to say Jesus’ name, but he swore by God that he had nothing to do with Jesus. By that, he essentially cursed himself. Peter has hit rock bottom. But that’s not the end of the story.
If you see how you split the verse, I am only left with just the one verse so Josh did the heavy lifting for us today and maybe you think how much can she say with just one verse, you will be surprised of how much I can talk. But in all seriousness, the more I read the bible the more I am amazed of how rich the bible is and we will see just how rich this verse is. We’ve seen how Peter hit the rock bottom after his third denial. He failed big time, but this is not the end of Peter’s story. Peter’s story and just like any other stories in the bible point out to something bigger than just Peter. It shows us a glimpse of who God is and what it means for us as God’s people.
Let’s read verse 72.
72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
When I first read this passage, I honestly skimmed through it and didn’t think much of it but this one verse tells a lot about our Lord .The first thing that I want to point out is that the verse said, “And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him…” If it’s not clear enough, Jesus knew. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. Jesus knew Peter would deny Him even before Peter did it. Jesus knew Peter would fail. Even when Peter’s denial came to a surprise for Peter, it was not a surprise to Jesus and yet Jesus did not cut Peter off or deal harshly with him. Instead, He still reminded him to pray in the Gethsemane. Jesus was gentle towards Peter. Isn’t it the same with us? Jesus knows that we will fail Him, He knows exactly my weakness and your weakness, He knows that we are unfaithful even when it comes to a surprise for us, He knows that we will deny Him and shy away from our faith and yet He is still gentle and loving towards us. He doesn’t deal harshly with us.
There is a part of the story that is written in Luke but not in Mark, but I think it holds a very important detail of this story. Luke 22:60-61
60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”
Mark’s writing focuses on Peter and what he is doing, it is concise, but Luke has more details and one of the details that he includes in his account is that as the rooster crowed, the Lord, Jesus, turned and looked at Peter. As a visual person, I am trying to imagine the scene right. Last week, we see that Jesus was on an unfair trial and the passage ends with people spitting on Jesus and the soldier giving him a blow, and now as the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter – there is almost a dramatic effect if we make this scene into a movie. But one thing I realised as I read this verse, instead of turning His face away from Peter, He looked at him.
I think it is a universal body language that if you are angry or disappointed with someone, you turn your face away from that person and that’s why when you pretend to play with a toddler and you are angry at them, you pretend to turn your face away from them right. But Jesus did the exact opposite, after Peter denied Jesus three times, instead of looking away from Peter because clearly he failed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. His heart went out to his disciple, who failed. At the very moment Peter was sinning, Jesus loved him and called him back to repentance. B.B. Warfield sums this up beautifully, “Our Saviour, as He stood giving account in His trial, working for the saving of the world had time to turn meaningful glance to His failing disciple. And so, save him in the saving of the world, because the Lord Jesus was not going to let go of Peter; though Peter had let go of Him.”
Church, I pray that Peter’s story reminds us that we do not hide from God when we fail. In fact, He knows exactly what is going to happen, He is not surprised with our failures and sins. Nothing we can hide from God. And when we fail, He doesn’t turn His face away from us but instead He turns and looks at us. And just as Peter remembered what Jesus said, I pray that we too will remember what Jesus says – that we can always run back to Him who gives mercy generously, who is always ready to forgive us. There is hope for anyone who comes to Jesus in faith. No matter how much we fall to temptation, Jesus knows our weakness, and in his loving mercy he will lift us up to salvation because even when we let go, Jesus is not letting go of us.
When I walk with my nephew on the street, we always hold hands. He may think he is the one who holds my hand tight, but his hand is too small no matter how strong he holds my hand, his grip is weak. I, on the other hand, hold tight to his hand so even if he falls, I will not let go, even if he tries to wiggle his tiny fingers out of my grip, I will still not let go. Take comfort today because even if our grip is weak and we fall, the One who holds our hand is not letting go. His grip is strong.
But Peter didn’t stop at remembering what Jesus had said previously. Mark said he broke down and wept. If we stop reading here, it won’t matter much that Peter broke down and wept, but we know that if we keep reading the bible, we find Peter as one of the apostles who went everywhere to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Peter did not only regret what he did, but he repented also – and this is the mark of a true disciple of Christ. Repentance is more than a feeling; it is a change of direction away from sin and back to God. when we talk about regret and repentance, tears alone are not enough. What matters more is what we do after our tears dry away. Do we stop at crying and regretting what we did or do we change our direction and go back to God?
When we are talking about Peter’s repentance, it’s hard not to compare it to Judas because they did fail Jesus on the same night. Judas sold Jesus and Peter denied Jesus three times, but what they did after this incident were very different. Judas went and hung himself, while Peter repented and proclaimed the good news boldly. Why do you think they have different responses? Is it because Peter was a better disciple than Judas? Or he had more faith? I don’t think so.
RC Sproul said the differentiating factor is that Jesus prayed for Peter. Luke 22:32 – Jesus said this:
32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prayed for Peter so that his faith may not fail. Church, do you know that Jesus is praying for you too tonight just like He prays for Peter? He is actively interceding for us in His heavenly seat. Do you know why God can be loving and merciful towards us even after we fail Him so many times? If we lived in the Old Testament era, we would need to prepare a sacrifice once every year for the forgiveness of our sins. But today, we do not have to do that anymore, we can pray to God to forgive our sins. Why? It is because we have the perfect sacrifice, the perfect lamb of God was slaughtered 2000 years ago on the cross for you and I. He bore our sins and failures. He took upon the judgment that should have been ours. God’s wrath was satisfied in Jesus so now He can look at us with love. He was rejected so that you and I who should have been rejected by God can be accepted. The nail pierced hands are now holding us tight in His grip. Because of Jesus, failure is not our final story. He was forsaken so that you and I will never be forsaken. Fallen but not forsaken.
I want to end with this. If you have read your bible, we know that Peter ended up being one of the fathers of the early churches. He went everywhere to proclaim the good news and even ended up dying upside down on the cross because he didn’t think he was worthy to die in the same way as Jesus. You know the people who compiled the bible could easily remove this story from the bible, but instead the four gospels record this. All four, they really want us to know that Peter messed up. I think the reason that this story is recorded in the bible four times is for your sake and my sake. If the best of the disciples failed, what chance do you and I, flimsy people have in this world? God knows we will fail, it’s not a matter of if, but it’s a matter of when. And I pray that when you fail, when you mess up, just like Peter, you won’t run, hide and beat yourself up, but instead you will weep and look to the cross where you find Jesus looking at you with love and say, “I know, it’s okay. Come to me for I’ve bore your failures and shortcomings on the cross. Your mess, I nailed it on the cross. Forgiveness flows as I wash away your sins with my blood.”
Church, do you know that you can come to Jesus freely for forgiveness? Do you know that failure should not define you? Do you know that even when we fail, Jesus looks at us with love? I pray that Peter’s story is a reminder that God does not expect perfection, but it is a story of how God’s mercy and grace overflows despite our failures and shortcomings. Dane Ortlund says: “Jesus does not love like us. We love until we are betrayed. Jesus continued to the cross despite betrayal. We love until we are forsaken. Jesus loved through forsakenness. We love up to a limit. Jesus loves to the end.”
- What struck you the most from the sermon?
- Why do you think you often find it hard to speak up for what you believe?
- List out some ways you often trade Jesus for your core idol (power, approval, control, comfort).
- How is repentance different from feeling bad and sad?
- How does the gospel produce true repentance?