Sermon audio here.
From Adam to Peter, the Bible leaves us with the distinct impression that people are exceedingly fickle. If God’s love remains constant, ours is constantly changing. Christ is entirely committed to you, but your loyalties have been divided.
Consider Peter. He was adamant. Jesus warned the disciples: you’re all fickle. Every last one of you will fall away (Mark 14:27). But Peter couldn’t stand to be called disloyal by anybody, not even Jesus. So he protested: “Even though they all fall away, I will not,” (v. 29). Peter thought he was better than he was. He was proud.
But when you’re at the top (or you think you are), there’s only one way to go. It would have been easy enough for Jesus to ignore Peter and his delusions of faithfulness, but He didn’t. He told Peter that he’d deny Him three times before the rooster could even crow twice. This only made Peter more vehement: “[Even] If it is necessary for me to die with You, I will never deny you,” (v. 31). We know how that turned out.
Looking back, this exchange had to have been comforting to Peter. Not that he was disloyal, but that Jesus loved him and bore with him despite knowing beforehand what Peter was going to do. Our Lord even brought Peter with Him into Gethsemane during His hour of deepest need (St. Mark 14:33).
So later on Peter’s out in the courtyard, and a servant girl and some bystanders start accusing Peter of being with Jesus. Now Peter’s response was just as bold as it was before—if not more so—but in the opposite direction. Not only did Peter deny being with Jesus, he denied even knowing Him (v. 71). And not only that, he disowned Jesus while swearing and invoking a curse upon himself (v. 71).
The crowds fared no better. On Sunday it’s “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”, but by Friday it’s “Release for us the murderer and crucify Jesus!”
This is only natural. it’s only natural to cheer when you’re watching a parade like they did on Palm Sunday. But when you go to a place like the Roman Coliseum you’re supposed to cry out for blood. And Peter learned how much harder it is to truly love someone when they’re not around. What else would Peter have said to our Lord’s face? “Hey, by the way Jesus, I love you and all, but the moment it gets tough, I’m going to disown you. Okay?”
Fickle faith is something we all have in common with Peter and the crowds. This fickleness is due in large part to our feelings. Feelings are constantly changing. God, on the other hand is steadfast and reliable. His promises never fail. His Word is what should guide you, not your feelings. We fail every time, which is why we don’t approach God like Peter, bragging about how we have no need of confession because we’re so good. Rather, we come like Blessed St. Mary, who responded to the Lord’s Word with humility and awe, not “What are you smoking, Gabriel? Don’t you know I’m a virgin?” No, she said, “Let it be to me according to Your Word,” (St. Luke 1:38).
Or consider the remarkable humility of Elizabeth. She not only knew she didn’t deserve to be in the presence of her Lord, she knew she didn’t even deserve to be in the presence of her cousin Mary. “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (St. Luke 1:34)
Or consider the note that was found in Luther’s pocket after his death: wir sind alle Bettler. We are all beggars. Luther, like Mary and Elizabeth, knew you don’t approach God with pride. The more you can do for yourself, the less you need a Savior. The more you think of yourself, the less you think of Christ. On the other hand, if, with Luther, Mary, and Elizabeth you know you’re nothing, then Christ will be your everything.
Peter surely had the best of intentions, but feelings and intentions got the better of him. Feelings are fickle and intentions are no substitute for action.
Our Lord faced the most emotionally taxing situations imaginable, He didn’t get panicked or act rashly. His example taught St. Paul to be content in every situation, whether high or low, hungry or well-fed, rich or poor (Philippians 4:11–13).
What’s was our Lord’s secret? He didn’t worry about Himself. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
It’s easy to get worked up when you’re reviled or suffering, especially if it’s due to injustice (like it was with Jesus). But where you, like Christ, commend yourself, your body and soul and all things, into the hands of God (St. Luke 23:46), He will take care of you and you will be okay. There’s no need to revile or threaten. God will take care of the wicked. He doesn’t need your help.
It’s easy to get carried away by our emotions like Peter or those crowds. Our emotions are fickle and are not to be trusted. As the prophet says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is why worship that is mostly concerned with appealing to our emotions is dangerous. What we need is the solid food of God’s Word, the full-blast, seventeen stanza, saving doctrine of Christ. Shallow hymns and music that’s more concerned with what we want to do for Jesus than what He’s does for us will leave you in the same state as Peter, if not worse.
Non-liturgical worship is always changing so it can appeal to our changing emotions. The liturgy, on the other hand, remains the same in order to help us meditate on God’s unchanging Word day and night (Psalm 1). The liturgy helps us to mature our faith in Christ so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:13–14).
The liturgy, which has been passed down from age to age, represents the collective wisdom of the Church—not one man’s (or committee’s) opinion on how things should be done. It is filled with that which is excellent and praiseworthy—the Doctrine of Christ—and invites you to dwell upon it (Philippians 4:8). Feelings come and go, but the Word abides forever. And so will you, so long as you don’t get carried away by your emotions and abide in that Word.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Based on Sermon 14: Religious Emotion by J. H. Newman
St. Mark 14–15
Holy Tuesday, 2015: Feelings-Based Faith
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