DENY | Mark 14:66-72
Recently, I attended a play that explored the idea of life as a “choose your own adventure” book: where each choice is a crossroads and your decision alters the direction of your future. Two separate stories are told simultaneously; the audience witnesses two completely different versions of one woman’s journey as she lives out the principle of cause and effect in response to her respective choices. The show wrestles with questions like, “If you could go back and do things differently, would you?” “How would that change the present?...or the future?” “If you knew then what you know now, would you proceed?”
As I crack open my Bible to Mark 14 (verses 66-72), the curtains part, and dim lights cast ominous shadows across the stage where a critical moment in Peter’s “choose your own adventure” story is about to unfold. As I settle in to my pull-down theater seat (my little throne of self-righteousness), I am quick to heap judgement on the supposed main character in this scene.
But while it’s easy to fixate on Peter’s shocking denial (“Surely I would never do such a thing!” “Of course he would go back and do things differently if given the opportunity!” “I wonder how the story would have played out differently if Peter had acknowledged his association with Jesus?”), I would like to propose that perhaps there is a different character in the story that we should focus on; a different series of choices that we should draw our attention to.
As we witness the life of Peter through the perspective of Jesus’s choices, we don’t have to ask Jesus, “If you knew then what you know now, would you proceed?”...because He did know!
The greatest shock in the story before us, is not “How could Peter do what he did?”, but “How could Jesus do what he did?”
Jesus invited Peter to walk with Him on water, knowing that Peter would avert his eyes, become consumed with doubt, and begin to sink; that he would place more faith in his surroundings than in His Savior.
Jesus invited Peter to stand guard in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing that Peter would fall asleep; that he would cave to the cravings of his flesh rather than honor the request of his Redeemer.
Jesus invited Peter to be a disciple, a follower of His way, knowing that Peter would regularly operate out of his own understanding (“Jesus, don’t wash my feet!” “Jesus, you can’t suffer and die!”, to which Jesus responded “Get behind me, Satan! ...You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)). Jesus knew that Peter would submit to a salvation plan of his own making (wielding a sword!); that he would fail to see the significance in Jesus willingly laying down His life as a sacrifice.
Jesus knew that the same lips that confidently testified, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29) would later adamantly argue, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about” (Mark 14:71). Jesus knew that the same man who declared with his words and his life, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28) would later refuse to risk so much as his reputation. Jesus knew that the same heart that promised, “Even if all fall away, I will not... Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:29, 31) would later deny Him; not once, not twice, but three times.
And yet, with everything that Jesus knew about Peter, He still chose him.
Jesus died for Peter, Jesus invited Peter into His intimate innermost circle, and Jesus placed a massive call on Peter’s life: “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
Like Peter, when we take our eyes off our Rabbi, lose faith, let our circumstances get the best of us, and sink beneath the surface of the surrounding chaos; when we choose comfort over courage, and slip into slumber despite the call to “stand firm; be on guard;” when we elevate our own understanding and place our plans on a pedestal, when we trust our limited view above our omniscient Author; when we are overcome by our own misguided zeal, when we daily deny Jesus rather than deny ourselves, we are met with the unconditional, endless love of a Father, Brother, Friend, who, without hesitation, lays down His life, invites us into His intimate innermost circle, and places a massive call on our lives.
He saves us from our sin, our suffering, ourselves. He not only redeems our stories, but He invites us into His. No matter how many wrong decisions we have made or have yet to make, we can’t change the trajectory of the story of salvation that His choices, His obedience, His overwhelming love has put into motion.
God denied himself, as a covering for our endless denials of Him, that we may never be denied the immediate and eternal life, love, and freedom that He and He alone offers. As we journey toward the cross this Lent season, we approach humbly, with hearts at rest, covered in blessed assurance, and filled with gratitude that we don’t write our own stories; that no matter what we have or have not done, we cannot unwrite His; that we are written into the victory and the inheritance of the best ending of the best story ever written.