Kruiz edited
Whose Self-Denial?
Thursday in Lent 2
16 March 2017
Lent is a time of self-denial. I am ashamed to say that I am only giving up desserts for Lent. I am more motivated about getting rid of my excess waist, than I am by true denial of self. But this is nothing new. The disciples of Jesus have ever been feckless and wavering. I find it ironic, when Jesus predicts the disciples will all fall away from Him as soon as He's arrested and tried and finally put to death, that Peter exhibits such bravado and hubris. How certain he is that he would never abandon Jesus, that he would deny himself and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from his Lord. This is a powerful Lenten theme! He's quite certain that even if others should fall away he never would. In the face of Peter's pride Jesus calmly predicts "that before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times" (Mk 14:30). Jesus is quite sure that if there's denying to be done that night, it would be Peter denying him. The prediction of Jesus turns out to be tragically true.

While Peter is incapable of denying himself, that does not keep Jesus from being the one who denies Himself that He might never deny us. And here is the self-denial of which Lent is truly made; not our self-denial but the self-denial of Jesus and His promise that he would never deny us. Peter is hardly a specimen on display in the museum of "the victorious Christian life." In fact, Peter is so adamant about his faithfulness to Jesus just before Christ is arrested, Mark testifies that Peter "said emphatically, 'if I must die with you, I will not deny you'" (Mk 14:31). He is only hours from saving his own skin by denying the Lord whom he promised never to deny. Mark actually uses the lightest word for speaking or saying here. It means something like "la-la-la," and this is a true measurement of the value of Peter's words. They are just "la-la-la;" even if they are "emphatic" la-la-la!

Jesus refuses to be deflected from His path of saving even those who would deny him and sets his face resolutely toward the cross and His suffering and death. I wonder if Peter doesn't have this occasion in mind when he warns us in his second epistle, "There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them" (2Pt 2:1). Think of the height of this love that does not even begrudge to those who hate Him willingness to buy them at such an enormous price, the price of His own blood! There is so much talk in our culture about so-called haters and in the deepest hypocrisy we have reviled with deep hate those who have been identified as haters in our society. Jesus will have no part in such thinking. Even in the face of great disappointment at the unfulfilled promise made by the prince of the apostles that he would never deny Jesus, and knowing full well that Peter would do exactly what he promised not to do, Jesus still offers himself for the likes of Peter, for the likes of me, and for the likes of you. Every day we have denied our Lord and satisfied ourselves. And our Lord knew we would. Yet He denied himself, and took up His cross for us. He will not deny us. He cannot. He will not go back on His promises. Lent is about Jesus' denial of Himself and His refusal to deny us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"The apostles went their way free of care and fear, though they were poor and insignificant people.... They reasoned: "So long as this Man [Jesus] lives, we have no cause for worry; for He can easily protect and save us." It was this belief that made St. Peter such a courageous and intrepid man that he volunteered and ventured to go into death with Christ, though all the other disciples would deny Him (Mk 14:29). He even began to suit his action to his words; for when the Jews wanted to seize Christ, Peter at once went to His defense by wielding a sword. The large armed mob that had come to them did not intimidate him (Mk 14:43-50). In summary, so long as the disciples had Christ with them, they had no reason to worry about anything and would no doubt have remained safe from everybody.

"But as Christ now apprises them of His impending departure, He shows them and foretells that from now on they will fare far differently, that their hearts will be assailed by fear and trembling. So it happened that when Christ was gone after being executed so disgracefully, pitifully, and wickedly, their courage forsook them. In fear they shut themselves up and hid; they did not venture into the open. For this was too great and too terrible a humiliation. This same Christ, who previously had frightened and terrified all the councilors and priests in Jerusalem, had now become so feeble and so deserted as to fall into the hands of His enemies, who treated Him most terribly and most shamefully put Him to death. This is no longer the Christ who raised the dead, chased the buyers and the sellers out of the temple, and performed miracles that startled everybody. Now He is as weak and despised as the most wretched and miserable man on earth. Everybody treads Him underfoot, and the lowliest spit on Him. This was a far cry from the former glorious figure. His beloved disciples, who were still weak in their faith and until now had not experienced such blows, had to fear and tremble. 'Oh, what will become of us now? He was our comfort and our stay. Now He is gone, and we no longer have anyone to protect or help us. Our enemies are now strong and mighty, but we are weak and forsaken by all the world.'

"As a good and faithful Lord, Christ anticipates such anxiety and fear. He comforts His disciples and urges them not to despair but to stand firm. He begins by telling them what they will and must encounter, so that when it happens they may recall that He had told them in advance and had admonished them not to worry. First, He says: 'Let not your hearts be troubled' (Jn 14:1). It is as if He were saying: 'My dear disciples, I know very well what your lot will be after I depart from you and leave you alone. Sheer terror and fear will overwhelm you. The spectacle of My fate will fill you with trepidation. Your hearts will melt within you, and you will scarcely know where to turn. I am telling you this before it happens, to keep you from growing fainthearted. Be bold, and prepare for the struggle that lies ahead. When this time comes, then think of my admonition, lest you soon lose heart and despair.'"

Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 14.1
Mark 14:26-31

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." But he said emphatically, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.  (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have encouraged us not to let our hearts be troubled. You know very well what our lot is. Sheer terror and fear will overwhelms us. Your death fills us with fear. Our hearts will melt within us. Keep us from growing fainthearted. Prepare us for the struggle that lies ahead. When this time comes, then bring to memory Your admonition, lest we lose heart and despair. You have denied Yourself and promised never to deny us. Give us faith in that promise. Amen.

For the faculty and staff of Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Uyo, Nigeria, that they might be upheld in a faithful confession of Christ, who will never deny them

For Rosalie Brazee, who is recovering from broken bones, that the bones which the Lord has broken would rejoice and that she would be knit together once again bone and sinew

For all those who confess the beauty and piety of the sexually pure and decent life, that they might not lose heart under the attacks of those who reject any restraint in their lives
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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