by Tyler Arnold
Clark Kent … Bruce Wayne … Peter Parker.
All three of these well-known comic-book superheroes experience ongoing crises of identity. They must “deny” who they really are to others and hide behind secret alter-egos so that they and their loved ones can live in relative obscurity and peace.
Ask Peter Parker or Clark Kent how they came by their photographs or interviews with Spiderman and Superman (respectively), and they’ll shrug their shoulders: “Just lucky, I guess?” Ask Bruce Wayne if he’s really Batman, and he’ll reply, “Batman who?”
Can you imagine living a double life like these superhero characters?
I submit to you that, yes, we can imagine. I submit that there have been — and maybe still are — times, events, situations and lifestyles in which we ourselves assume convenient alter-egos that allow us to deny who we really are in Christ.
If we truly examine our lives, we are forced to admit, not with Peter Parker but rather with the apostle Peter, that we have sometimes said, with our mouths and with our actions, “I deny Him … I deny that I am one of His … I KNOW NOT THE MAN!”
The apostle Peter, of course, is no stranger to us. It was Peter who had the boldness and confidence to swing his legs over the edge of the storm-tossed boat and walk to Jesus on water. It was Peter who made that courageous confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). It was Peter who with James and John was chosen to witness the glory of God Incarnate on the Mount of Transfiguration. Indeed, Peter is no stranger to us. We can’t help but admire his boldness, his courage, and his confessing character.
And yet, the Holy Week accounts of Peter seem to show an altogether different man. What he said there in the courtyard early in the morning on Good Friday was a lie. It was a bald-faced denial of who he was, what he was and whose he was. His denial became louder and louder as he invoked a curse upon himself and swore, “I do not know this man of whom you speak” (Mark 14:71).
What changed? Just a few hours earlier, it was Peter who said to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not. … If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:29, 31). He was very confident — confident in himself, in his own faith, in his own ability to stand up as a witness for Jesus. Yet his trust in himself and his own ability was misplaced. When it mattered the most, his own strength failed him.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to jump on Peter’s back for his shameful behavior. How often have we, too, tried to hide our identity as people of Christ? Maybe we surround ourselves only with Christians so that we are never put in the uncomfortable position of having to stand up and give a witness or make a confession of faith. Or maybe we blend in so well with the unbelieving world that few, if any, of those around us would ever have reason to ask if we are Christians. We find Peter’s actions worse than abhorrent, yet we must admit that our own actions have often sadly mimicked Peter’s denial.
When the rooster crowed, Peter collapsed with shame at the full realization of what he had done — and more, yes, more! For to Peter also came the realization that even though he had denied, disowned, and abandoned Jesus, Jesus did not — would not, then or ever — deny, disown, or abandon Peter.
Peter was ashamed, so ashamed. And we are, too. Because of the times we could have — should have — spoken but instead remained silent. Because of the times we could have — should have — remained silent but spoke out.
Our only hope lies in remembering where Jesus was headed when Peter spoke those awful words. The Lamb of God was soon to be taken out to Calvary and there crucified. For what? For the sin of Peter’s denial. For the sins of the apostles who turned tail and ran. For the times we kept silent when we should have spoken. For the times we have spoken and should have been silent. For everything we could have and should have and failed to have been or done.
And by that crucifixion, Christ has said to you and to me: I love you. I forgive you. I will never leave you nor deny you. Even if you are faithless, I will remain faithful, for I cannot deny myself (2 Tim. 2:13).
As Christ’s forgiven disciples, we have a steadfast spirit, made so by His Word and His Sacrament. His steadfast love makes it possible for us to daily and even defiantly proclaim: I do know this man. He is my Lord, my Savior, my God!
The Rev. Tyler Arnold is senior pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Platte Woods, Mo. He is also a Collegium Fellow for DOXOLOGY — The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.