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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:My former friend is now a traitor!
Text:Mark 14:66-72 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 9:1-5
Psalm 51:1-3
Psalm 55:1,2,9,10
Hymn 27:1,2,7,8
Hymn 6

Reading and Text:  Mark 14:66-72

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Much has been said about Peter by Christian preachers and Bible scholars.  You probably know the typical things that get said about him.  How he was a loudmouth.  How he was so eager to be at the front of things.  How Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means “rock.”  Then how he denied Jesus, was later restored by him, and went on to become a powerful instrument to build Christ’s church after the resurrection.  I think many of us are familiar with all those things that are said about Peter.  After all, he is a famous figure in the history of the faith. 

To be sure, Peter is an important figure in the New Testament.  Here in our text, we see Peter too and this is the lowest moment in his life.  Here Peter sinks so low and what he does and says here is incredibly shameful.  It’d be easy for us to approach this as a sort of character study.  Then we’d come to this text and examine it to see what we can learn from Peter’s experience.  How is Peter an example for us?  Of course, in this case it’s obviously a negative example.  How can we avoid Peter’s shameful words and actions for ourselves as disciples of Christ?  It’d be easy to take that approach and many have done so.  But that would miss the point the Holy Spirit wants to drive home to us here. 

This passage is about Peter, but not about Peter as such.  This passage is about how Peter figures in to the sufferings of our Saviour.  This is more about Christ and his suffering than it is about Peter and how Christians should avoid Peter’s bad example.  As always when we read Scripture, we need to focus our attention on Jesus.  What is being revealed here about our Saviour?  Mark and the Holy Spirit who inspired him and his words — they want us to see how Peter’s denial of Jesus intensifies his suffering.        

What happens to Jesus here was prophesied by David in Psalm 55.  David wrote about how a friend turned his back on him.  David spoke of how a close companion had violated their relationship.  Someone with whom he’d had close fellowship had disowned him.  These words were written first about something that had happened to David.  But they pointed ahead to what later happened to Christ, both with Judas and Peter.  When the Psalmist cries out, “My former friend is now a traitor!” we can’t help but think of what the disciples of Jesus did to him and how that plunged him deeper into his suffering.  So that cry encapsulates the thrust of our passage.  Let’s consider the sufferings of our Saviour in the denial of his disciple Peter.   

Earlier in Mark 14, in verse 54, we’re told that Peter followed the group that arrested Jesus.  He followed them to the house of the high priest and in fact, he went right into the courtyard.  There a group of people were gathered around a fire to warm up.  Peter joined the crowd there. 

Here it’s important to realize that this house was probably not all that big.  What we’re looking at is a house with two floors.  It would’ve been built in a square shape around a central courtyard.  This courtyard too was likely not all that big.  Considering the size of Jerusalem, its population, and its compact architecture, we can say with some certainty that people in the house could certainly see people in the courtyard and probably hear them as well.  The reverse is true too.   

Peter was below in the courtyard.  That puts Jesus on an upper floor in the house.  As Peter is down there, Jesus was receiving a beating upstairs.  He was being mocked and punched.  The sounds of this beating and the mocking that went with it undoubtedly could’ve been heard in the courtyard.  Peter would’ve heard the Jewish religious leaders mocking our Saviour and turning his body black and blue.  In fact, I’d venture to say that the report we have in the passage before came from Peter himself.  You know, there is a venerable tradition of associating Mark’s gospel with the apostle Peter.  Peter told Mark what he’d seen and heard and Mark included it in his book.  Mark knew what had been said in Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin because Peter had told him, and Peter had been there and heard everything.

As Peter lingered around the fire, a servant girl from the high priest came closer.  She took a closer look at Peter.  Something about Peter was different.  He didn’t fit in with that crowd.  He looked like he was from out of town.  So she said to him, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.”  She doesn’t put it as a question.  It’s a statement.  And it’s said with contempt.  When she says, “that Nazarene, Jesus,” she’s saying it in an insulting, condescending way.

Verse 68 tells us how Peter responded.  He flat out denied it.  “I neither know nor understand what you mean,” he says.  The man being beaten and mocked is disowned by the only disciple who had the slightest bit of courage.  Jesus has just been speaking the truth about who he is, but Peter has just spoken the biggest lie of his life.  Jesus was put under intense pressure, but yet stood firm.  Peter gets a little pressure from a servant-girl and he bends and folds.  Where is the Peter who insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!”  Where is he now?  Perhaps it’s fear that leads him to do what he said he would never do.  Maybe he’s afraid of getting arrested or maybe it’s mockery that he’s afraid of.  We don’t know his motivations.  But we do know what happened next. 

He went out into the porch area of the house.  Things are getting too hot by the fire, so he tries to leave.  By the fire, people can see his face and his appearance.  That’s what gave him away as someone from out of town, someone who didn’t fit in.  So now he goes deeper into the darkness, away from the light.  He hopes that they’ll just leave him alone. 

Then, right after Peter’s first denial of Jesus, the rooster crowed.  Peter would have heard that.  At that moment, we might expect him to come to his senses.  We might expect him to back away and break down, realizing that he’s just disowned the one he earlier called the Christ.  But no, Peter is oblivious to the significance of the rooster’s call.  It doesn’t register.  The male chicken is known for strutting around with pride, head in the clouds.  That’s really the picture of Peter here. 

But Peter isn’t the only one who heard the rooster crow the first time.  Jesus heard it too.  And he knew what it meant.  It signified that at this moment one of his closest disciples was in the process of abandoning and disowning him before others.  He’d been attacked by the Sanhedrin.  Now he was being thrown to the curb by Peter.  This is part of the suffering of Jesus.  When Jesus hears the rooster crow, he knows that this is another step deeper into the abyss.  Abandoned and forsaken by all.  Loved ones, our Saviour knew he was being disowned by his close friend and that pierced his heart with sorrow.  And he took this hell on himself for you.  Out of love for you. 

Our Saviour’s suffering continues with what happens out at the porch.  Again he gets approached by a servant girl.  A group of people are standing around.  She tells them with certainty that Peter is “one of them.”  Which is to say that he’s one of the disciples of Jesus, he’s one of his followers.  Verse 70 tells us that again Peter denied it.  That’s denial number two.  And still Peter remains out of touch with what’s happening and what he’s doing.

A short time passes and the scenario repeats itself.  This time it’s the crowd, the little group from the courtyard.  They begin hassling Peter.  They’ve heard him talk and so they know for sure that he’s a Galilean.  Many businesses use call centers in India.  Some time ago I heard a radio program about how some of these call center workers suppress their Indian identity as part of their work.  They take training to get rid of their Indian accent, they learn how to speak like Americans, and they even take a more Western name.  Some of them even take their new identities outside of the workplace.  But Peter never received any training to get rid of his Galilean accent.  He never made any effort to disguise his Galilean identity.  But he did make an effort to disguise his association with Christ and his identity as a believer in him.  He didn’t want to be identified with Jesus in any way. 

That’s what leads him to these terrible things he does in verse 71.  Peter begins to curse.  Now our translation here says, “He began to invoke a curse on himself…”  That is one way that this can be translated.  But the original Greek here is ambiguous.  A more literal translation would read, “Then he began to curse and swear…”  You see, who it is that Peter is cursing is actually left open-ended.  Yes, he could’ve been calling down curses on himself.  But perhaps even more likely, he was casting a curse down on Jesus.      

There’s the story of Polycarp.  Polycarp was a leader in the early Christian church.  He was arrested and given a choice between life and death.  If he would curse Christ, the Romans would let him live.  But if he continued to steadfastly hold his faith, he would be killed.  Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served him and he has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  Polycarp was burned at the stake for his refusal to curse Christ.  In fact, the Romans knew that this was the one thing that Christians wouldn’t do.  They would never curse Jesus.  But yet here on this early Friday morning, the possibility is held out to us that this is exactly what Peter did.

He cursed and then he also made an oath before God.  He took the name of God in vain by swearing a false oath.  He blasphemed and broke the Third Commandment.  He swore by the name of God that he didn’t know Jesus.  In fact, he doesn’t say the name of Jesus.  Like the servant girl earlier, he now uses a contemptuous way of speaking, “I don’t know this man…”  “This man” is a rather crude way to be speaking about Jesus.  Peter utters curses and oaths and uses contemptuous language to speak about Christ.  He puts Jesus as far away from him as he possibly can and he doesn’t hesitate to abuse the holy name of God in the process.  This is why it’s no exaggeration to say that this is Peter at his all-time lowest point.  His sin here is astounding.  He lies, he blasphemes, he turns his back on the innocent.  Peter is a mess. 

No sooner are the words off Peter’s lips then the rooster crows a second time.  Finally, at this moment, it registers.  Peter remembers what Jesus had said just a short time earlier.  Christ had prophesied that he would disown his Saviour three times before the rooster crows twice.  Now he’d done it.  He did it in the most emphatic and bold way possible.  There’s no way that Peter could have said it more strongly.  In our way of speaking, we would say that Peter threw Christ under the bus. 

Now again, keep in mind that Jesus was not far away as this was happening.  It’s possible that Jesus even heard what Peter was saying.  But for sure he heard the rooster crow the first time and the second time.  And as he heard that, he would’ve known what it meant.  It meant Peter had abandoned him completely.  Not just once, but three times.  A complete and utter disowning.  One of his closest friends and disciples has become a traitor.  It was one thing for Judas to betray him.  Judas is never described as being all that close to Jesus.  But Peter?  Peter was one of the first disciples.  Peter had been the first to realize that Jesus is the Christ.  Peter had been with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Along with John, Peter was the closest and most trusted of the disciples.  And now he’s turned against Jesus.  You would expect the Sanhedrin to throw punches and mockery at Jesus.  They were his enemies.  There’s no surprise there.  But how could Peter turn against him?

Peter has called on the name of God in his denial.  Perhaps he has even asked God to cast Jesus aside as an accursed one.  God will do so.  Be careful what you ask for, Peter.  What we have to see here, loved ones, is God’s involvement.  This isn’t just about Peter and Jesus.  There is a Third Party involved.  That would be God.  You see, this isn’t just about Peter and Jesus.  This is about Peter as part of God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus.  Peter is an instrument in God’s hands to bring the punishment our sins deserve on to the head of our Saviour.  Abandonment and loneliness is what our sins call for.  Christ took that on himself, he bore the curse in our place. 

Luke adds a compelling element in his gospel.  Luke adds something important here with Luke 22:61.  After Peter denies Jesus the third time and the rooster crows, Luke writes, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”  Can you imagine that look?  Our Lord Jesus, with a face black and blue from his beatings, turned and looked straight at Peter.  Now our temptation is to jump to how Peter must have felt just then.  But what about Jesus?  What about his hurt and deep pain?  That look spoke volumes about his suffering.  Luke’s account confirms that Jesus knew full well what was happening in the courtyard and on the porch at this moment. 

Some years later the apostle Paul would write about the suffering and death of Christ.  He does that in a few different places.  But I want to draw your attention right now specifically to what he writes in Galatians 2:20.  He says, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Did you get those last words?  “…who loved me and gave himself for me.”  When Jesus suffered, he did that out of love for Paul.  He gave himself for Paul, even though at that point Paul was not yet a disciple or a Christian.  He was still Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee extraordinaire.  But Paul says that Jesus suffered and died with him, Paul, on his heart.  And what’s true of Paul is true of all Christians.  Jesus suffered and died with you on his heart.  Therefore, the suffering we see him enduring in this passage, he endures with you and me in his heart.  He hears the rooster crow, he sees Peter denying him, perhaps hears him too, sees one of his closest friends attacking him – he bears this because he loves you.  We ought not to let that just pass us by.  Your Saviour suffered God’s wrath in these horrific ways because he was working the personal salvation of individual Christians like you and me.  Not just a nebulous mass of names or faces, not just a collection of vanilla covenant people, but you with your own personality, who you are as an individual.  Saved through Christ bearing this suffering on your behalf.  Believe this!  Believe that it’s true, not only for others, but also for you.   

Truly we all deserve to be abandoned by one and all.  We all deserve the hell of having everyone and everything turn against us.  When we think of how we each in our own ways have denied our God, what do we deserve?  Certainly not what we receive in Christ!  That’s grace.  Grace is receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  Grace inspires us to praise.  Grace inspires us to love.  Grace inspires us to gratitude and to commitment.  The gospel leads us to want to be disciples of Jesus who will confess his name with greater consistency.  We want to forsake ourselves and our selfish interests, and be living for the one who suffered and died for us. 

Now look briefly at what happens with Peter at the end of our passage.  As he realizes what he has done, he breaks down in weeping.  Should we analyze his tears?  No.  Instead, let’s ask what does Peter’s weeping do for Jesus.  If Jesus can see Peter breaking down, does it ease the pain?  For one thing, we don’t know if Peter’s breakdown could be observed by our Saviour.  Likely not; Luke tells us that it took place outside, after Peter ran out.  Even otherwise, the pain is too intense to be dealt with merely by seeing tears.  There would have to be more. 

Peter gets mentioned only one more time in Mark.  After Christ rises from the dead, the ladies are told to tell Peter to go and meet him in Galilee.  There’s no more in Mark about Peter.  But in John we read of how our Saviour restored and comforted Peter.  There was reconciliation and healing in their relationship.  Peter would go on to be a great instrument in Christ’s hands for the building of his church.  With Jesus, Peter went through low moments like this, but today he’s glorified with the Saviour.  You see, Christ’s obedience, suffering, and death even paid for the terrible things that Peter did.  Peter’s words and actions were part of Christ’s suffering, but they were also part of the reason why he suffered.  Christ’s salvation was big enough, wide enough, deep enough to cover Peter’s sin.  So, let’s never doubt that his salvation is enough to cover all our sins too.  Through our Saviour, we can all receive forgiveness and righteousness.  Through our Saviour, we too will all one day, with Peter, be glorified.  AMEN. 


Heavenly Father, great God,

What a great Saviour we have in Jesus!  Thank you again for his work on our behalf.  Through him, we need not fear eternal abandonment. Through Christ, we have confidence that we are accepted by you.  Father, please continue to strengthen our faith.  Deepen our love for you and for Christ our Lord.  Please make us more impressed with you and the salvation you’ve given us.  We want to praise you with everything in our being.  O God, please help us to live more consistently committed to you.  Please keep us from denying with our lips and lives who we believe in in our hearts

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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