Denying Christ

I. Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?
It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”  You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.
We share the gospel because God first loved us, and God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings, and wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling.  Why else would we be here?
And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world, that others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.
But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.
When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”Slide2
When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.
So in 1996, I divorced my wife.  It was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And I had trouble coming to grips with my belief that I was a good Christian with the truth that I had divorced my wife.
And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to get to know God better.Slide3.JPG
Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
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I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But I’m on my knees and studying and trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.
But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I was divorced.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.
Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.
II. Jesus’ Prophecy
The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.
There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.
Theresa said something last week that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.
In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Slide6.JPGBut Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.
Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride is putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Verse 33,
Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
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What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.
How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?
Pride is hard to eliminate.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on humility, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should get a medal or something.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.
Benjamin Franklin once said,
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
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Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.
C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.
Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.
And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Matthew 26:34 –
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
III. Peter Denies Christ
You trying telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?
Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”
After the arrest of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin spit on Jesus.  They called Him names and struck Him in the face.  When they struck him, they taunted Him, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ!  Who hit you?”
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And Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  A woman said, “Aren’t you one of his students?”
Who me?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Another woman said, “Yeah, I’m certain I saw the two of you together.”
Um, nope. You’re mistaken.  I’m not one of the religious nutjobs.  I don’t know Jesus.
Others said, “You know, your accent gives you away.  You have a Nazarene accent just like him.  Your accent gives you away.”
And Peter got so frustrated that he cussed and said some sort of swear word, I. Don’t. Know. Him.
And the rooster crowed.
Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God.  It says in the book of Luke that at this point, Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.
IV. Peter Weeps
Matthew 26:75,
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
Slide14.JPGI think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.
I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.    I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”
And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.
No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.
Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.
I remember a story about a tribe with some skin disease, maybe it was leprosy, I couldn’t find the story again, but it was on that USB stick the church handed out, the audio version of the New Testament.  This tribe had lived apart, had a unique dialect, so these missionaries translated the New Testament into their language.  And when they got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, they were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And Jesus turned around and said, “who touched my robe?”  The unclean woman came and fell down at the feet of Jesus and confessed.
Then Jesus told her, “Your faith has made you whole, go in peace and be healed.
The tribe broke down and cried.  They identified with the woman as being unclean, and when Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched my robe?” they were sure Jesus would call down fire from the sky and punish the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.
I Repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?
V. Peter is Forgiven
But that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.   After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and has breakfast with them after fishing.  And rather than shun Peter, Jesus finds Peter and asks, “Do you love me?”
Slide15.JPGJesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Theresa talked about prophecy last week, and I though how insightful it was that Jesus knew Peter would deny Him and yet Jesus took Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane anyway.  God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially if we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.
VI. Conclusion
Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door to a way of joy and peace for me.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is good enough.  But Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.
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Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.
Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.  And now there’s a fish on my car.
To God be the glory.  Amen.
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