Saturday 27 January 2018

Unbreakable (Mark 14:66-72)

Pineapple on pizza. There are just some things you do not do in life. Some rules you do not break like putting pineapple on pizza. (I happen to like pineapple on pizza but rules are rules.) Or like the time my canteen at work was serving spaghetti for lunch except it was spaghetti with chicken. One of my very Italian, very food-passionate colleagues looked at that and said, “There are some things you do not do in life.” “You do not kill people. You do not rob people.” “And,” he said, “you do not put spaghetti with chicken.”

What is the one thing you do not do as a Christian, the one rule you do not break as a Christian? If you are Peter, that one thing is to deny Christ. It’s to disown Christ. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Mark Chapter 14, verse 31. Like that Bryan Adams song, “Walk the wire for you, yeah, I’d die for yooooou!” Peter’s one thing was to stand by his Christ at the cost of his life. Peter would never deny Jesus Christ.

Except he does it three times. Three times in one night. And here’s the thing. He doesn’t realise he’s done it until he’s done it. Until the cock crows and he remembers what Jesus said, “You will disown me three times.”

What do we learn from this story? Aside from empathising with Peter or feeling guilty about all the times we’ve let our friends down; the moments we’ve let God down, you know, to make us feel bad. Is that the point of this story? Not quite. It’s to see Jesus. He is the one under trial. He is the one under pressure to deny himself. But we miss it because we think, “He is God.” But Peter reminds us we each have our breaking points. You and I, with the right pressure, with the right temptation will do the one thing we never thought we would ever do. But not Jesus. He is faithful. He is constant to the very end.

Three points from today’s passage. The girl. The girl. And the guys. Three pressure points we see in here  Mark Chapter 14: The girl, the girl (again) and the guys.

1. The girl

So, first, we see the girl. This is verse 66.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entrance.
Mark 14:66-68

The point of the, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” is that it’s a formal legal statement. You say something like this before a judge when you’re giving a statement. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.” And it emphasizes how Peter is under trial, under questioning just like Jesus. He is being tested.

But it’s by a girl. A servant girl. I don’t mean to be offensive. It could be that this servant girl, as she is described in verse 66, is quite muscular and intimidating and scary and has lots of scary tattoos. It doesn’t say. But you get what I mean: It’s not like Jesus with the priests, elders and guards. “Blasphemy!” goes the high priest and they all condemn him to death and the guards beat him up. No, Peter is worried about a girl who says, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” but to Peter, this girl was his judge. This servant girl of the high priest was to Peter the high priest. Hence, “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.” It’s a formal legal denial as if he’s been questioned by the high priest himself - a denial that he knows Jesus or has anything to do with Jesus Christ. And notice, right after he says this, he leaves. He walks out into the entrance. Why? To get as far away as he can from this scary servant girl!

2. The girl

But, verse 69, we meet this girl again. He doesn’t get away!

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
Mark 14:69-70

This time there are witnesses - she talks to the people standing around. This time she exposes him as he is trying to run, to hide, to get away from this servant girl but she follows him to the entrance and she says, “This fellow is one of them.” She didn’t have to say “Jesus” or “disciple”. One of them means not one of us. One of them means it’s obvious. You take one look at this guy and you know this guy is different from us. One of them means this guy is trying to act as if he is one of us but come on! He’s not. He’s hiding. He’s running away (from this servant girl).

“Again he denied it.” We talked about Peter’s fear but here it’s really about his shame. Back in verse 54, we read, “Peter followed him (meaning, Jesus) at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.” It’s Peter, then Jesus, then Peter again, like a sandwich (I really want to find an alternative term for this, “hambaobao”, maybe, where we see Mark splitting up the story about Peter with the main plot about Jesus in the middle of the “hambaobao” with the two slices of the Peter “mantou” story at the beginning and at the end). And we see back in verse 54, Peter trying to blend in. He’s still following Jesus but each time Peter is moving further and further behind, keeping his distance from Jesus. I mean, he’s hanging out with the guards, warming himself by the fire with the guards, of all people.

But the servant girl exposes Peter in front of all these witnesses, “This guy isn’t one of you. He is one of them.” No, I’m just like you, nothing to do with those guys. Nothing to do with Jesus.

That’s sad. When even the world condemns you for being a hypocrite. When even the world condemns you for being worldly. That’s sad because Peter still has no idea what’s going on. To him, he is following Jesus. To him, he is keeping his head low. God understands. No, God is using this servant girl to expose, to bring out what’s going on inside his heart. He is afraid and he is ashamed. Of being with Jesus. Of being one of them. That’s sad.

3. The guys

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

Immediately the cock crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him, “Before the cock crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:70-72

Maybe it was his accent. Maybe he was wearing a t-shirt with “Galilee rules,” printed on the front and “Jerusalem sucks,” printed on the back. But soon, the guys standing around Peter go, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But whatever it was, this was final straw for Peter. It was do or die, and remembering that this was ancient Israel on the night of the Passover, the holiest night of the year, Peter decides to call down curses on himself. That means to use God’s name in vain, to break a commandment and that’s a big deal for a pious Jew, to say stuff like, “May God do this and that to me if I am not telling the truth,” that kind of thing. “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” To use God’s name essentially to lie.

Just at that moment. “Immediately,” verse 72 says, “the cock crowed the second time.” Like a wake-up call. “Cock-a-doodle-dooooo!!!!!!” Peter realises what he’s done, the one thing he swore he would never, ever do: Deny Christ. And he’s done this three times.

And that’s the thing isn’t it? Jesus knew him better than he knew himself. Peter was Bryan Adams. He was going to die for Jesus, walk the wire for Jesus. No, it was Jesus who was going to have to die for Peter because Peter’s denial was deserving of death. To deny Christ. To be ashamed of Christ. To call down curses on yourself rather than acknowledge Christ. Even though the guards beat Jesus, the high priest condemned Jesus to death, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss no less and Peter did none of that. And yet, like the high priest, like the guards and in a way, even like Judas, Peter was denying that Jesus really was who he said he was. God’s own Son. God’s own King. God’s chosen Saviour. In front of these guys, these strangers, Peter cursed himself. Meaning, to put it bluntly, he would rather be damned than confess Jesus as the Christ. A slip of the tongue? The pressure of the moment? No, Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself and Peter remembered the word Jesus had given to him, “Before the cock crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

But that’s encouraging because, you see, the last word from Peter is not his denial. It’s his repentance. He broke down or you could say he reached his breaking point. To reach breaking point is not necessarily to be pressured until you break, until you commit some gross sin. It’s to be humbled to the point that you realise you are a sinner and you need a Saviour. To reach breaking point is to know the Christ knows you better than you know yourself, that he has to die in your place, he has to take your punishment of your behalf on the cross. He has to do this. That everything he went through, he did that because you can’t.

And that’s a good thing. In the end, it wasn’t the fact the Peter sinned that woke him up from his self-delusion (“I’ll die before I deny you”), it was the fulfilment of Jesus’ word (“You will all fall away”, verse 27. “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”). It was the fulfilment of Jesus’ mission to be betrayed, to be handed over, to die and to rise again.

I’ve been reading “The Hiding Place” about Corrie ten Boom sent to prison for hiding her Jewish friends during World War II. Every day was breaking point for her - to keep trusting in God, to forgive the men who killed her father, to hide copies of the bible to give away in prison. Who does that? I read that and go, “No way I would last. No way I wouldn’t break.” But you see, the point is not to wait until a war breaks out and you’re thrown in prison or to wait for someone to hold a gun to your head and say, “Do you believe in Christ?” Rather, like Peter, it’s realising that God’s word already tells me today, right now, that I need Christ to be faithful to Christ; I will not last a single moment without Christ - that my heart is blind to my constant denial of Christ, of my own self-delusion because of my self-righteousness unless I confess my sinfulness and my brokenness before Christ.

And really the question left for us is simply this: Have you reached breaking point before Christ? Or are you still in your own eyes unbreakable? As I hear testimonies from new converts, it is common to hear testimonies of how good God is, how awesome his love, how amazing his grace and these are good things to hear. But friends, and I say this to you specially if you are from an Asian background, it is good to confess our brokenness and need for forgiveness from God that comes from the cross of Christ - as unChinese as that might be to do such a thing in front of our friends. That breaking point is true conversion. That breaking point is true repentance. To confess that I am a great sinner but Christ is a great and faithful Saviour.

And so Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
Hebrews 13:12-13