Peter’s Denial of the Lord

A Good Friday Sermon by Rev. David W. Millar

Apocalypse Explained 627.16

But it must be understood that every thing related concerning the passion of the Lord, signifies the mockery of Divine Truth, and therefore the falsification and adulteration of the Word, because the Lord, when in the world, was the Divine Truth itself, which is the Word in the church. For this reason He permitted the Jews to treat Him in the same way that they treated Divine Truth, or the Word, by its falsification and adulteration; for they applied every thing in the Word to their own loves, and ridiculed every truth that did not agree with their loves, just as they did the Messiah Himself, because He did not become king over the whole world, and exalt them, according to their interpretation and religion, in glory above all peoples and nations.

Peter represents our developing faith or understanding of what it means to live a spiritual life. The difficulty Peter had along with the rest of the disciples, with the prospect of Jesus’ death was his dependence on His physical presence for his life’s meaning. He could not conceive of a life without the Lord being accessible in His physicality. Of course denial speaks volumes of our response to the truth, particularly the truth about ourselves. Peter would not have considered himself weak, or for that matter a coward. Yet how often is it that our very strengths or that in which we trust to get us through life merely conceals our inadequacy. It easy to be strong and show courage when events are seemingly under our control, but when things get beyond us we can be left with very little resource to draw on and find it extremely difficult to trust the Lord.

Peter as our developing faith or understanding is at this stage a faith grounded in self reliance rather than a trust and reliance on the Lord. As such he represents a natural state of faith in this case and not a truly spiritual faith. We can see this in that Peter did not trust the Lord. Despite the Lord’s efforts to prepare him along with the other disciples for what was to occur in Jerusalem, even to the degree that the Lord had told him that he would actually deny Him three times, what occurred came as a complete shock. A natural faith or a faith grounded in self reliance needs to be broken before a person is able to enter into a true spiritual faith. We often think and say that we trust in the Lord, but it is not until we hit a crisis that the extent of that trust is determined. Had Peter trusted, he would not have entered into states of denial. Lets look at these for a moment;

There are described in this event three levels of denial:

1. there is the denial of Jesus the Galilean

2. there is then the denial of Jesus the Nazarene

3. followed by the denial of being one of “them”

In denial 2 and 3 Peter’s words are identical where he says “I do not know the Man” where as in denial 1 Peter says “I do not know what you are saying!”. It is also interesting to note where the denials are said to take place. In the case of the first denial, Peter is said to be “sat outside in the courtyard” the second denial occurs in his coming out into the gate or portal, it would appear this is also where the third denial occurred after which we are told that he heard the cock crow and was reminded of the Lord’s words that he would deny him three times, after this he goes outside and breaks down in much sorrow.

In the first denial Peter is approached by a servant girl, in the second case we are told simply another one (we know from the Gk that it is definitely a woman and more than likely another servant girl) spoke to those who where there concerning his association with Jesus. In the third denial we are told those who challenged him were those standing around.

The number three is significant and the heavenly doctrines tell us it speaks of that which is complete. Thus here, whatever this process represents and we will be looking at that in more detail in a moment, it is one that is complete from beginning to end. But first we see that this trial of Peter’s faith occurs within the bounds of the high priest’s palace. This speaks volumes regarding natural faith – it is seated within the domain of the high priest. This teaches us that a natural state of faith finds itself dominated by the loves of self and the world in their various manifestations within a religious context as this is what the high priest represents. The problem is that when we are in such a state we can’t see it. What these events teach us however is that the process whereby we move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith involves a breaking of our ownership of that which belongs to the Lord – such a breaking can only occur through trial or temptation. Peter here teaches us what natural understanding of spiritual things is like – his suffering arose from his personal attachment and devotion to the Lord and from the prospect of loosing all hope of achieving those natural ambitions or what he had come to believe he was to receive once Jesus became ruler over Israel. You see a natural faith stays strong while there is the prospect of achieving some worldly end. But with the arrest and trial of Jesus Peter’s aspirations, and he no doubt felt he deserved to be rewarded due to what he had given up to follow the Lord, were fast becoming nothing more than a phantasm or vapour.

Thus these events describe in some detail the process whereby the breaking of a natural understanding of spiritual things. A natural faith is a faith where a self centered perspective in regard to spiritual things is supported, whether that self centeredness exists at a personal or an organizational level. If an individual or a church is to move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith then it cannot avoid the process described here. We need to be brought to a place where we worship the Lord for the sake of others and not for ourselves. And to do this we have to be freed from the high priest or Caiaphas or self interest and its domain of influence in spiritual matters.

Names in the Word are wonderfully descriptive and this is certainly true of Caiaphas whose name means “hollowed out”. Here we see the true nature of religion built on self interest. For it is only interested in its forms and traditions so far as they are able to promote and support the very loves true religion seeks to demote – thus the interest only goes so far as external things for here the internal of the church, love to the Lord and love to the neighbour have no place. Without these loves at the center all religion is nothing but a hollow shell. This is seen in Caiaphas’ treatment of the embodiment of those loves standing before him in our Lord Jesus Christ. Caiaphas represents a hollow religious expression, professing to having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.

The three areas in which the denials take place represent three levels of the natural or external man. The heavenly doctrines teach that we have an external man and an internal man. Peter’s struggle is illustrative of the Lord’s dealing’s with our external man. Each has a will, an understanding and a life that is expressed in actions and activity in the external world. Peter’s court yard encounter with the maid or servant girl is a denial at the level of the will, his denial in the portal or gate is a denial at the level of the understanding and the third denial is a denial in the external actions of ones life. Hence will understanding and life the denial is as far as the human mind is concern complete and utter.

If we read these words in their literal sense we will have difficulty seeing this story and Peter’s denial of the Lord in anything but a negative frame. We see the betrayal of a friend and perhaps we wonder how one who showed such boldness could at the point of the Lord’s hour of greatest need, disown Him.

Yet the spiritual content is far more positive in its expression. And to see if we need to ask ourselves what it is that Peter is actually saying. Remember this process describes the transformation of a person’s faith from a natural faith to a spiritual faith. The servant girl in the first denial is an affection belonging to the domain of the will, for a girl or woman in the Word corresponds to our affections. Peter’s response on the surface appears to be a lie, but is it. In the literal sense we certainly have that impression, but lets look at what is actually said, I am reading from the Concordant Literal New Testament which gives a much better rendering of the Greek;

“Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And one maid came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus, the Galilean.” Yet he disowns Him in front of them all, saying, “Not aware am I what you are saying!”

Could it be that this disowning of the Lord is absolutely necessary if we are to move on. The term “disown” is interesting because it suggests a state of faith which claims ownership of the Lord. Think about it in this way – this denial is a disowning of the false ideas associated with a natural understanding of spiritual things. It is the Lord as Peter knew Him that is here being denied or disowned. Natural affinity and affection, aspirations, expectations – the nature of the relationship is here undergoing a necessary change if a natural faith is to become spiritual. There has to be a breaking that is so complete the mind is made ready to receive the Lord resurrected in a new way. What we are seeing here is a description of that process. Those in the house of Ciaiphas seek to have something in us by which they can exercise power over us. Remember Ciaiphas is external religion without internals.

While our faith is such that it finds itself in Ciaiphas’ courtyard we will be vulnerable. Peter is drawn into the courtyard because of his natural affections for Jesus. Spiritually understood, natural affections that hold too tightly to external forms and traditions will inhibit the Church being able to express its love in ways that benefit others and they constantly seek to entrap us- this is the servant girl of Ciaiphas’ courtyard, an affection that serves a ‘hollow’, merely external religious expression and interest. Here we see her trying to tempt Peter or our developing faith, to align himself with those natural ties he has to Jesus – the temptation for the Church is to hang onto forms and traditions which hinder it finding new forms of uses relevant to the generation she is commissioned to serve.

Peter’s resistance far from being despicable is in fact truly commendable as far as a spiritual understanding of the passage goes. To give up old forms, to weigh our traditions in the balance of usefulness in the light of our purpose or reason for being will always involve a struggle. It will involve much soul searching, grief and the sense of loss will be in proportion to the strength of the attachment. It can bring confusion and a sense of disorientation. The statements of Peter express this – his first statement is literally;

“I am not perceiving what you are saying!”

far from being a lie, is in fact spiritually quite true – Peter now hasn’t a clue who Jesus is – everything he thought and attributed to Jesus, his famous confession “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” has very little meaning at this point. Prior to the Lord’s arrest Peter probably thought he knew very well who Jesus was. His two other statements of denial in the literal sense are also spiritually statements of truth.

The two statements are identical and read “I do not know the Man” but literally they read

“I have not perceived the human!”

The Greek word for “man” in this statement is “anthropos” which literally means human.

“I have not perceived the Human” is a statement with powerful spiritual significance. For the Lord was yet to fully glorify His Human, something that would be accomplished through His death and resurrection. So the statement of Peter represents a statement of faith that releases Him finally from a purely natural idea of the Lord tied into his own goals and aspirations. The process is complete, Peter has disowned a sense of ownership over the things of the Lord and the Church, yes there is despair and grief as his sense of being is rocked to the core – but the scripture reads he came out, out from the house of Ciaiphas, out from the mixed motives that had brought him thus far and the result is a heart prepared to receive His Lord in His glorified Human a few days hence.

The lessons for us as a church are clear. We need to look at where our affections actually lie, to see if there are any elements of natural “ownership” over the things of the Lord that hinder our ability to reach out to others that they might have an encounter with the living God.

Amen.

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