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Eyes on Jesus: Denying Eyes

March 18, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation tonight comes from our Gospel text, where Mark writes, And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

The eleven apostles and Jesus had already sung a post-Communion hymn – there were only eleven with Jesus because Judas had already departed to get staged for his betrayal. Now, they were headed for the Mount of Olives. Jesus told the group they would all fall away, fulfilling the words of Zechariah the prophet, Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. Peter thought he was exempt from this, saying to Jesus, Even though they all fall away, I will not. But Jesus knows how it will really go down, saying, Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times. Peter’s having none of it: If I must die with You, I will not deny You. And the other ten apostles emphatically agreed. That’s right, it wasn’t just Peter; they all denied that they would fall away from Jesus. Though it would seem like wisdom, it was unparalleled foolishness: denying the words from Jesus’s own lips, and the inspired and inerrant Word of God recorded by Zechariah.

That reminds me of an Eagles song, “Lyin’ Eyes.” Those of you who know it will remember what Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote: “…your smile is a thin disguise … there ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes.” If we broken, sinful creatures can tell when another is lying simply by looking in the eyes, how much more does the omniscient Lord Jesus see lying and denying in the eyes of His disciples of all times and places?

What was in the eyes of the apostles as they looked upon Jesus predicting their falling away from Him? Perhaps first a look of horror at such an awful prospect, then a look of disbelief as they processed His saying and began to form their defense, and then that slightly crazed look of a religious fanatic who thinks he can keep his vows to God by simple fervor, his own force of will.

The eyes of the apostles weren’t really seeing Jesus and letting the truth of His words sink into their ears; they were blinded by their own strong delusions. They were lying to themselves as they were denying their Lord’s words. They were focused on their own perceptions and plans. They had their minds on the things of men rather than on the things of God.

The hard reality is that, in spite of their strident protestations, all of the remaining eleven apostles would deny Jesus by falling away, and we see it most dramatically as Peter verbally denies Jesus during his cross-examination by a little servant girl and some bystanders. However, as we saw last week, it had to be this way: Jesus had to be the last one standing, the only one making the good confession, the one who would never deny the will of His Father but humbly submitted to suffering and death, for us and for our salvation.

When Jesus had quoted the prophecy of Zechariah, He had actually added a couple words to it that I left out earlier. He said, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” This is a quote from the Lord God of Israel Himself: “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, against the Man who stands next to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

Jesus is the One against whom the Father bids the sword awaken. It’s just like we heard a couple weeks ago, that the one who ultimately handed Jesus over wasn’t Judas but the Father Himself. Remember back in Isaiah 53, it was the Father’s will to crush the Messiah so that the masses would be accounted righteous in the Father’s sight: Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.

“I will strike the shepherd,” said the Father, and Jesus was stricken with all of that, for you, for me, even for the denying disciples. Jesus had told them they would all fall away … but He had also told them, “[A]fter I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” His words about their falling away and denial did prove true, but so did the words about His resurrection and His subsequent appearing to the apostles. To these denying and doubting apostles, Jesus entrusted the teaching and baptizing that would go out to all nations and turn deniers of God into confessors, into followers of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. His forgiveness and peace were given, even to those who denied even knowing Him, even Peter.

Now, we do tend to bash Peter pretty heavily here, as the guy who literally, verbally denied his Lord, but we should bear a few things in mind. First, it’s worth mentioning that Peter seems to have been the only one with courage enough even to approach Jesus’s trial. Second, as a sentiment we’ve considered before, we are certainly no better. How many times have we stood by silently when someone spoke words contradicting our Lord’s Word? How many opportunities to confess the Gospel to others have we passed up for fear of giving offense? Probably more times than we’d care to admit. Finally, we should recognize in Peter an example to follow in the way he expressed his contrition over what he had done. Unlike Judas, who tried to deal with his guilt on his own, Peter had true, godly sorrow over his sin, which prepared him for the absolution he would receive on Easter, when Jesus appeared to the apostles, showed them His hands and side, and spoke the forgiving “Peace be with you.”

My friends, though you and I both regularly deny our Lord like Peter and the other apostles, through your baptism into Christ, you have been given a gift greater than the whole world. You have lost your life in this world for the sake of Christ and have now found your life in Him and His kingdom, where you are saved from sin, death, and hell. You now look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Come, follow Me, Jesus says, for it is a truly joyful journey.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.