Up In Arms, Week 2 — The “Justified” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Preached the RIGHT message (I hope) at the WRONG time of year;
  • Shifted the focus from Peter’s denial to Peter’s tantrum;
  • Shifted the focus from Peter to the servant girl who was “on to him.”
  • Generated a lot of moments of silence throughout the room on Moss;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.
  • Supplemented THAT with a final statement that came to me on Saturday:  You can’t justify your behavior, but Jesus can justify you.

A friend of mine took this picture of the bottom line on display while preaching was in effect.



Is it OK with you if I give what I think is the RIGHT message today but do so at the WRONG time of year?  I ask that because we’re fixing to dig into a story from Mark 14 that people USUALLY deal with only in the weeks just before Easter.  We usually call it the story of Peter’s denial; it happens during Jesus’ trial for his life, there’s a fire and there’s a rooster who crows, and there are tears at the end and so preachers MOST OFTEN teach on it about two Sundays before Easter.  That’s the RIGHT time of year.  But there are some fascinating details – including the fascinating-est you’re going to have to wait for – that make me realize that if I DON’T touch on it during Up In Arms I’d get, well, up in arms.  It’s less about Peter’s denial and maybe more about his temper.  Let me show you what I mean.

            Check Mark 14:66:

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.

Ah.  Jesus is on trial “up above” in the Jerusalem Legal Center and  Peter – one of Jesus’ posse, the acknowledge leader of his entourage, the Alpha-est of a group of Alphas – is DOWN BELOW.  And a “servant girl” – unnamed, unknown, unnerved – comes by and I love the way Mark writes his story because if you pay attention SHE is the centerpiece of this entire scene.  Because look what happens next in 14:67:

67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

See that?  Jesus is on trial, his life is at stake, and what is Peter doing?  Pryaing?  Fasting?  Weeping?  Nope, nope, nope.  He is warming himself. Ensuring his comfort.  It’s Mark’s very subtle way of alerting you at the outset that something is off.  Peter is not right; his priorities are out of whack.  Even more, the servant girl is on to him.  See?  She “looked closely” at him.  Whew!

            If there’s one thing we don’t like, especially if we are lurching towards the abyss, if we are compromising our beliefs and entering into a season of self-destruction, it’s close inspection.  Because we know we’ll fail it!  You’ve been through that … slinking away from the Liquor Store (or from HT with a two twelve packs), or when someone watches you obviously flirting with that girl at the gym, or, or, or when your mate asks to see the history on your smart phone.  It’s like DOH!  What do you do when people are ON TO YOU?

            Or, what is Peter gonna do when he realizes the servant girl is ON TO HIM?  Look at 14:68a-b:

68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said,

 Deny.  Avoid.  Justify himself.  I love how he adds these unnecessary words.  I don’t know him.  I so don’t know him that I don’t even UNDERSTAND what you’re talking about.  Peter is so anxious, so CAUGHT, that he gets wordy.  The opposite of what your attorney tells you to do when under cross examination. (I don’t know that from experience, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.) Answer, don’t describe.  Don’t get too talkative because that’s what gets you in trouble.  Peter is adding stuff on because he is under the microscope and he don’t like it.

            And then 14:68c:

and went out into the entryway.

Classic.  She’s ON TO HIM so he gets OUT OF THERE.  Bob, weave, juke, jive, avoid, escape.  Fight or flight and Peter is all about the flight.

            I love what happens next.  Look at 14:69:

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.”

Not you AGAIN?!  She’s perceptive, she’s persistent, and she’s more than a little nervy.  Asks Peter IN FRONT OF OTHERS, “OK, buddy, I saw how you treated me directly.  I’ve caught back up with you.  What are you going to say in front of these guys?”  The answer? 

70 Again he denied it.

 Second lie.  No elaboration this time … it’s almost like he is beginning to believe the very lies that he tells.  He is so into justifying himself – convincing himself that he’s RIGHT – that he becomes persuaded by his own logic.  I bet more than a few of you here have repeated a lie so often you believe it.  I’m Ok, not depressed.  I drink just a little.  It’s just a little flirting.  Everybody does pot; what could possibly be wrong? 

            Maybe more to the point, I bet most of us here have a servant girl in our lives.  Now: not LITERALLY a servant girl.  But we have someone who is on to us.  Perceptive.  Persistent.  Not quite believing the lies we tell, not quite convinced by how we justify ourselves.  For me, it was that time a preacher friend said to me in a quiet yet emphatic voice when I was railing about a perceived slight:  you’re being a jerk.  Or another friend who when he heard of some plans that were in hindsight pretty self-destructive said, “You don’t want to do that.”  Your “servant girl” may take different forms.  Spouse.  Teacher.  Sponsor in recovery group.  Your conscience.  Your mentor at work.  Your mentee at work.  What are you going to do when that person is on to you?  Storm out like Peter?  Or lean in?

            Look next at 14:70b:

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Ah, so the servant girl’s influence has expanded and now MULTIPLE people are on to him.  Surely you know him because you are a Galilean.  How do they know that?  Skin color?  Nope.  Dress?  Nope.  Hair texture? Nope.  Accent.  His accent betrayed him.  It’s like all the people from NYC who move into Union County (or Meck, or York).  They open their mouths when they’re at the Monroe DMV or other public place and what immediately becomes apparent?  You ain’t from around here!  And they ain’t! That’s what happened to Peter.  In his denial comes his admission.  The more he says he doesn’t know Jesus, the more his accent lets everyone in the courtyard know that he does. 

            And that accusation, evidently, is the straw breaking the camel’s back.  Peter won’t tolerate either the inspection of his behavior or the questioning of his character, so look at what he does in 14:71:

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

Curses. Swearing.  Temper.  Evading doesn’t work so we’ll try exploding.  Now: we don’t know for sure if he is cursing himself or cursing his accusers or even cursing Jesus, but we do know that in the heat of the moment Peter erupts.  And further explains:  “I don’t even know this man!”  Justifying himself.  Justifying his anger.  Quite possibly believing his own lies.  Yeah, he justifies himself so well we can almost hear the belief in his own deception. 

            And yet I get the profound sense that Jesus – even while he is on trial, even in the midst of being denied in a painfully public way – loves Peter too much to let him get away with it.  Look at 14:72, a chilling reminder that Jesus had predicted this scene some time before: 

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.[b] Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice[c] you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Three denials, two crows, one blubbering mess. 

            What do we make of Peter getting all UP IN ARMS at this critical juncture?  What do we do not just with his DENIAL, but the fact that he punctuates his denial with this flash of anger and profanity.  And here it is, here’s what we see from a guy who has started to believe his own lies and then realizes in a moment how wrong he has been:  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.  Yep.  Peter grows in his self-vindication throughout this little story even as his lies become more audacious.  Deep down he knew his lying was out of control so he pretended that his anger was justified.  It’s always easier to lose your temper than change your conduct. That he had every reason to lose his temper because how dare you question him.  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.

            But is Peter the last one like this.  Sometimes it’s a bit harmless.  Like the little girl who picked up a bathroom scale and showed it to her friend.  “I don’t know exactly what it does,” she said.  “All I know is that when my dad stands on it he gets really mad.”  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.

            Or more. The guy I knew who was so made at government, at schools, at the US economy.  All wrapped up in his Christian faith.  Just sort of belligerent … the kind of guy who stopped paying taxes.  And then come to find out the whole thing was a lie.  The Christian faith was a shame.  The anger that seemed justify was just a camouflage for so much behavior that couldn’t be.  A secret life. A second “family.”  His deepest anger was merely a cover for his darkest lie.  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.

            Even me. There are times when I get flustrated with things in church.  (You:  NOOOOO!)  And then I realize that 9/10ths of the things that frustrate me happen because of a lack of clarity or direction.  Happen because people fill in their own gaps.  Where does the lack of clarity and direction come from?  ME!!!!  You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.

            What about you?  Deep down do you know stuff is going on in your life that can’t really be justified, you can’t convince yourself or anyone else that it’s RIGHT, so in turn you get mad at someone or something else?  Do you have a “servant girl” who has born the brunt of your irrational anger?  Anger that’s really self-directed?  Is that how your spouse feels?  Your EX spouse?  Your kids?  The people who report to you at work? The flight attendant last week?  It’s all why with a lot of folks, the harder you insist on it, the less I believe it. 

            It’s so tempting to look at Peter’s eruption in 14:71 as the heat of the moment and be like, “Whew! He just had to get that out. The heat of the moment.”  Nope.  The heat of that moment had been cooking for a long time.  From the warming himself when he should have been protecting his Savior to the denials to the mistreatment of the servant girl to the unsuccessful evasion.  Build and build and build and finally the cooking had gone so long, BOOM!  If you’re one of those people who wrestles with your frequent ERUPTIONS, maybe the best strategy is to turn down the DECEPTION earlier. You justify your anger when you can’t justify your behavior.

            But I have to let you know, GS, that this most haunting story in Scripture is ultimately the most liberating.  Because it IS haunting: Jesus’ #1 guy, Alpha-est, denies his Savior and when people are on to him, blows his top.  Mark thankfully edits the CONTENT of his swearing & merely lets us know that swearing occurred.  Haunting.

            So why do I say liberating?  Well, WHERE do we read it (and this is not a trick question)?  __________  Right!  In MARK.  And whose story is Mark’s, according to 2000 years of the church’s wisdom?  Peter’s!!!  Mark was about 10 when these events occurred, was most likely not there, and yet he was a faithful scribe and notetaker for Peter himself.  That’s how we get this incredible level of detail in this one scene.  So in so many ways this record here is Peter’s confession!  And why is he so bold as to confess?  Because Jesus is bolder to restore.  In John 21, Jesus restores Peter three times as if to compensate for the three denials.  What Peter has made very wrong, Jesus makes right.  What Peter has done is inexcusable but not unforgiveable.  Jesus declares him redeemable.  His ability to forgive always surpasses our propensity to sin.  Jesus is both the just and the justifier.  All that we make wrong, he turns right.

            When you think you’ve gone too far, even with your temper, you haven’t.  Who knows? Jesus might be just preparing you for leadership. 

Because even if you can’t justify your behavior, Jesus can justify you. 

Come to him now.