In the series “Heart-to-Heart Talks”

Matthew 26:14-35

Click here for the Sermon Reflection Questions 2020-04-05 for this message.

Imagine picking up your car from the shop after routine service and the technician says, “This car is in great shape. Clearly, you have an automotive genius taking great care of your car.” As you are driving later that day, you discover that your brakes don’t work. You find out you were out of brake fluid, and you could have been in a serious accident. You go back to the shop and say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The technician replies, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. I was afraid you might get upset with me. I wanted you to feel accepted and happy.”

You would be furious. You’d respond, “I didn’t come here for a fantasy ego boost. When it comes to my car, I want the truth.”[i]

The story is told about an older gentleman who went to visit his doctor, and after the examination, the doctor told him to change his diet to improve his poor health. The physician explained to the man the importance of eating well and gave him a long list of what to eat and what not to eat.

The gentleman went home and called his sons to let them know about his declining health. He explained the doctor’s prognosis and his prescription for restoring good health.

A couple of weeks later, one of the man’s sons called to check on him. “OK, Dad, the doctor gave you some instructions awhile back. How is it going?” The man replied, “It’s going well. I’ve changed doctors.”

Sometimes our response to the truth is not the best response.[ii]

Sometimes we want the truth; sometimes we want to ignore the truth; and other times, we don’t want to face the truth – we’d rather remain blissfully unaware or to think more highly of ourselves.

Peter and the other disciples had quite a range of experiences that week. They had heard Jesus tell them for a third time that he would be handed over and condemned to death, then turned over to the Romans to be mocked, beaten and crucified. They also heard that he would be raised from the dead on the third day. (Matt 20:17-19)

Along their way to Jerusalem, they saw Jesus demonstrate his compassion and power by healing two blind men. (Matt 20:29-34)

And then they saw him hailed as the coming king by the crowds assembling to observe Passover. It was quite the moment:  Jesus rode into town on the back of a donkey with its colt. The people put their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches and spread them on the road. The crowds sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:1-11)

To the disciples who had been with him for three years, this must have seemed like the fulfillment of what they hoped for. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught about a kingdom in which God would rule and reign, when God’s justice would be the way of life and the wicked would finally be punished. They imagined that the Romans would be gone, and their conquered nation of Israel would be restored to its former glory. This was, after all, the truth that Jesus had been proclaiming all along, right?

They watched as the procession made its way into the Temple courts, and they saw Jesus, angered by the scene, overturn the tables of merchants and moneychangers who participated in a corrupt system. He drove them out, cleansing the Temple of their evil and restoring it as a house of prayer.  (Matt 21:12-17)

Throughout the week, they saw Jesus return to the Temple to teach further about God’s Kingdom. They heard him repeatedly questioned and challenged by the religious authorities.

It was almost certainly an exciting week leading up to Passover. That night, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room of a house and commemorated God’s delivering their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to freedom. Passover was a joyous occasion, a time of celebration and giving thanks to God.

But the ritual of the Passover meal was interrupted when Jesus took the bread and said, “This is my body,” and again when Jesus took a cup and said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” If that wasn’t confusing enough, Jesus added, “I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  As they sang a hymn and departed for the Mount of Olives, the disciples didn’t know what to make of his words. (Matt 26:17-30)

There, Jesus continued to speak truth to them – truth that surely rocked them to their core. “Tonight, you will all fall away because of me and desert me,” he said (Matt 26:31)

Jesus, what did you say?  Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and listen to those words again. “Tonight, you will all fall away because of me and desert me.” It’s a truth that’s too much to absorb, to take in, to understand, let alone, to accept.  Can’t you imagine them saying, “But we’ve been loyal. We left everything to follow you. We’ve stayed with you these three long years. We’ve seen the miracles you’ve worked, heard your teachings, left home, family and business.  No, Jesus, we’re in this with you, all the way.”

But Matthew tells us, that it was Peter who spoke up in response to this hard truth. “Even if all the others leave because of you, I will never desert you.” (Matt 26:33) Peter cannot believe what he’s heard Jesus say. It’s too much. Peter, who had seen and heard even more than the rest because of his special relationship with Jesus, alone would be faithful and true, come what may.

Peter hoped his self-assured pronouncement would convince Jesus of his undying loyalty and commitment. Yet Jesus went on: “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Another hard truth for Peter to hear, more than he could take.

He responded almost reflexively, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”  Moved by his defense, the others joined the chorus.

Soon, however, they would learn that Jesus had indeed spoken the truth. They would come face-to-face with their weakness and fear. Later, as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, Peter and the others would fail to stay awake to pray for Jesus, themselves, and all they were about to face. (Matt 26:36-46) They watched in disbelief and anger as one of their own, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus into the hands of the chief priests and elders. In that moment, all the disciples fled and deserted Jesus.

Peter followed at a distance to see how these events would end and waited in the courtyard of the high priest. While waiting one and then a second servant-girl noted that Peter had been with Jesus. Both times he denied it; the second time, he swore an oath. When another bystander challenged Peter, pointing to his Galilean accent that betrayed him, Peter denied knowing Jesus, calling down a curse. It’s unclear from the text if Peter cursed Jesus or cursed himself if he was lying.  Regardless, at that moment, a rooster crowed, calling Jesus’ words of truth to his mind. Faced with the realization that Jesus had indeed been right in all that he said and stinging from the hurtful truth, Peter left and bitterly wept. (Matt 26:69-75)

Try as we might to deny or downplay it, the truth is that no Christian is immune from the possibility of denying and failing Jesus.  In our moments of spiritual high or in our times of desperation, we often self-assuredly declare our allegiance to Christ and our willingness to live for him. But then when we fall down to earth or experience disappointment, we can be quick to forget. We fail to love others as Christ has loved us. We neglect to pray and care for our souls. We get selfish, convinced there won’t be enough of God’s resources and grace for us. We give into fear and act out of that place to hurt others. We look out for number-one instead of humbly serving our neighbors as Christ served us.

The truth hurts, and yet facing the truth can help us.  I hope that you are blessed with someone who genuinely loves you enough to speak the truth to you, even when the truth hurts. Now, I don’t mean someone who appoints themselves to deliver what they see as the truth with concern only for their agenda. I mean someone who only has your best interest at heart, who knows you and cares enough about you that they will speak truth to you and stand with you through whatever unfolds next.  Presently, my spouse and partner in ministry, Becky, is one who can tell me the truth, even when it hurts.

A long time ago, I had two friends from a small group I was part of who asked to talk with me. It was a nice spring day as we gathered on a porch and they shared what they had observed and expressed their concern. It was hard to listen to what they had to say; I didn’t want to accept it. In fact, I wanted to deny and argue. I wanted to defend myself and my perspective. But they were calm and persistent. They listened and they responded gently but firmly. Finally, the truth told in love pierced my defenses, and I could listen. We talked about what needed to happen, and they prayed for me and helped me begin to change the things that needed changed.

For Peter, Jesus had spoken the hard truth, but he failed to heed it. Was Christ done with him? Was Peter too far gone because of his failure? There’s a clue in our Gospel story. When Jesus warned the disciples that they would fall away and desert him, he also said, “But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (Matt 26:32) I will go ahead of you – not I will choose others and start over. It’s a note of grace and restoration. The message is that Jesus is not done with these disciples and with Peter.  In Mark’s account of the Resurrection story, the angel tells the women, “Go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). And in the 21st chapter of John, Peter meets the Risen Christ on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and is restored by answering the question, “Peter, do you love me?” three times (once for each denial). Then he hears the gracious invitation of Jesus: “Follow me” (John 21:15-19).

The truth about us is that we will fail Jesus at some time – probably, several times – in our lives. That’s a truth that can hurt. The cross symbolizes aspect of the truth. But there is more to this truth, also represented in the cross, a truth that heals: There is always grace, more than enough for all our faults and failures, to accept, forgive, heal and restore us to right relationship with God who loves us. And nothing, not our failures or successes, our faults or fears, not even life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[i] Jim Perdue, “The Truth Hurts (9 of 16), https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/103706/the-truth-hurts-9-of-16/, adapted. Accessed 04/02/2020.

[ii] Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: stories, quotes, and anecdotes from more than 30 years of preaching and public speaking (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), https://books.google.com/books?id=O-d2JAlk9uMC&pg=PT274&lpg=PT274&dq=sermon+illustration+%22the+truth+hurts%22&source=bl&ots=zW56LDDhoT&sig=ACfU3U2tZUi5lpVss0bs0hBWuenNWAD90A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwij_drmvMroAhXDpJ4KHdu8B-QQ6AEwBnoECAsQKQ#v=onepage&q=sermon%20illustration%20%22the%20truth%20hurts%22&f=false, adapted. Accessed 04/01/2020.

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