Sermon title: I’m No Saint, but Neither Was Peter
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, May 31, 2020
If we look at the artwork
found in some churches,
we see the old-time “saints”
each one with a halo over his head,
or with a ghostly, illuminated “aura”
glowing around them.
And we might imagine
that, if we had lived back then
and got to meet St. Peter or St. Paul,
we would have recognized them
as super-human “saints”
due to that visible halo or aura.
We might imagine our Lord Jesus that way, too,
even more so.
Those are all false notions, however.
The inspired Gospel accounts
written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
make it clear that Jesus and the “saints”
were all ordinary-looking people,
indistinguishable from those around them.
That’s obvious in the Garden of Gethsemane,
when the traitor Judas Iscariot
betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
The only way the arresting officers knew
which man was Christ,
was that Judas pointed him out to them.
Matthew tells us,
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them:
“The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.”
49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Then the officers knew which one was Jesus.
He looked like all of the other men in the Garden.
So, it was necessary for Judas to point him out.
If he had had a halo over his head,
that wouldn’t have been necessary.
To their credit, I should say
that the artists used the halo or aura
as an artistic technique
to convey a message of holiness—
not that they believed
holy men actually looked like that
in real life.
In fact, all of the “saints”
were ordinary people like you and me.
When older translations of the Bible
refer to people as “saints”
they are not referring to the official status of sainthood
conferred on some individuals
by the Roman Catholic Church.
Rather, the Bible consistently uses the term “saints”
to refer simply to God’s people—
people devoted to God.
We are “saints” in the sense of being holy unto God,
or set aside as special, belonging to God.
The Old Testament refers to the Jews
dozens of times as God’s “saints.”
And the New Testament uses the term
in the same way, speaking of Christian believers.
Now, you may look at yourself and say,
“I’m no saint!”
We’re all sinners,
because we fall short of God’s righteous standards.
And that’s really what “sin” means—to fall short.
But God has called us to be his special people—
his holy people—and that’s what makes us saints.
The way the Apostles behaved that night
when Jesus was arrested
shows how human they really were—
especially Peter, who denied Jesus 3 times.
When the arresting officers first arrived,
Peter bravely drew his sword.
John 18:10 tells us,
10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
After the arrest, the action shifted
to a series of courtrooms-like scenes,
some formal, and some informal.
The Jewish religious authorities
put Jesus through a series of hearings and trials,
before finally turning him over to the Romans.
They take him first before Annas,
the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas.
Annas had served as High Priest for 10 years,
when Valerius Gratus,
the Roman predecessor of Pontius Pilate
removed Annas and replaced him
with another man, believed more likely
to serve the interests of the Romans.
Valerius Gratus replaced the High Priest
again & again,
until finally appointing Annas’s son-in-law Caiaphas.
But throughout that time,
Annas remained very influential.
So, John continues,
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
So, “Caiaphas was the one
who had advised the Jewish leaders
that it would be good
if one man died for the people.”
Any hearing or trial before these men
was just for show,
since they had already decided
that Jesus should be put to death.
They wanted Jesus to ‘die for the people,’
just to get him out of their way.
Caiaphas had no idea when he spoke those words
that Jesus would actually
be the sacrificial Lamb of God
who would die to take people’s sins away.
The trials that they put Jesus through
continue to reveal Christ to us.
And they also tell us a lot about Peter,
and about ourselves, as servants of Christ today.
Peter’s bravery turned to fearfulness,
as the authorities took control.
It seems that Annas and his son-in-law
either shared the same residential compound
or had adjacent living quarters.
And this is where the arresting officers took Jesus at night,
first to the courtyard of Annas.
And this is where we next see Peter.
Peter is accompanying John, who wrote this Gospel,
and who always refers to himself
as a “disciple” without naming himself.
After all the disciples abandoned Jesus and fled
in the Garden of Gethsemane
Peter and John came back quietly
and anonymously mingled with the crowd
that moved on to the High Priest’s home.
So, we read,
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
We don’t know why John
was treated as a familiar face
by the servant girl on duty at the door.
Some speculate that there was a connection
between the High Priest’s family
and John’s family.
Others think maybe John, one of the sons of Zebedee,
was the one who delivered fish
from his father’s fishing business
to the High Priest’s household.
In any case, the girl minding the door
recognized John and let him in,
and then listened to John’s request
when he went back to her
and asked her to let Peter in.
But, when she came face-to-face with Peter,
she asked him a question, point blank:
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
Christ knew ahead of time
that Peter would deny being a disciple.
Earlier that evening, Jesus had told him,
I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me. - John 13:38
And, here it was, the first time—
when the girl minding the door
asked Peter if he was a follower of Jesus.
He denied it.
While this was going on near the door,
an illegal night-time trial
was already underway
in the courtyard.
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
The trial was a mockery.
Annas, the High Priest Emeritus already knew
about Jesus and his teachings and his disciples.
The questioning was carried on
with the aim of trying get Jesus to say
something objectionable they could use
as a basis for putting him to death.
Instead, Jesus reminded them
that they had already heard his teachings,
because he taught openly in the Temple
and in other public places.
They showed their hostility, prejudice and unfairness
in the way they responded.
22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
The men holding Christ in custody
and putting him on trial
had already decided to find him guilty
of whatever charge they
could come up with.
And they treated him cruelly, even violently.
They kept Jesus bound, tied-up,
like a dangerous criminal.
24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Caiaphas apparently shared the same courtyard,
or the same compound or building complex
with his father-in-law Annas.
So, the scene didn’t move very far.
Matthew, Mark and Luke give more detail
about what happened to Jesus next.
But all 4 Gospels tell us what happened with Peter.
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
This was the second time Peter denied Christ.
And then another confrontation occurred:
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us,
Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter loved Jesus,
and he had promised earlier
that he would never deny him,
even if faced with his own death.
But now he had given in to fear,
and had denied Jesus three times.
So, what do we learn from this?
Well, we learn that St. Peter was no saint!
And that’s encouraging news for each of us.
Because, if we know ourselves,
each of us can readily admit that about ourselves.
Each of us can say, “I’m no saint!”
Rather, we’re sinners, saved by the grace of God.
Peter knew well that he was no saint.
When our Lord Jesus first encountered him,
Peter was a rough-and-tumble fisherman—
just like any fisherman you’d find today
on the New Bedford docks.
Christ got Peter’s attention
by giving him a miraculous catch of fish.
And Luke’s Gospel tells us,
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees. “Go away from me, Lord,” he said, “for I am a sinful man.” - Luke 5:8
Peter was so sinful, he thought it only fair
to warn Jesus that he was ‘bad news,’
and that Jesus should stay away from him.
But our Lord saw Peter
for what he was going to become
through the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood
and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
And the Lord sees us that way, too—
not for who we are in the flesh,
with our in-born inclination to sin,
but for who Jesus transforms us to be,
when we are born again
as children of God.
We become God’s “saints”—
God’s holy people,
set aside from the rest of mankind
as God’s special property, his holy people.
As with Peter, we start out in rough shape,
like a diamond in the rough.
And God keeps working on us,
gradually transforming us into the image of Christ.
But he starts out, right away, calling us his “saints.”
Even though we’re still sinners,
he counts Christ’s death on the cross
as paying for our sins,
and he applies Christ’s righteousness to us.
He looks at us through the blood of Christ
and immediately sees us
as the holy “saints” that we will eventually be.
We are instantly born again as “saints” of God.
How does that happen?
How are we born again?
It’s a miraculous, spiritual rebirth
that God accomplishes in us
when we repent of our sins
and turn to Jesus for salvation--
when we choose to follow him
instead of following our own sinful ways.
The invitation is open to everyone.
At Matthew 11:28 Jesus said,
"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."
That invitation is open to you.
Tell him that you repent of your sins,
and that you want to follow him as your Lord.
Then, when you have opportunity to do so,
make a public declaration of your faith
through Christian baptism.
Jesus will honor your repentance
and will welcome you as his follower.
He knows you’re no saint—
just as Peter was no saint, either.
And you don’t have it in your power
to turn yourself from a sinner to a saint.
But Jesus can do it.
He can do with you, as he did with Peter—
yes, even you.
At John 6:37, Jesus said,
“I will never turn away
anyone who comes to me.”