We too quickly deny the necessity of suffering. We want cake without calories, dentists without pain, and a crown without a cross. Yet we cannot follow Jesus unless his suffering (= Passion) shapes everything. In the past few weeks, we have explored how his Passion shapes preparations for the Passover (Luke 22:1–23 [esp. v. 15]), teachings about greatness (22:24–30), discipleship (22:31–38), and prayer (22:39–46). If we deny suffering, then we deny the Christian life. And that is what we so often do! Luke 22:47–62 shows how we can deny Jesus with a kiss (22:47–48), a sword (22:49–53), and a word (22:54–60). More important, we also see how we return to Jesus by his kindness and his word (22:61–62). .
First, we deny Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:47–48) when we feign intimacy but fail to follow. Judas clearly feigns intimacy, since he is “one of the twelve” who “drew near to Jesus to kiss him” (22:47). Yet Judas failed to follow Jesus and betrays him instead (22:48). Similarly, we often feign intimacy but fail to follow Jesus. We betray Jesus with a kiss because we do not actually follow Jesus on the path before us.
Also, we deny Jesus with a sword (Luke 22:49–53), imposing our purposes by our strength. The chief priests who oppose Jesus and the disciples who support Jesus are both united in their use of the sword to impose their own purposes. The disciples use the sword to cut of their opponent’s ear (22:50), and the chief priests use the sword to arrest their opponent (22:52–53). Similarly we frequently use our strength to impose our purposes instead of submitting our strength to God’s purposes. Our “sword’ represents our selfish imposition of our own purposes instead of a spiritual discernment and submission to God’s purposes.
Finally we deny Jesus with a word (Luke 22:54–60), following Jesus but not too closely lest it become too costly. Peter followed Jesus “at a distance” (22:54), but he is accused of being “with him” (22:56), “one of them” (22:58), and “with him” (22:59). Peter did not want to follow Jesus too closely lest it become too costly. His shame leads him to deny Jesus three times. Similarly we often want to follow Jesus, but only at a distance as long as it does not cost us too much. We end up denying Jesus when we find a cost to following him.
So how do we return (Luke 22:61–62)? Even the most well-intentioned and well-discipled follower like Peter ends up denying Jesus —with a kiss, with a sword, or with a word. But denial is not the end of the story. Peter returns to Jesus because of his look and his word. When the rooster crowed, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (22:61). Jesus gazes at Peter with eyes of gentle compassion and love. His kindness leads us to repentance (cf. Rom 2:4). Similarly, Jesus does not reject us for our failure but looks at us with compassion and invites us to himself in our failures. And the look of Jesus with compassion strengthens us to remember the word of Jesus. Peter remembers what Jesus had said (22:61), and “he went out and wept bitterly” (22:62). Peter repents, turning away from his own denial because of the look and the word of Jesus. Similarly, when we deny Jesus we return to him as we see his look of compassion for us and remember his word.