How many of us have ever denied someone we at the very least somewhat liked? How about betrayed? We’ve all done it, to varying degrees for varying reasons. How horrible does that feel when we do that? Even as I sit here thinking about it, I kind of cringe. Heck, the more I think of it, I’m not even sure you have to like the person to be adversely affected by it. Denying someone, in this context, means that you withdrew your love, affection, relationship, commitment, etc.
Betraying someone is even worse yet, at least to me. Betrayal involves reneging on some emotional/spiritual commitment. To betray someone is to turn your back on someone, with the essence of your very self, your being. It calls into question your honor, your integrity, your morals, your heart and soul. What makes you, you.
It hurts badly (for most of us) to fail in such ways. Sometimes we do it out of fear to save our own skin, sometimes we do it for personal gain, sometimes we do it for no other reason than pure meanness, a momentary loss of conscience.
The kicker of denial and betrayal? They aren’t these things which illicit a stock response from us. The more we care, like, love the offended, the worse we feel exponentially. It’s something that sticks with us long after the fact and it is among the hardest things to be forgiven for. In these instances, trust isn’t just broken, it is obliterated.
Now, let’s flip the coin? How much worse is it when it happens to us? It is crushing and heartbreaking. Is there much, if anything, else in life that hurts worse? You can be in a roomful of your closest friends, family, and loved ones…and if someone denies or betrays you, suddenly you feel utterly alone, deserted. In either case, as offender or offended, how much more brutal is it if we or they have been utterly faithful to us? What if we or they have been completely selfless in their dealings with the other? What if great sacrifices have been made?
So, why the focus on such things? As I was writing the last piece, speaking of apostles, and then quoting Peter, I thought of the Gospel of Luke in particular…
Luke 22:31-34 (NIV) 31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
33But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."
34Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."
I think (hope) to one degree or another, we can all relate to Peter in this instance. I cannot imagine any of us ever setting out to deny or betray someone. We like to think the best of ourselves, we like to think that when push comes to shove, our mettle, our fortitude will be proven true, no matter what. Problem is, we never know how we’re going to react in a given situation until placed in it…
Luke 22:54-62 (NIV) 54Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.
56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."
57But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.
58A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."
"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.
59About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."
60Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter was frightened, if not downright terrified. All of sudden, the reality of Jesus’ and therefore Peter’s, as well as all of the apostles’ situation had become imminently real. Jesus had been arrested and the situation had suddenly become much more dangerous. However, this is not my focus, my focus is squarely upon the first sentence of verse 61...
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Think about this, really let it sink in. What must that have been like for Peter? Can we really begin to fathom it? What must he have felt? What must he have seen in the eyes of Christ at that very moment? He had just done that which he had sworn he would not do. He denied the one whom He believed was the Messiah, even if he didn’t fully understand what that truly meant at that moment. Three times he denied Him, just as he had been told he would. And upon doing it the third time, He finds Jesus, under arrest, hours from the cross, looking directly at him.
I don’t think we can even begin to imagine it. I think about it and I dwell on it. I try to imagine it from each perspective and my heart absolutely breaks for both. Where things get especially hard for me? As I imagine Peter by the fire, the flames illuminating his face, the smell of burning wood, and the excited voices all around, I am no longer seeing the scene through Peter’s eyes, but my own. Worse yet? It is not Christ’s eyes looking upon Peter, but rather upon me.
Unlike myself, and Christians ever since the resurrection, Peter BELIEVED, yet he did not UNDERSTAND. His understanding did not come until later. We have no such excuse. As Christians, we proclaim not only our belief in Christ, but also an understanding of not only WHO, but WHAT He was. We know these things, and yet, we continue to find ways to deny Him through our actions, words, feelings, and inactions. Let me say right up front, I know I’m guilty of what I’m about to say…But do we ever stop to think of just how often, in a multitude of ways that we deny and betray Jesus and His sacrifice?
I think about Jesus, in custody, looking into the face of Peter and I try to imagine what He felt. He knew it was coming, He told Peter how it would happen. But does that mean that it didn’t still hurt? Jesus knew what lay in store for Himself and on the precipice of His darkest hour, He had been betrayed (twice when we count Judas) and denied by one of His own. In addition to pain and disappointment, I also imagine Christ felt pity, love, understanding , and forgiveness for Peter.
However, I think to dismiss or discount the idea that Jesus felt pain and disappointment in Peter, is to also discount not only what He was about to go through on the cross, but also why He had to go through it. It is no different with us. Would we be so quick to continue “denying” Christ and hiding behind His forgiveness if we had to endure His eyes every time that we did? Are we forgiven? Well, it is available to us, but I don’t think we are automatically forgiven just because it is available. If I am starving to death and there is a meal within easy reach, I do not cease to starve for that simple fact. I have to take action, I have to make an attempt, I have to reach for it, I have to ingest it.
The thing is, I think we do endure the eyes of Christ every time we do deny him. I think He looks at us no differently than He did Peter. I think each and every time we deny Him, the sting is no different…
A lot of imagery is drawn from Christ and His bride, the church, the body of believers, us. We as humans, have all at one time or another, had a friend in a bad marriage or relationship. The type where one half constantly screws up, breaking the other’s heart over and over and over. And it makes us so angry. Yet, the half that was hurt, continually forgives and accepts the other back. Sometimes this happens so much that the offender no longer cares about their transgressions, only that they will be forgiven. The pain, the heartache, the crushing blow of denial never lessens, never relents, yet the other continues without thought. And our anger grows, “If only they knew how badly they were hurting them!”
If only we knew....
Cantnakerously Yours and Surprisingly Prolific Today,