Before I say what I need to say to you today, I want you all to know how much I love you and care for you, and how immensely blessed I have been during my time of ministry with you all. I could not have asked for a better group of people with whom to share the best years of my life. And I am deeply grateful for the love and support that you have given me throughout our journey together.
What I am about to say will come as a shock to you and to our whole community. All weekend I have been agonizing over when and how to share this to you, and I thought about postponing it as long as I could. But it won’t be long before the news leaks out and rumors begin to circulate, so I wanted you to hear it directly from me while we are all together this morning.
I knew I would be too emotional to speak about it openly, so I composed a letter to read to you. Please forgive the formal nature of this, but I believe it’s for the best:
You have all known me for some time now and we have been through a lot together. I have never tried to hide my faults from you and my inadequacies and imperfections are apparent. Among other things, I have always struggled with the internal vices of hubris and arrogance which has often led to the outward sins of egotism, conceit, and overconfidence. I am quick to speak and slow to listen, and this impulsive behavior has gotten me into trouble in the past.
You all know that even the most faithful followers of Jesus sometimes fail, and I am certainly no exception to this. But I have always been thankful for the love, grace, and forgiveness that you have so freely extended to me. As the Psalm says, “You have not treated me as my sins deserve or repaid me according to my iniquities.”
That is why there is no easy way for me to say this—but this past Thursday night I made the biggest mistake of my life. I committed a shameful sin that has brought disgrace and embarrassment upon myself, my family, and our whole Christian community. I don’t want to go into all the details, but it will suffice to say that my pride led me down a dark path and I slipped in a way I never thought possible. I want you all to know that I am ashamed of my actions and I beg your forgiveness. I desperately wish it was possible to undo the damage I have done, but tragically, it is too late for that now.
So, after processing over the last few days, I have realized that, rather than keeping my sin hidden, it would be better to confess it to you publicly and face the humiliation head on. Furthermore, whether you will agree with me or not, I have reached the sad conclusion that the severity of my sin disqualifies me from continuing in my position of Christian leadership. Therefore, I am so sorry, but I regret to inform you that I resign from my ministry post, effective immediately. As I continue to pray for you, please pray for me as I discern the next steps for my life. May the Lord bless you and keep you all!
Cowardice in the Courtyard (54-65)
I told myself that I wasn’t going to share the details of my derailment this morning, but maybe I should explain what happened. This past Thursday night, I got caught in a precarious position, and I did something morally and spiritually despicable: I denied my Lord Jesus Christ not once, not twice, but three times!
I was in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas showed up with the chief priests and the temple guard to arrest Jesus. I tried to defend him against the diabolical defector and his entourage of evildoers; I even struck one of them in the ear with my sword. But Jesus rebuked me and told me to put the sword away, and then he miraculously healed the wounded man. Even so, they seized him and led him to at the high priest’s house, and held him in custody until the morning, when a council would be assembled for questioning. I followed them at a distance.
As the temple guards took Jesus inside the house, I stayed outside in the courtyard and watched what was happening through a window. The guards relentlessly mocked and beat him. They slapped him across the face and beat him with clubs. Every time they struck him, he winced from the pain, and they laughed even louder. I heard one of the guards ask him if he wanted to play a game called “Blind Man’s Bluff.” They tied a blindfold over his eyes and put him in the center of their circle. They pushed him back and forth, pummeling and spitting on him at every turn. With each punch, they yelled, “Prophecy! Who is it that struck you.”
The scene was unbearable to watch; I had to turn away. There were many people wandering through the courtyard that night and some of them kindled a fire to protect themselves from the cold. I sat down with them to warm my hands over the fire for a while. A servant girl was seated next to me. As the light from the flames flickered off my face, she looked at me more intently, and finally spoke, “This man was also with him.” Everyone around the fire knew what she meant; she was accusing me of being with Jesus. As soon as she said this, I noticed some of the temple guards looking at me too. And in a moment of panic, as I thought about what they were doing to Jesus, I chose the path of self-preservation and said, “Woman, I do not know him.”
As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth, a flood of emotions flowed through my mind and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t have much time to process my mistake before a man approached me and said, “You are one of them,” meaning one of Jesus’ followers. And without thinking, I did it again. I looked up at him and said, “Man, I am not!” He decided not to press the issue, but it drew enough attention that everyone kept looking at me. I covered my head with my hood and buried my face into my arms and fixed my eyes on the flames, hoping that no one else would recognize me.
After everything that Jesus had done for me, I flat out denied him, twice. Of all people, how could I have done this? I promised him that I was ready to go with him to prison or even death, but when the time of testing came, I failed miserably. I feared being mocked and mistreated. I was afraid of being beaten for my association with Jesus. He had once told me that he was going to use me to build his church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it, but after what I did, I deserve to walk through the gates of hell! I had condemned Judas for what he did to Jesus, and now I have committed the same crime.
The fire died down as I sat there pondering my failure. About an hour went by before another man approached me and accused me of being with Jesus. This guy was more insistent than the others. He spoke loudly and tried to draw attention to me saying, “Look at this man’s complexion! Listen to his voice! He is a Galilean like the others! He must have been with Jesus.” At that moment, a few of the guards started walking toward me, and I felt the battle rage between faith and fear in my soul. And when I saw the hate in their eyes and the swords at their sides, I cowered again and shouted, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!”
My cowardice in the courtyard achieved its intended result. When I said this, the conviction in my voice convinced the guards to turn around and walk the other way. But as I was still speaking, the clear sound of a rooster’s crow pierced the darkness, and my eyes shifted back toward the window. Jesus was standing there looking at me. He saw what I had done; he heard every word I spoke. His cheeks were swollen and his chin was covered with blood. There was an expression of disappointment on his face but his mouth did not move. His eyes were looking right through my soul; and I remembered the words he spoke to me earlier that night, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
I couldn’t look at him anymore! The weight of his stare was too heavy to bear. I ran away to a solitary place and wept bitterly all night. I have been weeping for three days’ strait. No doubt, you have all heard what happened to Jesus on Friday—in the morning King Herod interrogated him and Pontius Pilate condemned to die. At noon, they nailed him to a cross. And three hours later, he was laid in a tomb. Jesus is gone and it is all my fault!
Now you understand why I must resign my ministry post. After a failure such as this, I am not fit to lead anyone, let alone followers of Christ. If I had just spoken up, maybe none of this would have happened? If I hadn’t been such a coward, maybe I could have saved him?
I pray that none of you will ever deny Christ like I did. I hope you all will all learn from my failure. Don’t ever make promises to God you can’t keep! Don’t ever get overconfident in your faith! I got cocky when life was going well, but I cowered when my faith was tested. Perhaps you have heard the line: Pride goes before a fall! It is true! So, whatever you do, stay humble in every aspect of your life, but especially your faith!
Likewise, don’t ever never let fear overwhelm your faith! There may come a time when you are called to stand up or speak up for Jesus. There may come a day when your relationship with Jesus will cause people to mock or make fun of you, ridicule or even threaten your life. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be a coward like me! Stay faithful to him! Trust me, you don’t ever want to hear the coward’s crow. We all have an instinct for self-preservation, but don’t let this rule your life! Don’t let fear diminish your faith! Whenever you are put to the test, may you be found faithful!
So, here we are! Its Sunday morning! It has been three days since Jesus was crucified and it’s my fault. I don’t think I will ever get over this guilt? I don’t think there is any atonement for my mistake? I don’t think there is any forgiveness for a sin as severe as mine. I don’t think there is redemption for a failure like mine?
Wait! What? How can this be? Jesus is…