The Narrative Lectionary Text is John 18:12-27. This is the story of Peter’s Denial of Jesus. It is our story, too.
I invite you to look at this image for a moment.
If you have a writing utensil, write down on your bulletin, or piece of paper, some of the times or places where you have felt the need to do this. You don’t have to share this with anyone, I just encourage you to really think about it. The question is: Have you ever felt like you have to put on someone else in order to survive?
This happens to us all the time. We call it putting on the game face. Unfortunately, many of us feel like we have to put on another person just to walk in to the doors of our work or school.
I struggle with this as a Pastor everyday. I might be having a fight with my kids, or stressing about my finances and put on my game face. How are you doing? Good. It’s all good. Of course, you never do that when you come to church, right?
Why do we do that?
Why do we feel the need to put on these false selves? My guess is: fear. We are afraid of being rejected and lonely. Sometimes we are so desperate for the affirmation and acceptance of others that we are willing to put on a face that is the exact opposite of who we really want to be.
Our Bible story today is about that.
Today the Narrative Lectionary brings us to John 18:12-27. Jesus has just been arrested and he is brought before the most powerful religious leader in Israel. His name is Annas. He was the high priest, and five of his sons-in-laws have been or are currently the high priest.
Right behind Jesus we see Peter. Peter is on trial as well. But his a trial of a different kind.
I’ve been thinking about this passage all week, and on Thursday morning, while I was getting ready for the day, this image popped into my head, so I grabbed my iPad and sketched it out. I decided to do something a little weird and just walk you through this sketch, piece by piece. I hope that’s OK.
I want to look at more than just the text for today. I actually want to start back with last week’s story that Pastor Mark taught us about, when Jesus was with his disciples in the Upper Room, and then move to the scene where Jesus is arrested in the Garden, and then finish here, with Jesus’ trial before Annas.
When I look at these three stories I see a contrast between Jesus and Peter. Jesus demonstrates for us the model of what we are called to be, and Peter shows us what we are usually like as we stumble and bumble our way along this Broken Journey. I call this Peter’s Broken Journey.
Let’s look at the Upper Room.
This is found in John 13. Grab your Bibles and turn there with me. This is the scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Do you remember how Pastor Mark poured the water into the basin. Here we see that Jesus became a servant and was poured out, like water, to serve his disciples.
What did Peter do? Look at verse 9. He says, “oh no, Jesus. If you are going to wash my feet, then wash all of me.”
Then, down in verse 37, he tells Jesus that he would die for him.
I am ALL IN, Jesus. I will never leave.
How does Jesus respond? “Yeah, right.” In verse 38, Jesus says, “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Jesus is poured out,
but Peter is puffed up.
Have you ever had that experience. In a moment of spiritual ecstasy you claim, I will give my whole life to Jesus. This usually happens right after a mission trip. It makes for great video interviews, and, don’t get me wrong, it is an important proclamation. But think about the focus of these statements. I will do great things for God. I will never leave.
Too many times we fall into the trap that we are the ones who make the difference, and that it really is about us, and the great things we can accomplish.
Right after the upper room, Jesus led the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane where he wanted to pray.
Look at this conversation in verse 4. Jesus asks them, Who are you looking for? They said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Now, the Greek here is literally translated, “I am.” We often forget the next line. When they heard him say this, they stepped back and fell to the ground.
Do you see what just happened. Jesus said, “I AM.” Do you remember another story when someone asked, “Who should I say sent me.” Then the voice from the burning bush said to Moses. “I AM.”
Jesus is claiming to be God here. And when he does, it knocks the soldiers on their butts. Jesus didn’t have to lift a finger. His very presence was the power of God.
What does Peter do? When he sees the soldiers coming, he whips out a sword and hacks off the ear of one of the servants. He uses violence. And then, he doesn’t use it very well. The servants ear? really? How can you be that bad of aim with a sword?
I think we make this mistake all the time.
We sense that things are not right in the world, and we want to take action and do something about it. Quite often the things we do involve exerting our own power to manipulate people or systems to get things done. Ironically, when our Power is our presence, we inevitably hurt people along the way.
Jesus lets the guards take him.
Now we come to the third scene and to our text for today. Let’s skip down to verse 19 and look at Jesus first. Jesus is taken to the high priest and Annas asks about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus says, “I’ve said everything publicly, ask them.”
Jesus is an open book. He has nothing to hide. He has done everything in plain sight. There is no fear. The guard smacks him in the face for it, but Jesus doesn’t back down. It’s all out there. An open book.
Now let’s see how Peter fairs in his trial. In verse 17, the servant girl looks at him and says, “You’re not one of his disciples, too, are you?” Peter says, “I am…not.”
If Jesus is an open book, then Peter is a book cover. I found these images on the internet this week. Take a moment to look at them. They take a second to soak in.
I found these pictures intriguing on many levels. First, I think they are very cool and creative. But, secondly, I think they really get at what we are talking about. How often do we put on the mask of someone else’s story in order to save ourselves.
Peter was standing in the courtyard, surrounded by the high priest’s servants and soldiers. They have Jesus under arrest. He is asked two more times whether he is one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times Peter puts on a cover, and hides behind the mask. And denies Jesus.
Look at this picture. Cock-a-doodle-doo.
This story identifies three ways that we deny who we were created to be. What do we do about it?
We need to remember that we were all created to live in community, not for ourselves alone, but, in humility, work for the good of the others, for the whole.
We need to remember, that God doesn’t need us to go in and wield our power. What God asks us to do is be present with people. The most powerful thing that you can do to be a witness for God is to be fully, authentically present with people. God’s presence is power in itself, and when we are a conduit of it, then miracles can happen.
Finally, we are called to live without fear. Here’s a secret. The journey of spiritual formation is not the process of adding good behavior to your list of masks that you wear. The journey is when the real you is also the you that you show to the world. God invites us to open the book, to be transformed from the inside out, and to be honest with yourself, with the world, and with God.
Imagine what the world would be like if no one hid behind masks, in fear.
I have one word of encouragement for you today.
In John 21, after Jesus died and rose again, he met Peter on the beach, and forgave him, restored him, and entrusted the church to him.
If God can use a Broken, bumbling guy like Peter, then he can use you and me, too.