The Courtyard: A Place of Renewal
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 22:54–22:62
Midweek Lenten Service
March 9, 2016
“The Courtyard: A Place of Renewal”
Our journey through this Lenten season to places of Jesus’ Passion has taken us to the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Tonight we follow Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest; into a place of denial – Peter’s denial of Jesus. As Jesus is tried inside by the religious leaders, Peter is tried outside before servants in the courtyard. Peter fails and falls, but Jesus stands firm, a foundation for all sinners – for Peter and for us. This evening, we remember the words and the work of our Lenten Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He comes to us, as He did to Peter, in the midst of our weakness and sets us firmly upon the foundation of his redeeming love.
When reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passion and encountering Peter’s denial of Jesus, it is easy to focus on Peter. Earlier in Luke 22, Jesus spoke to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). With bravado and bluster, Peter responded by proclaiming that he was “ready to go to with you [Jesus] both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). In response to this, Jesus foretold Peter’s denial: “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34). And now those words are terribly fulfilled in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Desiring to walk in the way of life, Peter has wandered into the way of death. But behind Peter’s denial is Jesus’ faithfulness, and that is what we need to keep in mind always.
Luke frames the denial of Peter with the faithfulness of Jesus. The account begins with Jesus being led away into the high priest’s house (22:54a), and the account concludes with Jesus turning and looking at Peter (22:61). Between these two bookends is the story of Peter’s denial. Of all the Gospel writers, Luke alone records this powerful detail of the Lord’s turning to look at Peter. As Peter is in the midst of his trial, revealing his weakness and sin, Jesus is in the midst of his trial, taking on Peter’s and our own weakness and sin and suffering for our salvation. Luke also records an expansion in Peter’s denial in the courtyard. At first, Peter is challenged to acknowledge that he has a relationship with Jesus. The servant girl sees Peter and says, “This man also was with him” (Luke 22:56). Then a little later, that association expands as another person says: “You also are one of them” (Luke 22:58). The accusation expands from associating just Peter with Jesus to include Peter with the disciples. To both of these accusations, Peter denies any association with Jesus or the disciples. After about an hour, yet another person came forward and said: “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean” (Luke 22:59). People from up north in Galilee had an accent that was different from people down south in Judea and Jerusalem. This is likely what tipped people off, and now the whole story of Jesus comes into the picture. The conversation has moved from Peter and Jesus to Peter and the disciples to Peter and the things that happened up north in Galilee. Jesus was known as a prophet from Galilee (Luke 23:5) and spent most of his ministry there. It was in Galilee that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his disciples. It was in Galilee that Jesus healed the sick, fed the 5000, and taught people about the kingdom of God. So when this person associates Peter with Galilee, the whole story of Jesus and his disciples and his ministry is coming into view. To all of this association with Jesus preaching and teaching, his healing and miracles, his life and fellowship with the disciples, Peter emphatically stated: “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” (Luke 22:60). The small crack in the foundation, the denial of a relationship with Jesus, becomes the structural fault that threatens to destroy the whole house of faith.
Peter’s sin is great, but so is his salvation. Immediately after Peter’s third denial, the rooster crowed as Jesus said it would. In the midst of his own trial within the house of the high priest, Jesus being near a window or door, “turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:60). That one look said more than words could ever say. For Peter, this is devastating as he remembers what Jesus said. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself, and Jesus’ glance at Peter awakens in Peter a sense of his sin, causing him to go out and weep bitterly (Luke 22:62). This is the purpose of Jesus’ Passion, his innocent suffering and death: to save sinners like Peter, as well as you and me. Remember what Jesus had told Peter earlier: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter’s terrible realization of what he had done, and the bitter tears that he shed, produce a turning that leads to repentance, as Paul the apostle tells us: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest is met with a three-fold restoration of Peter by Jesus after his resurrection, as Jesus three times asks Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15-19). But you see, it is not Peter’s love for Jesus that saves him, but Jesus’ love for Peter. And if this is true for Peter, it is true for us as well. It is not our love for Jesus that saves us, but Jesus’ love for us that makes all things new, even when we in our own lives deny Jesus.
Our salvation is not dependent on what we do for Jesus. It never has been, and it never will be. If we come to rely on our own strength rather than Jesus, we have entered into a place of denial. That is what really makes a place of denial. Not the drama of having other people question you about Jesus, but the simple nature of your relationship to him. We can deny Jesus by saying we never knew him – clearly, emphatically, right in the middle of a courtyard. But we can also deny Jesus by saying that we do know him, loudly, emphatically, self-righteously, while our actions say others. And we forget what Jesus tells us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That denial of self means admitting that we do not have all the answers, that we are not masters of our own destiny, that the universe does not revolve around us, that “we are by nature sinful and unclean.” All of this points us away from ourselves and toward Jesus, who knows us better than we know ourselves. As with Peter, Jesus comes to us in the most awkward of moments. He doesn’t wait until we get it all together to visit our homes. He doesn’t wait until we have overcome our temptations and fought our demons and conquered our sins and achieved our goals. No, he comes now, in the midst of our struggle. He comes now, while we feel like we’ll never be the person God wants us to be. We are not saved by giving up our lives for Jesus. Jesus saves us by giving up his life for us. When Peter is caught in the act of denial, Jesus continues in his act of love. And he will do the same for us.
Join us next Wednesday evening as our Lenten series, “Places of the Passion,” continues. Next week we travel to the halls of Pontius Pilate and Jesus’ trial there under the theme: “The Trial: A Place of God’s Will.” May the Lord richly bless our journey through this season to Easter resurrection. Amen.