March 18, 2015
Mark 14:27-31 / I Tell You the Truth…You Will Disown Me
“Know thyself.” The renowned philosopher Socrates said there is no greater gift than to know yourself. I’d like to think I know myself pretty well. After all, I’m me. How can I not know myself? Well, first of all, my name is Peter Walther. I’m a diabetic. I’m a pastor who now lives in Appleton. I love the outdoors. My batting average is below 100 and I love candy. I’d like to think I know my strengths and weaknesses. That’s just the surface. The tip of the iceberg. And I could go on for the rest of the night talking about myself, but I’m sure you’d lose some interest. Even if it’s not intentional, we spend a lot of time talking about ourselves, don’t we? After all, we know ourselves and we are comfortable with that topic!
But, how well do we really know ourselves? Well, maybe knowing yourself is not “THE greatest” gift, but there is value in assessing who you are. But how do we do that? One wise man, when he was told to “know yourself,” countered with, “Who will introduce me?” Point being, other people sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Sometimes the best way to learn about ourselves is not to look in a mirror, but to open our ears.
Peter would have done well to do just that. He thought he knew himself so well. Picture head held high as he walks with his comrades to the Mount of Olives. But he really had no reason to be confident along this path, because his whole world had turned upside down in the last couple of hours. It started with this foot-washing ceremony. He wasn’t going to let his Lord wash his feet. That was a slave’s job. But when his Lord insisted, Peter was forced to come to grips with humility. Then the Passover celebration came—that traditional ceremony and meal that Peter had been celebrating every year since he was a kid. It was like clockwork. Herbs, lamb, bread, wine. But then Jesus turned that all upside down by talking about a “new covenant” and how this bread was his body and this wine was his blood. Some of the very foundations of Peter’s life had been shaken in that upper room. Yet, he seems to be his old, confident self as he treads down the dark path to Gethsemane. Little did he know the spiritual darkness he would be walking into that night. But he could have known, and he would have known if he had listened to the One who knew him better than he knew himself.
It all begins with Jesus quoting Scripture. Nothing new in that. Yet, it’s a rather strange text that Jesus picks for his post-Passover devotion. You’d expect something about deliverance or thanksgiving. After all, the passover was a celebration of their flight from Egypt. But, listen to the text Jesus picks from the prophet Zechariah, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
Is that the message you’d expect to hear on the highest festival of the church year? You’re all going to fall. No! In fact, Peter was insulted, and I get that. Not that we tie our faith to emotions, but when does your faith feel unshakeable? Christmas or Easter. So I get it that Peter just celebrated Passover and confidently was saying, “Jesus, you don’t know me as well as you think.” And that’s when Jesus busts out the “I tell you the truth” card we’ve seen him play this Lenten season, “I tell you the truth . . . today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” Quite the warning! But it’s like Peter has his fingers in his ears going, “Lalalalala.” “I can’t believe what you’re saying Jesus. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
You know how the story ends. Later that night, around the campfire in Caiaphas’ courtyard, Peter swears he doesn’t know Jesus. Not once. Not twice. But three times. “I don’t know the man!” And every year when we hear the story, we think, “Peter, you heard the warning. But you ignored it. You idiot! You should have listened.”
It can be easy for us to pick on Peter, but did you notice how it said, “All the others said the same.” It wasn’t just Peter who disowned Jesus. Yes, Peter is the one who verbally disowned Jesus. But all the other disciples made promises they couldn’t keep, only to runaway with their tails between their legs at the first sight of danger. We need to lump ourselves into that same category. How often don’t we puff out our chests and confidently say, “Don’t worry.” Don’t worry! I’ll be ok; it’s just one drink. Don’t worry! It’s just flirting. Don’t worry about it! I’m just skipping church for a week or two while on vacation or during the summer. I’ll come back. Don’t worry! That joke was just meant to be funny. Nobody will be offended or no reputations will be tarnished. Don’t worry! It’s just a computer screen, not like I’ll follow through on anything. Don’t worry! It’s not like anyone is going to be hurt by the anger I have towards that person. No worries! I know Jesus will forgive me; he always does. Don’t worry!
I wonder how many “don’t worrys” add up in a week, a month, or a year and then later turn into a whole bunch of worry. We think we know ourselves so well. We think we’re so strong spiritually. We’ve grown up with Jesus. We’ll never fall. We’re confirmed. We read our devotions. We go to Sunday services and Midweek Lenten services. We go to a Christian school. “Don’t worry” is what we tell our parents, our spouses, our teachers, and worst of all, ourselves. Yet our Savior, the One who knows us, warns, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Co 10:12). “Watch and pray…The spirit is willing, but the body [flesh] is weak” (Mt 26:41). Whether it’s our Christian pedigree or the way we’ve seen ourselves resist temptation in the past, it is easy to put our fingers in our ears when God sounds warnings through his Word or through his workers. “Don’t waste your breath, God! I don’t need to hear those warnings. I’m good!”
That’s what Peter thought. Let me rephrase that: that’s what Peter, the spokesman of Jesus’ disciples, thought. That’s what Peter, the one who listened to and walked with Jesus in person, thought. That’s what Peter, the one who walked on water with his eyes on Jesus, thought. Peter was convinced in his own mind that Jesus’ words would not be fulfilled upon him. So often it is the person who has faith in themselves that has no confidence in others. And it’s that Peter who, because he closed his ears to the warning, found himself ill-prepared for the temptations he faced that night.
In that night, Peter would see the irony of his name: Peter, which means “the rock.” Peter was proven to be no rock. He was shaken to the core. Peter didn’t know himself and he had not built solidly on THE Rock of Jesus Christ. He had not yet discovered the depths of his own depravity and impotence. He relied too much upon himself and his worthiness. He wasn’t fit to go forth as an apostle. Don’t be like Peter and these disciples. Don’t miss the warnings that Jesus sounds in your life today. Don’t miss him say, “I tell you the truth…you will disown me.”
But you know what the real tragedy is? Peter and these disciples didn’t just miss the warning. When Peter babbled on with his self-defense, concentrating on what he was or wasn’t going to do, they missed a beautiful promise of what Jesus was going to do. Did you hear it? Or did you miss it too? Maybe that’s telling. It maybe reveals how we close our ears at times to what is written. For those of you who have heard the Lenten story for years, you could have summarized this section of Scripture for me in bullet points. Jesus said, “Peter, you’re going to deny me.” Peter says, “No way.” Jesus says, “Oh, yes you will! You’ll do it before the rooster crows!” If that’s all we summarize, we would have missed one of the most beautiful, timely promises.
After saying the sheep will scatter, but before Peter rambles on and on, Jesus gives this promise, “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Isn’t that awesome? Jesus says the disciples would scatter. He declares, “I know you’re going to sin. But I’m going to win.” That was the assurance that the disciples needed as the dark days would come. They needed something to cling to later down the road, even if they didn’t pick up on it now. Jesus was the only one who could walk that road. They couldn’t come with.
Brothers and sisters, this is why it’s so important to listen to the One who knows us best. If we consistently close our ears to his warnings like these disciples, we’ll try to win all on our own and we will end up failing. We can in no way contribute to saving ourselves. But when the Spirit opens our ears to the truth of his warning, we’ll also see that the only solution lies in Him. Our only source of strength is Jesus. He is ours in Word and sacrament.
Yes, the Good Shepherd would be struck. But he wouldn’t stay down. He would come back to be reunited with his disciples. That’s what you and I have to look forward to. Jesus has risen and gone ahead of us, and we look forward to a reunion with him. When we die and stand before God in all his holiness and glory, we won’t have to introduce ourselves as the failures that we really are: the disciples that thought we were amazing and loyal, only to realize we were the worst friends and disciples. Rather, Jesus will introduce us, not as some rambling idiots who failed to heed his warnings, but as his brothers and sisters, washed clean by his blood and sealed by his resurrection. Because of Jesus, the Father will not disown us, but He will call us his own. Thank God that Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. When we listen to his words, then we have the greatest gift. And as much as we need the warning, we also need to hear the promise. Hear the promise of Christ’s victory! Amen.