Pressure comes from many different sources. Some pressure is inherent to the life-stage we are in. Caring for infants, training toddlers, raising teenagers, caring for aging parents … each stage brings its own unique pressure. Some pressure is self-inflicted, such as when we double-book our schedules or overspend our income. Other people can sometimes add to the pressure we feel by wanting us to take on their agenda. This past week, five different individuals/groups wanted me to add an activity to my schedule.
The right amount of pressure can help us fire an arrow at a target. Too much pressure can cause us to crack. In Mark 14:66-72, Peter cracks under pressure and denies Jesus three times. Rather than a sudden fracture, Peter’s failure was the slow erosion that takes place over time. In the hours leading up to his denial, Peter …
- Boasted too much (Luke 22:31-33)
- Listened too poorly (Mark 14:27-31)
- Prayed too little (Mark 14:37-41)
- Acted too fast (Mark 14:47)
- Followed too far (Mark 14:54)
Peter’s failure exposes one crystal clear principle: When we follow Jesus from a distance, we will crack under pressure.
While Jesus was on trial in an upstairs room (53), Peter sought warmth in the courtyard (54). Peter seems to have good intentions. He recovered his courage enough to follow Jesus. But his love for Jesus could not overcome his fear of being identified with Jesus.
When you follow Jesus from a distance, you give in to fear. Peter was bold enough to attack a servant with a sword (47), but now is intimidated by a servant girl (66-68). While Peter was not ready to abandon Jesus, he was not willing to confess him publicly either.
As his denials become more forceful, Peter moves further away from the light and from Jesus (68-71). After his first denial, Peter leaves the fire and goes to the entryway, the covered passageway leading to the street. The servant girl sees Peter and begins to tell other people that he is one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter denies Jesus a second time.
About an hour later (Luke 22:59), the bystanders confronted Peter because they identified him by his accent. Feeling the pressure of possible arrest and persecution, Peter vehemently denies Jesus a third time, even calling curses down upon himself if he is lying.
A rooster known for its pride and “cocky” strutting reminds Peter of his foolish boast (72). Hearing the rooster and remembering Jesus’ words, Peter breaks down and weeps. Peter, the rock, has cracked under pressure.
Fortunately for Peter, the church, and us, failure is not fatal. Though he failed, Peter repented (72). Jesus went out of his way to restore Peter back to a relationship with himself and to ministry (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-19). Peter became the rock who led the early church (Acts 1-5).
I take three key lessons away from this passage. (1) Don’t follow Jesus from a distance. (2) Don’t rely on your own strength. (3) Don’t give up when you fall.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 17, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.