The gospel of Mark has many various layers to it, one major theme is, of course, the earthly life death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can see sublayers throughout the pages of the Gospel of Mark. One which comes up is “who do you say that I am?” Another great theme that flows throughout the gospel is that of discipleship. Reading through the gospel and looking at discipleship and the disciples is a great exercise. It shows the realities of the Christian walk. The Bible does not paint the picture of disciples who follow God perfectly, but ordinary men and women who follow the perfect Christ imperfectly. In Mark we see particularly the emphasis on Peter, we find things about Peter that we do not find out about in the other Gospel accounts. In Chapter 14 we see Peter as a key person, as he is the one who boldly proclaims, I will follow you even if I die. We see Peter rebuked by Jesus for falling asleep in the garden. And even in this passage today we see Peter in the background. The unjust trial of Jesus is going on in the courtyard of the High Priest, Peter is watching from a distance, but as he moves further away from Jesus and the action drives him closer to God. Mark uses his classic ‘Markian Sandwich’ Beginning in Mark 14:54, with Peter standing by the fire, warming himself, in the courtyard. Then Mark explains the corrupt courtroom case, Peter is close by.
It is hard to think of these 24 hours in the lives of disciples. Before the evening had come Peter and John were sent off to find the man with the jar near the well. I am sure as they went they discussed many things. They finally find this man just as Jesus had said. They go and prepare the Passover like every other year. Growing up in the house of Jonah or Zebedee they would have asked the 6 questions about why this night is different than the other nights. They had celebrated Passover but not like this. This night was different. Jesus is not like the other rabbis or religious leaders. Jesus has said many things at this point the disciples did not understand (Luke 18:34). Peter had boldly proclaimed to Jesus that all the other disciples might abandon and scatter, but he would not. However, this night was not like all the other nights. This night was different, of course, they finished the Passover meal by singing a Psalm together, but this night was different. I am sure all the disciples would have been able to see the sorrow on their master’s face. They had seen moments of his compassion but nothing like this. As he went off to pray, they were left to watch and pray, but they failed to stay awake. Finally, the night changed even more drastically. The mob came towards Jesus, with cubs and swords. Judas was with them. Judas kissed their master’s cheek, just like before, but this time was different. Peter the one who boldly told Jesus he would die following Christ lunged forward and cut off one of the servant’s ears. His instinct was to do all that he could to save his master. His short sleep gave him this bold confidence once more. As they lead Jesus away like a criminal, his disciples do exactly what Jesus had told them hours before, they flee.
I. Denial 1
Except for Peter. Peter stays at a distance, but he still follows Jesus. He makes it as far as the courtyard. I’m sure many things were going through his head that night. Let’s face it had been a very busy 24 hours. Jesus had called him one ordinary day and they were trying to catch fish. His life had never been the same. He could not return to fishing, because he had said that Jesus had the words of life. But his master, Jesus was now in the hands of sinners. Peter was close but not that close to where Jesus was. Again, this night that was like no other, Peter stood around wondering what would happen to his master. And as he stood there he began to shiver and shake; it was cold that night. So, Peter stood with the guards around the charcoal fire, warming himself. It is hard to know what was going on in Peter’s mind that cold night as the embers of the fire flickered in the darkness. Did he try and hid his face so the darkness would cover it? Was he thinking about the false accusations of what was happening in the trial with Jesus close by? Did he think of Judas and how he betrayed Jesus? Was he thinking of his brother Andrew and wondered if he got away safely from the mob. Was he thinking of himself and the words that Jesus had said to him, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Whatever he was thinking he was not thinking that it would be the voice of a small girl who would make him shake even more. As he stood by the fire, this girl comes up to him and says, “You were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” I am sure at this moment a million things went through Peter’s mind. He had seen what they did to Jesus, and Jesus had done nothing wrong. He finally had his answer, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” The truth is he knew exactly what she meant. Mark tells us that he moved from the courtyard to the gateway. Mark is showing us Peter’s distance from Christ. Remember the image of the disciple is close to Christ (Mark 3:31-35). Peter is moving away from Jesus. Mark does not only tell us that Peter is moving away, but Mark also tells us of a sound that occurred in the background. The echo of a rooster crowing, I am sure faintly in the background. Peter was more worried about getting out of the courtyard rather than listening to the sound of a rooster crowing.
II. Denial 2
Peter is in a new location but then he gets recognized again. The servant girl began to point him out to bystanders. We must remember these bystanders were the ones who came to arrest Jesus, they were the guards. One of which could have been the guard that Peter cut off his ear. The servant girl more emphatically says, “this man is one of them.” This is a bolder assertion than the first, not only does she explains that he was with Jesus, but that he was one of them, the twelve disciples. We know this to be true, he is one of the disciples he is one of the three that went up to the top of the mount of transfiguration and saw Jesus transfigured. And yet at this moment, he is the one who denies this claim. The one who ardently proclaimed maybe about 12 or so hours ago, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” However, in affirming the servant girls claim it is not guaranteed that he would die. We see a reality here that does not stop throughout the rest of the age. Even a profession of being Jesus’ disciple is a dangerous profession. We do not know what the people around would have done, however, we must assume Peter thought it would lead to his arrest if not death.
III. Denial 3
The time passed, (Luke explains about an hour (Luke 22:59)), the sun started to rise on the horizon, and the colors of the sky began to change to red and orange. The bystanders continued to press Peter. The girl had raised their attention, but his answers were not sufficient for them. I am not sure how they were able to tell he was a Galilean; dress, facial features, or accent. However, they all begin to ask him, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” Now we have here in the passage an interesting word, ‘again.’ Previously the servant girl asked the questions, with the bystanders passive in the question asking, but here the bystanders are asking the question, and Mark says ‘again.’ This could mean the question is being asked again, or that they have been interrogating Peter with more questions than we have recorded, quite possibly how they knew he was from Galilee. But Peter for the third time denied it. This time more than the last two. We are told in verse 71 that Peter, “began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear.” The Greek is simply, “He began to curse and swear.” Either way, Peter is swearing by himself or in God’s name (which would be worse). Mark points out that not only Peter denied being a disciple of Jesus, but he also went to great lengths of this denial. To swear upon oneself was no small feat in this culture. We often will make foolish claims or statements (I’ll eat my hat), and not follow through. However, during this time oaths and vows were taken very seriously. Many loopholes were found in how to avoid fulfilling oaths and vows however, they were not as flippantly used as we might do so today. Peter has gone from expressing that he does not know or understand their claim to denying the claim boldly and vigorously.
Now before we move on, we must think of this situation. We can arrogantly read the bible, and what I mean by that is that we are quick to point out the faults and flaws of others. The truth is when we read the story of Daniel, or his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We think of course we would be like them. However, think that out of all the Israelites that were sent into exile we only have these four men who do not serve the gods that King Nebuchadnezzar made. Now they did serve as officials so the number might be greater, however, you cannot think that many others did serve the gods that were set up. We can read of the great heroes of the Bible, but we need to point out how few and far between they are. Out of all the Israelites in the army of Saul, it is only David who said he would go and fight Goliath. Here even in Peter’s failure, he was at least in the courtyard and the gateway, compared to the other disciples. But also, if we are honest, we have never been put in a place where our lives would be put in danger for saying we are a disciple of Christ. I would love to believe that I would not deny Christ, and pray if it were ever to happen, I would die with Christ on my lips. I pray I would stand boldly professing my savior who died for me.
However, I might be like Peter who in 12 hours goes from making such a bold claim to denying him. But even if we remove death from the equation. We often will deny Christ or falter, just a little. How far would we be willing to take our beliefs? I often think that we would prefer to be martyred than isolated. We would rather take one big heroic action than small important decisions. The truth is we don’t know how big that action was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All they were asked to do was to fall and worship this golden image. I am sure many Israelites explained in their minds that they would just fall and pretend to worship. No one needs to know. Others explained in their minds it is not a big deal, just every so often. Others explained it was better for their families to do this so they could keep their job, have ties to the Babylonian parents’ association, or have their children selected for the Babylonian Soccer team. And so many reasons can go through our minds to not deny Christ completely but to let our profession not be as strong. We can read of these stories and become arrogant thinking this would never happen to us, but the truth is it happens all the time, I would say daily. We make promises we do not keep. We wander far from Christ. We fail in the hour of testing. We do not follow Christ perfectly. We deny being a disciple either without words or our actions. We should be very cautious to think we are the heroes in the Bible, often we are the failures.
IV. Second Crow
Then as the new day was about to begin, the rooster, right on cue. Crowed another time. Mark explains immediately. This time it was not unnoticed. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him. Luke explains that Jesus looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). A somber moment, where all of Peter’s arrogance was stripped away. His shoulders which once stood tall were sunken over. Just as he had boldly said to Jesus, you are the Christ. Then moments later Jesus rebuked him. Not this feeling is back once more. I will never deny you, now after the rooster finished crowing, he had done so three times. So much that he broke down and wept. Peter places his hands on his face and begins to weep. This word is used twice before in the gospel of Mark, of those who were weeping over the death of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:38-39). Peter once proud is now humbled. Brought to his knees. At this moment the story of Peter is put on hold. Peter the most often mentioned disciple is silent and absent in the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Peter who is mentioned by name eight times in chapter 14 is not mentioned at all in chapter 15.
However, unlike Judas who is last mentioned in chapter 14 and then with no other mention from Mark. Peter is mentioned again. In Mark 16:7, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” The women, the two Marys, and Salome at the tomb are told that Jesus is not there. They were told to go and tell the disciples, specifically Peter that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. We know one of these appearances, the third one, well. Simon Peter tells the disciples that he is going fishing. He had seen the empty tomb, and Jesus had appeared to him. But as he was fishing this day at the sea of Tiberias. As they hear a voice from the shore that cries out, “Children, have you caught any fish?” John leans in and tells Peter it is the Lord. Peter jumps out of the boat and runs to Jesus. After they eat breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me? Three times Peter denied Jesus and now three times Jesus asks him do you love me? Each time I am sure brought up that morning when he heard that rooster crow. I love that the bible does not stop when someone fails, falls, or falters. You would say that’s when the gospel is brightest when their lives are darkest. Discipleship is never about perfection, but perseverance. The story of Peter is great hope for us. Because you could say this morning was one of the worst in his life. Jesus explained what discipleship was in Mark 8:38, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Peter did the opposite. He swore by himself, he left the cross and ran from Jesus. Yet, the story is not based on us. Chapter 15 is about Jesus, not Peter. In the end, it is not if we say if we know Christ, but if he says he knows us. Matthew explains that many will come in that day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (Matt 7:22). However, it is not based on if we say we know Christ, it is if Christ knows us. That Peter is no less saved on this morning because of his actions, although important to profess Christ publicly. It is Christ’s relationship to Peter, not the other way around. If salvation was up to us, we would lose it. Peter years later would write a letter, which we call first Peter, in this letter begins after the introduction with these great words,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Peter understood this great mercy. He understood this great mercy that from the start when Jesus called him throughout his life he would continue to say, I am a sinful man, but because of God’s great mercy, I have been born again to a living hope. I have an imperishable inheritance that is undefiled and unfading. Not because of me or anything I have done, but according to God’s abundant mercy. I pray that this would be our living hope, not that we never fail, or never deny Christ. But that we would know that as the sun rises, we know there are new mercies for that new day. That we would know of God’s great mercy towards us.