The Wound of Denial: Matthew 26:69-75

Peter loved his Lord.  Peter boldly declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  This was the Peter who, after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” responded with, “Surely, not I Lord!”  This was the Peter who later said, “Even if all fall away because of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33).

And when Peter saw the Roman guards arresting Jesus, he took out his sword and sliced off an ear of one of the guards.  Risking life and limb, Peter later followed Jesus to the palace of the High Priest.  Peter never imagined that his intense love for Jesus would ever be inadequate.

But our Lord knows what is in each of us.  And in our fallen hearts lives fear–fear of death above all.  Fear of death is how the devil keeps us in bondage (Hebrews 2:15).  So, the Lord tells Peter before he ever denies Him that it will happen.  Not once, not twice, but three times Peter will have the opportunity to confess His Lord.  And not once, not twice, but three times, Peter will, instead, deny Him.

Among the many wounds that our Lord suffered, the denial by His beloved disciple, Peter, cut deeply.  And who here has not added to that wound in some way?  Many opportunities to confess our Savior have come our way, yet how often have we passed them by in total silence?  And our silence denies Him.

Isn’t our fear the same?  Isn’t it the fear of the death of others’ respect?  Isn’t it the fear of the death of their friendship?  For who wants to be friends with a religious fanatic?  Isn’t it the fear of the death of our reputation?  For what will others say about us if we speak up to confess the Lord?  And so the silence follows, which is denial just as surely as saying, “I don’t know the man.”

But take a look!  Jesus walks to His death to be wounded for our transgressions.  Although we have denied Him, they don’t result in His denial of us.  For Jesus has even carried those denials into death.  For where we denied, He made the faithful confession before the High Priest and Pontius Pilate.  Jesus did not let the fear of death deter Him.  This day, we do well to ponder that.

Now, it is true that our Lord hates death.  He despises it and scorns it.  But He does not fear it.  For Jesus came into this world to destroy death.  To let death devour Him, Jesus became one of us.  By falling into its ravenous gullet, Jesus, the One over whom death had no claim, would destroy death forever.  That’s why He could set His people free from their slavery and their fear.

So, there is Jesus, standing before the high priest.  He knows what will soon take place.  He knows that He will have to yield His life on the cross.  He will be the fragrant offering and sacrifice to His Father.  For His blood will forever forgive the sin of the whole world, even the guilt of our sins.

Soon, death will take Jesus, but He will be a bitter pill for death to swallow.  He will be death’s poison pill.  For after death swallowed Jesus down, the indigestible, divine Son of God, death began to wretch and throw up all that it had swallowed.  For Jesus does not fear death, for death is not the end of Him–or of anyone who unites to Him in living faith.  Indeed, Jesus breaks the bonds of death.

Now, Peter has only heard that Jesus will rise from the dead.  But before his eyes, he sees his Lord in the hands of those who are beating Him, those who will turn Him over to be crucified.  Peter’s heart panics.  He trembles in fear.  Instead of confessing his Lord, in terror of death, Peter denies Him.  And as the fateful rooster crows, he recalls how His Lord said it would be so.  Peter then goes out and weeps bitterly, angry with himself for being a coward and denying his Lord.

Peter wept bitter tears–but he did not despair.  Here, Peter differs from Judas.  Perhaps, Peter recalled the look in Jesus’ eyes when He said: “Remember, I told you that you would deny me.  And you have.  But remember that I also told you that I would rise from the dead.”

Now think of the man we meet on the other side of the resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost.  That day, the man who earlier cowered before the young woman and her friends, boldly preached: “This Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a cross, God has raised from the dead.  We are witnesses of this!” (Acts 5:30-32).

So, what happened?  Jesus rose from the dead, and the Father sent His Spirit.  What changed was that Peter knew that Jesus had destroyed death’s power by enduring it.  What changed was that Peter knew that Jesus had atoned for his own denials by His confession, suffering, death, and resurrection.

And so it is with you and your baptism.  In baptism, where the Word and the water come together, God the Holy Spirit placed you into the tomb with Christ.  But then the Spirit also raised you with Him, so your life may go on, even into eternity.  In those waters, the Holy Spirit descended on you even as He descended on Peter and the apostles during Pentecost, changing them from quivering cowards to brave confessors.

Years later, Peter was told to burn incense to the Roman Emperor, which confessed the emperor as divine.  Peter then had to deny Jesus or die.  Yet, by God’s grace, Peter refused to deny Jesus.  And so, Peter also went the way of his Lord.  He also was crucified.  However, according to Church tradition, He was crucified upside down.  Peter did not feel he was worthy to die in the same way as Christ.

In the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face and laughed.  “You cannot frighten me now!  I know who lives forevermore, and I know you have no power over Him.  His body and His blood are in me, and I am in Him.  Jesus has forgiven me and blotted out my sins.  My life is secure.  Death, even as you take me, you lose.  I am not afraid of you–not anymore.”

Perhaps, Peter’s prayer that day is what we earlier sang this day:

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 heav’nly joys above (LSB 450:4).