Monday, March 14, 2016

Characteristics of Christ Denial

Characteristics of Christ Denial

In Matthew 26:23, Jesus said to all of His closest disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night.”  The word “offended” is from the Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo), which means to cause to stumble or trip.  Christ is referring to a natural characteristic of the human nature – FEAR.  Fear is an emotion built into our psyche as a defense mechanism against danger or harm.  The point is that fear is to be controlled.  Fear is not to control us.  As Christians, each of us are being tried daily regarding the reality of our faith in Christ by situations of life that generate fear within us. 

“31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. 32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. 33 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. 34 Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 35 Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:31-35).

          There are just two types of Christ-followers in the Bible; those who DO and those who DON’T.  However, the division is much more defined within these two categories.  We find Christ dividing the multitudes that followed Him into these two categories constantly throughout the Gospels.  In fact, this is exactly what is taking place in Matthew 26:69-75. 

1. Those who are totally surrendered disciples – cross bearers
2. Those who, at some level or some degree, deny Jesus’ full control of their lives.

The fact of the matter is that most of the followers of Jesus, including most of the Apostles, abandoned Jesus once He had been taken captive by the Sanhedrin.  Even Peter, by this time, had now abandoned Christ.  Just a few hours earlier, Peter had almost cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest, as Malchus accompanied the Temple guard to arrest Jesus (John 18:10).  Then, this humble fisherman called by Jesus to become a fisher of men, was willing to fight and die for Jesus.  Therefore, we know he was not a coward.

However, the test with which Peter was now being tested was not a test of Peter’s courage, but of Peter’s faith.  Be careful to never confuse these two things.  If your faith is real, there is nothing in this world that can threaten you, including death.  If your faith is real, there is no fear that can cripple you, because real faith cannot be touched by the mere physical dangers to our bodies.  Faith secures our souls in a position that can never be threatened.  Real faith lives in this reality!

“69 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. 70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. 71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. 72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. 73 And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. 74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75).

          In these few verses of Scripture, we see a man (and it could be any of us) crippled by fear.  Because the man is impetuous Peter, the text is especially puzzling.  We would think that Peter would be the last of all the disciples to deny Christ.  However, the defining factor is that all the Apostles denied Christ, but one.  According to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, only the Apostle John is present at the crucifixion.  We should learn something from this – “perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:48).  Why will parents run into a burning house to rescue their child?  A parent takes no consideration of the danger because “perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:48).  What we must learn from all of this is that the main issue in avoiding denial of Christ is not about the quantity of our courage.  If we want to avoid denying Christ, it is about quality of our love.

Peter denies the Lordship of Jesus over his life on three different occasions revealing numerous levels of denial.  Although denial always has a beginning point, denial’s cause is captivation by fear.  Then denial cascades downward revealing innumerable levels of compromise.  It is amazing how people can be blind to what they are doing when acceptance by their peers, or the cultures in which they live, captivate their thinking and become their motivating factors for decisions.

In Matthew 26:69-75, Peter did not want to end up on a Roman cross condemned to death for blasphemy just because he believed Jesus was the Messiah.  This had been Peter’s testimony before Christ in Matthew 16:16; “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  This same testimony would be the foundation of upon which Jesus would begin to build His living Temple of the Church one living stone at a time.  Jesus said to Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Peter’s testimony was being tried by the test of fire.  Peter’s testimony was certainly a true statement.  However, if it was going to be a statement considered true by those hearing it, that testimony might require the ultimate sacrifice.  Peter had to be willing to die rather than compromise this testimony of truth.  A true testimony becomes a part of you like an arm or leg.

To die by crucifixion was the most humiliating, degrading, debilitating, and disgraceful way any Jew could die, because the Law said, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).  Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13.  

“22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Under the Law, if a Jew committed a crime worthy of death, he would be stoned to death and his dead body would be hanged up in a tree for all to see.  The name of the person killed and hung in the tree would be disgraced as well as the name of his family and relatives.  It was the worst possible scenario for any Jew to disgrace himself and the testimony of his family name.  This is what is going through Peter’s mind at the time of his denial of Jesus.  He did not consider that, in his attempt to protect his family name from disgrace before the world, he was disgracing himself and his testimony before God.  To call one’s self a Christian is to take on a new family identity to which we become accountable to never defile.

Peter was unwilling to be identified with Christ by testimony

We would think this would be something no true Christian would do.  However, this form of Christ denial is rampant in Emergent Christianity and in the Mega Church growth movement.  In these types of churches, it is appropriate to use the Name of Jesus and to talk about loving one another.  However, it is taboo and considered legalistic to talk about sin, moral responsibility, tithing, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, separation from worldliness, and an innumerable host of other issues that make sinners uncomfortable.

In these circles of discussion, we often hear such platitudes as, “the church is not a sanctuary for the saints, but a hospital for sinners.”  This sounds great and is true to many degrees, but how can the church be a hospital for sinners if it never addresses the sins of which sinners need to be cleansed to be cured by the grace of God?

Bible doctrine is especially taboo in these circles. Teaching the doctrines of Jesus (what Jesus taught) is dry, boring, and irrelevant to the New Age Millennials.  For these people, making the teachings of Jesus relevant to the culture demands redefining the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God regarding sinful practices that the modern culture has now justified.  Jesus simply becomes a vehicle to justify a worldly gathering that has very little identification with the Person of Jesus or the teachings of Jesus.  The point here is that this type of Christianity is NOT Christianity AT ALL!

In Matthew 26:69-75, Peter did not want these unbelievers that surrounded him to know that he believed that Jesus was the Christ of God.  He feared similar ridicule and the mocking like which these same people had given Jesus earlier.  He did not think to persuade them that they were about to crucify their promised Messiah.  He feared their derision and wanted their social acceptance!  

Peter was willing to be identified WITH the deniers of Christ

The first level of Peter’s denial of Christ is simply silence.  He sought obscurity sitting at the fire of the Christ-haters by simply trying to hide behind his own silence.  After the events of the day and what these people had witnessed, we can only imagine the conversation that was going on around the fire.  The mocking and ridicule of Jesus certainly would have continued to be the brunt of inappropriate jokes and remarks.  Crude, vulgar, and brutish people joke about things like death and holiness, as they mock the defenseless.

How could Peter set there in silence as this was going on all around him?  This reveals the subtlety of the sinful human nature and it simply shows how easily a person can slip into being a traitor if he does not guard his spirit and the emotions coming from it.  There are mechanisms for self-protection built into our psyche.  Fear is one of those mechanisms.  Muscle reflects is another.  When our hand gets too close to something hot, reflect action automatically jerks the hand away from the heat.  Peter was not able, or willing, to control these self-protection mechanisms.  He sat in the midst of the very people who cried out for Jesus to be crucified and was silent.  Peter would rather be identified WITH those who sought his Saviour’s crucifixion than put himself at risk for similar consequences.  Peter could have gotten away from the crowds and gone into hiding somewhere.  He purposefully sought to obscure his identity as a follower of Jesus by joining himself with the crowd that had sought Jesus’ death.

Peter was willing to verbally deny his identity as a Christian

On three separate occasions and in three different degrees, Peter verbally denied he was a follower of Jesus.  Each level takes on a tone of increased agitation and vulgarity.  The reason all of this was happening was that Peter was doubting that Jesus was who He said he was.  Peter was doubting his own testimony that he had so quickly asserted before the other disciples. – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  He was learning that such a testimony in the midst of the hostility of religious prejudices and apostasy would not be so readily accepted as it was in the midst of other believers.  It is easy to shout out an amen agreement to a testimony of Christ in the midst of the amens of other believers.  It is another thing altogether to do so in the midst of unbelievers with stones in their hands.

How often do your actions and words shout out to the world, “I know not what thou sayest” (Matthew 26:70)? Peter steps out of the shadows of his silent denial and into the darkness of his verbal denial.  Peter was unwilling to taste the shame of social rejection within the cup of Christ’s death.  Often, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.  They thought He was speaking in spiritual platitudes without practical applications in this world.  They could not have misunderstood what He said in Matthew 20:20-22 more than they did.

“20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons {James and John}, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. 22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (Matthew 20:20-22)?

Jesus was saying that the pathway to greatness and position for believers in the Kingdom Age would be through suffering, anguish, affliction, and persecution during the Church Age as they sought to bring lost souls to faith in Him.  The intent of the question is, if these men really wanted these high positions, would they be willing to be rejected and hated by the majority of the world’s populace?  The “cup” is the covenant Jesus made with the Father in the Abrahamic Covenant, which meant His life-blood would be poured out for the sins of mankind.  Both the “cup” and the “baptism” to which Jesus refers speak of death.  We testify to our understanding of that covenant responsibility to live and die for Christ through our water baptism.

Peter, according to Scripture, was the first to be tested regarding this willingness.  We can assume others were being tested elsewhere in similar circumstances because their presence is not recorded at the crucifixion.  We know that, after the crucifixion, six other disciples had given up on their calling as had Peter because of the events recorded in John 21:2-3.

“2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee” (John 21:2-3).  

In this text, we have seven of the remaining eleven abandoning Christ and His Great Commission to go back to their old professions as fishermen.  Judas had already betrayed Christ and killed himself.  We are not told who the “two other” are, so we cannot know with surety those who remained faithful to their calling to be Apostles.  The point is that desertion was characteristic of the majority.

Faithfulness will always be in the minority.  If you are part of the faithful, be sure you will be part of the minority.  However, it is the faithful who call the faithless back to their mission.  So it will ever be throughout the Church Age.  There will be a constantly diminishing faithful remnant within numerous levels of compromise and doctrinal corruption as history repeats itself into apostasy.  You will not find the faithful standing with the large crowds of compromisers.

Peter then denied Christ by Oath

In Matthew 26:71, Peter gets up from the previous crowd, before whom he has just denied Christ, and goes to another place and another crowd of Christ deniers.  Here, a young woman (“maid”) points out Peter and proclaims to the crowd, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 26:71).  The substance of Peter’s denial goes something like this: “I swear to God that I am not a follower of Jesus.”  We do not know if this is exactly the substance of Peter’s oath, but it could be.  The point is that Peter took his disobedience to another level.  He did something Jesus had commanded Christians to never do. 

“33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear {commit perjury} thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all {do not make truth conditional upon an oath, because your trustworthiness should be based upon moral integrity and proven character}; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication {the words you say as a witness and accounting of the events to which you testify} be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37).

Peter knew his testimony was false.  He sought to reinforce his lie by swearing that the lie he was telling was actually the truth.  By this time his condescension into his own corruption considered only the possibility of deceiving those he feared.  A liar is a deceiver and operates under the dictates of the curse.  To swear by oath that the lie you are telling is actually a truth is the epitome of deception.  By this act, Peter denies the very essence of his new nature in Christ.  By this act, Peter denies Jesus by denying these people the truth of the testimony they absolutely need.  Peter refused to compromise his own safety by compromising his testimony and relationship with Jesus.  Peter was in the midst of a crowd of people that needed him to tell them the truth.  Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Peter had been present at the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, when Peter and John attended the inquisition of Jesus by Caiaphas (John 18:14-15).  This inquiry and the presence of these two men with Jesus would have been widely discussed and publicized.  There certainly would have been a great deal of public conversation by those who saw Peter almost cut off the ear of Malchus and then to see Jesus simply touch that almost severed ear and heal it back to his face (Luke 22:51).  Malchus would certainly have talked about this miracle as well as the other soldiers that were present.  It was hard for Peter to hide.  He needed the darkness of perjury to cover his deceit.  

Peter denied Christ by vulgar worldliness

The word “bewrayeth” in Matthew 26:73 is from the Greek word delos (day’-los).  We naturally think the word means to “betray.”  However, the meaning of delos (day’-los) is to manifest or make evident.  Therefore, the meaning is the exposure of Peter’s hypocrisy and deception.  The point is that Peter’s choice of words originally did not include the vulgarity that was common among the heathen and the Hellenized Jews.  The Hellenized Jews had been absorbed into the Greek culture becoming worldly and losing the distinction of holiness and separation from worldliness.  These were the descendants of those holy Jews that had returned under Ezra and Nehemiah.  Most of these once holy and separate Jews had become just like the culture in which they now lived.

This lack of Peter’s crass vulgar language caused people to identify Peter as one of those holiness guys that followed Jesus around.  However, Peter was willing to abandon this quality of character and become crude, profane, and vulgar in his language in order to be accepted by this vulgar crowd.  This is what happens when people want the acceptance of the world.  The world DEMANDS that we become like them.  The worldly demand absolute tolerance of anything they say or do while being absolutely intolerant of people wanting to do God’s will.

Much of what has become the Emergent Church, New Evangelicalism, and even much of Evangelism has begun to incorporate various levels of the profane and vulgar into worship these days as if God simply does not care.  In many cases, one could find little difference in appearance between church goers and night clubbers.  Even the atmosphere of many of these so called churches is more like a night club.  These types of churches propagate a shopping mall Christianity where one can find about anything he wants and can quietly bypass anything that does not fit his taste.  This is the same thing Peter did when he used vulgarity to be accepted by the crowd.  He had no burden to reach their souls with the Gospel.  Let’s be honest.  When gathering a crowd becomes your objective, the willingness to become vulgar and profane will become a necessary part of your methodology.  The world does not find holiness attractive.  It never has and it never will.

“And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).

Some people see Peter repenting in this verse.  It is common to mistake remorse for repentance.  The difference is that remorse cries tears, while repentance changes actions.  Peter felt bad and guilty about what he had done, but he did not turn around and say, “yes, I am a disciple of Jesus.”  He did not tell them that they needed to repent and trust in Jesus as their Messiah and Redeemer.  He did not begin to do what Jesus had trained him to do for three long years.  In fact, Peter ran away from his calling.  He did not return to follow Jesus.  Jesus had to come find him.

Learn from this.  If you are genuinely saved, you are commissioned to win the world to Christ.  You cannot run away from the omnipresent God.  It is not enough to feel bad about our failures, if that conviction does not determine to never allow that failure to happen again.  There have been many at the altar of the mourner’s bench under the conviction of their failure to live right and to seek to win the lost.  Yet they have left their tears at the altar but never altered their lives to become what their Saviour needs them to become.  God does not want your tears if those tears do not result in change.  God wants you crying out to the world and become a living translation of the Word of God.

Mark 14:54 tells us all the events of Peter’s denial took place in the “palace of the high priest.”  Peter was in the lower chamber “beneath in the palace” (Mark 14:46) of the high priest.  There is a strong possibility he went there because he could hear what was being said regarding the accusations of Jesus.  The point is that Peter’s denial of Christ was taking place during the mockery of justice taking place just above him (Mark 14:53-72).  While Jesus was being prepared to die for Peter’s sins, Peter was sinning against His Lord.

The good news is that this event of Peter’s radical drop to the bottom of the faithful bucket is not the end of Peter’s story.  Failures can cripple a person for life, or failures can become stairways to successes.  The latter is the case with Peter.  He had another failure at Galatia for a while about which Paul had to deal with him.  He again was unwilling to offend the Jews by confronted the Judaizers with their intermixing the works of the Law in with God’s gift of salvation.  Paul had to confront Peter and Barnabas for their “dissimulation,” or pretentious hypocrisy compromising a Biblical response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:11-21).  Peter and Barnabas were not preaching a false way, but they were tolerating a false way.  Such toleration is another form of denial of Christ and it is compromise.

Personally, we all can rejoice that God has not left us on the pathway of our many faithfulness failures.  God meets us right where we failed and picked up right where we left off.  Peter thought God was done with him because of his thrice denial of Jesus.  So it must have been with the other six disciples listed in John 21:2.

Sometimes, when Christians fail, all they hear is condemnation for their failure.  They do not hear the necessary words of encouragement that calls the failing person to repent AND BEGIN AGAIN!  This is sad.  This is a sad state of affairs because such a person does what Peter and the other disciples did.  They quit on Christ!  No faithful believer should ever allow another believer to quit on Christ because of failure.  The faithful must call the unfaithful back to faithfulness and the church must begin again with such people after they have repented.

Shortly after the encouragement that Jesus gives to Peter, and the other disciples within hearing of those words at the Sea Tiberius, they are all back and in the upper room in the Temple.  They had been directed by Jesus to wait in an upper room of the Temple for the promised Comforter in the Person of the Holy Spirit as promised in Acts 1:8. After the Comforter had come, Peter preached the great message on the Day of Pentecost, where “about three thousand souls” trusted in Jesus as their Messiah.  He preached that message from the very steps of the Temple where he had trembled in fear to be identified with Jesus just fifty days previous.
Although it is difficult to overcome a bad testimony, such disasters do not end one’s life.  God forgives and His grace affords His children unending new beginnings.  Because of the wonders of God’s gracious forgiveness, you need never live in yesterday’s failures.  

Begin again!
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Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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