The Wound of Betrayal
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” That is what Peter said to the Lord he loved. Peter could not imagine his love for Jesus ever being insufficient. But of course, the Lord knows what is in man. And in fallen mankind there is fear—fear of death above all. And fear of death is something the devil uses against us. So, the Lord tells Peter before it ever happens that it will happen. Not once, not twice, but three times Peter will be given the opportunity to confess his Lord. And not once, not twice, but three times, Peter will deny Him.
Among the wounds that afflicted our Lord during His Passion, surely the denial of His brash, but beloved, disciple, Peter, figures large. And who among us has not added to that wound? Opportunities to confess our Savior arise at every hand, yet how often we pass them by in silence. And our silence denies Him. Isn’t our fear the same? We fear the loss of a respect from others, for who can respect someone with such narrow views? We fear the loss of friendship, for who wants to befriend a religious fanatic? We fear the loss of our reputation, for what will others say about us if we become known for speaking up for the Lord? And thus, the silence, which is denial just as surely as saying, “I don’t know the man.”
But Jesus goes into His Passion to be wounded for our transgressions. Our denials of Him do not result in His denial of us. He has carried those denials into His death and, where we denied Him, He made the good confession before the high priest and before Pontius Pilate. Jesus did not let fear of anything deter Him, and we do well to ponder that truth. Though our Lord despised death, He did not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. Indeed, He came among us to let death devour Him so that He would destroy death forever, and so that His faithful people would be set free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.
Standing before Israel’s High Priest, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew He would give up His life on the cross, an offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting out forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And Jesus also knew, and rejoiced, that His Father would never abandon Him to the grave. Although death would take Him, He would break the bonds of death. Jesus did not fear death because He knew that death would not be the end of Him or of anyone who is joined to Him in faith.
To this point, Peter had only heard that Jesus would be raised from death. But now, before his eyes, he saw the Master in the hands of those who would turn Him over to be crucified. Peter’s heart trembled in fear. Rather than, in peace, confessing His Lord, in terror of death Peter denied Him. And as the fateful rooster crowed, he recalled how Jesus said it would be so, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Peter wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Here Peter differs from Judas. He saw the look in his Lord’s eyes when they took Jesus away, the look that said: “Remember, I told you that you would deny Me, and I was right; so you have. But remember that I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that, too! And I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail!”
Now, think of the man we meet on the other side of the Resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost. That same man, who crumbled in fear before the serving girl and her friends, boldly told the crowd that day: “This Jesus whom you killed by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead, and we are all His witnesses.” What changed is the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. And so it is with you and your baptism. There in the water you were drowned, placed into the tomb with Christ, and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In that water, the Holy Spirit descended on you even as He descended on Peter and the other disciples on Pentecost, transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly had destroyed the power of death by enduring it Himself. And He has atoned for all our denials by His confession and His suffering for us.
Years later, the story goes, Peter was told that he had to sacrifice to the emperor and deny Jesus, or die. By the grace of God, he refused the emperor’s demand. He refused, and Peter went the way of his Lord. He, too, was crucified, though, according to a long Church tradition, upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Master. In the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face. Peter’s prayer that day might have been what we sang only moments ago:
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
May we be so faithful when called upon to make confession, and may that be our prayer at the hour of death as well. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.