Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
“I am not.”
The above are the disciple Peter’s words, recorded in John 18:17. With these words Peter did not deny his existence. He had not just staggered out of the local pub where, with his philosophy club-pub buddies, and by syllogism and sophistry and scotch, he had come to the conclusion that he was only a “figment of the imagination” — or not even that, a “not!”
Worse. With the words “I am not” Peter was denying he was a disciple of the Lord Jesus. After the betrayal in Gethsemane, Peter and another disciple, probably John, had followed from afar the band leading Jesus as He was taken to the house or palace of the high priest, Caiphas. The damsel that kept the door of the palace of the high priest had asked, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?” To this Peter had answered “I am not.” He was saying: I do not follow this Jesus, I do not subscribe to His teachings, I do not walk in the way in which He leads others to walk.
Worse yet! Denying that he was a disciple of Jesus was denial of Jesus Himself. Peter was saying of Jesus: He is not! Peter was declaring that Jesus was not worth being a disciple of. He was asserting that no doubt there were others more worthy to follow. Or he was saying, I will be my own man, and follow no man, and Jesus, whoever he is, had better follow me….
Neither sophistry, nor scotch, does that to a man. Sin does. Sin (that Denier from the beginning!) made Peter fulminate “I am not!” Sin compelled the heart and forked the tongue of Peter to say, as the other narratives in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 attest, “I know him not,” and even to swear and curse to make his point. Jesus had predicted this sin not many hours before (cf. John 13:36-38, Luke 22:34). Peter and all the rest had said they would not deny and forsake Jesus (Peter boasting the most: Luke 22:33). But there was no stopping the course of this sin. Sin will do its denying thing.
Sin will say “I am not” of Jesus. “I am my own.” “Jesus is not.” “I am.” “I!”
“We are not.” “God is not.” “I never had sexual relations with….”
The denial has not stopped. Sin proceeds, apace, to deny Jesus, and truth as it is only in Jesus. The I roves the earth. Wherever it goes it holds truth under in unrigh—teousness. Millions of kingdoms of denial. Millions of proud I’s. Today.
From the world whose Prince is powerful to compel to deny comes denials, left and right, of God, and Christ, and all truth. From a worldly (not Christian — Judaeo, or otherwise!) nation, for example, which even coined the phrase “one nation under God,” we are hearing now that the real truth of certain things or relationships may be denied, even under oath. Churches, as well, are continuing to deny the Truth. We hear from her leaders (!) that there may be one Jesus, but there are many Christs. There may be one God, but there are many ways to God. There may be one doctrine, but it is unknowable, or open to many interpretations. If there is truth preached and lived by, it is truth ruled by lord tolerance. So the tolerant church (TC) is now wide open to other truths and to people of every doctrinal stripe and pierced body part and life-style who are, despite being unbiblical and ungodly, nevertheless sincere. Homosexuals? The TC preaches that there is a place in our arms for them. Women? There are high places, even pulpits for them (Note: we love them too, but not in high places!). Romans (as in Roman Catholics)? With them let’s be friends. Let us together be evangcatholicals! Let us forget silly squawks about our differences concerning Mary, justification, and purgatory. Let us together get to the business of saving whales, rain forests, spotted owls, and people, and of establishing good economies, world peace, and the kingdom of God. And in that order.
And so we? We must not deny! We deny Jesus. Denial of Jesus is our sin. The denial of Peter, who after all was and is Jesus’ disciple, is our sin. He said “I am not” one of Jesus’ disciples. He said that in an extremely difficult and dangerous moment (in the enemy camp, and he, having just drawn the blood of one of them!). We do it all the time. “I am not” of Jesus. “Jesus is not.” “I am.” “I.” We say.
True, we are in our heart of hearts disciples. God has been gracious to put in us His truth, and His Spirit of truth. There is this love for truth which loves to assert truth, witness of Christ, give glory to the God of the gospel. There is this zeal and courage in our living for truth which is not daunted by damsels, does not cower even before kings.
But there we go again. Our flesh is weak. The old man lies. Covenant children deny the covenant when they refuse to stand for what is right on playgrounds, and in the halls among friends. Young people deny the Lordship of Christ when yielding to lusts and not to the Lord, and when they postpone for the sake of convenience confession of faith. Adult Christians, we deny our Lord by our complacent armchair Christianity. And we are even adept at citing doctrines to justify our lethargy. “God is sovereign, salvation is of grace, Christians have liberty!” Therefore, “I am not” one of those who is so legalistic never to allow for some (or regular) opportunity for overindulgence. “I am not …” and do not need to be regularly at Bible Study. “I am not” fervently praying for the mission work of the church….
“I am not.”
“God is not.” “Christ is not worthy.”
“I.” Dirty I….
God is. And God cannot and will not deny Himself. That is why Peter was not consumed. That is why we are not consumed.
We might justly be. For God knows, He sees, all the “I’s,” all the “I am nots,” and all the proud, fear-of-man, love-of-the-world, refusing-to-stand-for-Christ natures and moments! If He were only to
remember wrath, and to behold just our unclothed, Christ-denying iniquities we would perish. For, as Jesus says, “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33).
But the God who cannot deny Himself is Love. And He has set His love upon us. And, though we deny Him, yet He in King of kings’ love will not be prevented from loving us I’s still.
Behold, look at that look of love! Behold! Don’t you see? There is Peter, having denied his Master three times. He looks, and there is that look! It is the Savior’s look. “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter” (Luke 22:61a). Jesus, perhaps at that moment being led from Annas to Caiaphas, or from Caiaphas to a prison where He would be held until the dawn, Himself just spit upon, mocked, cruelly beaten, and unjustly sentenced by the darkness … perhaps He Himself having heard Peter’s cursing and swearing and denying … looks upon Peter! To love!
Behold this eye of God! Not of contempt, not of wrath. But of love and compassion and pity. Never a word, but a thousand words with that one look. An eye-sermon with the theme: forgiveness to proud deniers! Sermon which broke Peter’s heart, led him to go out and weep bitterly and despair (finally) of self, and to sorrow the godly sorrow of true repentance. A look which led him to champion Christ’s cause, humbly, from then on.
Behold this eye of love upon all His own. With that eye Jesus will look and go steadfastly to the cross, and be looking upon us, surveying all the sheep, while He lays down His life on our behalf. His eye, His sinner-favoring countenance is why on the cross Denial is denied its right to condemn, and its power to hold. God’s eye, seen in the eye of Christ looking upon us is why there is this Spirit sent from heaven to liberate us from I-tyranny, daily to lead us to repentance, and to dispense grace to overcome our denials and denying nature. His loving eye upon us is why we may look confidently forward to heaven where there will be no more denials….
Denied Truth lately? We must admit that not another, but we are the presidents of deniers. Then behold in the Scriptures, behold by faith that eye of God in Jesus Christ. Toward you. Convicting, humbling, forgiving eye. Look of love.
That will be profitable Bible study. Read. Weep. Be thankful that God will not be denied in showing the wonder of His redeeming covenant love. Be no more I. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Deny Christ not. Follow Him. The joy, and goal of our life!
For Study, Meditation, & Discussion
a. From John and the other gospel accounts be able to “put together” the narrative of Peter’s denial.
b. Think of instances in your own life in which you have been led down the path of “denial.” How did you come out of it?
Look up “deny” and “denial” in a dictionary, and in Scripture. Think also of examples in Scripture of those who have denied the faith. Explain what exactly it is that sinners do when they deny Christ.
3. What sin?
What was the main sin behind Peter’s denial (pride, worldlimindedness, etc.)? What is it that causes you, sometimes, to deny Christ?
4. Twentieth-Century Denial
What are ways Christ is and can be denied today—by others, and by ourselves? How, for example, is Christ being denied in the world? In our nation? In the churches? What are situations at school, work, home, church, or wherever which can be very tempting to us to deny the Christ?
5. Purpose of God
What did Jesus say was the purpose for this trial of Peter (Luke 22:31)?
What purpose is there today for our being tempted to deny our Lord?
6. Positively Speaking
We are not to deny Christ. What does Revelation 2:10, 13 teach is the opposite of Christ-denial? How is self-denial important if we are to keep from denying Christ?
7. Perspective: John 20:31
In Peter’s denial, in Christ’s looking upon him…what have you learned of the holiness of the Christ? Of the love of the Christ? How shall we all grow, as individuals, families, and churches, in declaring and not denying Christ, in a doing, and not a dawdling Christianity?