Let him Deny...?
Let Him Deny...?
August 26th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
This morning, as we return to our ongoing study in the book of Mark, I need to tell you that there's a part of me that really wants to talk about a more joyous passage than this one; something more uplifting. In fact, like most of the past several messages, I think almost all of the remaining passages in Mark's Gospel, including this one, would be described by most people as flat-out depressing.
But this is God's word isn't it? This is not a buffet. We aren't allowed to pick and choose what we like. If we were to simply jump around from one ‘positive' verse or passage to the next, we would miss the fullness of what God has revealed.
That's why it's important to move through an entire book, verse by verse, something we do every other month at Way of Grace.
So as we come to our passage this morning, let me encourage you that God wants to use these "heavy" passages in our life. They have a purpose and we need to hear them.
So turn with me to Mark 14:53. As we saw last week, Jesus has just been betrayed by one of his disciples and handed over to an armed mob sent out by the most powerful Jews in Israel: the chief priests, elders, and scribes in Jerusalem. His disciples have fled into the night for fear of arrest. We pick up the storyline in verse 53...
II. The Passage: The Son of God Before The High Priest of God (Mark 14:53-72)
Listen as I read:
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.
Now, notice that Mark has just set up two separate but connected settings. Both settings are in the residence of the high priest, but one is inside, one is outside. One setting is concerned with Jesus, the other with Peter.
Why had they brought Jesus to the home of the high priest late at night? This was probably what one commentator described as "an informal hearing designed to gain a consensus among Jewish authorities that Jesus should be handed over to the Romans with a capital recommendation" (that is, that he should be sentenced to death). Mark confirms this if we keep reading...verse 55...
55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 "We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.' " 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
What we see very clearly here is that inside a the home of the high priest, late in the night, some kind of impromptu court has been set up in order to deal with Jesus. This was a hasty assembling of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, or at least it was a group representing a quorum, which was 23 members.
What's troubling about this so-called hearing is that these leaders were already bent on killing Jesus. We know that from 14:1, 2. But notice here what they're doing. They are trying to find evidence to substantiate that verdict. They agreed on a sentence before the trial even started. Evidence was apparently an afterthought.
We know that Deuteronomy 19:15 required that two or three witness confirm the case against the accused in a criminal case. Mark makes it clear that the witnesses brought before the Council were, in fact, false witnesses. We also know, in light of John 2, that many of them have twisted what Jesus said there about the Jewish leaders destroying the temple of his body, and him raising it up again.
But as we read here, even in this these witnesses could not agree.
All of this, of course, is pushing these leaders to their boiling points. Look at where it goes in verse 60:
60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" 62 And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" And the guards received him with blows.
The high priest knows that their so-called case against Jesus is not materializing. So he attempts to push Jesus to some kind of confession. In verse 61 he cuts right to the chase. "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" And here, in verse 62, for the first time in Mark's Gospel, Jesus openly affirms that he is the Christ.
Not only that, but he confirms that one day, the high priest, along with all people, will see the Son of Man revealed in power and coming with the clouds of heaven. That day on which, as the Apostle Paul affirmed in Philippians 2, every knee would bow and every tongue would confess that Jesus is Lord.
The language Jesus uses here is drawn right out of the OT, from Daniel 7 and Psalm 110.
It is this claim of divine privilege, not simply a claim to be some kind of earthly messiah; no, it is this claim that drives the high priest and the Council to condemn Jesus as a blasphemer. And under OT law, a blasphemer was to be killed.
Of course, Jesus has not blasphemed. He has only affirmed what the OT confirms about the Messiah, about him.
But as we know, these men had already decided the verdict before the hearing even started. They were literally "hell bent" on destroying Jesus. Their hearts are revealed in their humiliating treatment of Jesus, mocking him as an alleged prophet.
But look at where Mark goes from here. He switches to the second setting. He moves from inside the residence, to outside, in the courtyard. Look at what we read...verse 66...
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus." 68 But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean." And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know this man of whom you speak." 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.
Isn't it interesting that the very claim that was mocked by some of the Council members, that Jesus was a prophet, is confirmed right here, just outside. Only house earlier, in verse 30 of this chapter. Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times. His words were fulfilled, sadly, but perfectly.
And remember what we said about the confirming a matter under the Law of Moses. Two or three witnesses. In most situations, three witnesses meant an airtight case.
Remember from last week. How many times did Jesus come and find the disciples asleep in the garden? Three. Three times their actions served as witnesses against them. How many times has Jesus denied, even vehemently denied Jesus? Three. His words are witnesses against him.
As dawn is about to break, the disciple who swore that he would go to death with Jesus, is weeping in the dark because of his faithlessness.
III. Rejecting Jesus: The Court and the Courtyard
What I want to remind you of this morning is the connection between these two stories. Notice that Mark could have told one story about Jesus being led before the Council, and then afterward mentioned that Peter followed him. But he didn't. He chose to begin these two stories with a common introduction that brought them together.
The interlacing of these two stories is meant, I believe, to draw a connection between what happened before this so-called "court" and what took place in the courtyard. In both instances, Jesus was rejected.
But what was the difference between the "court" and the "courtyard"? Well, it was a difference we still recognize today. The "court" was the setting in which Jesus was formally rejected. It was the context in which Jesus was explicitly condemned and humiliated.
We still see the spirit of this so-called ‘court' today, don't we? We still see Jesus being mocked. We still see Jesus being rejected, often very explicitly. Take for example last year's cover of Rolling Stone where the rapper Kanye West was depicted wearing a crown of thorns with blood on his face.
Every you turn there are formal rejections of the true Jesus. Instead, most people want to embrace a Jesus of their own making, one who supports what they support. Jesus as everyone's poster boy.
Have any of you ever found yourself in this "court"? I would guess not. I would guess that most of us would find that kind of thing disturbing.
But have you ever found yourself in the ‘courtyard'? The courtyard is a quieter place. It is less crowded. Only a few people huddled around the fire, going about their normal business, just trying to stay warm; just trying to do their jobs.
The "court" is an event. But the "courtyard" is the everyday.
And there in the everyday, a follower of Jesus is faced with a decision. Confronted with an opportunity to identify himself with Jesus, he can choose either fear or faithlessness. Either he will act out of fear, fear of the consequences that might come because he is a follower of Jesus. Or he will stand his ground, and identify himself with his master.
Have you ever found yourself in the courtyard?
If you, like Peter had, if you have responded to the gracious invitation of Jesus Christ, you will find that everyday there are simple, quiet opportunities to identify ourselves with him. A neighbor may ask about our Sunday morning plans. A co-worker may ask about our Bible at work. A family member may press us on the latest religious hot-button issue. A waitress may ask about our prayer before a meal in a restaurant.
And if you're like me, then you know that sometimes, your response can be ‘safe', right? We may not invoke a curse on ourselves, but nevertheless, fear might be driving our response. We may say something positive. We might even mention God. But oftentimes we steer clear of mentioning Jesus Christ because of what the other person might say, or do, or think.
How different is Peter from the rest of us?
Brothers and sisters, friends, we need to accept, if we have not already done so, the sobering truth that the same thing happened in the court and in the courtyard: Jesus was rejected. This rejection might have been motivated by different things, and it might have been manifested in different degrees, but at the root, it was the same human impulse.
If you've ever found yourself in the courtyard, you need to come to grips about what that might reveal about your heart.
Listen, we cannot simply chalk Peter up as some kind of "Grade A Loser", as a complete buffoon who would only later get his act together. It's easy to turn him into a caricature. It's easy and convenient.
But how many of us would, put in this situation, after having come this close to arrest in the garden, would come back and walk right into the courtyard of the high priest's house and stand next to the soldiers, some of whom might have been in the garden.
As pathetic as it is, there is a devotion at work in Peter. He wants to know about Jesus. What is happening to him? What will be his fate?
There is, oftentimes, a tension within us, where on one side we find a courage to go and do certain things for Jesus, but on the other side, there is sometimes a fear to identify ourselves explicitly with him.
How different is Peter from the rest of us?
Furthermore, look at Peter's response after his denials. He is convicted. He knows what he's done. He is broken in the face of his own moral poverty.
When you find yourself failing in the courtyard, how do you respond? Are you pierced to the heart?
We need to go another passage this morning, one that has so many things in common with our main passage. It mentions the Jewish leaders, it mentions Peter, it mentions denial, it mentions the second coming of Jesus, and it mentions being ashamed of Jesus.
In light of our passage this morning, listen to Mark 8:31-38:
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." 34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Could it have been these words that came back to Peter after the rooster crowed?
Jesus said, "let him deny..." Who? What?... "Himself" instructs Jesus. But Peter has denied Jesus instead. Peter was not willing to take up his cross, that is, he was not willing to suffer the shame of being identified with Jesus.
According to Jesus, this is part of the basics of being a Christian, a Christ-one, a follower of Jesus. When we are not denying ourselves, we will find ourselves denying Jesus. No, probably not in the "court", but, more likely, in the courtyard.
Is your life more about your comfort and acceptance, or about Jesus and his desires?
Yes, Peter was ashamed of the Son of man and his words, but he did not stay that way. With Jesus there is grace and forgiveness. There is restoration for those who fail in the courtyard. Peter is living proof of that.
IV. Conclusion: Regarding Christ as Holy
Wouldn't it be great to sit down with Peter, years after this terrible night, and ask him about how God used that in his life? Wouldn't it be amazing to hear his advice in light of that failure?
Well, in some sense, Peter has done this for us. Listen to what he tells us in I Peter 3:
...but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you... (I Peter 3:15)
You see, Peter wants his readers to be prepared when they find themselves in situations similar to this one by the fire. And there preparedness has to do with their perspective on Jesus Christ..."in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy".
Did you notice what our passage this morning stressed about Jesus Christ?
Well, first, that whole episode about the failure of the false witnesses stressed the innocence of Jesus. He was condemned, but he wasn't guilty. Jesus is innocent. We can never place the blame at his feet. He has not and will not let us down.
Second, Jesus himself stresses the fact that He is the Lord, the chosen one of God. He was not simply an earthly messiah who came to stir up revolution. There were plenty of people around like that. No, he was the Son of Man described in Daniel 7, the one who was presented before the Ancient of Days, the one who, according to Daniel, "was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."
Brothers and sisters, in those moments when we find ourselves questioned in the "courtyard", we need to remember who Jesus is. We need to "regard Christ the LORD as HOLY", as set apart. There is no like him.
When those courtyard opportunities arise, may we be so captivated by the greatness of Christ, that we rejoice in the opportunity to identify ourselves with him. Instead of running from the servant girl, let us tell her the truth about Jesus the Nazarene.
What if the disciples at Way of Grace Church, what if every follower of Christ in the Southwest Valley was prepared to make a defense to anyone who asked?
Let's pray and ask God to give us the right perspective on Jesus, that we might stand for him, wherever he has us.
other sermons in this series