Deliverance Despite Denial

Gerard van Honthorst - The Denial of St Peter - WGA11661

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. It it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”- John 13:37-14:3

These moments in chapters 13-16 are some of the most intimate in all of Scripture. Jesus speaks to the eleven after Judas leaves, challenging and encouraging them for the time ahead with powerful, alarming, and simple truth. Here at the very beginning of His discourse, Jesus tells His disciples that He must leave them for a while and that they, His constant companions for the past three years, may not follow Him. He tells them that they will, though, eventually follow, but in the moment they must remain behind. We cannot imagine the sadness or insecurity the disciples must have felt. Though Jesus spoke to them in similar ways before, His speech now turned to the immediate. So Peter speaks up. In a moment of real sincerity and child-like inquisitiveness, Peter reveals His heartfelt faithfulness, begging Jesus, in a sense, to accompany Him. And yet Peter is denied and, what’s more, given the reality of the events that will unfold in the coming hours. Peter will forsake His Lord, and he will do it three times.

What darkness must have descended into the hearts of these eleven men! Jesus, their Lord and Master, must leave them and they cannot follow, and Peter, their spokesman and rock, will deny the very person that all of them had come to know and love. If Peter would deny Him, would not their thoughts have turned inward? If Peter denied Him, would they not deny Him as well?

And yet Jesus dispels the trouble and darkness that crept into His disciples’ hearts. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus claims faithfulness and steadfastness as God is faithful and steadfast. He claims certainty. He claims divinity. And can we not trust the words of the Divine, at whose word all the macrocosm and microcosm find their very existence and sustenance? And this Divine, this Jesus, tells His disciples that He will return for them, even in the face of their troubled faithlessness and fear.

We cannot compare ourselves directly to Peter, but do we not all deny him despite our sincerity? We are all right and eager to proclaim and own Him in the beauty of the good times. We own and claim Him in the sanctuary and before our fellow brothers and sisters. We own Him at conferences and at youth group. But do we not all, like Peter, deny Him when things become inconvenient, when times get hard? I do. Do we not deny Him when we choose idolatry over proper worship, choose to find our worth in man’s opinion of us and not God’s? I do. Do we not deny Him in our secular environments, when to proclaim His glories would bring the penetrating and judgmental glare of those we esteem? I do. Do we not deny Him on our computers and on our television sets? Do we not deny Him when it becomes inconvenient to attend worship because a favorite sporting event may be occurring at the same moment? It is true. We are all Peters. Our passion and our sincerity are real, but our faithfulness is not. Sincerity and passion are simply not enough in the face of sin and oppression.

And yet we should be strengthened. We should be encouraged because our denial does not undo His deliverance. Our failures do not hinder His victory. Our faithlessness does not impede His faithfulness. This is one of the glorious truths of John 13 and 14 and really of the entire Bible! God loves, accepts, and is faithful to those who do not always love Him in return, those who do not always accept Him as King, and those who are, at times, no more faithful than the unbeliever. Our salvation is not, in fact, based on our sincerity but on Christ’s sincerity. Our future hope is not based on our works, but on His work for us. In a very real moment, in the midst of our troubled hearts and unfaithfulness, Jesus speaks to us as He did to the disciples over 2,000 years ago. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He knows our pain, knows our trouble, and knows our darkness. But let us learn from the Gospel of John that these cannot keep Him from us. He will return for us. He will bring us to Himself. In the in-between, let us, with all the power the Spirit provides, fight hard our sin and strengthen our troubled hearts, knowing full well that our Lord will come back for us. It’s just a matter of time.

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