March 7, 2022 . . .“God’s anonymous: a servant girl” Mark 14:66-67

March 7, 2022 . . .“God’s anonymous: a servant girl” Mark 14:66-67

March 07, 2022

“God’s anonymous: a servant girl”

Mark 14:66-67

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

A little over forty years ago, back in 1979, author Stephen Pile wrote a book called, The Book of Heroic Failures. He wrote it, he said, in celebration of human inadequacy in all its forms. He said, “Anyone can be a success, but it takes real and original genius to foul up big time.” The book was such a success, he followed it up with two more books, what he called, The Not Terribly Good Book of Heroic Failures and The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures.

And in those books, he tells about failures of all kinds, like the driver who got lost, as in 5,000 miles lost, even with GPS(!), or the most driving written test failures (apparently, a girl in Korea failed the test 959 times!), or the most pointless election history, in Pillsbury, North Dakota, where absolutely no one, not even the town mayor, bothered to vote. Or the worst bank robbery ever, where two different sets of bank robbers both tried to hold up the very same bank at the very same time.

Or think of a Romanian welder-turned-folk singer John Melu who planned to perform at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, only to see that, in a room that held 2,690 people, a whopping crowd of eighteen came to listen, setting a new record for the smallest audience ever.

Or think of the time in January of 1978 when all of England’s firemen were on strike, so the British army was called on to fight fires instead.

That’s when an elderly woman in south London called to say that her cat was stuck in a tree. And much to her relief, when the soldiers/firemen arrived, they carefully and cleverly rescued her cat. Good news! The woman was so grateful, she invited the entire group of brave soldiers in for tea.

There was just one problem. When the party was over and the men were driving off, no one was watching out for the cat. Needless to say, what happened next was a “cat-astrophe.”

In the words of Joseph Conrad, “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.”

So it was for a man named Peter.

I’ll read the words of Mark chapter 14: “As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean’” (Mark 14:66-68).

For years, he had been a fisherman, earning his living casting his nets into the sea…until that day he met that Man named Jesus.

He had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Still Jesus said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

“But Master,” he answered, “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught a thing. But at Your word, because You say so, we’ll let down the nets.” And as they did, their boats could hardly hold all their catch.

“Depart from me,” he said, “for I am a sinful man.”

But Jesus answered, “Don’t be afraid! From now on, you will catch men.”

And catch men he did! He watched as Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. He was there to hear Him say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And he was there to hear Jesus pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

Out of all of Jesus’ disciples, Peter was there to watch Him pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He even stepped out of the boat and walked on the sea.

There was no one like Peter--bold, strong Peter.

So it was no surprise that, when Jesus said, “This very night, you will all fall away on account of Me,” it was Peter who blurted out and said, “Even though all fall away because of You, I never will” (Matthew 26:33).

“Will you lay down your life for Me?” He asked. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied Me three times” (John 13:38).

It was late on Thursday night. Jesus had been arrested and taken to the house of the high priest. Most of the other disciples were nowhere to be found. They were gone, scattered, cowering in the darkness, too shocked to see what would happen next.

And as the crowd of soldiers led Jesus away, Peter followed along, in the shadows, a short distance behind. He had promised, after all, that he would never desert Jesus, and he certainly wouldn’t leave Him now. Besides, in the confusion, it was easy to tag along behind the crowd. No one seemed to notice or to even care that he was one of Jesus’ top men.

Up the hill, through the city streets, he followed the crowd to the very house of the high priest. Before him was a courtyard that could only be entered by a gate. By the time Peter got there, the soldiers had already taken Jesus inside. The crowd had partly dispersed and, for the time being, the excitement was over. The sky was dark and the air was cool.

Peter couldn’t tell exactly how many were there. Fifty maybe. Maybe more. Soldiers still clutching their swords and clubs milled around, as servant girls ran their errands. And there were hangers-on and passers-by, just waiting to see what would happen to this fellow Jesus.

To better understand what happened next, remember that it was now a little past midnight. It was dark and no one there knew for sure just who Peter was, so it was perfectly safe to step inside. Sure, he was in enemy territory, but it was in the middle of the night, and there was no reason why anyone should suspect him. So quietly and carefully, he brushed past the gate to warm himself by the fire.

But just as soon as he got to the fire, a servant girl spoke up. She said, “You weren’t with that Nazarene, Jesus from Galilee, were you?”

“You weren’t…were you?” It was a perfectly designed question, respectful even, expecting a negative response.

Her words rocked Peter. Here, of all places, he wondered, someone recognized him? But thankfully, she wasn’t all too sure herself.

He had to think fast. Instinctively, he muttered the oldest dodge in the world. With a smile, he said, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

That’s right, Peter. Just play dumb, Peter. Act as if you don’t even know what she’s talking about.

And sure enough, it worked! Or at least Peter thought it worked.

But in the minutes that followed, two more people looked a little more closely at him. Too closely. Too carefully. One was whispering, while the other nodded in his direction.

Peter decided it was better to turn and slip back out of the courtyard. Things were getting a little hot.

But as he did, another servant girl, a friend of the first, suddenly spoke up. With a look of conviction in her eyes, she said, “Surely, this fellow is one of them.”

He tried to pass it off, hoping she wouldn’t see his heart pounding in his chest. “Quick now,” he thought to himself. “You’ve got to say something. Think. Think. Don’t just stand there looking stupid.”

So he said, “I don’t know the Man.”

But just as soon as he said it, his face flushed and he knew the girl didn’t believe him.

Now he was in real trouble--in the wrong place and at the wrong time. He’s in the enemy’s camp, warming himself by the enemy’s fire. If he tried to leave now, it would arouse even more suspicion. If he stayed, they might find him out.

A few more minutes passed, with more looks and more whispers. Finally, it looked as though Jesus’ interview with the high priest was over. The guards were coming out of the house and the tempo in the courtyard was picking up. Maybe he would get out of this precarious situation after all.

But just when he thought he was free and clear, a man spoke up from the other side of the fire. And sounding very sure of himself and far more hostile than either of those servant girls, he said, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean. Your accent gives you away” (Matthew 26:73).

Up until then, Peter had played dumb. But this time, he knew it wouldn’t work. Evidently, the man had been with the crowd that came to arrest Jesus. Worse yet, he was a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter had cut off.

He was trapped and he knew it. And in that moment, the words came tumbling out--old words, vile words--words that came out of fear and exhaustion, ones he hadn’t used since his days as a fisherman. He said, “I don’t even know who you’re talking about!”

And no sooner had those words fallen from his lips that, somewhere off in the distance, a rooster crowed.

As we consider this story once again, we can’t help but task--what possessed Peter to deny knowing Jesus?

It’s strange, if you think about it. Just hours before, he said he would die for Jesus. Even more, in the garden, he drew out his sword and cut off a man’s ear.

So what happened?

What happened is that Peter never expected to be questioned by some servant girl. And once he denied knowing Jesus, there was no turning back.

As one author put it, “One sin makes many. The Devil’s hounds run in packs.”

A woman tells the story of growing up with six siblings, and a mother who needed something for them to do each summer. And since they lived a short distance from the beach, they spent many sunny summer days body surfing in the ocean.

And one day, as a teen, she went to the beach with some friends. Believing she was experienced, she went out into the waves by herself.

A moment later, she got caught in a rip current. A long, narrow band of water began to tug her further and further away from the shore. Completely panicked and trying to swim against the current, it pulled her underneath the water, tossing and turning her out of control. She came up short of breath, and was once again pulled down, then thrown around like a ragdoll. When she was finally able to come up for another breath, she heard a voice inside that said, “Stay calm.”

When her mind cleared, she remembered that she needed to swim parallel to the shore. And as she began to swim, she managed to free herself from being pulled beneath the water. A minute later, a couple of men saw her struggling, then helped her back to shore.

Sometimes, things don’t go the way we expect and events in our lives spin out of control. It feels as if we’re out in the ocean, caught in a rip current.

And that’s just the way it was for Peter. Fearful for his life, doubting he had what it took, not wanting to be noticed, and anxious he’d be arrested or worse, he, the strong leader of the disciples, the brash, brazen, foremost of the disciples, caved to, of all people, a servant girl.

Did he fail Jesus? Yes, he did. It was a failure he’d remember for the rest of his life.

But was he a failure? No, he wasn’t. For after his fall, he did more for Jesus than he ever did before.

Before his fall, he was loud, boisterous and unreliable. After his fall, he became a fearless preacher for the Lord. Before his fall, he was a big talker. After his fall, he talked only of Jesus. Though he was still Peter through and through, he had been sifted by Satan, and his chaff was blown away.

The same can be true of us. Even though we fall and fall and fall some more, God’s grace can raise us up from our defeat and despair. God can take us and make us stronger than we ever were before.

In the words of a hymn: “If the world my heart entices on the broad and easy road, with its mirth and luring vices, let me think upon the load Thou didst carry and endure that I flee all thoughts impure, banishing each wild emotion, calm and blest in my devotion.”

Dear Father, as Peter once fell, so we fall too. Help us, we pray, to remain steadfast and immovable in faith, as we seek to faithfully follow You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen