Benefiting from Failure

Anthropology is the study of humanity. 

Not so from a physical standpoint like anatomy or physiology or biology, but from the standpoint of behavior—what people do and why they do it. 

Today we get a lesson, a divine lesson, from God to us, on anthropology. I call this anthropology with authority.

Through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). As a result, you were brought forth in iniquity, and in sin your mother conceived you (Psalm 51:5).

Your heart is more deceitful than all else and is deeply corrupted; and you simply can’t understand it on your own without truth (Jeremiah 17:9) every intent of the thoughts of your heart are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) for out of your heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (Matthew 15:19).

In a word you were dead. 

Stuck in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them you too formerly lived in the lusts of your flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, by nature a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

And so, you must remember that you were at one time separate from Christ, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12) you were hopeless because in the same way that an Ethiopian cannot change his skin or a leopard change his spots, neither can just wish to have different skin color or wash away his spots and be something different and neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jeremiah 13:23).

But in the midst of this, God demonstrates His own love toward you, in that while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you (Romans 5:8). He did it because he is rich in mercy and he loved you with a great love (Ephesians 2:4).

And now it is by his doing that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to you wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward you (Ephesians 2:7).

Therefore if you are in Christ, you are a new creature; the old things have now passed away; look new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). And your redemption, your individual salvation was in mind of God before he even spoke light into existence. 

It why you can say: blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. 

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:3–6).

This work of salvation is a complete and final work. 

Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 

No one can now condemn you. If God is for you, who is against you? And if he was willing to give you his son, what more could he give? He gives freely to you. You are elect, chosen by Him.

The result now is that if you belong to Christ, then no one can separate you from his love. Tribulation won’t, neither will distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. Instead in all these things you overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved you. 

You can die, but that won’t separate you from his love. And neither will any other created being. And that means not even your own sin can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35–39).

We need this promise.

Because in spite of the grand realities that come to us freely in Christ. We still live in the shadow of the old life. The echo of the old man lingers, and it harasses us.

You see as God continues to instruct us about ourselves. He says to those who are washed to those who are sanctified and justified:

Pray. Pray to the Father that  he would not lead you into temptation, but deliver you from evil. (Matthew 6:13). Pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:40) because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).

And if you don’t see your need to pray earnestly against temptation and you are in a season of apparent victory, be careful. To those of you who thinks you stand, take heed that you do not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Believing lies is easy. And so I’m afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

But it isn’t God’s fault that you are tempted. Don’t you dare say when you are tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each of you is tempted when you are carried away and enticed by your own lust. (James 1:13–14).

You are tempted by your own desires and you have a tempter who is temping you (1 Thessalonians 3:5). The struggle is real. But listen, Jesus was tempted in his suffering and so he is able to come to your aid when you are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). 

In him, you’ve been given all things pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of him (2 Peter 1:3).

Christian, your God is so faithful. 

He will always provide a way to endure the temptation so that you can walk through it. Nothing you experience by way of temptation is special or unique. It’s all normal. It’s common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13) but don’t think its too difficult, God’s grace is enough for you to withstand it.

Having said all this, stay alert. Be sober-minded. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). 

You aren’t living in peacetime, you are living in wartime.

And although you live in the flesh, you do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of your warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. You must learn to take every sinful thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).

You are to prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, and fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

And yet in spite of all those precious promises you will at times find yourself saying, “the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want,” (Romans 7:19–21).

So you can see why, sitting in cold, dark dungeon after many years in the Christian life, the apostle Paul expressed with confidence:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18).

Friend, this is how you make sense of life. This is truth about who you are. Listen, you can trash any secular anthropology class you take at university. I’ll send you my notes with the Scripture references. 

Can you not relate to God’s description of who you are?

I love that about Scripture. Its raw.

Today we come to the account of Peter’s miserable failure. It puts on display in a true story of real-life events, the theology that we just heard.

Make no mistake. Peter is born-again. He is a Christian although they aren’t called that yet in name. He is a believer. He’s a disciple who loves, trusts and obey Jesus. He left his previous life to follow Jesus.

He said Jesus is the Christ. He said Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus washed his feet in the upper room and said that Peter was clean because of the words Jesus had spoken.

Peter the believer today lies and pretends that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is because identifying publicly with Jesus is dangerous. 

The details are explicit. This is not a momentary slipup. Peter lies three times. He even says, “I swear to God I don’t know him…”

Peter’s failure is included here for our benefit. 

If you think about it this account is not material to the cross. It doesn’t need to be here for our understanding of God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

It puts on display the tension between a willing sprit and a weak flesh. It’s a warning about sin. And then it models for us what to do when we sin.

I have a love-hate relationship with this passage. I love it because it brings me comfort to see how to navigate my sin. I hate it because it requires me to be honest about my tendency to fear man rather than fear God. To shrink back from identifying with Jesus Christ publicly due to the negative personal ramifications of doing so.

I’d like to sugarcoat it because it’s so shameful. But having this example written for our instruction in Scripture doesn’t allow it.

Peter Learns a Valuable Two-Part Lesson in the Courtyard

  1. His compromise: Peter’s persistent denial (66-71)

  2. His private lie (66-68)

  3. His public lie (69-70a)

  4. His formal lie (70b-71)

  5. His comeback: Peter’s profound repentance (72)

66 As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. 69 The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” 71 But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.

I am going to briefly remind us now how we got to v. 66.

Then we are going to move through this narrative. It is very simple. And then I want to focus the remainder of our time on drawing out how we take this truth and use it for our spiritual advantage.

Jesus was arrested sometime after midnight in the Garden of Gethsemane. It took place in the middle of the night at the hands of the Jews. They knew where to find him because Judas offered to give away his location when he was away from the crowds.

All the disciples fled and left Jesus by himself. Earlier in the evening,

Mark 14:29–But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” 

Jesus, I agree that the other disciples are weak. I know their walks too. But you can count on me. I’m not going to sin that way.

Then after being warned by Jesus that he would deny him that same night three times,

Mark 14:31—But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” 

He said, “I’m going all the way to death with you.”

And they all were saying the same thing also.

Sometime after fleeing. Running through the Garden, jumping the wall, hiding somewhere, Peter got up. 

Mark 14:54—Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.

Peter wants to know what is going to happen to his Lord. But he’s compromising before he even gets there. He had followed Him at a distance… Peter standing with Jesus right now. He is curious or feeling guilty. We don’t know what’s going through his mind.

Last week we mentioned that Jesus started out at the house of Annas, who was the father-in-law to Caiaphas. Annas was the previous high priest, Caiaphas is the current one. It would seem from the text that they had separate houses on the same large estate and a shared courtyard.

To picture the scene then Peter is in the courtyard for the initial deposition by Annas (John 18:13-24) and the subsequent false trial in the home of Caiaphas.

Peter got access to the courtyard from an unnamed disciple who was already inside, it was almost assuredly John. 

John 18:15–16—Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in.

For whatever reason, John’s experience in the courtyard is unrecorded for us. But Peter’s here is preserved.

And so, we come to the first part of this lesson Peter learns tonight.

  1. His compromise: Peter’s persistent denial (66-71)

We see a genuine believer who has a failure under pressure.

(66) As Peter was below in the courtyard, 

In one sense, Peter has made it further than most. Judas defected. John is here. But nine other little disciples are nowhere to be found.

It was probably around 1:00 am when he arrived. This scene will be over within two hours. The text says that he is below in the courtyard. A courtyard is a yard that is surrounded by house on four sides.

So, in your mind’s eye don’t think massive complex. Picture standing in the backyard near the house. As Jesus is being questioned above and there is shouting, Peter can hear at least the sound of voices.

It’s a cold Spring night. Hence the fire. Milling around in the yard at 1:00 am are witnesses, temple officers and servants. Peter is here, but he showed up incognito. He was a distance. He waited until he could act natural and just show up at the gate to get into the courtyard.

Peter doesn’t belong here, and he doesn’t’ blend in.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be part of a certain group of friends that I wasn’t a part of. Rather than go ask plainly to hang out I attempted to get my locker near theirs. I would stand around them on the outskirts. 

I remember the balancing act of trying to on the one hand not butt in and assert myself because that would be awkward. And then at the same time be trying to act like it was normal and I was supposed to be there.

That’s Peter right now.

And this is what bring us to his first lie. It was a private one.

  1. His private lie (66-68)

one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him

The fire is giving off light according to v. 54 (τὸ φῶς). Enough light that a servant-girl is intrigued by his appearance.

See the normal Greek word for looking or seeing is βλέπω; but here Mark uses ἐμβλέπω. Indicating not merely looking or seeing, but intently gazing, careful studying.

Something doesn’t smell right and she’s on it.

Peter’s already self-conscious being there. He knows he’s out of place. Then he feels eyes on him. he’s being carefully watched.

So, she ventures out,

and said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” 

The ESV here phrases it a little better: you were with the Nazarene, Jesus. There is an air of contempt. Nazareth is not a great place to be from. And Jesus is not a great person to be with right now.

Remember Peter has been with Jesus all week. He’s the sidekick to a celebrity. And this is a group of Galileans. It’s like a group of farm boys walking around the big city. She either saw Peter with the celebrity Jesus, or else she noticed when Peter came in to the courtyard.

It’s possible that she John come in with Jesus and then was at the gate when Peter came in later.

Peter’s not expecting this. It catches him off guard. Simple statement in our vernacular: so you’re a Christian?

(68) But he denied it, 

This is a complete renunciation. He disowns Jesus. The statement is, you’ve been with him. What’s the truth?

Mark 3:14—And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him…

Peter’s been with Jesus for three years nearly every single day. They used his house as a home-base for ministry in Capernaum for goodness sakes.

And even this very week Peter was with him as they observed the Sabbath together in Bethany just two miles outside of Jerusalem. Sunday morning Peter was with him coming into Jerusalem when he was presented as Messiah.

Peter was with him that very night in the temple, and the next morning, and the next morning. He was with him during the Olivet discourse. He’s spent every night with him this week. 

He was with him during the Passover meal. He was with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Simply put you can’t get more with Jesus than Peter. And know when someone says, “hey, you are with Jesus…” 

Peter, the one who is so often first to profess his allegiance lies

saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” 

Huh? He pretends he doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. I don’t know what you mean.

He just got hit with dumb stick. 

I neither know nor understand. There’s a double emphasis that what you are saying makes no sense to me. He uses two verbs: one indicating he’s never known anything, and one indicating he isn’t presently knowing anything about it.

In the moment, his heart is ruled by the idolatry of acceptance by strangers and safety from harm.

Very often this is framed up as Peter being so embarrassed to be associated with Jesus that he would deny his association with Christ before a teenage girl. The implication being that he is such a coward that someone who due to her age, her gender, and he status as a slave was virtually incapable of inflicting fear upon a grown man.

That view although it makes Peter’s sin seem all the more appalling, misunderstands the scene. The problem is you are feet away from the most powerful men in the country who trying to find a legal loophole to put to death your teacher.

That’s the fear factor. It’s a genuine threat.

And he went out onto the porch. 

Peter needs to get some space. He gets up, leaves the fire and goes out to the entryway—a covered passageway leading to the street.

He’s got to be shaken up by the whole thing. He is near danger and he just lied. 

It’s cold outside, but at this moment for Peter it’s better to be in the cold and standing in the dark than to be warm and in the light where you have people calling out your identity.

Now there is a difference here in some of your Bibles. The ESV says that a rooster crowed. Some of the Greek manuscripts have this phrase and some don’t. It isn’t a major doctrine—in fact, no doctrines are debated where we have a discussion on what an original manuscript says.

Mark will say in v. 72 that there was a second crow. Jesus said there would be two rooster crows. So there had to be a first, and the question is whether scribes copying this added this first crowing or whether other ones took it out. The other Gospel writers only mention the second crow.

It’s a fascinating study. If you are interested, I’d be happy to share more with you outside of this message. But suffice it say for now, I believe did include this detail here. Whether he did or didn’t, there was a first crow. 

The rooster crows. And just like hearing a familiar train whistle in the middle of the night, it doesn’t trigger anything for Peter.

Meanwhile our unnamed friend, the servant-girl has been mulling things over.

Unfortunately for Peter, a small lie never stays small, but it requires other lies to remain hidden and intact. Peter’s sin now escalates.

  1. His private lie (66-68)

  2. His public lie (69-70a)

(69) The servant-girl saw him, 

The servant-girl. It’s the same one. As she looked at him, she was thinking to herself, no this is the guy. I’m sure he’s the one. 

You know what it’s like. You recognize someone, you say, “I know you from somewhere” and they say, “no” but you can’t shake it. What do you do? You start going through contexts… is it from work? Is it errands? Is it schooling?

The more you watch the person the more you are convinced that you have met. That’s her mindset. And so…

and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” 

This isn’t pulling Peter aside anymore. Among the bystanders are likely some of the very soldiers who are involved this very night in arresting Jesus. She’s saying in effect, “he’s one of the guys from the group that is following the guy on trial.”

It would be like working in local law enforcement and you are sitting outside the courtroom while a mafia boss is being tried, and all of a sudden, a guy in an Italian suit with a heavy accent is suddenly hanging out with you and your colleagues.

It was at least two other people—another servant girl (Matthew 26:71) and a male one (Luke 22:58).

(70) But again he denied it. 

The verbal action shifts now. This is a repeated denial. Nope, I don’t know. Maybe you know me from somewhere else? Maybe you and my daughter went to synagogue school together? Do ever buy fish? I wish I could help you. I really do. I’m so sorry.

But in the process of lying, Peter is giving away something about himself, try as he might to hide it. 

The more he denies knowing Jesus, the more he speaks. And the more he speaks, the more he gives himself away. And so, we come to his third lie. This is his formal lie.

  1. His private lie (66-68)

  2. His public lie (69-70a)

  3. His formal lie (70b-71)

And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, 

Dr. Luke gives us the specific time frame. He said it was about an hour before this engagement took place.

This was a conversation that went beyond these words here. This is just a summary of one comment. It was multiple bystanders talking. The language indicates they were in a discussion. Now you have a group approaching him. Saying,

“Surely you are one of them, 

As is often the case with lying, more time, more people, more pressure. What started out as a denial to one girl about his relationship to Jesus, has no gone into a full-blown scandal.

When they say surely, it’s Ἀληθῶς—truly. Truly you are one of them. 

How do you think that worked on his conscience to hear that word? Honestly, you are. And we know it because…

for you are a Galilean too.” 

See as Peter was lying through his teeth, he was also betraying himself:

Matthew 26:73—A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” 

Galileans spoke an Aramaic dialect with noticeable differences in pronunciation.

And so, it was obvious a Galilean was not from around these parts. Peter had the first-century equivalent of a drawl that made it “rat done there obvious, he wasn’t from round these parts, ya see…”

He’s surrounded. And according to John 18:26, someone else commented that he was the guy that cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. An eyewitness to the earlier events in the Garden.

(71) But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 

You may have heard that Peter used expletives here… curse words. But this isn’t that kind of swearing and cursing. Rather, these are technical words.

He is pronouncing a curse saying, may God be opposed. And then swearing is taking an oath. 

to affirm the veracity of one’s statement by invoking a transcendent entity, freq. w. implied invitation of punishment if one is untruthful, swear, take an oath

This is the type of oath-making the Scripture is against. It isn’t against signing a document that says you promise to pay the bank what you say. It’s against you fortifying the truthfulness of your communication by invoking God in some additional oath.

Peter is trying to get them to believe him by saying in effect, “I swear to God I don’t know him. I’m telling you the truth, and may God curse me if I’m lying.”

This is a far cry from Peter’s earlier vow of allegiance.

Peter didn’t believe that he would be capable of this kind of sin. As one commentator writes:

While in the upper room and then in the garden, Peter exhibited signs of overconfidence and pride that further set him up for a fall (cf. Prov. 16:18). He boasted too much, listened too poorly, prayed too little, acted too fast, and followed too far.

You understand why later he will write in his epistle:

1 Peter 5:8—GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

Peter’s in a bad spot here. 

Look at his words. He doesn’t even utter the name of Jesus. He’s called him Lord, Master, Christ, Jesus. Now all he can say is this man.

(72) Immediately a rooster crowed a second time.

  1. His compromise: Peter’s persistent denial (66-71)

  2. His comeback: Peter’s profound repentance (72)

As the bird cawed it struck a nerve deep in Peter’s soul. And it brought to mind a conversation that he hadn’t had on his mind yet tonight. Because the text says that it was at this moment that…

Luke 22:60-61—But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”

Jesus was probably being led across the courtyard at that time. He would have looked pretty bad already having been spit upon and beaten in the face he would have been bloody and swollen.

And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, 

It washed over him.

“Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” 

These words were spoken on Thursday night (on two separate occasions). And instantly struck deep within his soul.

And he began to weep.

His weeping is in the imperfect, that means he wept and wept. Peter is grieving.

Peter is broken. Not merely because he is ashamed of his sin and feels regret and remorse over how bad it is. 

Judas will feel that remorse and it will drive him to despair and suicide.

Emotion doesn’t indicate or validate repentance. People cry over sin all the time and its meaningless if they are tears of worldly sorrow of sin. Tears of pain from the cost of sin. Tears from feelings of guilt and shame. Tears of weariness from the lasting consequence of sin. Tears from the loss of privilege or reputation. 

Tears from losing a relationship or peace or a job or freedom. Tears because your life didn’t turn out the way you had dreamed because of sinful choices. Tears of regret. Tears because of how sin impacted your children or your church. And all these tears do nothing more than indicate self-worship. 

Crying over sin could just as much be a sign that you are unrepentant as a sign that you are.

What is the true indication that tears or sorrow over sin is the proper sorrow that leads to repentance? 

My friends it is very simple: godly sorrow is toward God. That’s the distinction between godly sorrow over sin and worldly sorrow over sin.

Peter is broken because of his love for Jesus. Not because he’s embarrassed or ashamed or he because got caught. He’s not sad that he won’t be the sterling golden boy in the minds of future Christians due to his failure.

He is grieved that he denied his master. He is grieved at his foolish pride that led him there. He is grieved that he hadn’t listened to the warning of Jesus or kept watch or prayed.  

Peter’s failure isn’t what defines his character. As John MacArthur comments:

Though Peter sinned greatly, his true character is not seen in his denials but in his repentance, beginning with heartfelt sorrow.

That is so good. Repentance is the Christian response to sin.

It’s what brings together all the realities we opened with of both belonging to God and having a new nature and yet still struggling against the flesh. The link that resolves the tension is repentance.

You should be asking yourself right now—do I respond to my sin the way Peter does? You know what the modern-day equivalent is I fear in our context? The modern-day equivalent of not heeding the warning?

In a church like this it is mistaking feelings of conviction from the Scripture as repentance. It’s thinking that because you can say, “oh man I am so sinful” that recognition and articulation of sin is the same as turning from it.

You can become a professional sermon consumer. A professional sin identifier. Repentance is marked by an earnest zeal to be clean.

Two more observations in closing as we learn these lessons along with Peter in the courtyard.

  1. Fear of man is a bosom sin that runs deep. Peter is going to make a remarkable turnaround on this matter of facing danger in the power of God. Filled with the Spirit he will be rock and a pillar in the church. He will undergo beatings and imprisonment for Christ and remain steadfast.

But in Galatians 2 we read about how many years later, Peter gets caught up in this same sin by not wanting to lose credibility with the Jews and so he stops eating with Gentiles. 

I found this partly encouraging and partly discouraging. It is discouraging in that it demonstrates the enduring echo of the old man that plagues us. It is encouraging in that it demonstrates the enduring echo of the old man that plagues us.

The fear of the Lord is the anecdote to the fear of man.

And so surely as we have just conceptions of the eternal power and majesty of God, we shall have no tormenting fear of the puny arm of mortals.

A church with a powerful influence? Men and women who fear God.

Acts 9:31—So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

  1. The grace of God enables us to repent and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ enables us to be honest.

You know why Peter could repent like this? He was already clean. Jesus had already forgiven him of this sin before he even committed it.

Jesus had already promised nothing would pluck him out of his hand. He was justified, he was washed, and he was sanctified. So now, when he acted in contradiction to that identity he was broken by it, and he turned from it.

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