Grace in an Awkward Situation

November 8, 2015

Grace in
an Awkward Situation

I
knew something changed between us, all the talk we made was small, but what do
you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it all.  It’s an awkward conversation in a most
peculiar way.  How did we get from saying
I love you to I’ll see you around some day?

I
remember when I first heard that song when Great Big Sea released it late in
the last century.  I thought, Peter must
have felt like that.  What a day he
had.  I’m sure that he could identify
with our friend Murphy.   He argued with
the other disciples over who would be greatest, wouldn’t let Christ wash his
feet and boasted that he would die for Christ. 
In Gethsemane he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying then he
freaked out in the garden with a sword and cut a dude’s ear off, and then
vehemently denied Christ, not once not twice but three times.  Ever have one of those days? Hey stuff
happens. Does it ever.  

But who
would have thought Peter?  He was the
leader of the apostles, one of Christ’s closest friends, do you remember the
old hymn that said “He walks with me and he talks with me”?  Peter could have written that. Like how much
more spiritual can you get.  But so often
that is the very type of person who is subject to Satan’s greatest attack.  The person in the highest position is the one
with the farthest to fall. 

But who
was Peter?  Well his birth name was Simon
and he was the son of Jonas, he was the first apostle, brought to Christ by his
brother Andrew, and was renamed Peter by Jesus. 
He was part of the inner circle with John and James the “Son’s of Thunder”.
It was John and Peter who went ahead to arrange the upper room for the last
supper.  It was Peter who walked on the
water, a man wholly devoted to Christ and yet he was still just a man. 

It was Peter who said, “We know you are the Holy One of God.” And “you are the messiah sent from God.”

And when Jesus told the 12 that they would
all desert him in His hour of need it was Peter who said  Mark 14:29  Peter
said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

The
phrase that is translated  deserts you is actually one word in the Greek and
that is σκανδαλίζω  skandalizō  (scan da lid zo), it’s where we
get our word scandalize, and it means to trip up, stumble, entice to sin or to
offend.  And so Peter is saying, “Jesus I would never sin against you.” 

Let’s
remember that whenever we use the word never we’d better watch out, it’s an
awfully big word, and an awfully long time. About the time we use that word
Satan pulls out all the stops.   “I don’t
know how they could do that; I would never commit adultery.”  “I would never cuss” “I would never lose my
temper like that.”  

Never is
a long time.  The very word stumble is
indicative of the kind of mistake it is. 
This isn’t “Well I think I’ll go out and murder 17 people today.”  This is a slip of the tongue that hurts a
fellow Christian, this is a flash of anger, and this is a careless thought or
action. 

The
second part of Peter’s boast comes two verses later in Mark 14:31  “No!”
Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny
you!”

How often
have we heard such a boast, for that matter how often have we made such a boast?  “O Lord I would never do anything to bring
reproach on your name, even if I have to die for you.”  I’m sure that Christ would concur, the
problem isn’t getting people to die for you, it’s getting people to live for
you.

This is
week five our moments of Grace series, and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in
an unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and last week we
saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table and he invited his 12 closest
friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who
were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him. 

And we
referenced this story last week, that even though Jesus knew that Peter would
deny him before the night was over, he still extended his grace to him at the
Last Supper. 

Now let’s
recognize that Peter didn’t plunge from saint to sinner overnight. How often we
think that Peter got up and said, “Well this is the day.”  It may appear that way but if the truth was
known it just don’t happen that way. 
Usually a lot happens before the actual fall takes place.  Satan knows that, he doesn’t open up with the
heavy stuff right off, he gradually wears down the defenses and then zap he’s
done it to you again. 

They tell
us, although I don’t know from actual experience, that if you put a frog in a
cool pot of water and slowly bring it to a boil that said frog will stay in the
pot until it is cooked, because the gradual rise in temperature doesn’t give
him adequate warning about the danger, but if you were to toss the same frog in
a boiling kettle there would be all kinds of activity as he tried to get
out. 

Now I
want to know how did they find this out, and what other critters did they use
first?  A cat?  A dog? 
You never hear about the horse in the kettle theory do you?

Friends, Peter
was walking a well-trod path.  A path
that others had walked before him and that plenty have walked since.

If we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, after
the Last Supper and before the arrest of Jesus we hear him tell his apostles:
Mark 14:38
 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to
temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

And then
in Mark 14:39-40  Then
Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before.  When he
returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their
eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

The first
downward step for Peter was when He
Stopped Praying
. Christ has gone to the garden to await the troops that
Judas was bringing.  And Jesus gathers
the inner circle to him, John, James and Peter and in verse 40 he asks them to
watch and pray.   

Now the
one essential ingredient in any relationship is communication.  You cannot sustain a relationship without
talking. In work, sports, love, and God the common denominator for success is
communication.  Nowhere in the bible are
we commanded to preach always, or sing always, or teach always.  But we are told in Luke 18:1
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray
and never give up.

And Paul
commands us in 1
Thessalonians 5:17
Never stop praying. 

The first
downward step for Peter was when his prayer life went on the skids.  The best relationship in the world cannot
stand up to silence. 

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote  “Prayer does not
mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and
to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.”

When we
stop talking to God we lose the strength that he offers.  I realize that some people think that their
prayers have to be in King James English with all the thees and thous in the
right places.  And that is perfectly
alright if that is what you are comfortable with. 

Other
folks just can’t get into that, like they don’t talk to others like that, how
many people come up to me following the service and say, “thou hast preached a
fine message my sovereign preacher, I shalst endeavour to followest thy words
in my daily endeavors.”  Wow wouldn’t
that freak me out.   Bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter
how you talk to God, as long as you talk to him. 

Mark 14:53-54  They took Jesus to the high
priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of
religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance
and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards,
warming himself by the fire.

That second
sentence in that passage is the second step in Peter’s downward trek. The
scriptures tell us that Peter followed at a distance.  He
Stopped Following. 
I mean sure he
followed, where were the other eleven? 
But he followed at a distance, not up close where you’d expect to see
the leader of the twelve. After all he was Christ’s friend and companion for
three years.  Like he wasn’t just an
acquaintance.  I can just hear Peter now,
“don’t worry Jesus I’m behind you, way behind you.”   Love made Peter ashamed to run, fear made
him ashamed to get too close.  The
disciples chose the left side of the road and ran; Jesus chose the right side
of the road and obeyed.  But Peter chose
the middle of the road; you know where you find yellow stripes and dead skunks.

Once you
stop communicating with someone, then you no longer know where they are and
where they are going.  And it isn’t long
before your paths usually diverge.  In
1982 twenty-eight of us from bible college in New Brunswick headed for the
world headquarters of the Wesleyan church which was located in Marion Indiana
at the time (kind of like going to Mecca), something like a thirty-hour
trip. 

The
problem was that we were driving six cars and only the driver of the lead car
knew how to get to Marion.  Along the way we somehow managed to lose the
last car and as he was struggling to keep up, he was pulled over by a Vermont state trooper
for exceeding the speed limit by a mere 48 kmh. 
When he explained the State Trooper told him that it didn’t matter how
fast he drove he wouldn’t catch up, how come? Because he had missed the right
exit about thirty miles back.  It doesn’t
matter how fast you’re going if’n you’re going in the wrong direction. 

It doesn’t
take long for you to start following Christ from a distance once you have
stopped talking to him on a regular basis. 

Peter’s third step downward is at the end
of the passage we read a couple of minutes ago Mark
14:53-54
 They took
Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the
teachers of religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at
a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with
the guards, warming himself by the fire.

Seriously Peter, you are
sitting with the guards?   These weren’t
guards from an armoured truck, or guards from the local prison, these were temple police, the very ones who arrested Christ, these are those
who eventually and ultimately were responsible for the crucifixion. 

The path away from Christ eventually leads
into the path of the ungodly. He Stopped
Fellowshipping  
Fellowshipping is
just a churchy word for hanging out with God’s people.  Peter would have been better off hiding in
the shadows with the disciples or standing in the courtyard with his master but
instead he was warming his hands over the devil’s fire. 

And David
told us a long time ago in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of
those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

The
converse of that is also true, the man who does follow the advice of the
wicked, and stands around with sinners and joins in with mockers, is not
blessed and that is right where our old buddy Peter found himself.  Now that does not mean that we isolate
ourselves.  Christ never intended us to
live in monasteries.  Remember one of the
chief complaints against him is that he was a friend of sinners.  But they weren’t his primary social contact,
most of the time he was in the company of his disciples. 

And
remember that Christ was intent on winning those sinners into the kingdom and
not simply having a good time with them. 
Church is for fellowship as well as for worship.  When we go into the New Testament we discover
that the entire lives of the early believers were interwoven with the
church. 

And that’s
why we have coffee after the service, and why we have the Great I Hate Winter
Beach Party, and weekly Life Groups and why the ladies are planning a Christmas
event next month, it’s so we can sit around and talk to people who aren’t using
the Lord’s name in vain and cussing and telling smutty stories.  Because like it or not you are different then
the world. Or at least you are supposed to be. 

The bible reminds us in Hebrews 10:25  And
let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one
another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Church isn’t just some place you go, it is
something you do. 

And then
you know the rest of the story, if you don’t Peter goes on to do exactly what
Jesus said he would do, he denies Christ, not once, not twice but three times.

When
Peter assured Jesus that he would never deny him I’m sure he was sincere.  But it kind of comes back to Yogi Berra’s words.  “In theory there
is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”  In theory Peter was convinced
that he would never deny Jesus, but in practice. . .

Peter’s
first two denials were simple, when people commented that Peter looked like one
of Jesus’s disciples, and he said “ Not sure what you are talking about, but
you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

But
listen to what happens when he’s given one more opportunity

Mark 14:71-72  Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man
you’re talking about!”  And immediately the rooster crowed the second
time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times
that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.

And that should have been the end of the
story.  Peter had done exactly what Jesus
said he would do and exactly what Peter said he wouldn’t do.  This wasn’t like Peter hadn’t been warned, he
just didn’t pay attention. 

Now remember that justice is getting what
you deserve.  So what did Peter
deserve?  Good question and a question
that Peter knew the answer to, because it was spelled out earlier in the story. 

Back in
the book of Matthew Jesus has appointed the 12 and is preparing to send them
out.  After Matthew lists the
12 by name, a list that includes Peter, we read Matthew 10:5  Jesus sent out the
twelve apostles with these instructions: And then Jesus tells them a whole bunch of
things that he expects of them.  And part
of that list is recorded in  Matthew 10:32-33  “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will
also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny
before my Father in heaven.”

Sounds
simple enough, acknowledge me
publicly here on earth, I will acknowledge you in heaven.  Deny me here on earth, I will also deny you
in heaven.”   

I wonder
when the rooster crowed and Peter wept if he wept because of his actions, was
he weeping because he had denied Christ, or did he weep because he suddenly
realized the consequences of his behaviour. 
That justice dictated that just as he had denied Jesus that Jesus could
justly deny him.

Luke’s account contains a
detail that is missing from Mark’s account. 
We read in Luke
22:60-61
 But Peter said,
“Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was
still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter
remembered that the Lord had said, “Before the
rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know
me.”

Wow, talk
about an awkward situation.  What do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it
all. 

But that
isn’t what happened.  Maybe you know the
rest of the story, maybe you don’t.  That
day ends with Jesus being crucified.  And
we are told that he was buried in a borrowed tomb and that the eleven remaining
disciples went back to the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover
feast less than 24 hours before. 

And we
don’t know what happened there as they grieved the loss of their friend.  I would suspect that there was guilt, that
there were recriminations, that the words “if only” were spoken more than a few
times. 

But we do
know that on the third day that things changed. 
Because on the third day when Mary Magdalene and her friends went to the
tomb to finish preparing the body of Jesus they found the tomb empty, guarded
by an angel.   And listen to what the angel told the women
that day Mark 16:6-7  The angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for
Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!
Look, this is where they laid his body.  Now go and tell his disciples,
including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him
there, just as he told you before he died.”

Did you
catch that?  Not just his disciples, but
make sure you tell Peter. 

If you
know the story it wasn’t long after the resurrection that Jesus met Peter on
the beach at the sea of Galilee, back where it had all begun three years
earlier.  And three times, the same
number of times that Peter denied Jesus, Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?”

If you go
back to the song that the team sang for us earlier, the question asked was: “But what do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say
it all?”  Apparently the answer,
at least in this case is “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Remember
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. 
And that is exactly what Peter got, what he didn’t deserve.  Christ forgave him for his past and entrusted
him with his future.  Peter would go on
to become the leader of the New Testament Church.  Many years later Peter would write to the
early church, he began by telling them in 1 Peter
1:2
 . . . May God give
you more and more grace and peace.  And
he finished his letter with these words.  
1 Peter 5:12  My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure
you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand
firm in this grace.

And so in
conclusion, my prayer for you today is: May God give you more and more
grace and peace. 

And my purpose for preaching this message today is to
encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of
God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.