“But again he denied it. After a little while those standing there said to Peter again, ‘You certainly are one of them, since you’re also a Galilean.’ Then he started to curse and swear, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about!’ Immediately a rooster crowed a second time, and Peter remembered when Jesus had spoken the word to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I love spycraft movies. I love seeing the creative ways super spies use their wits, technology, and a bit of good luck, to accomplish their missions of infiltrating enemy fortresses or getting their hands on critical information. One of the common tools a spy will use is a disguise. A good disguise will allow the spy to gain access to places and people that would be impossible if he was wearing his own face. But, in order for the ruse to work, the spy has to maintain complete confidence and consistency with his assumed identity. This becomes especially true when he is impersonating someone a particular target knows well. As we come to the close of Mark 14 this morning, we find Peter doing a bit of spycraft of his own to try and keep tabs on Jesus. Unfortunately, he was no super spy and things quickly go awry. Let’s talk this morning about strength, denial, and being someone we aren’t.
Now, right out of the gate here, I have to give some credit to Peter. He came back. Yes, he ran off with all the other guys after Jesus scolded him for trying to defend Him against the mob that had come to arrest Him, but he came back. He and John both ran off, but stayed close enough they were able to follow the mob from a distance to see where they were going. Fortunately for John, his family was known to the chief priest’s family, so when the group arrived at the chief priest’s complex, he was able to go inside. Peter, however, was stuck in the courtyard. That meant he had to simply sit out there throughout the night waiting to find out what would happen to Jesus.
The trouble with this, though, is that Peter was a lone Jesus follower waiting with a small crowd of folks who either had no real interest in Jesus or who had been active participants in the mob that arrested Him. When you’re the only supporter of the guy who’s being questioned by the chief priests (which means He must have done something really bad), you’re on a bit of an island. Peter was scared. He was nervous. He felt terribly alone. Everyone around him might have been the person who outed him as one of Jesus’ followers and then he very well may have been subjected to the same treatment Jesus had just received.
(As a side note, I’m finishing up my preaching series through Peter’s first letter this week. It is a remarkable testament to what the Spirit can accomplish in us that Peter went from fearing he would be treated like Jesus was being treated here to boldly telling other believers about the blessing and joy of being treated like the world treated Jesus by the time he was writing some 30 years later.)
As Peter sat there warming himself around the fire with some of the other servants and soldiers, he was feeling incredibly exposed. The irony is that there’s a fair chance most of the rest of crowd didn’t really care who he was. They were used to seeing faces they didn’t recognize around there and Peter’s was just another one of them. Plus, the man code states that you don’t ask another guy about his business if he looks like he doesn’t want to be bothered. I just made that up, but it’s still how guys tend to interact…or, not interact, I suppose.
In any event, it wasn’t any of the guys around the fire making small talk and swapping stories who first really noticed Peter. It was a servant girl who pulled back the curtain. This girl was likely not more than eleven or twelve. Maybe she was a particularly inquisitive soul. Perhaps she was a bit of a busybody. Maybe she was just a kid who didn’t really know when to speak and when to keep quiet, but she recognized Peter and said so. “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”
And perhaps in another set of circumstances, Peter would have owned it, but not here; not now. The words were tumbling out of his mouth before his brain even had a chance to process them. His fight or flight response mechanism was shifted way over in the direction of flight. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.” Then he got up and headed to the entryway of the complex as the rooster crowed where he could make a quick escape into the city if he needed to do so. After a little while, though, no one else seemed to have noticed or cared what this troublesome girl had said, so he eased back toward the fire.
Then she appeared again, but this time she was talking to some of the other men in the courtyard who were suddenly a bit more interested in who this stranger was than they were a little while before. Why couldn’t this girl just leave well enough alone? “This man is one of them,” she told the others. And though I have to think Peter was already kicking himself for denying it once, he’d already dipped his toes in the water and he was growing more fearful and anxious by the minute. He denied it again.
But here, you see, is where he made his mistake. He revealed his lack of super spy skills. Peter’s goal had been to just blend in with the other servants in the courtyard to keep tabs on Jesus. He had a growing hunch that this was all going to end badly – after all, it was unfolding exactly like Jesus had said it would and He was clear that He was going to be put to death by these folks – and although he really did believe in Jesus, being faced with a possible death himself had weakened his resolve rather considerably. He was focused entirely on trying to divert their suspicions with his words. The trouble is, his words weren’t what gave him away. Peter wasn’t from there. He may have been trying to look the part, but he didn’t sound the part. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak to a group that was a whole lot more tuned into what he had to say than they had been before his accent gave him away. He was like somebody from the South trying to blend in with a group of high society New Yorkers accidentally letting a “y’all” slip out.
“You certainly are one of them, since you’re also a Galilean.”
Yep, and he was a fisherman too. Caught and exposed like he was, Peter started to talk like a fisherman. All kinds of color was coming out of his mouth along with adamant declarations that he had no idea who this Jesus was.
And then the rooster crowed again.
Realization stuck him like a bus. The impact on his heart and mind and soul had to feel like it too. Peter became a broken man who could not be of any other use to Jesus again. He had failed. Utterly. There was no going back now. His life and any usefulness he might have once had for God were finished.
And on that happy note, what are we supposed to do with this? Here are three thoughts. First, Peter was scared. When we are similarly scared, prior verbal affirmations of bravery don’t mean very much. Peter knew what they were going to do to Jesus at this point. Affirming our willingness to carry our cross sounds good, but when we are faced with actually having to do it, that’s another matter. The challenge when we are in fearful situations is to not live out of our fear. Now, this does not mean we make foolish decisions to show how not afraid we are. It means we don’t let fear be our decision filter. We take extra care to make sure that love is leading the way.
Second, for most of us, there’s no telling how we are going to react in a given situation until we are in it. The only way we can have a clue is if we practice and prepare for it. This is why schools do disaster preparedness drills. It’s why getting a driver’s license requires a driving exam and not merely a written test. It’s why athletes practice and actors rehearse. When it comes to our faith, we need to practice affirming our faith when denying it would be more convenient. When we can hold fast to our faith in small and seemingly insignificant situations without fail, we are more likely to hold fast to it when the situations aren’t quite as small and feel more significant. Put yourself in a pattern of affirming your faith in Jesus every single chance you get. Then, when a situation comes where the tensions and cost for affirming are high, you’ll be more likely to lean into your pattern and hold fast.
Third, we are not nearly as strong as we think we are…especially on our own. Our culture tells us the opposite at every point. You are enough. You are strong. You are bold. You have all you need within you. Just trust your heart. Listen to your mind. Go with your gut. You don’t need anyone else. Those kinds of platitudes sound really good. They’re easy to sell. And they’re generally completely false. All of them. The truth is that our strength isn’t very strong at all. The strongest strength does not come from within, it comes from above. If you want to stand when the world tries to push you down, you need to be rooted in Christ. That foundation will not give way. He is our rock.
There will be situations in your life when you are tempted to take the path of Peter here. If you are not holding tightly to the risen Savior – something Peter did not yet have, but when he did he became a totally different person – the odds of your getting blown away are disturbingly high. Stand in the strength Christ provides. Then you won’t be moved.