For the longest time, I was a huge professional wrestling fan. Every Saturday morning, and eventually Monday nights, I would turn on the television and watch the action regardless if it was from the WWF or WCW.
I was into it, too. I had my favorite wrestlers, such as Hulk Hogan and the Road Warriors, and I could quote their favorite lines as well as I could say my own name. Even more, I could hum the theme songs for my favorite wrestlers. It is also possible I might have been known to use certain songs for workout music from time to time.
I’m not completely sure if watching professional wrestling is what led me to wrestle in school. I do remember, however, that one of our coaches had to remind us that we could not use things like steel chairs, illegal moves, or have our own theme song in matches.
The fact I watched a lot of professional wrestling is not something that I like to point out to many people. You have to really know me before I let you know that little piece of myself. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to admit to being a professional wrestling fan.
To be honest, we all have things we are not comfortable admitting. These are things we are shy to admit or discuss. We do not mention these things for fear we might be embarrassed or not exactly sure what to say. It could be a style of music we like, maybe a favorite movie, a book we have read, or something else about us we are uncomfortable admitting.
I say all of this because I believe our fear of being judged by others because of the things that are personal to us helps us to connect to this familiar story from Mark 14:66-72. This morning, we’ve moved out of the Garden of Gethsemane and into the area surrounding the high priest’s home. It is here where the religious leaders have imprisoned Jesus and where a crowd had gathered knowing that something of importance was taking place. In that place, Peter, one of Jesus’ key disciples, denies Jesus three times.
Placed between the two trial narratives, Peter is described as having arrived at the high priest’s home to catch a glimpse of what is going on. As he is there, Peter is recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples by the gathered crowd. They approached him, yet Peter denied his knowledge and association with Jesus. Three times he did this. Three times Peter had the opportunity to claim his faith in Jesus, yet he chose a different path. Peter’s actions, as difficult as they may be to read given his importance among the disciples, is important to think through today. The reason is that Peter’s denials highlight our own struggle with making our faith in Jesus known to others.
To appreciate what takes place in the high priest’s courtyard we need to go back a few verses and see how we arrived at this moment. As the disciples are walking with Jesus to Mount Olives after the Last Supper, in Mark 14:27-31, Jesus announces that the disciples would leave him. Peter responds by saying to Jesus that he would never leave him. Jesus says that not only would Peter leave him, but he would also deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice. Basically, Jesus tells him that he would deny him three times before sunrise that very day. Peter’s response is important. He says he would die before denying Jesus.
Peter’s words are bold, but that is Peter. He was always the first disciple to say what he thought, especially when it comes to Jesus. In that moment, it was not Peter’s intent to deny Jesus. With his words, Peter says he going to go wherever Jesus was going to go and stay with him regardless. His personal faith was such that Peter felt he would always be there with Jesus.
We can relate to this. If only our words were the only measure of our faith then we would never have to think about how stories like Peter’s denial of Christ relates to us. We would never have our own stories that are quite similar to that of Peter’s in our passage today. That is because our words often indicate our desire to never deny Jesus and to walk closely with Jesus in all situations and moments.
Often though, when we are challenged or pressed by others to make public our faith in Jesus our actions sometimes do not match our words. That is what happens to Peter in this moment. His words of devotion once challenged by this crowd become disconnected by his actions.
Three times Peter was challenged by the crowd about his relationship with and faith in Jesus. The first time comes when one of the high priest’s servants challenges Peter by saying he was among those with Jesus. He denies it. Peter says he doesn’t know what she was talking about. She’s not convinced. She goes and talks with others saying he was certainly one of them, which meant one of Jesus’ disciples. He denies it a second time. The bystanders are not convinced. They go up to Peter and say he has to be one of them because he is a Galilean, which meant he came from the area where Jesus did the majority of his ministry. He denies it now a third time. This time, though, it is followed by a second rooster crow. It brings to mind Jesus’ words to Peter and he leaves in tears recognizing what he had done.
Under pressure and fearful of his own life, Peter makes the choice to deny Jesus. Peter had no idea what would happen if he told the crowd that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Would he be accepted? Would he be arrested? Would he be killed? Peter chose the option of self-protection and denied what was true about himself. Though Peter was overwhelmed by the situation it does not excuse his actions. It just helps us to understand them.
It also helps to understand our moments when we are pressed to make public our faith in Christ and we decide not to. Our actions often tell the story of our faith in Christ. Like Peter, sometimes we are uncomfortable with announcing – through loving actions – what our faith means to us. We do this because we not sure how someone might respond, especially in a world that seems adversed to hearing anything about the love of Jesus Christ. Like Peter, to protect ourselves we will often hide our faith in public or not allow our faith on Sundays to define our lives the rest of the week. Like Peter, we might even be tempted to say things to soften our faith or image to others. When we hide our faith to others, like Peter, we deny the very essence of who we are.
That is why this story of Peter’s denial of Jesus is important for us. Each of us can relate to Peter and how he responded to the crowd. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had moments where we refused to acknowledge our faith or even hid it when asked about it by others.
Let’s be honest, the story of Peter’s denial is one that touches too close to home. I think that is why the Scripture writers included it in all four Gospels. It would have been easy for them to edit this story out, especially since it involved one of the earliest leaders of the church. Yet, they included it because it is not only a story about Peter, but a story us. Whether we are a leader in the church like Peter or just someone who is going to church for the first time, Peter’s story reminds us of how easy it is to deny Christ by our actions simply so we do not face the ridicule of others.
Peter’s story is also a story of hope. Not because of that the fact that we all struggle with this, but because of the redemption that comes to us all through the cross of Jesus Christ. While Mark leaves us wondering what happens to Peter, John tells us that Peter is given a chance to express his love of Christ through an encounter with the Resurrected Jesus. The story of Peter reminds us that while we may face times when it would be easy to deny Christ by our actions, the presence of our Lord gives us strength to act boldly and lovingly announce to others what is true about us. That is that we claim faith in the one who took on our actions upon the cross, so that we may announce to the entire world the freedom and love that comes through faith in Christ.
We do not have to hide or shrink from our faith. We can live in boldness and proclaim with love the fact that Christ died for us and lives in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Living this way and not running from the moments when are faith is challenged can make a big difference in our world and communities. Can you imagine the difference that would be made if we find daily ways of making public what is going on in the center of our lives? Publicly proclaiming our love of Christ doesn’t have to be through big measures. A simple act of love shown towards others, especially those who question who Jesus is, can express the mighty name of Christ in a world that would rather not hear of Jesus’ name.
See we can live with boldness and confidence and proclaim the name of Christ, because God is with us. When we are faced with those moments where people would judge our faith or witness, we can proclaim in love our faith in Jesus Christ because the grace of God goes with us. When we are faced with the temptation to abandon Jesus’ desires to protect ourselves, we can live with hope knowing that we are not alone in those moments.
In a few moments, we will leave this sanctuary and go out in our mission field to spread the love of Jesus Christ by our words, actions, and deeds. It will be difficult and challenges will come that will tempt us to hide the very essence of who we are. May we not shy away from our faith, but boldly claim the cross and our love of Jesus Christ in all situations and all moments.