Bread – Denial

September 1, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, September 1, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 8:65-9:9; James 2:14-26; Mark 14:66-72; Psalms 26,28,36,39

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In today’s reading from Mark, Peter is waiting in the courtyard outside where Jesus is being tried. When asked three times about his relationship with Jesus, Peter denied the relationship.

Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus asks the disciples “who do say I am?” In today’s reading, the question might well be “Who do you deny I am?”

This reading is so known to me that I realized I was skimming it. After all, who does not know about Peter’s denial of Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice?

That is a major problem with the stories of the Bible. We know what they say, so we miss what they say. We know the story, so we miss the detail.

Peter not only denied Jesus three times, but he denied Him three particular ways.

The first statement which Peter denies is the accusation of the servant girl, who said to Peter “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” Mk. 14:67 Here, the observation is that Peter was so closely identified with Jesus that he was “with Him.” Peter denied that.

The second statement which Peter denies is the statement of the same servant girl to the effect that “This man is one of them.” Mk. 14:69 Note that Peter is not being accused of being “with Jesus” but is accused of being with a group of people (“one of them”) who claim to follow Jesus.

The third statement is simply an association of a people group, the Galileans. One of the bystanders says “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” Mk. 14:70 Peter denied that relationship as well.

To put these in modern terms, I could be accused of attending an Anglican Church (of being a Galilean), of being a disciple (of being one of them), and of being “with Jesus.” Each one is an increasingly closer relationship with the Lord. What becomes merely a membership in a people group then becomes a relationship among a study group of fellow Christians which then becomes a personal relationship with the Savior. If Jesus is the center, then each group (with Him, one of them who study Him, one of a collection of people who are from the same place where He is talked about) gets further and further away. And as you get further and further away, the groups get bigger and bigger and farther and farther away from the center.

Notice the progression of denials. Rather than start at the edge and work to the inside, Satan here (through the servant girl and the bystanders) starts at the closest point and works outward.

Why is that?

I think it has to do with safety in numbers. If I am with Jesus, it is Jesus and me and Satan can work only on me to separate me from Him. As the number of people increase, not only may the personal relationship with Jesus decrease (thereby diminishing the amount of work required) but the number of people who Satan must affect goes up (thereby increasing the amount of work required). Besides, if Satan can break you apart from your personal relationship with Jesus, then it becomes much easier to break you apart from your band of brothers and then from the church.

Also, think about it from the individual believer’s point of view. If I am in a crowd at church, it is much easier for me to avoid the attack. If I am in my study group, it is much harder to avoid the attack, but then there may be people around who can help me better deal with it. However, if I am by myself (with Christ), then it is Christ who must fight my battles for me, but when I deny Him I can be easily picked off.

Before we are attacked in groups, we will be isolated and attacked one on one. When we are confronted with “stay with Jesus and lose your job; deny Jesus and keep your job,” will we be so weak as to deny Him. Will we say that we do not follow Him and then deny that we are part of the band of disciples and then deny that we are even in a church? The answer is “yes,” if we deny Him when we are accused of being “with Him.”

We are rapidly reaching a point where it is OK to say that you are member of a church and maybe even OK to say that you are a member of a small group in your home, but it will not be OK to say publicly that you are “with Jesus,” because confession of Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life will be considered to be offensive. And when we are put to the test of denying that we are with Him, we need to remember that it only begins there, because once we have denied that we are with Him, then we will also deny that we are with a group of people who follow Him, and will also deny the Christian community of which we are a part.

The funny thing about this story is that, because three is the number of completeness, denying Jesus three times meant that Peter denied Him completely. However, the truth is that Peter denied Him completely when he said that he was not with Jesus. Everything else became a given after that.

So, really, to deny Jesus all we have to do is to do it once. When might that happen to you? If we think about the circumstances in which we may find ourselves when we will be most vulnerable to denying Jesus, we can be prepared to respond automatically with the answer that Peter could have given if he had first looked to God for strength and the answer.

What would that answer be? Well, when you find yourself surrounded by hostiles demanding an answer to the question of whether you are with Jesus, what will your answer be? That is the only answer that matters. Be prepared!

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© 2015 GBF

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