Summary: All too often we deny Christ, we betray Christ in the things we say and do. But, there is Good News.
For many people the lesson we have read tonight is something that they find troublesome. At Elwood, my first appointment, we had a Bible study that had been a part of that congregation’s Christian education program for many years. They had begun reading in the first chapter of Genesis and would continue through the end of Revelation, looking at between one and three chapters per week. I don’t know how many times they had gone through the whole Bible. When I arrived to be their pastor they were somewhere around Matthew 20. I was really surprised a could of weeks later when a few of the members of the study wanted to skip past chapters 26 and 27 and go straight to Matthew 28. They wanted to skip the crucifixion and move straight to the resurrection. The same scene was repeated again when we got to Mark and later with Luke and John.
Since those days at Elwood I have often wondered why that was the case. It wasn’t until sometime later that I came to realize that many of us want to skip the pain of the crucifixion and move straight to the resurrection. There is nothing fun about the crucifixion. It does little to make us feel good. The resurrection, on the other had, now there is an event that we want to be a part of, there is an event that we can jump into and celebrate.
Though it was not a popular decision with some of those attending the Bible study, we didn’t skip over Matthew 26 and 27. After all, you cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion. As we read Matthew 26 the discussion turned first to Judas and then later to Peter. The discussion led in the direction that we all might imagine. “How could Judas betray Jesus? How could Peter deny Jesus? After all, Jesus loved them both so much. Jesus had taught them so much. Now, after all that they had been through together, these two, two of the most trusted disciples turned their backs on Jesus. How could they do it?”
As the discussion continued I heard things like “I would not have turned away from Jesus. I would have stood right there beside him. They could crucify me right there with him, but I would not ever deny him.” Those were the kinds of comments made again and again at that night’s Bible study.
Funny, I believe Peter said almost those exact same words to Jesus only a short time before he denied ever having seen Jesus much less knowing him. It is real easy for us to say what we would do if we were in the place of the disciples. It is really easy for us to say what we would do if we were in the place of one of the martyrs of early Christian history. It is a far different thing to live and experience Christian persecution. We live in a relatively free society. We can worship if we want, when we want, and even what we want. Some may pester us and nag us, they may question us about the existence of God in a world such as the one we live in. But when you get right down to it, living in the United States, we don’t really face much physical harm for worshipping God. We might take some emotional abuse, but our lives are not in any real danger.
That isn’t true in other parts of the world. Nor has it been true in the history of the Christian Church. Throughout the Church’s history there have been men and women who have lost their lives for the faith. Peter, who we often criticize for his actions in our lesson, tradition says was himself crucified for his faith. When we read the Acts of the Apostles we can read the story of Stephen who was stoned to death because of his faith in Christ. Others could be named as well.
During times of persecution the Christian Church has not been filled with just these martyrs alone. There are others who in some way or another often for reasons we little understand have, at least for a time denied Christ, have betrayed Christ.
There are two such characters in Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. This powerful gripping book is set in Japan during the sixteenth century. The book has two very different characters who are central to the story.
The first is Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a priest from Portugal. As the book opens we find this very committed Roman Catholic pries greatly concerned because he has just learned that his mentor, who had been a missionary in Japan has denied faith in Christ. Rather Rodrigues wants to travel to Japan to search for Father Ferreira and to minister to Japanese Christians and witness to those who are not Christian.