I could always tell when one of my children had caused problem for my wife. Before she told me what they had done wrong, she prefaced her story with a question like: “Do you know what your son (or daughter) did today?” When she denied her part in their heritage, I knew that things had been bad. My defense in situations like that was to walk away while saying, “I don’t know that child. Anyone know whose kid that is?” While we were joking around as we did that, I know I’m not the only parent who has ever wanted to climb into a hole and cover themselves up while their child was embarrassing them. All joking aside, though, in the long run I know that my wife and I are proud of our kids.
Outside of children, though, sometimes denials like that are made for life and death reasons. In situations where countries are at war, rebels might pretend not to know each other. During World War II, resistance units in France were small and often didn’t know each other so that they could have that famous political phrase: plausible deniability. Being able to deny that you know someone in those cases could save your life. John arranged for Peter to be brought into the high-priest’s compound. Peter was wary, believing that one wrong word could cause his own arrest. Then, he ran into a servant who outed him. “’You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’ she asked Peter. He replied, ‘I am not.’ 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.” (John 18:17-18)
Peter was in the heat of battle. He had cut off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest when they came to arrest Jesus. One of the other accounts included Jesus restoring the ear, but Peter wasn’t sure if they were out to get him as well. Perhaps he thought about his position as one of the top three disciples and feared for his safety. Whatever was going on in Peter’s mind, though, it’s obvious that he was worried about saving his own skin. He didn’t know who this lady was who was outing him, all he knew was that he was in the high-priest’s courtyard which meant that he was in enemy territory. He wasn’t even thinking about his earlier conversation at supper with Jesus. He just wanted to make sure that He would survive. Peter probably didn’t think of what he was doing as denying Jesus so much as denying the enemy any chance to capture a high value target, like he was.
I don’t know what was going on in Peter’s mind, but I’m sure he could have justified his denial to others. They could have accepted his excuse for turning his back on Jesus because it was for the greater good. Then I look at my life. I’ve never really been in a dangerous situation where I would have needed to deny my faith in order to live. And, to be honest, I’ve never really said anything like “I don’t know Jesus.” But is that type of denial worse than those every day instances where I have a chance to tell others what Jesus is doing in my life and I shrink back, afraid to say anything for fear of how the other person will react? How is it that I can worship Jesus in church with fellow believers and express my love for God there, while avoiding any mention of Him in one on one discussions with my friends? It’s easy to sit back and look at Peter in disgust, thinking about how Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times, which he did, and wonder how he could do that after walking with Jesus during His ministry. It’s much easier to do that than examine my own life and see how, even after many years of following Jesus, I refused to take advantage of opportunities to speak up for Christ when the opportunities came up. There really isn’t that much difference.
Oh Lord, remind me of Your great love for me and help me show others that great love in all I say and do.