Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 22:54-62 – Courage, Cowardice, and Compassion

Grace For The Journey

Today we will be continuing our study in the Gospel of Luke. We are in chapter 22 beginning with verse 54.  Before we look at the verses we have for today, I want to share with you the stories of two men.  Both men lived around the turn of the twentieth century.  Both were Englishmen.  Both led lives closely tied to the sea.  However, both men were very different.  One man was known as a man of courage and the other will forever be remembered as a coward. 

The story of a man of courage goes likes this: In 1914 Sir Earnest Shackleton made plans to be the first person to conquer one of the last great frontiers.  He determined to be the first person to cross the continent of Antarctica.!  He chose 56 men to accompany him on this adventure – 28 in each of two ships that would approach the continent from opposite sides.  Shackleton and his 27 shipmates (and one stow away) would approach from one side while the other ship would approach from the other side and lay supply depots across the second half of the continent. 

Before the expedition could officially begin Shackleton’s ship The Endurance became trapped in the ice and after 8 long months of being stuck in the ice the ship began to break apart from the pressure and Shackleton gave the order to abandon the ship onto the ice.  After 6 months on the ice Shackleton ordered the men into the small boats that had been salvaged before Endurance sank. They took to the sea and 5 days later landed on an inhospitable rock known as Elephant Island. This was the first time they had stood on solid ground in 497 days!  Later that same month (now April 1916) Shackleton and 4 of his men took to one of the small boats and braved the open and icy ocean to reach South Georgia Island (the closest inhabited land) 800 miles away.  Sixteen days later, after enduring a storm that sank a 500-ton steamer also bound for South Georgia Island, Shackleton and his men landed on the south shore of the Island and after climbing the icy mountain range to the North shore Shackleton reached help for his men.  Shackleton made numerous attempts to reach his men on Elephant Island in the following months and was stopped by Ice until he finally reached his men on the fourth attempt 4 months after leaving them behind. 

One of the aspects of the story of Earnest Shackleton was his dependence on God throughout the entire ordeal.  He made a point of taking his Bible with him when he abandoned ship.  He led his men in the reading of that Bible daily while they were camped on the ice.  He even tore out a few Psalms to keep close to him and read to others when they were forced to abandon all but food and provisions when they boarded the small boats to reach Elephant Island.

Why do I tell you this story?  Because it is a story of courage.  During 3 years of dangerous and hopeless situations, Shackleton never lost courage which allowed him to keep all of his men alive in freezing weather and in the face of sure starvation.

The second story is one of cowardice, the story of J. Bruce Ismay.  Ismay, like Shackleton, was British and lived a life connected to the sea but he was not a sailor or an explorer.  Ismay was a business man – a man of great self-importance.  Upon inheriting his father’s position as the chairman of the White Star Ship Line he commissioned the building of the largest, most luxurious, and most efficient ships ever built.  The second of these ships to hit the open ocean was to become the most famous ship ever, RMS Titanic. 

Ismay often accompanied his new ships on their maiden voyage and Titanic’s first voyage in 1912 was no exception.  As the story goes, Ismay walked the decks of Titanic making it known that he was in charge of the ship and that even the captain answered to him.  It is even rumored that the ship continued its dangerous speed through a known ice field at his command.  One would think a man of such commanding confidence and presence would have been graceful under the pressure of the disaster he had played a part in.  But as it happens Ismay, found himself not standing with the captain as his ship went down but in one of the life boats with his back turned to the ship so he would not have to see his ship go down along with the 1500 people (women and children included) that did not have the good fortune of being in one of the few lifeboats on the ship.

Today we are going to be looking at a passage that tells the story of a man that could be placed in the camps of both Shackleton and Ismay.  We are looking at a man that displayed great courage one moment and great cowardice the next.  Yet, we are also looking at a man that learned a valuable lesson that stayed with him throughout the rest of his life.  A lesson on courage, cowardice, and compassion.

Before we jump into the text let’s remember where we were last week.  Last week we watched as Jesus was betrayed and arrested. We watched as everyone around Jesus betrayed Him through sin and we saw how our sin makes us guilty of the same betrayal. But remember the setting.  It was night.  A band of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus and Peter (even though we know it was misguided) made a courageous effort to protect Jesus from being arrested.  Remember how he drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of those there to assist with Jesus’ arrest?

Even though it was not what Jesus had in mind and He had to fix the mess Peter made, Peter showed what I would say was pretty impressive courage as he wielded one of the two swords the disciples had in the face of a full detachment of the temple guard.

That brings us to the beginning of our passage today and to our first point . . .

I. Believers Can Be Courageous.

Verses 54-55 tells us, “Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house.  But Peter followed at a distance. Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.”  It says “having arrested Him” – that is Jesus.  They brought Jesus into the house of the high priest.  This mob of people that were not fans of Jesus arrest Him and then lead Him to the place where those who are most threatened by Him and those who want to get rid of Him live. They take him into the proverbial “lion’s den.”

Look what it says about Peter.  It says, “Peter followed at a distance.”  Some of us might be tempted to throw a stone or two at Peter even at this point and say something like, “why was he following at a distance?” “Why wasn’t he right beside Jesus, after all he said he was willing to die with Him?”  But I do not think I would throw that stone.  Why?  Because my question is “Where are the rest of the disciples? Where are the rest of the people who just a couple of days earlier had been cheering Christ on as he entered Jerusalem?”  When Jesus was arrested they had run for the hills.  Maybe some of them were already back in the upper room where Jesus would find them hiding after His resurrection.

I think it was pretty courageous of Peter to be one of only two disciples that stayed even within sight of Jesus.  I think it took even greater courage when he saw that they were taking Jesus into the house of the high priest that he went in and actually sat down among those who had just arrested Jesus.  Think about it, he was a follower of the one who was arrested sitting in the middle of those who had done the arresting. I think that showed some real backbone.

Why do you think he was able to have such courage?  I think he had some good godly reasons and I think he had some very human reasons . . .

  • He Was Drawn By His Own Curious, Need To Know Nature.

We know Peter was never one to be quiet or to do well with being in the dark on a subject.  This would be one of the reasons that he stumbled in his thinking and actions many times.

  • He Had Been Emboldened By Jesus Himself.

Jesus was in command of the situation when He was arrested.  He rebuked everyone for their betrayal (including Peter).  He had said that this arrest must be permitted, and according to John’s Gospel even those who were there to do the arresting fell down before Jesus at one point. 

  • He Had Witnessed Jesus Perform Yet Another Miracle.  

He had healed the servant of the high priest whose ear Peter had cut off.  Peter was no doubt strengthened in his courage because of the strength of the one he followed.

I think we too can have courage for these reasons as well.  We can have courage in the face of difficulty, ridicule, sickness, uncertainty, and fear if we remember the power and control of the One we serve. If we will remember that nothing will happen to us that is outside the power, knowledge and plan of God we will have the courage to face any hardship and the courage to follow Him even when it may be a little scary or difficult to do so.  If we stay close to Him we can be counted in the camp of the courageous.  However, we are human, we are fallen, and we are sinners as Peter was. Which means we can easily go from the camp of the courageous into the camp of the cowards.

We can see from the Scripture that not only can believers be courageous but . . .

II. Believers Can Be Cowards.

This is a very important thing for us to remember and I think the Bible bears that out.  I believe that is why all four of the Gospels relate to us the account of Peter’s denials.  The reason we need to be aware of our own cowardice as believers is because until we face our weaknesses, fears, and sins we cannot come to Christ for His grace, forgiveness, strength, compassion, and grace.

In verses 56-60 we see Peter’s cowardice and see what message it might have for us, “And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, ‘This man was also with Him.  But he denied Him, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’  Why do you think Peter suddenly went from courageous to cowardly?  Why do you think he suddenly denied Jesus when this servant girl confronted him?  Do you think maybe because it was the easy thing to do?  Don’t we often fall into sin and even denial of Christ because it is the easy way out?  Think about it.  Here is this lowly servant girl asking him about himself, what is it going to hurt to just tell her a little lie just to get her off his back.  I mean after all she is really just a nobody.  He will probably never see her again after this night.  What is the harm?

The harm is that it is not what

He was called to do as

A follower of Christ.

He was expected to follow Christ’s example.  He was expected to do his best to bring glory to the Lord.  Telling a lie about himself is not the way to do that.  What is worse, denying in his lie that he even knows Christ is not the way to do that. 

I know that none of us are likely to go that far, or at least I hope we would not, but in a sense, we deny Christ every time we do something in front of others that would make them wonder if we indeed follow Christ as we say we do. 

  • Every time we lose our temper.
  • Every time we are unkind.
  • Every time we speak in a way to tear someone else down.  

We deny Christ because it is the easy thing to do.  It is much more difficult and takes much more courage to keep our cool when we want to fly off the handle in anger.  It is much more difficult and takes much more courage to be kind when we are tempted to treat someone the way we may feel they deserve.  Or maybe we go along with the ways of the world because it is easier than standing up for our beliefs.  Oftentimes we lament how much more worldly things are today than they were a few years ago.  TV is increasingly more vulgar and violent.  School and athletic organizations are increasingly callous toward those who would prefer to be at church on Sunday’s and Wednesdays.  But do we do anything other than complain?  No, we simply take the easy way out and do as everyone else and continue watching TV and allowing our schedules to be planned away from church without ever speaking up.  t takes courage to do things that are not easy. 

Peter also denied Christ and was a coward because he was afraid.  Verse 58 tells us, “And after a little while another saw him and said, ‘You also are of them.’  But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’  Peter’s simple denial had not worked.  The easy way out had not removed the suspicion that surrounded him.  The rumor was spreading that one of Jesus’ followers was among them and another individual persists in accusing Peter.  At this point Peter is starting to fear for his own safety, so having already denied knowing Christ he now denies even who he is.  He says he is not one of Christ’s followers so he will not have to answer any questions or put himself on the line. 

Do we ever deny Christ out of fear?  Maybe not with words the way Peter did but perhaps without actions.  Have you ever been in the presence of someone whom you knew was not a Christian and fearfully chose not to share Christ with them?  Maybe you were afraid they would be angry with you.  Maybe you were afraid they would reject you.  Maybe you were afraid that they might ask a question you could not answer.  Maybe you were afraid you would just make things worse and drive them further from Christ.  Whatever the fear, it drove you to deny who you are by keeping silent about the one you serve.  Taking the easy way out is the way of the coward, fear can rob us of our courage and so can frustration.

Look at verses 59-60, “Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, ‘Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying!’  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.”  This time someone confidently pointed to him as one who followed Jesus.  They even gave supporting evidence to give validity to their accusation.  John, in his Gospel, even says it is a family member of the one whose ear Peter cut off.  Look how Peter responds, “I do not know what you are saying!” with the implication that the man does not know what he is talking about either.  In Matthew the Bible even tells us that Peter began to curse and swear with an oath that he was not a follower of Jesus.  As the night wore on Peter’s nerves were tested.  He became increasingly anxious and now in his great frustration because he has not been able to get them to leave him alone, he explodes.

Does frustration ever cause us to explode and become cowards?  Absolutely.  When we are frustrated. we become cowardly dads and husbands that yell at or belittle our families rather than leading them in the way God has called us to do.  Rather than teaching our children to obey and patiently guiding them we ignore them until we cannot ignore any longer and then like a coward explode on those we should be loving.  When you become frustrated moms and wives you may be tempted to go silent and be inwardly angry instead of courageously encouraging you husband to lead or teaching your children by example to honor God.

Frustration is a cowardly denial

Of the power of Christ in our lives.

It will rob us of our courage every time.  It quickly causes us to feel as if we have not only hurt those around us but it will also quickly cause us to see that we have ceased to rely on God for strength and courage.  This is where Peter finds himself.  As soon as he has exhausted himself in his cursing and frustration and denied Jesus for the third time he hears the rooster crow.  At this he remembers what Jesus had said to him less than 24 hours earlier, “You will deny Me three times before the rooster crows.”

We might ask why he didn’t remember this during the night when he was denying he even knew Jesus.  The answer could be any number of things: fear, excitement, adrenaline, fatigue.  But it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that he went from courageous to cowardly and recognized it.  The good news is, that this is not where we end with Peter.  He does not stay forever in the camp of the cowardly.  Why?  

Because . . .

III. Believers Receive Compassion.

We receive the compassion and grace of Christ and His forgiveness!  Verse 61 says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’” It says Jesus turned and looked at Peter.  Folks, this was not a look of I told you so. This was not a look of anger. This was not a look of disappointment. It was a look that said “Peter, I knew you would deny Me and still I love you and I forgive you.” It was only this kind of look that could have caused Peter to react the way he did.  We see that in verse 62, “So Peter went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter did not feel he had been reprimanded, he did not feel he had been rejected, he did not feel he had been accused.  He felt like he had received a look of love and compassion when he did not deserve it.  He experienced the grace of God.  He was given love and forgiveness that he had not earned.  And it caused him to weep bitterly.

It caused him to draw closer to the God and Savior he loved and served.  It caused him to enter back into the camp of the courageous where he ran to the tomb of Jesus, where he listened to his risen Savior, where he spoke boldly of Jesus when he was threatened not to do so, where he even died a martyr’s death, as he from that day forward courageously served the Lord.

That is the kind of change we should long for . . .

That is the kind of encounter we should long for . . .

The compassion and grace from the Lord that brings confession and courage in our hearts and lives. A courage that causes us to say Jesus and the grace He gives is worth any difficult or dangerous thing that comes our way.

The compassion of Christ is something that we should value in such a way that we would have the courage of Krishna Pal.  Pal was one of the first four Hindu Bengalis that William Carey led to the Lord after 7 years of mission work in Burma.  Krishna Pal, his wife, his sister-in-law, and a friend were to be baptized but were threatened numerous times by other villagers.  After the threats, only Pal was willing to follow through with his baptism because he believed their threats, bribes, and false gods were “a trifling in comparison to the riches of Christ and his grace.” 

That is the courage we should strive for.  But we should take heart in Peter.  Knowing that if we have failed or should we fail in our courage for Christ in the future He will look upon us with His compassion and grace.  And that will cause us to regain our courage in Him and follow faithfully in His strength.

So this today, if you find yourself in need of His compassion.  If you find yourself in the cowardly camp of denial, fear, or frustration reach out to Jesus.  Receive his compassion, weep bitterly at your failure, and stand tall and courageous in His grace and forgiveness.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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