Common Faith Network
Church of God Cincinnati
Everything Feast of Tabernacles 2016
Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (Jesus in Matthew 10:33)Who committed the greater sin: Peter or Judas? Judas betrayed Jesus while giving him a sign of friendship (Luke 22:48). Jesus called him a son of perdition (John 17:12) and said it would have been better for him had he not been born (Matthew 26:24). Jesus compares him to the Devil himself (John 6:70), and the name "Judas" has come down to us a synonym for a traitor, one whose treachery exceeds that of a Brutus or a Benedict Arnold.
Peter denied his Lord three times, each time with a denial more emphatic than the last (Luke 22:54-60). Worse, his third denial according to the accounts of Mark and Matthew was a blasphemous declaration of self-condemnation. "He began to curse and swear, 'I do not know this man of whom you speak!'" (Matthew 26:74, Mark 14:71). The Greek implies that the "cursing" and "swearing" would sound something like this: "I swear to God! May he strike me dead and throw me into the Lake of Fire if I'm lying about this."
Remember that it was Jesus himself who warned that "whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). That's quite a condemnation, and Peter called that curse directly upon himself.
Is it fair to say that both Peter and Judas were equally culpable before God? I believe it is fair to say that, but with one big qualification. Let's take a look at Peter's denial through the lens of Luke's Gospel.
Luke's account tracks with the other Gospel writers in many particulars, but he adds a colorful detail the others do not. It appears that the abuse Jesus was suffering at the hands of the soldiers took place in a public venue in the full view of Peter and those around him, and it was at the same time as his third denial. Luke writes, "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord ..." (Luke 22:61).
Imagine that. Just a few hours before Peter in a fit of bravado proclaims his undying loyalty to Jesus. "The others may abandon you, but not me, Lord," whereupon Jesus says, "Is that so, Peter? Before morning, you'll disown me three times." As we know, Peter did exactly what he said he wouldn't do and what Jesus told him he would do.
And in the middle of that brutal beating in the public square, Jesus locks and holds a gaze with Peter, and Peter's heart is convicted. Jesus' warning rang in his head: "Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven." Peter not only denied his Messiah, he called down damnation on his own head.
Is it not rational to believe that Peter's sin and Judas' sin were equally egregious? Yet the subsequent events of the lives of Peter and of Judas could not have been more different.
The divergent paths that these two men chose are a testimony to the offer of Jesus' mercy and a lesson in how we must respond to it. I have written elsewhere (link: He Wouldn't Reach Back) about how Jesus reached out time and time again to Judas, warning him, offering object lessons and parables, even calling him "friend" to the last (Matthew 26:50), but Judas refused to reach back.
But when Jesus gave Peter that look in the public square, Peter fell to his knees in regret and repentance. Peter changed his life and his attitude, and as the Book of Acts shows (Acts 4, among other places), he was willing to suffer greatly for what he knew to be the truth.
Peter's sin was as great as Judas', but Peter accepted the rescue that Jesus offered. Jesus reached out, and Peter reached back.
He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence. (Psalm 101:7)
Let's start with the stipulation that telling the truth is a good thing and that lying is contrary to God's way, what we call "sin" in Biblical parlance. If that's the case, then what do we do with King David, a man after God's own heart? He and those surrounding him seem to be truth challenged at times, and all seemingly in God's service.
... all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:9)
In I Samuel 19 his wife Michal lies in order to save David's life.
In I Samuel 20 David's best friend Jonathan lies to King Saul in order to give David some cover for his own safety.
In I Samuel 21David lies to the Ahimelech the priest in order to protect and feed his men.
Later in I Samuel 21 David deceives the king of Gath by feigning madness.
And what do we do with Exodus 1? After Pharoah declares that all the Hebrew male newborns are to be killed, the midwives refuse to comply and lie to Pharoah about it. Verse 20 says, "God dealt well with the midwives." Or Rahab, who is called a woman of faith even though she lied about the whereabouts of the two Israelite spies?
Discussions around this topic can often turn heated. I once began a Facebook discussion on this conundrum, and it wasn't long before the temperature rose to an uncomfortable level. Wonderful arguments were tossed about, everything from quoting the scriptures at the head of this article, to quoting Luke 12:12 ("The Holy Spirit will teach up in that very hour what you ought to say"), to asserting the rabbinical understanding that lying is permissible if it is to save a human life.
Cogent arguments all, but not a one satisfied everybody.
How do we square this circle? If lying is a sin, why are there so many examples in scripture of lies being glossed over and sometimes even honored?
As with many things, the simplest answers can be the best answers, and I believe the simple answer is in Acts 17. In this chapter the Apostle Paul is addressing the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece. He has noticed the honorifics to all the false gods throughout the city, a place totally given over to idols. There is even an altar with an inscription to The the Unknown God just in case they have left some deity out.
Paul uses a concept relevant to our discussion when addressing the Athenians' pagan thoughts and ways. In verse 30 he says, "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands men everywhere to repent." (King James Version)
It seems to me this principle holds for the examples cited earlier. Of course they told lies. They no doubt rationalized doing so. They sinned when they did it. But Paul speaks to God's graciousness. He knows our weaknesses and is big enough to "wink at" (or "overlook") our weaknesses. It is what we have known all along: God is a God of grace. He knows and understands our weaknesses (Romans 8:3 and many other places). Notice too that "grace" is not "permission", as so many seem to misinterpret it. It is not permission to violate God's ways. Rather it is a covering, a forbearance.
As with so much in God's instructions to us, violating them might in rare instances be an expedient thing to do. Jesus points this out in the famous example regarding David and his men being blameless even though they ate bread that was dedicated solely to the priests (Matthew 12:3-4).
Having said that, getting into the habit of justifying lies can become just that -- a habit where lies are told when the truth would serve just as well. David seem to have fallen into that trap. It began with telling lies to save a life, but it led to telling a lie to the priest Ahimelech (I Samuel 21) when saying nothing would have served just as well. The mind does crazy gymnastics when it is trained to spin every fact.
Did we square the circle here? Tell me what you think.