Will you turn against Jesus?
Luke 22.54-71 (New Revised Standard Version)
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’
A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
In today’s reading from Luke we see the picture that Luke has painted of Peter, a friend of Jesus. One who faltered and who has betrayed the friend to whom he had promised to be loyal to forever.
We see the priests and scholars and politicians who had twisted the Scriptures and who had perverted justice, who manipulated the people, many of whom had wanted to believe in the Son of God. They did it just for the sake of their own agenda, and their own power, and their own authority, and we see the people that were there who got caught up in the flow of events.
If we imagine ourselves as part of the crowd we get an uncomfortable feeling. We are not worse than these people. We are certainly not better than these people. We are these people.
Jesus went to the cross for sinners. He went to the cross for Peter, who despite walking with him, seeing his ministry and his character, and hearing him preach for three years, rejected him so easily. Perhaps out of fear for his life, or perhaps out of the anger he felt from when Jesus rebuked him for coming to the Lord’s defence.
Jesus went to the cross for men like the chief priests, the soldiers, the mob who arrested him, and for those who beat him, who mocked him, and who blasphemed him. Jesus went to the cross for the priests and scholars and politicians who had twisted the Scriptures and who had perverted justice. Jesus went to the cross for us, all of us.
As we read the stories surrounding Jesus’ last moments before the cross, we see images of failure, betrayal, cruelty, and selfish ambition. These images are powerful on their own.
However, they are made all the more powerful as we see the picture painted by Luke of the people involved in Jesus’ death, and we come to realise that we see ourselves. We can’t just sit back and shake our heads at those who mistreated the Messiah, because we slowly realize that in them, we see our own actions.
Once again, it is so easy to look down on the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders, or even Peter, for their actions. But this is to ignore the obvious. We can be just as guilty of ignoring God’s will in favour of our own. We can be just as quick to abuse power for our own advantage if need be, to get what we want.
Before we are too harsh with Peter, I suggest that when we read this passage we might even see ourselves in Peter’s actions, even if only just a little. How many times do we shrink away, whether in word or deed, from fully associating ourselves with Christ? How often do we act like we don’t really know Jesus?
How often are we far more concerned with what others might think of us than what God thinks of us? Would we worry about offending someone else or looking weird in front of them if we fully acted like one of Jesus’ people?
We need to ask those questions of ourselves and then imagine the piercing stare of a betrayed Jesus sinking into our souls as it did into Peter’s.
If we enter this scene for a moment it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to think that the worst part of this whole night for Peter was looking up and locking eyes with Jesus. The look from Jesus must have been so haunting for Peter. Peter wept bitterly as the full implications of his actions hit him. But it is in those tears of realisation that Peter will eventually find forgiveness and reconciliation.
Despite what we might say there are many of us in our lives that find ourselves associated with Peter’s denials in the crowd. What would we have done if we were Peter? Would we in our genuine sorrow be able to find the amazing commitment of Peter to be loyal to Jesus even though we had failed?
If we were there at the events before Jesus’ unjust execution, would we see glimpses of ourselves? Would it cause us to run away in shame and hide or would we, like Peter, look into the eyes of Jesus and find the motivation needed to find forgiveness and restoration?
The question of whether we would turn against Jesus is not, I feel, a question that we should beat ourselves up about. The question is can we be like Peter?
When we see our failures, our mistakes, or even our betrayal, if we pick ourselves up and recognise our failings then we can return to our Lord. Our commitment isn’t to perfection; our commitment is to returning – and returning, and returning. It is something that Jesus would recognise and we should recognise it too.
we ask that you help us
to recognise the times that we betray you.
Help us to share our trust in you with others.
Help us to recognise when and where we stray
and help us to recognise the times that we deny you
so that we may keep returning to your grace.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.