Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 5, 2010

Sermon on Luke 22:54-62


Part of a Lent sermon series titled “The Places of the Passion”

Text: Luke 22:54-62

Note:  This sermon was preached at Apostles Lutheran Church in San Jose, CA on Wednesday, March 3, 2010 and again at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Belmont, CA on Wednesday, March 10, 2010.  Click here to watch the video of the sermon preached on March 3 at Apostles.


Some matters in the church are worth compromise.  In the congregation I serve, we are presently conducting a survey to find out if an adjusted Sunday morning schedule would better accommodate our members’ personal schedules.  The reality is that some compromise will be needed.  There needs to be a willingness to compromise between the early risers and the late risers, between the local members and the long-distance commuters.  Compromise is necessary when it comes to things as simple as the temperature in the church building.  Surveys taken for the recent School of Worship Enrichment, held at Apostles at the end of January, reveal that some people think the church is always too hot, and others think the church is always too cold.  Compromise is needed!  The temperature will probably be set somewhere in the middle; then dress with short sleeves if you’re usually too hot and in a sweater if you’re usually too cold.

Some matters in the church are worth compromise.  But other matters in the church are not worth compromise at all.  You are members of a church and a church denomination that believes that.  We are not so willing to compromise on matters like the error-free nature of Scripture, or the message of Christ crucified and risen as the central focus of the Bible, or the truth that Scripture reveals that the only true God is Triune—three persons in one God.  These are matters that orthodox Christians have not been willing to compromise on as long as the Christian church has existed.  Christians have been unwilling to compromise on these things despite great pressure to compromise on key Christian beliefs like these.

This Wednesday evening, we come one step closer to our Lenten destination: the cross of Jesus at Calvary.  Tonight, the Passion history scene before our eyes takes us outside Jesus’ trial before the High Priest.  Tonight we find ourselves in the courtyard where Peter, Jesus’ disciple, finds himself in an unfriendly place—a place that tempts him to compromise his confession of faith in Jesus.  Even though this incident is ages old, it has a very real and relevant message that relates to our confession of faith today.  So let us follow Peter to the courtyard of the high priest in Luke chapter 22, and let us see how that courtyard became a place of compromise. 


Peter was a man of stark contrasts.  The New Testament portrays him as the spokesman among Jesus’ disciples.  That makes him stand out from the other disciples, and that makes his contrasts stand out as well.  Peter was the man who gave a beautiful confession of Christ several months before Jesus’ death, but as soon as Jesus explained his impending death to his disciples, Peter was the one who spoke out vehemently against it.  Peter promised Jesus undying loyalty and support in the Upper Room, but fell asleep during Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane.  Peter boldly drew his sword and even struck the ear of someone in the mob that came to arrest Jesus.  But soon after that, Peter’s boldness would fall short in a very unfortunate way.

The mob that came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane took him to the high priest.  Peter followed, but he kept his distance.  He came into the courtyard to see what would happen at the trial.  He kept to himself.  As the night air became cooler and cooler, some of the people standing watch in the high priest’s courtyard started a fire for warmth.  Peter knew he had to be careful.  He was essentially on enemy soil, but the chill in the air drew him to the warmth of the fire.  And that’s when everything went south for Peter.

Denial number one: “A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’  But he denied it.  ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.”  Peter stood around the fire for warmth, but the light of the fire was enough for one of the servant girls to recognize that Peter had been with Jesus when the mob came to Gethsemane to arrest him.  But Peter denies the truth.  The word that Saint Luke used to record Peter’s response, “I don’t know him,” is the more generic word for knowing something.  In modern lingo, Peter would have said, “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!”

Denial number two: “A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’  ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.”  There seems to be a problem with this second denial.  We’re looking at the account in Luke’s Gospel.  Luke tells us that a man raised the second charge about Peter.  But Mark says that the same servant girl who spoke up the first time also spoke up the second time.  And Matthew says that a second servant girl made the second charge.  Is this reason for us to compromise our confession that Scripture is error-free?

Not at all!  Remember, the Gospel writers are witnesses, but they are not coached witnesses.  There is no attempt at collusion here!  When you piece together the testimony of multiple witnesses, you get a fuller picture of the events.  What we likely have here are several people at once claiming that Peter was a follower of Jesus.  Maybe the original servant girl spoke up again, knowing that she got a good look at Peter in Gethsemane and that he must have been with Jesus.  Another servant girl backs up her friend.  And then one of the men, sensing that perhaps Peter was trying to hide something, echoes the servant girls.  Now Peter is starting to sweat.  “Man, I am not!” was his blunt rebuttal and blatant denial.

Denial number three: “About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’  Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’”  I don’t think I’m going to shock anyone when I say that our churches in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod outside the Upper Midwest still tend to have many members who come from the Upper Midwest—even here, some 2,000 miles away from our Milwaukee headquarters.  And that means you’ll probably also hear the Upper Midwest accent among our members.  I’ve tried to not talk with that accent, but I know how easy it is to slip back into that accent for someone who grew up with it all around him.

An accent gives your origins away.  Just ask Peter.  The crowd around the fire knew that Jesus was from Galilee.  Peter spoke with a Galilean accent.  Someone put two and two together and said, “Hey, you must be one of Jesus’ followers; you have the accent!”  And as the sun came closer to peeking over the horizon, as the rooster cleared his throat for his morning wake-up call, Peter gave his last and most arrogant denial.  Luke is fairly charitable to Peter; he doesn’t fill in as many details about the third denial as some of the other Gospel writers.  The other writers mention that Peter began to call down curses on himself.  Just think about that!  When push came to shove, Peter chose to compromise his faith and actually said out loud that he would prefer that God curse him for eternity than admit he was Jesus’ disciple.  His desire to avoid potential trouble led to the worst compromise imaginable: a complete denial of his Lord—not once, but three times, just as Jesus had warned him.


It is not easy to listen to the account of Peter’s denials—at least, not if we are honest with ourselves.  In this historical account, it is not difficult to see our own history and our own spineless spiritual compromises.  We live in a world that can accept Jesus as a nice Jewish rabbi with good moral advice.  We live in a culture that can accept Jesus if we will somehow market him to meet their perceived needs.  We live in a society that will accept Jesus only if Jesus will accept every other religious figure and spiritual path as equally valid.  We live in a world that expects us to compromise our Christian confession of faith in the name of “coexisting.”  We live in a world that tempts us and gets us to compromise the very same confession of faith that the early Christian church refused to compromise.

Jesus tells us that every last word in his Word is important.  But Christianity is filled with those who love to play “smorgasboard” with the Word of God—and truth be told, so do we.  It is one thing to say that faith alone in Jesus saves.  It is entirely another thing to say that the only thing that matters is that we believe in Jesus.  In the name of compromise, are we willing to say that the Sacraments aren’t that big of a deal?  In the name of compromise, do we think it no big deal if people take credit for coming to faith?  In the name of compromise, do we perceive ourselves as identical to those who may agree with Scripture on morality, but who treat the gospel as a mere fact to memorize, rather than ongoing nourishment for our souls?

Scripture tells us that the main purpose of God’s law is to point out sin.  But Christianity is filled with those who would rather turn the law’s condemnation into mere advice and suggestions—and truth be told, so do we.  How easy to focus on the commandments that we appear to keep outwardly!  Yes, we’ll gather regularly in God’s house.  No, we won’t murder another or steal his possessions.  But in another form of compromise—compromise that appeals to our sinful flesh—we play “smorgasboard” with the commandments and avoid those that stare right at us.  If I want to assume the worst about someone else’s motives, even if God has called those people to be in authority over me, that’s my business.  Oh, it’s no big deal if I look, as long as I don’t touch.  How can you call my lazy work habits stealing when there are plenty of people around this office who steal far more time from this company than I ever have?

The way we try to compromise the Word of God may be different for each one of us.  But if we are honest with ourselves, there isn’t a soul here tonight whose inbred sinful nature doesn’t love to compromise our confession for personal convenience.  If we are honest with ourselves, we sit in a room full of Peters this evening, and Jesus stares at you with the same convicting stare that Peter saw when his spoke his third denial and the rooster crowed.

What should Jesus have said to Peter?  “See, Peter, I told you.  You’re all talk and no action.  See this list of apostles?  Judas’ name is scratched out, and so is yours.  See this list of names in the Book of Life?  Judas’ name is deleted, and now yours is too!”  That is what Jesus could have said to Peter—and to us!  But Jesus’ deliberate stare at Peter was not just a rebuke.  It was also a call to repentance.  And when Jesus sees your sinful compromises and stares into the eyes of your heart, he is also calling you to repentance.

Just look at what Jesus does after that gut-wrenching stare aimed at Peter.  He doesn’t say a word to Peter.  He just moves forward.  He moves forward into the next phase of a trial where he confesses himself to be the holy and eternal Son of God, and his confession merits him the death penalty.  Jesus is hauled off to Pilate, and instead of pleading his innocence, Jesus allows guilty sinners like us to go free, and he takes our guilt on himself as he is sentenced to crucifixion.  Jesus is nailed like a common criminal to the cross, and his Father in heaven turns his back on him and pours out hell on him not for his sins, but for ours—for our sinful compromises and shameful failures to confess his name, and for every last sin that would have separated us from God for eternity.  And in his last moments, Jesus dies our death confessing his trust in his heavenly Father and placing his soul into his Father’s hands.

Is that not amazing?  Is that not incredible—that the innocent Son of God loved you so much that he endured your punishment for every last sinful compromise in your life?  Is that not the most beautiful confession of faith imaginable—that “Jesus Christ…has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death” (Luther’s Small Catechism)?  Could we ever tire of the church’s confession that “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,” that “for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became fully human.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures” (Nicene Creed)?  Would we ever stop confessing with the whole church in song, “When you became man to set us free; you humbled yourself to be born of a virgin.  You overcame the sting of death, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers” (Te Deum)?


What a beautiful gift of salvation Christ has given you through faith in him!  What a marvelous message for us to confess to each other in worship and to the world in outreach!  Praise God that he has given unworthy sinners like us such mercy and grace and forgiveness through his Son!  Praise God that he has made that good news your confession of faith!  And pray that God will keep you faithful to that confession every moment of you lives until you confess his name forever for all eternity!  Amen.



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