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The Peril Of Denial

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Mark 14:66-72[1]

What will it take to know for sure that in the face of death we will not deny our Lord?  It seems characteristic of this age that we live in that our brand of faith has come with relative ease.  We were not threatened with death or ostracism when we converted to Christianity.  There is no danger of being burned at the stake or dipped in boiling oil.  This is why when a little heat rises in our lives we turn from our faith to the world’s ways. 

Denial is actually self protection.  It as a result of some personal and distorted estimation of ones view of reality.  At that moment the denier is wanting to protect himself for he views himself in immanent danger.  This is instinctive.  This is human nature tainted by sin.    

Simple Denial: Just saying no. 

Minimizing: admitting to the problem but making it appear less serious. Yes I drink but not the much, or I only drink beer and wine not the hard stuff. 

Rationalizing: making excuses or trying to justify the action.  I just have a drink just to relax /socially. 

Intellectualizing/ Generalizing: using vague theories to avoid the emotional awareness of the problem.  Lots of people drink wine and beer with their meals.  Alcoholism is in my genes. 

Projecting / blaming: arguing that the responsibility for your problem lies elsewhere.  The reason I drink is because you keep on nagging me.  I drink because of all my work pressure.

Diversion: changing the subject to avoid being threatened.  So I got drunk forgot about it, lets eat.

Bargaining: cutting deals to avoid the problem.  I’ll quit drinking if you will lose weight or if my stress at work goes down. 

Passivity: ignoring the situation.  I’ve tried to quite but I do not have the will power.

Hostility: The person here uses anger to ward of any talk of his problem.


It was Sigmund Freud who first diagnosed it as a self defense mechanism but it was his daughter Anna who is to be credited for the research of denial.  She postulated that it was the result of an immature mind with no ability to cope with reality.[accessed from Wikipedia 8/12/2008].

This is exactly true of Peter.  If we could say anything about him we could say that he was very immature in his relationship with the Lord.  We could also say that his mind had no ability to cope with the reality of the situation before him.  The immature mind cannot understand the consequences of its actions and therefore shows no responsibility for it.  Wait a minute, this would be true of every disciple.  If this is true then the converse position must be true.  Our Lord was in tune with the reality of what faced Him.  He was not disenfranchised from it. Like Docetism.  


Denial is not always negative.  John the Baptist denied being the Christ (cf. John1:20).  It is a refusal to acknowledge something or someone that you don’t want to own.   

If there is ever a lesson in Peter’s life it is that self confidence only leads to self destruction.  ‘Though all may forsake you yet will not I’ he told the Lord once and now he denies Him three times.  We speak often of the fact of the Baptists words when he said ‘He must increase and I must decrease.’  This is exactly Peter’s problem and some of us too who strive to make self the master of the Lord’s work.  “I will build my church.” 

First Denial vs. 68

The bottom line is Peter lied.  His denial is actually lies.  ‘I neither know nor understand what you are saying’.  He understood and knew perfectly well.  In Peter’s behaviour he showed a strange affinity to our Lord.  So much like many of us!  Yes we want to be near enough for Him to acknowledge it yet not near enough for the world to notice it.  In that we want the approval of the Lord and the approval of the world.  We want the blessing of that divine association but not the ignominy of the world’s accusation.  We want to be Sunday Christians but from Monday to Saturday we want to blend in with the world.  However, this doesn’t work for as hard as you try to be incognito they notice and recognise things about you.  Here was an apostle who walked with the Lord personally and he too fell.  Don’t think it will never happen to you.  Live in humble faith.  “The Roman believers who read Mark’s Gospel no doubt learned from this account, for they would soon be entering the furnace of persecution themselves.”[2] 

Second Denial vs. 70 

The servant girls’ recognition of Peter was emphatic but it was also contemptuous.  She didn’t speak to him directly but to those around him.  She identified him as a disciple.  She even describes his relationship “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.”  This was a compliment and an insult because she says it in the past tense.  

She was deliberately trying to get him in trouble.  The world is a hostile place for a believer and it is this pressure that causes many to cave in and capitulate for fear of being recognized as one of His.    

Verse 70 is in the imperfect tense which indicates that he kept on denying it so as to assure the crowd that the girl was wrong.  It was a case of mistaken identity.  This was the diversion level where he was trying to get the attention of him.   

Third Denial vs. 71

At this stage he begins to curse and to swear.  This does not mean that he resorted to profane F’s & B’s.  It means that he pronounced curses upon himself if he was lying.  He sore an oath that he did know Jesus.  This is the ninth level, the hostility level. 

Mark adds a very telling and often unnoticed touch by telling us that Peter was ‘below’ in the courtyard.  It seems he was below in more ways than one.  Another graphic touch of the evangelists brush is in verse 68 ‘he went out’.  This was exactly what John told us about Judas except he didn’t repent.  Matt. 26: 69 tells us that he sat outside, clearly not walking with the Lord.   He has come to a stationary and stagnant point in his life.  It seems a natural consequence for one who is below.  This is clearly not a believer as one should behave for a believer is one who is not ‘below’ but above his circumstances.  A believer is one who is not ‘out’ but one who is in the will of God.  He is not one who sits but one who si walking with the Lord.  It is a downward spiral when one becomes ashamed of the Savior. 

     It seems that the third time she confronted him was by the fire upstairs.  Yes it was an ascent but it was an ascent that led him downward.  Even the world’s fire reveals a lot about those who walk with the Lord.  The glow of the worlds light even that tends to show a disciple for a disciple cannot be hid try though he might. 

            We see three levels of denial here.  The first is just a strong disagreement.  The 2nd is more vociferous and the third is the aggression level to discourage any further attempt at pursuing the issue.  At the third level all sense of reality is lost.  How can he say he didn’t know Jesus when everyone in Palestine knew who He was?  How can he put his own life in jeopardy by swearing an oath and putting a curse upon himself as to whether he knew Jesus?  He is like an immature 5 year old.     

Did not Jesus say that if you deny Me before men I will deny you before My Father in heaven?  But Peter did repent.  It was not the crowing of the rooster that convicted Peter it was the words of our Lord Himself.  God may use animals and has done so, whether Balaam’s donkey or Jonah’s whale or Elijah’s ravens, but animals do not bring the actual conviction.  In fact Luke 22:61 tells us that when the Lord looked at him then he called to mind the words of the Lord.  It must ever be that the Word of God cuts into your heart with conviction.  It must be the Word of God that drives you to your knees in tears of repentance.  Human weakness will always be overpowered by the application of the Word of God.  If after all these years you still have your weakness and sin it is only because you are stubborn and rebellious and living in denial. 

Before we get all shaken up about how this man can deny his precious Lord let us not be self righteous.  How many times have we too done this very thing?  We deny Him by walking quietly away from a conversation that obviously requires our sanctified input but for fear of shame we walk away.  When we know we should stand up for truth we compromise and by so doing ‘curse and swear’ in an attempt to let everyone know that you’re part of the in crowd.  We deny Him by associating and courting the things of this world.  Christmas is a good example!       

It is amazing to me that common prudence would dictate that after the episode at the Garden when he cut of Malchus’ ear that he lay low for a while until things blow over regarding his actions.  But we are told that Peter followed, albeit at a distance but he followed anyway.  There was here a strange mixture of courage and cowardice.  Every time he was found out he denied it but he didn’t run.  He stayed there!  I have often asked myself why?  The time that Christ spent on him wasn’t wasted.  He was weak enough to deny the Lord but retained the good sense to know that proximity to the Lord determined his life.  It was always the case with Peter.  As impetuous as he was he needed to be with the Lord.  When the Lord was with him he was calm when the Lord wasn’t he panicked.  Peter did the most amazing things and the dumbest things. 

            There is one more thing.  You need to be reminded that Mark got his material from Peter.  So Peter is really telling Mark the story of his own downfall and gracious restoration.  When we relate stories of ourselves pride tends to omit the embarrassing details but Peter was mature now.  His repentance was real.             


There is a fine line between denial and unbelief, so fine that it is sometimes well nigh impossible to tell them apart.  The point of Peter’s life is not to live in overconfidence and pride of our relationship to our Lord.  To understand the weakness of our human nature is a good step towards the exercise of faith.  What is faith? A young student asked D. L. Moody.  He replied, ‘Faith is my weakness leaning on God’s strength.’  It is faith that glorifies the Lord.  The writer of Hebrews says, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please the Lord.’  The apostle pleads ‘Christian know thyself.’  Know your weakness!  Don’t be in denial about it for it will most certainly lead you to the ultimate denial of our Lord.  People who live in denial actually deny the Lord by their living.  Let that look of our Lord pierce you and lead you to repentance today.  Are you in denial about your sin?  Then your are controlled by it.


[1] Birch Acres, Sunday Morning 14th December 2008

[2]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Mk 14:53). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

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