Do you ever feel like you have to pretend to be someone else in order to survive? This sermon explores the story of Peter’s Denial of Jesus and what leads us to do the things we don’t want to do. The good news is that Jesus waits for us on the other side of our fear and doubt. This sermon comes from John 18:1-27.
Do you ever feel like you have to pretend to be someone else in order to survive? We do this all the time. I know that I struggle with it as a pastor all the time. Honestly, I didn’t really want to preach this weekend. I’m not feeling well. There’s been a lot of stress in my family this week. But, I have to come here and put on my game face.
Sometimes that’s the right thing to do. We can’t just dump our baggage on everybody all the time.
Yet, sometimes, we actually tell ourselves that no body really wants to see the real me. The dark voice whispers in your ear, “If people only knew who you really are, they would walk away. If God only knew who you really are, you’d be toast.”
So, we put on the mask and pretend. And we die a little inside.
Why do we do this?
I think this is what happened to Peter in our story today.
As we explore this painful story I think we might learn somethings about ourselves and about what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus, that doesn’t need to wear a mask.
Before we dive into this story, I want to zoom out and place it within the big picture. We’ve been on this journey through the Gospel of John since Christmas. We’ve called it Come and See.
There is something we must always keep in mind when we read the Gospel of John. It was written to a specific group of people. The first followers of Jesus were Jewish people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. This belief usually got them kicked out of the synagogue, and put on a watch list with the Roman government. To follow Jesus meant to put your life on the line.
Why would you do that?
The author of John tells us the purpose. He writes to encourage this young church. He says,
“These signs are written so that you might believe…”
That means to trust, not just mentally agree.
“…that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing…” through trusting, “…you may have life in his name.”
That you may have life, without the mask. Jesus came that we may know life as it was meant to be lived.
So, in chapter one we see that the Word of God became flesh and abides with us.
We’ve framed this whole series around that first conversation between Jesus and his disciples. They asked, “Jesus, where do you abide?” and he said, “Come and See.”
We’ve been walking with Jesus over the past several weeks to see where Jesus hangs out. He did seven signs and made seven big “I Am” statements to show us.
Jesus abides with the outcast, the “sinner”, the sick, the hungry, the World. For God so loved the world.
Then last week we saw Jesus, in chapter 13, wash the disciples’ feet, just before he ate the last supper with them.
We skip over chapters 13-17. Let be honest, that breaks my heart, because these chapters are my favorite section of the whole Bible. This is the part where Jesus says the he is the Vine and we are the branches.
Abide in Me, he says, and I will abide in you, just as the Father abides in me and I in him. Then he tells them how the Holy Spirit will dwell with them as they dwell in the world. It is powerful.
That brings us to today.
Chapter 18 is the moment of truth for Peter. The author of John uses Peter as the example for all of us. Where will Peter abide? What will Peter trust?
Do you remember that scene in Disney’s Alladin when the soldiers are coming after Alladin and Jasmine. The only way to escape is to jump off the balcony.
Alladin looks at Jasmine, reaches out his hand and says, “Do you trust me?”
Jesus reaches out to Peter, to you and to me, and says, “Do you trust me?”
Let’s see how Peter does. There are three scenes in this story.
We need to go back to the beginning of chapter 18 in order to get the full impact of our text for today. Jesus has just said his farewell speech to the disciples in chapters 13-17. He’s taken them to the Garden. It is an intimate place where he often took them.
Judas knows the place, because he was once inside the fold. Now he has turned to the dark side. He is no longer a disiple of Jesus. He brought with him a cohort of soldiers. That means 600 soldiers.
Jesus asks, “Whom are looking for?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they answer.
Jesus simply says, “I am”
It literally knocks them on their butts.
He says it again.
Then he says, “If you are looking for me, let these men go.”
Notice what’s going on here. Do you remember in John 10, Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
He doesn’t fight back. He is simply fully present.
Then here comes Peter. “No! He whips out his sword and starts swinging and takes off the ear of one of the servants.”
Isn’t that often our default. When the going gets tough, we lash out. It is the history of the Church. We have the Crusades. We have the Spanish Inquistition.
This hits close to home in the wake of another shooting.
What does Jesus say to violence?
That is not how we roll in the kingdom of God.
Jesus protected his sheep by giving himself up, not slashing the enemy down.
Peter trusted in power and violence.
Jesus is arrested and taken to the courtyard of Annas. He’s like the high priest Emeritus.
Notice what happens here. The word courtyard, in the Greek, is the same word translated sheepfold in John 10. Jesus said I am the Gate, and the sheep come in and go out through me.
Peter stands at a gate, and the gatekeeper asks him…
You are not one of this man’s disciples are you?
Here is the moment of truth. He replies…
I am not.
Dun, dun, dun…
While Peter cowers outside the gate, look what Jesus is doing.
Annas asks him to explain the behavior of his disciples and his teaching.
He says, “I have spoken openly. Those who heard me, they know. Ask them.”
Again, this goes back to the Good Shepherd. The sheep know his voice and they follow him.
Jesus is an open book. He stands unafraid before his accusers.
What does Peter do?
He denies Jesus two more times.
Peter puts on the mask and abides in the shadow of fear.
It might be easy to be discouraged by this story. I mean, if Peter can’t trust Jesus, then how can I?
The truth is that John tells this story to encourage us.
“Look,” he says, “even Peter blew it.”
We can learn three important lessons from this story.
The first two are from Peter’s mistakes.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He calls us to two things.
First, he calls us to be present, not powerful. Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him.
Jesus calls us to be fully present with the world, so that the world can see the love of God through us.
Second, Jesus calls us to courage.
Jesus stood boldly before his accusers with nothing to hide. He was vulnerable. And yes, it got him hurt, but that’s the risk we must take.
The reason we put on that mask is because we are so afraid of what people might think about us. We are afraid of their rejection.
Jesus invites us to courageous and believe that we are a beautiful creation that God loves. We can be open and honest with each other.
I love how Brene Brown defines courage. It is “to speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
There is one final scene and one final lesson.
Jesus believes in you and will never ever give up on you.
Peter stood at a charcoal fire and denied Jesus three times. He abandons his best friend in his darkest how. How can you recover from that?
The Gospel of John ends around another charcoal fire. Jesus has been crucified and risen from the dead. He builds a fire and cooks Peter some breakfast. Then he forgives Peter and says, “now go, feed me sheep. Be the Good Shepherd, like I am to you.”
My friends, Jesus believes in you. Let us take courage together.