Welcome to our teaching time for this week. My name is Dan Sadowski and I serve on the teaching team of this church.
We are continuing in our teaching series in the book of Matthew, entitled “An Invitation to the Kingdom”.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk away from your faith in God? What would it take to bring you to a place where you stop following Jesus and leave your faith community? What would that feel like?
In our Scripture passage this morning we are going to see how a prominent disciple of Jesus did just that and how Jesus responded.
This week we find ourselves in Matthew Chapter 26. As we begin the story Jesus and His disciples are gathered for their very last meal together. As we heard from Lalo last week, Jesus gives them the bread and the wine and asks them to remember Him in this way. Then He says this, beginning in verse 31:
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Let’s talk about Peter for a minute. When you think about Peter what do you think he looked like? I see a stocky, muscular, tanned guy. Rough hands from hauling nets. Smelling slightly of fish. A bit of a fierce expression. Peter, I am sure, was a man’s man. Fearless, accustomed to facing bad weather on the Sea of Galilee. He was not someone to be trifled with.
But was he ready? Was he ready for the test that Jesus said was coming? Peter certainly thought so. In his mind, he probably thought that this was going to be the beginning of the revolution. A revolution that would finally rid Israel of the hated Romans.
Surely, of all the disciples, Peter was ready for whatever circumstances were coming. This is the man who has been with Jesus from the beginning. He had even walked on water.
After this, Jesus leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane where an armed mob comes to arrest Jesus. During the confusion—if you remember—Peter draws his sword and cuts off someone’s ear. Here, Peter is true to his word. He is ready for the revolution to begin and he is not going down without a fight.
But rather than calling down legions of angels to rescue Him and the disciples, Jesus lets Himself be arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest where he is questioned. That must have been very confusing for Peter. Nevertheless, Peter does not give up. Even though all the other disciples have fled into the night – he somehow manages to work his way into the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house where he waits, warming himself by the fire.
We pick up the story again in verse 69:
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
What just happened there? A few hours ago Peter boldly declared that he would never disown Jesus. A little while later in the garden he drew his sword to protect Jesus. He was ready to go down swinging. This man was no coward. He was ready to lay down his life. But now, here he is, a few hours later, caving in before the pointed accusations of a humble servant girl.
How could Peter have failed so abruptly and so totally? Was he brash and overconfident? Yes.Was he bewildered by the seeming weakness of Jesus, who allowed Himself to be arrested and hauled off like a common criminal? Absolutely. Did he totally misunderstand what Jesus was really doing here on His way to the cross? Beyond question.
So, here is Peter, totally disoriented, trying to be anonymous. But his Galilean accent gives him away and his cover is blown. He is recognized as a follower of Jesus. It must have seemed like surreal, very bad dream. The embarrassment of being discovered and called out. At this moment he is a bundle of contradictions. All of this conspired to move Peter to a very dark place and, in a heartbeat, he denied that he had been with Jesus. And more, he forcibly denied that he even knew Him.
He hears the rooster crow and he is suddenly brought to reality and he realizes that he has just turned his back on everything that he has given his life to. He has left everything to follow Jesus. He has left his way of life as a fisherman. He has left his friends and family and the Sea of Galilee that He loved. But in return, he has seen the miracles, heard the teachings, and seen Jesus’ incredible love and compassion for people.
His hope, his life, and his entire purpose has been wrapped up in following this remarkable man. But it is all over now. Peter had tried so hard in his own way and it has all come to nothing. The Kingdom that Jesus constantly talked about will never come. Most of all, he has betrayed the very man who has called him and loved him and had been his friend. So he weeps bitter tears of disappointment and shame. Perhaps the first time he has ever cried in years.
That is the last that we hear from Peter in the book of Matthew. But fortunately that is not the end of Peter’s story. The Gospel writer John fills in some further details about the next important event in Peter’s life. It is found in John chapter 21. This takes place after Jesus has been crucified. Peter and some of the disciples have gone back north to Galilee to return to fishing. The great adventure was over. This was the only life that they knew.
One morning, they were out in the boat after fishing all night and coming into shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish over a fire on the beach. Peter finds himself once again gathered around a fire about to have a life changing conversation:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus asks Peter do you love me more than your identity as a fisherman? Do you love me more than these men that you are fishing with? Do you love me more than your old dreams of uprising and revolution? Twice more Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Jesus.
Jesus reaches out to the very man, the close friend and follower who denied Him. Removing his shame and restoring him to close relationship again. But there is something else that Jesus is doing here. Do you remember in Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter this: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”
Jesus tells Peter three times to feed His sheep—meaning the flock of God—setting the stage for the Day of Pentecost when Peter, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, would declare the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus is restoring Peter’s calling. He is giving Peter a new hope, a new passion, and new purpose, one that is rooted in the person of Jesus rather than in his own small and self-centred dreams.
I just love that about Jesus; how He pursued Peter and how He took the initiative with him, meeting Peter at his point of need and restoring him to wholeness again.
Let me circle back to the question that I asked you at the beginning of this teaching: do you think that you would come to a point in your life where you would deny that you were a follower of Jesus?
I suspect for most of us it is difficult to imagine a denial of everything that we believe in as abruptly as this example of Peter. But I wonder, do we passively allow ourselves to drift away from following Jesus to follow other things? In a series of micro-denials do we subtlety lose sight of our calling and purpose and gradually wander into apathy and distraction?
We believe in the idea of God but we live practically as if He doesn’t exist. Our prayers become cold without expectation that God is answering, our reading of the Scriptures becomes perfunctory and academic. For those of us who have once followed Jesus, what is the alternative? Peter went back to fishing. What is our option? Perhaps we can we find meaning and power in the current religion of self-actualization that is so pervasive on social media? The religion of aspirational humanism that puts ourselves at the centre of the universe; our goal in life is to find ourselves, express ourselves, optimize ourselves. It is the current bright and shiny thing that at first seems very attractive.
But then the rooster crows and we are snapped back into reality and we realize the empitness of humanism, Netflix, political activism or whatever else we chose to follow. We realize that these things are lifeless and they can never deal with our shame, they can never deal with our brokenness, nor can they provide purpose and power to an aimless life directed to satisfying our own impulses. So we weep, we have nowhere else to go. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and we can’t go back.
But there is hope for us! Did you know that the rooster was an important symbol in the early church representing the Christian faith? Many Christian graves and many early frescoes and paintings featured a rooster. To this day many churches in Europe and weathervanes around the world have roosters on them. It symbolizes the call of God to repentance. It represents God telling us to wake up, throw off our slumber, and receive the grace and mercy that Jesus is offering to us.
As Paul says in Romans, it is the mercy of God that calls us to repentance. It is the mercy of God that sends a rooster into our lives to show us our brokenness and how much we need Jesus.
Well, my church family, as you consider these things is there a rooster crowing in your life today? Are you suddenly aware that you have been drifting, your heart has grown cold, you like the idea of God but practically you live as if He doesn’t care or He doesn’t exist?
There is grace and mercy freely available for you today. Take some time right now to receive it.