March 23, 2014          John 18:12-27             Denial










(It’s March madness – this is one of the only ways I know how to relate!)

It’s like an episode of CSI or a cop show where the women and men in uniform are trying to get the story.  So they separate the suspects into 2 different interrogation rooms to see if they can get the real story, get one to break and rat the other out.


In one room, we have Jesus and in the other, Peter.

number-one-First, Peter is questioned by the gate keeper to the courtyard of the high priest, Caiaphas.  It’s a woman, a servant girl.

Let’s just pause there for a moment, shall we?  This isn’t a full body cavity search at the airport.  It’s a servant girl. It’s already after he’s been granted entrance into the courtyard.  As he’s coming through, she asks him, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”


noAnd Peter says, No, I am not.


You know how that can go, right?  Someone asks you something you’re not quite prepared for and the wrong answer slips out of your mouth.  You say no instead of the yes you thought surely would come out.  No, I wasn’t at that party, mom.  No, you didn’t see me with that person. No, I didn’t abandon my plan. No, I didn’t say that. No.



Next, Peter starts hanging out with the ones who arrested Jesus.  He joins them at the fire: the very same slaves and police who had shown up to arrest Jesus, who thumb.380de6e356224737c7705e3392f9dfb4.3f75e826ec5584c020dfa83c7bdf78afhe’d drawn a sword against.   The very ones who rounded everyone up from the garden and dragged them here to the courtyard.  And once again, Peter is asked as he warms himself by the fire, “hey, aren’t you one of his disciples?”  Sort of like, “didn’t you just slice off one of our friend’s ears?”  or “aren’t you the guy who caused a big scene back there?”



noAnd, again a second time, Peter says, “No, I am not.” A second denial.  A second lie.  And again, maybe he didn’t think about it all that much. It just slipped out. “Well, no that wasn’t me. You must have me confused with someone else.  There are a lot of Peters around, you know.”  or “No, that wasn’t me with sword, causing a scene.”


Wait. Have I told you where they all just came from?


Jesus betrayed

In the verses that just precede our story today, Jesus and his disciples are in the garden where Judas brought this group of police to arrest Jesus.  They showed up with the equivalent of pitchforks and torches.  This is where Judas gives up Jesus and Jesus tells the police to not arrest the disciples since he was the one they were looking for.

This is also the place where Peter, true to who he is, overreacts and slices off a slave’s ear, and gets reprimanded by Jesus.  You don’t think they’d remember that guy?  Ha.





The other thing I need to tell you about is about the fear.  Everyone is afraid.  Because the religious officials and the Roman authorities have been stirred up by what Jesus has been up to.  Many of the stories in John end with, “and then they conspired to arrest him.”  This fear is real because it’s only going to end up in imprisonment and death.  This isn’t the fear of a speeding ticket or a fine from the city government. This is the fear of public trial, humiliation and most certain death.  The fear is palpable. The fear pounds in their ears, pulses through their bodies.  It’s real.



(This delightful little treat, “The Last Supper Bar” comes with information about how each disciple died.  When they’re not sure, they aren’t sure exactly how, they do say “violently.”  Being a Christian is not for the weak-stomached.)

You see, this early Christian movement was threatening the social order, telling the sick and the destitute that they were worthy of being healed, listened to. That their whole lives mattered. It was a movement that said there was power in weakness.  It’s like telling all people they have a right to receive medical care when they are sick or get married to the one they love.

So, the fear was real. Yet Peter’s denial looks astonishing to us as people who know how this story goes, how it ends.  It looks obvious and like a blunder he could have easily avoided.  Because as North American Christians, this story doesn’t scare us the way it should.  Jesus is demonstrating power through his own self denial.  He knows his friends, those who have been with him through all of his teaching and miracles, he knows those are the guys who will betray him.  Deny him.  Leave him.

number3A third time, Peter is asked about his relationship with Jesus. A third time, someone has recognized him as one who was with Jesus.  This time, they remember his violence in the garden because the guy is related to the one whose ear Peter sliced off. He’s asked,  “weren’t you in the garden?”


We hold our breath.

Maybe we’re afraid for the first time.

Because, come on Peter.  This guy certainly knows you.  You can’t lie. Again.

And again, for that third fatal time, Peter says no.









The rooster crows.



Trace your hand – draw a rooster.





Where is the good news in this scripture? This is it folks.  This is the good news.  Because Jesus knows his followers – you and me – will deny him.  And yet, he points to us as his defense.  He counts on us to tell the story.  We deny Jesus.  We could come up with a breath-taking list of all the ways we deny Jesus.  Through ditching friends to not telling the whole truth to cheating and lying to those we love.

Jesus points to us who are always on the cusp of denial, betrayal, and abandonment:  “Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”

In the face of your denial, Jesus never denies you.  Never.  Not because you deserve to be denied or think you don’t deserve to be denied. Jesus doesn’t deny you.

We could take this image of rooster into our lives as one of condemnation.  We could visualize it each and every day when we know we have lied to or denied that we have a savior.  Instead, think of this rooster and it’s fatal crow as a trumpeted declaration of Jesus love for you.  Even though he knows we leave him and forget his story, he still points to us and says,  “Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 

This terrible crow of the rooster is not the end of Peter’s story but the beginning of it. It is the terrible crow of Peter’s death to himself – the death of his failure, the death of his denials, the death of all that he thought he knew.  But, as Jesus will show us, death isn’t the end.  This is not the end of Peter’s story.  It is the beginning of his new life of telling the story that Jesus knew he could tell. Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.