March 6, 2024

God on Trial: Testimony

Passage: Matthew 26:57-75

Sermon Written by Pastor James Albrecht of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Okabena, MN as part of a virtual Lenten exchange.

Lent Midweek 3 2024 Matthew 26:57-75  Testimony – God on Trial  February 28, 2024

And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”  Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”

INI, Who testified to the truth knowing very well the consequences that would follow, DFR:

I used to think that the 5th Amendment was mainly to protect you from having to testify against yourself in court.  If you were placed on the stand, you did not have to answer any question that might incriminate you.  As of yesterday, when I looked it up, I now know there’s a lot more to it than that.

In most states, for example, the 5th Amendment means you have the right to a Grand Jury.  The jury consists of between 16 and 23 lay people who are not related to your case.  Their job is to determine whether the prosecution has probable cause  — enough evidence to show that a criminal offense has been committed. A Grand Jury could keep your case from ever going to trial.

There’s much more to the 5th amendment that we’ll touch on later.  Before us tonight, two cases are being tried: one in the courtroom, and the other in the courtyard.  In one, the Defendant is obviously innocent, since they can’t even agree on the charges.  In the other, the defendant is so guilty that he runs out in tears.  We can be happy that One of them spoke and said what He did.  We feel badly that the other said anything at all.  Our series is called, God on Trial.  Let’s consider the two testimonies about Him.

After Jesus was arrested, the disciples all forsook Him and fled. We don’t know where they went, but at some point, Peter and John had a change of heart. Together, they showed up at the palace of the high priest.    Maybe they were ashamed.  Maybe they just wanted to show their support. The gatekeeper knew John and let both of them in.  John entered the palace.  Peter remained in the courtyard.  One quick glance at the people gathered there, should have tipped off Peter that this was a dangerous place where he didn’t belong.

But that was a chance that Peter was willing to take.  Remember what he said that night.  Jesus warned that Peter would deny Him, Peter responded with bravado.  He said that all the others might forsake Jesus, in fact the whole world might turn against Him, but Peter never would. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny You.”

Peter’s words betrayed a serious weakness.  He overestimated his own ability.  He substituted his self-confidence for the confidence of faith.  There’s a big difference.  We can be absolutely certain about the things we believe.  But that certainty comes from trusting in God and not from trusting in ourselves.

It was late March or early April.  Peter joined the others around the fire.  The plan:  Keep a low profile and try to blend in with the crowd.  But suddenly, Peter was recognized.  A servant girl said, “This man was with Him.”  Peter did the most natural thing our sinful flesh ever does: he lied.   “Woman, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  A little while later he was identified again.  This time, his lie was backed by an oath.  Then, toward dawn, he was told that his accent was a dead giveaway.  This time Peter not only swore, he cursed by God’s name to totally eliminate any connection with Jesus.

Peter folded under pressure from ordinary people.  The people around the fire weren’t necessarily bad people.    They were all ordinary citizens just doing their jobs, just like the people with whom you associate day after day.  The only difference was this:  none of the other people in the courtyard had a Galilean accent that would identify him or her with Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul quotes from one of the Greek playwrights,  “Bad company corrupts good morals.”  Peter’s experience demonstrates how true that quote is.  No matter how strong you may think you are, the wrong crowd, the wrong situation, the wrong kind of pressure can get you into serious trouble.  It happens to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you as well.

Have you felt pressure to back away from God’s Word?  Have you denied Jesus because associating with Him would cost you personally? The dream promotion, the date to the prom, or whatever else we’ve set our hearts on.  Peter wasn’t paying attention.  He had stepped right into the crosshairs of Satan. At that moment, the world stopped.  All eyes were on Peter.  All awaited his answer.  Aren’t you one of His disciples? – There’s no pleading the 5th.   It was the perfect time to say, “What you do to Jesus, you must do to me.”  But we all know what happened instead.

Just as Peter was swearing off any connection with Christ, a rooster crowed a second time. Suddenly he remembered Jesus’ words; suddenly he realized the significance of what he had just done.

While Peter was denying Jesus outside — Jesus had been confessing the truth inside.  When the high priest put Him under oath and asked:  “Tell us, are you THE Christ?” Jesus did not hesitate to answer, even though His testimony would now cost Him His life.

In the hours ahead, Jesus would endure physical exhaustion, beating, scourging, and lingering death.  Worse still would be the spiritual agony He would endure, agony we can only guess at.  To be perfectly innocent, and yet be condemned with every sin that’s ever been committed, to face the full wrath of God… Jesus had to tread the winepress alone because He alone could provide the forgiveness all of us need.  Peter’s pride led to his downfall and denials.  Jesus’ humility led Him to stoop down and take the place of every sinner.

This is the real reason I wanted to talk about the 5th Amendment.  One of the best ways it protects you is its double jeopardy clause.  You can’t be prosecuted twice for the same crime.   God has a similar clause.  First, He explains what happened and why:  “God made Him Who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus was prosecuted in our place.  He was condemned and cursed by God.  That has already happened.  Here is the double jeopardy part: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There is no condemnation.  Not today, not tomorrow, not when Jesus comes again.  We may be weighed down with guilt.  We can wish that we had done things differently –  we would do almost anything if we could take back certain things that we said.  Guilt is burden that can keep coming back.  But the sin has already been prosecuted and punished in Jesus.  Our sin is gone.  There is no condemnation for all who trust in Him.

Of all the characters in the account, Peter is the one we identify with more than the others.  Peter goes from spiritual highs to spiritual lows.  One minute he’s walking on water and the next is screaming for Jesus to save him. One minute he makes a beautiful confession of Who Jesus is.  The next minute he denies Jesus.   Thankfully, Jesus’ love and His testimony is always the same.  He refused to deny Peter just as He refuses to deny us.  Amen.