Sinful Self-Reliance Predicted, Exposed, and Cured (Matthew Sermon 139 of 151)
March 24, 2013 | Andrew Davis
Faith, Prayer, Prayers of Christ, Perseverance, Indwelling Sin
Now, for years, I've been watching sporting events, and for years, I've been told by successful athletes what the secret of their success was and that it was, believe in yourself. If you just believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. Now, I wanna add, as I listen to, let's say, Allen Iverson telling me, “Believe in yourself and be lightning quick.” Or if it's David Robinson, he never said it, but “Believe in yourself, and be 7 feet tall,” I get it. Now, I don't think it really works, that if I believe in myself, I can be an Olympic athlete and win a gold medal.
Actually, I'm suspect of the whole philosophy. I wanna challenge it right now in your hearing because it's so much a part of the American myth. It's so much a part of what we think is true. It's so much a part of our educational system now that young people are being told this again and again, and they're just reciting back the things that they've been trained to say, “Believe in yourself.” Ben Franklin said it in 1736, “God helps those who help themselves.”
It's the gospel of self-reliance and it’s part of the American myth. The self-made man that faces the elements, loneliness, disease, hostile people, enemies, to carve out an existence from the wilderness with his own bare hands, with his axe. Daniel Boone carving a road through the Cumberland Gap to settle in the wilderness of Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln in that same area in Kentucky, rising up from a log cabin to be the president of the United States. Booker T. Washington writing his memoirs, calling it Up From Slavery. Immigrants coming in from Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty, where it says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” And they go into the city, in New York or Chicago or some other place in the inner reaches of the US, and they make a living for themselves and they build a legacy out of their own labor and their own efforts. And so we're told that God helps those that help themselves. God helps those that save themselves.
A poll was done by Barna concerning that phrase, God helps those who help themselves. If they ever come from Barna and ask you that question and ask, “Is it in the Bible?” Please be part of the 19 percent that said no. Seventy-five percent of the teens that were asked that question were told it is the central message of the Bible. Friends, it is not the central message of the Bible. The central message of the Bible is stated in many different times and places, many different ways. But how about this? “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.” Old Testament version would be, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” Or as Jesus put it in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
Overcoming self-confidence is part of that fight each one of us has with the sin nature, we got it from Adam, as part of our fall in Adam. Amazingly, human beings can be in open rebellion against God, their minds saturated with enmity against God, unable to obey his laws and they can still say, “I'm basically a good person.” Though we are frail and weak, harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, we can still feel mighty and capable and powerful because of some little tricks we can do in space and time.
Our culture sells us this line again and again: you can do anything you wanna do, be anything you wanna be, if you just believe in yourself. This is the message of self-esteem, of self-confidence, of self-assurance, of self-salvation. It's part of the American myth, and it is a myth because the Bible is diametrically opposed to all of this. The message of the Bible is that we need a savior. We cannot save ourselves. We need a savior, and his name is Jesus Christ. And it's my privilege every week to get up here and tell you that.
And here as we come to this text in Matthew 26:31-35, we have sadly put on full display the overweening confidence of the apostles, particularly Peter. Peter is a main example. The self-confidence of these men is completely misplaced as later events will bear out. They were absolutely certain of their loyalty to Christ, they were certain of their commitment to him. They felt that nothing could come their way that could shake that loyalty, that would shake that commitment. They were certain of it; they were certain that they were willing to die for him. All 11 of them felt the same way. And that same night - within hours of these statements, these assertions - that same night, they all abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives. Just as Jesus said they would do.
Isn't it marvelous that we have a savior that knows us completely, knows exactly what we're going to do and loves us anyway? Isn't that marvelous? I get to preach a savior that knows us so completely and loves us anyway. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” I don't think we really believe that as we should. It's the centerpiece of my sanctification to grow, to believe that more and more vigorously. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing. We think of ourselves more highly than we should.
And so today we get to look in a mirror, if we do it rightly, you'll look in these verses as in a mirror, and you'll see yourself. You're not gonna blame Peter, you're not gonna blame the 11, you're gonna see yourself. And you get a chance as you look in this text to look at the road ahead for you. But what is facing you from here until the day you die or the day the Lord returns? The Bible tells us it's an arduous, difficult journey, a race you're going to run. It's going to be opposed every step of the way by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
And my question to you is, just like we heard in the song, “How do you know?” That's how they began. I was thinking of those words, How do you know you're going to make it? How do you know you're gonna finish your race? And if your answer has anything basically to do with yourself, you're wrong, you're off. And I wanna heal you of that today. I want you to say “The way I know I'm gonna finish this race is that Christ, the very one who began that work in me, is gonna carry it on to completion. If left to myself, I will fail. Satan is too strong for me. He is able to orchestrate circumstances around me and I will come crashing to the ground, just like these 11 did.” Look in the mirror, look at these verses as in a mirror and find yourself, and then look up from it to Christ and say, “Oh God, save me, save me from myself, wean me off of self-reliance from this text.”
Christ Predicts the Sinful Flight of the Apostles (vs. 31)
Context: The Night of Jesus’ Arrest
Let's look at it carefully, verse by verse. Look at verse 31, there Christ predicts the sinful flight of the apostles. “Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night, you will all fall away on account of me. For it is written: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”’” This very night. What night is it? Well, we're jumping right in the middle here in this sermon, to the context that we've been following along in Matthew's gospel. Matthew 26-28, the crucifixion account and the resurrection account, that's where we're at in Matthew's gospel.
And that was the night of Jesus' arrest. By then, Jesus had been anointed by Mary in Bethany. Judas had already arranged to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And then we saw Jesus prepare the final Passover through the disciples that were sent on ahead, they prepared that upper room. And he predicted Judas's betrayal, we saw that last time, and he celebrated the last supper with them, instituting body and blood as the permanent reminder of his death for them. “This is my body, this is my blood. The blood of the New Covenant, do this in remembrance of me.” We talked about all of these things last time, and then they sang a hymn and they went out in verse 30.
Now, in between all of that, we have to insert John's gospel and all of the incredible rich instruction that Jesus gives them there in John 14-16, and then the prayer that he does for them in John 17. So that happened before, I think, verse 30 in our Chapter. So he does all of these things, he tells them of the promised Holy Spirit, the counselor who's going to come. And he tells them of the persecution and suffering they're going to go through for his name's sake, that in this world that they would have trouble. And that they would be hated by all people on account of him, and that they would be put out of the synagogues, and that they would be beaten and even be put to death. And those who were doing these things would think they were serving God by doing them.
And he warned them about all of these things, and then he prayed for them beautifully, that none would be lost. Except the one doomed to destruction, he leaves him out of that prayer. But that none of them would be lost, and he prays for those who will receive the gospel through their word, that all of them, all of us, will be one. Just as the Father and the Son is one that we would all be one. All of these things happening, and the teachings and instructions he was giving there in the upper room, but they weren't ready for all of that. They couldn't hear it all. Jesus acknowledged that in John's gospel. In John 16:12, he says, “I have much to say to you, more than you can now bear.” You're not able to absorb all of this and take it all in.
At some point they would be ready for all of these themes, the themes of persecution and suffering, and the coming Holy Spirit and all of those things, but first they had to learn a lesson, a very bitter lesson. He'd warn them about it. He's warning them right here in this text. It's a bitter lesson about themselves, but the words wouldn't be enough, they had to live it out. They had to go through it. And only, especially after Peter, only after Peter went through it, did he see who he really was, did he understand how self-reliant he had been and how much he needed a savior. And so all of that happened, they sing a hymn, and then they go out, go out from Jerusalem.
They're going out to the Mount of Olives. They're going to Gethsemane, the very place where Judas knew where they would go, the place where Jesus would pray, and the place also where he would be arrested. And they would make their way out of the crowded city of Jerusalem, where there would be hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that were there to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover.
And they would cross the Kidron Valley, they would go across the Brook Kidron, where all of the blood from the sacrifices, the thousands and thousands of lambs that had been slaughtered that night was being carried down also perhaps by some of the rain water. And it was being carried down there, and so it's like a river of blood they must have literally physically crossed as they crossed the Kidron Brook to go up to Gethsemane. I don't know if they noticed by the light of the full moon, but I'm certain that Jesus must have understood the significance of those lambs that were slaughtered and how they pointed to what was about to happen to him.
Jesus Drops a Bombshell
And so they were going to Gethsemane. And I don't know if it was while he was on the way or right before they left, or how it happens, but following a chronological order, they sang the hymn and went out and perhaps as they were walking along, or maybe once they got to Gethsemane, but he drops a bombshell on them, and Jesus is just rocking their world. One bomb shell after another. And they're just not ready for all of this. They're not ready to hear it. He just said a moment ago that Judas was going to betray him, and they were all troubled by that, and very sad and began to say, one after the other, “Surely not I Lord,” all that. Now he's very clear about who he means. Maybe they didn't know for sure it was Judas, but now he's very clear when he says these words, “This very night, you will all fall away on account of me,” with no doubt about it. And look at the time frames, it's very specific. This very night, it's going to happen, within hours.
Now, what does it mean they will all fall away? The Greek word is “scandalidzo,” from which we get “scandal” or “scandalized.” Generally, translated in the sense of a stumbling stone, you'll stumble tonight. The literalistic translation has to do with a trapper, a snare with a kind of a bait stick that the prey goes after to get lured in and then trapped. And so that's going to happen to all of you. You're gonna get lured in and you're gonna get trapped. And what was the bait? The bait would be their love for their own lives, their love for themselves, that was the bait. And Satan was going to put a trap around them and he would cause them to flee because they loved their lives in this world.
The Root of the Scandal: Jesus’ Suffering and Death
The root of this scandal was Jesus' suffering and death, something that they just couldn't seem to get their minds around, something they just couldn't seem to accept that Jesus had to die. Peter in particular, just struggled with this. He just couldn't come to grips with it. It began in Matthew's gospel and back in chapter 16 where, in Caesarea Philippi, he has this time with his disciples. And it says, “From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hand of the elders, chief priest and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and on the third day, be raised to life.” He was very clear about this. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You're a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”
Well, the apostles all expected, as we've been told time and again - certainly after the triumphal entry, as Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph - they really expected that he would sit on a glorious throne and rule over the whole world, and that they would get to sit at his right and his left on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel, and it was going to be a time of glory and of honor, and prestige, and comfort and luxury, and all. That's what they really thought was going to happen. And so Jesus is scandalizing them with his arrest and his suffering and death, they couldn't understand it. They couldn't understand the need for the suffering servant, the need for the shed blood of Jesus, they didn't understand the atonement.
And so as he was being arrested, they would be scandalized by their shock, and they would revert to their former way of thinking, “Save yourself, you need to save yourself,” and they would run. They would not trust him, they would be left bewildered, they would be back where they started, pondering a way to re-enter their own lives. They left the fishing industry, they left their boats and their nets, and maybe they'd go back to that. It'd be a lot easier for the fishermen than for Matthew, the tax collector. I don't think he's getting that thing again, that was a good setup. And there was definitely some Jew that took his place as a tax collector, and so it'd be really hard for Matthew, but they probably were thinking these kinds of things. And Jesus said, “This very night, you’ll all fall away because of me, you'll be scandalized because of me. I'm going to offend you. Because of what I am saying, because of what I am doing, because of me, you will be offended.”
It's the very same thing that he said in reference to John the Baptist. Remember when John was in prison and he wasn't quite sure he was following the trajectory of Jesus' ministry. It didn't make a lot of sense to him, and he was being broken down in prison, it was hard for him. And so he sent messengers, Matthew 11, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” I mean, do you realize what John's asking there? Someone else means his life, John's life, has been wasted because he pointed to him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He pointed to him, he was the precursor, and now he's arrested and he's gonna die. So he was not the voice of the one calling in the wilderness, he was just reeling through unbelief at that moment.
Jesus then performs a bunch of miracles in front of the messengers, and he said, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.” And then he said this, “Blessed are all those who do not fall away on account of me. Don't let anything that I'm doing offend you. Trust me in everything I'm doing. Not just some of what I'm doing, trust everything I'm doing. Don't fall away on account of me.”
They Would ALL Fall Away!
But he says to the 11, “This very night, you will all fall away on account of me.” Isn't it amazing how little loyalty and courage they had after watching and being involved in the only perfect ministry there has ever been? That Jesus could not engender more loyalty and more courage than that is just astonishing.
Note: Jesus’ Knowledge of the Future... Based on Scripture
Note again, Jesus' specific and detailed knowledge of the future, as we discussed last time in reference to Judas. Jesus has meticulous, complete, accurate foreknowledge of everything that will happen. John makes it plain concerning this very night when he's arrested in John 18:4, it says, “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and said, ‘Who is it you're looking for?’” So John makes it very plain, what he wants us to think. Do you not understand Jesus' omniscience? He knew everything that was going to happen to him before it happened.
Well it wasn't just that he knew everything that was going to happen to him, he knew everything that was gonna happen to them. And so he says in John 13:19, “I'm telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am.” That’s all it says in the Greek, “you will believe I am.” “You'll believe that I am God, so that when all of the bad things that are about to happen tonight happen, you will believe that I am God.” Says it again, John 14:29, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe.”
So Jesus is predicting their falling away. So he knows the future, he knows it perfectly. He also knows the past, and by that I mean specifically, he knows prophetic scripture. He knows the Old Testament better than any man that's ever lived, and so he finds an obscure prophecy in Zechariah, that predicts that those things would happen, this very thing would happen. The same book that predicted the 30 pieces of silver, the same book that predicted what would happen to the 30 pieces of silver, we'll get into all that in Matthew 27. But in Zechariah 11 it was all predicted.
The 30 pieces, the throwing to the potter in the house of the Lord, all of that predicted, he then goes ahead two chapters to find this phenomenon, in Zechariah 13:7, we have this prophecy, “‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the Lord almighty, ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.’” At Zechariah 13:7, this prophecy shows that even their falling away, even their running away to save their lives had been predicted by the prophets.
Now, I would say that without Jesus' link here, without his explanation, we wouldn't have found it. We wouldn't have linked it to this event, we wouldn't have found Jesus and his arrest and them running away here, but as William Cowper put it in one of his beautiful hymns, “God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.” So if he tells us it was predicted in Zechariah 13:7, it was, and so it was made plain.
And in the original context, in Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about false prophets who are going to turn away from their false prophecy and forsake it, and renounce those false prophecies, but suddenly in Zechariah 13:7, the prophet speaks into this word about the true shepherd of Israel, and he says, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” And it's amazing, the prophecy calls for God's sword to awake against “my shepherd,” “my associate,” or “the one who is close to me.” It's very strong in the original language. It really points to the deity of Christ. The shepherd of God's sheep is one who's very close to Almighty God. Made me think of Philippians 2:6, “Jesus who being in very nature, God did not think it robbery,” KJV gives us, “did not think it robbery to be equal with God.” It wasn't 'cause he was equal with God and is. He says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” and so strike the shepherd, the associate, the one who's close to me, and the sheep are gonna be scattered.
But it's also clearly a prediction of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus would be struck by the wrath of God. And so I meditated on this and I thought, it's amazing. Jesus is our good shepherd. When you take the shepherd away, the sheep have no protection. We are at the mercy of the wolves and they have no mercy, and that's why the sheep are scattered, we're in danger. So that's the effect. That's why it happened. That's why they ran away, because their shepherd was gone - How much do we need Jesus! But then conversely, isn't it marvelous that it's as Jesus is being struck, that he provides the shelter for us, so that we are protected! It's in the striking we get our protection. So I wanna say the final story is strike the shepherd and the sheep will be gathered. Amen. Hallelujah. So they're scattered for a while, but then the Lord is gonna gather them by the Holy Spirit and bring them back. So it's kind of depressing this text, but it has a happy ending. They're going to run, they're gonna get scattered, and Jesus is going to bring them all back. We'll talk about that at the end.
Peter Displays His Sinful Self-Reliance (vs. 33)
Perhaps the Worst Statement Ever Made in Scripture by Any True Follower of Jesus
I haven't forgotten verse 32, but let's go on to verse 33. I'll do verse 32 at the end. But look at verse 33, Peter displays a sinful self-reliance. He replies, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” I don't know if this is true, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it, anyway. This may be the worst statement ever made in scripture by a true follower of Christ. If there are others, fine, find them and we'll talk about it. But it's up there. It's in the top five. This is horrible. It's horrible at many levels.
Let's do the worst part of it at all. First of all, Peter's statement is arrogant, over against Jesus himself. In effect, is he not saying, “Jesus, you're wrong. You're wrong.” Now, Peter's bold to do this, I've noted it several times in the pulpit here, and I'll just say it briefly, four times Peter says “Never” to the Lord. Four times. I've already quoted one in Matthew 16 about his death. “Never Lord!” he said, “this shall never happen to you.” What I love about each of these four times, God gets the final word, every time. Jesus gets the final word. So Peter is just wrong. He rebukes him in Matthew 16.
Here in our text, he says it twice. He says it here, and then he says it again, “Even if I have to die with you, I never will disown you.” So he says it twice. He says it at the foot washing, remember that one? “Lord, are you gonna wash my feet?” Jesus says, “You don't understand, later you will,” and he proceeds. He said, “Never, Lord. You will never wash my feet.” I love the fact that a minute later, he's washing Peter's feet. Isn't that wonderful? Thank God that Jesus wins every argument he has with us.
But even after the resurrection, even after the giving of the Holy Spirit, he's still doing it, still fighting that fleshly tendency to challenge God and to disagree with God. That's when, in Acts 10, the Lord is getting him ready to go preach the gospel to a Gentile, to Cornelius, remember that, and he shows him a sheet full of animals that up to that time had been unclean for him as a Jew, but now God has made clean, because Jesus has declared all foods clean. He says, “Arise Peter, kill and eat.” And he said, “Never, Lord, I've never eaten anything impure or unclean.” And then the voice comes from heaven a second time, “Peter, do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This is his tendency.
In effect, what is Peter saying to Jesus? “Jesus, you know a lot of things. You're really good at those miracles, I don't know how you do it, it's amazing, and you're right about so many things, but you're wrong about me. You're wrong about me.” The root issue here is definitely pride. “You don't know me very well.” And yet, isn't this true? Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise ... before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.” He has searched us and he knows us.
Secondly, Peter's statement is arrogant compared to his friends, the other apostles. Do you see it? But what is he saying here compared to them? “I am the greatest of all the apostles. I am the first, the chief, the most courageous, the most loyal, and even if all fall away on account of you, I know I never will.” Very arrogant, and it's the kind of jockeying that you see these guys doing all the time, arguing among themselves as to which of them is the greatest. If you were one of the 11 and you heard Peter say that, wouldn't that cause a rise out of you? Say, “Now wait a minute, Peter. Wait a minute. I think I might actually be the last to cave in.” And so there was that kind of bickering, that kind of arguing that goes on, that jockeying for position.
But friends, what about this, what about Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfishness or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves.” Do you see that kind of humility in this statement here by Peter? I don't. Is he considering others better than himself?
The Root Issue: Pride and Self-Reliance
So the root issue here is the whole theme of the sermon, I believe, and that's pride and self-reliance. Pride and self-reliance. He underestimates the incredible trial that he's about to face, he doesn't understand how strong the prince of this world who is coming is. He said, “The prince of this world is coming, and he has nothing on me.” Jesus said that. But he's coming. And he is going to sift them all like wheat, Luke tells us. He's going to test them.
So he greatly underestimates the trial that's coming, but even worse, he greatly overestimates his ability to meet any trial that comes. It's like, “I got this one. I can handle this night, and I am not running, and I am not going to forsake you.” He's relying on himself. “I will be up to the task.” We'll talk more about self-reliance at the end of the message.
Christ Predicts Peter’s Three-Fold Denial (vs. 34)
The Specific Prophecy
In verse 34, Christ predicts Peter's threefold denial. He says, “I tell you the truth, this very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” This is a very specific prophecy, it goes even beyond this very night. It's before the rooster crows. The Jews divided the evening into four parts; by this time two of those parts are done. Evening was from six to nine. Midnight from nine until 12. The cock crow could happen anywhere from 12 until three. And morning from three to six. By the time they arrived in Gethsemane, I think it's well after midnight. It's been a full night, the Passover lamb can't be slaughtered until Twilight. And so, they've had all of these things, the eating, all of the teaching, everything they had, so I think it's late, really late, or early, depending on how you looked at it, the next day.
And so Jesus is predicting that they're going to fall away within a couple of hours. Within a couple of hours. That Peter is gonna deny him three times, within a couple of hours. And yet, do you not see the grace of God in all of this? It is by this prediction, the specificity of it, that God is going to draw Peter back from the dark extremities of unbelief and of turning away, and he's gonna draw him back away, back into the light of a healthy walk with Christ. You remember what happens? He denies him, denies him, denies him, and he even calls down curses on himself, and then the rooster crows and then he remembers. He remembers the words that the Lord had spoken, and he goes away from that very tempting and tough situation, and he goes alone, and he weeps bitterly, and that's the road back. That's the road back.
Do you realize what Jesus said Peter would do? “You will disown me. You'll disown me. You'll deny that you even know me.” Talk about taking an axe in your hands and chopping down the tree you're sitting on, if you could even do that. Imagine that. Do you realize the significance of that knowing that happens between the soul and Christ? Do you realize that that is the essence of eternal life? In John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” What is Peter saying? “I don't know Jesus.” According to John 17:3, he's saying, “I don't have eternal life, I'm dead.”
Conversely, do you realize how significant it will be on Judgment Day for Jesus to know you? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers.’” Says it several times. In Luke 13, “You will stand outside, knocking on the door and saying, ‘Sir sir, open the door.’ But he will answer, ‘I don't know you or where you come from.’” That's in a parable. “I don't know you.”
Luke 12:9, “He who disowns me before men will himself be disowned before the angels of God.” 2 Timothy 2:12, “If we disown him, he will also disown us.” Thanks be to God he didn't disown Peter, amen. He disowned him three times. He said, “I don't even know him. Never heard of him. I'm not his disciple.”
The Specificity Displays Christ’s Omniscience, and Underscores His Grace and Love
And he's very specific about the rooster crowing and about the number of times, three times, and that specificity, again, displays Christ's omniscience, and the prediction underscores Christ's grace and love, because he's going to go as a good shepherd and he's gonna bring this sinner back in. He's gonna restore him, he's going to redeem him, he's going to renew him, he's going to give him a ministry that he doesn't deserve, and he's going to bolster him up and strengthen him in his two weak areas, his self-reliance and his fear of death.
And he's gonna cure both of those, so that he will be a mighty minister of the gospel for Jesus Christ. He's gonna cure both of them. And so in John 21, when he restores him and he says, “Do you love me?” He says, “I love you,” three times. He restores him, and then he says, “I tell you the truth, in the past, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and you went wherever you wanted to go, but in the future, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and take you where you do not wanna go.” And then John tells us that this is the way Peter would glorify God by death. And so he would lose his self-reliance and he would lose his fear of death, but he had some very bitter learning to go through first.
Peter and the Other Apostles Deepen Their Sinful Self-Reliance (vs. 35)
And then in verse 35, Peter and the other apostles, deep in their sinful self-reliance, they go even deeper here. I would have stopped after the first statement, wouldn't you? Maybe, I don't know. See, I think I was just arrogant there. I probably would have said it five more times, so I don't know. But it's so stunning, it's not enough, this one encounter, he's gonna go even deeper. “I see you're getting real specific with the prophecy here Lord, but you're still wrong. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. This is amazing, arrogance. “Lord, you are so wrong about me.”
Now, here we see the total reliance on self, that's gonna translate into the sin of prayerlessness in a moment in Gethsemane. They're not gonna pray. You know why? Because they don't need to pray, because they've got this one, they're fine, they're underestimating what's coming their way, and they're not ready for it. If they were not so self-reliant, they would pray. The mark of your self-reliance and mine is prayerlessness. That's how you know. How do I know that I'm self-reliant, it is prayerlessness. Whatever you don't pray about, that's what you're relying on yourself to do. I'm convinced of that. So I see big pockets of self-reliance in my life.
The Mention of Death Goes to the Heart of the Matter
Isn't it interesting that Peter also goes to the issue of death, and he says, “Even if I have to die.” I think that's the very thing he was afraid of. That's what made him deny Jesus. He was afraid of torture and death. He was afraid of torture and death. So when the servant girl challenges him at the entrance of the high priest's house, he's gonna shrink back and say, “No, no, I don't know him,” and then it's gonna get worse and worse, and Jesus had called on his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will find it. What good would it be for a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
The heroes in the book of Revelation, we're told about them, in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, that they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” But Peter does love his life so much as to shrink from death, so do the other of the 11, and it's completely understandable. I'm not slamming on Peter here. It is the most natural thing in the world to preserve yourself, to seek survival. It is completely natural. All animals do it, all people too. You try to survive, try to live for another day. Get out of it, get your foot out of the net and get out of there, so you don't die. It's the most natural thing in the world.
It is supernatural to face death joyfully because you believe in an invisible heaven that's going to come. That's supernatural, that comes only by faith, and that's a supernatural work of God's grace. And that's what makes Peter's self-reliance so bad. Only God can make us supernaturally confident in the face of our own death. It is only by faith that we can face the visible reality of our death with the invisible reality of the heaven that will follow it. Self-reliance looks ahead to the trial and looks inward to the resource and says, “I can do it.” But faith looks ahead to the trial and looks upward to God and says, “Only by your help and your strength can I do this.” Through prayer, you say, “God, grant me strength. I can't face this trial alone. You've gotta help me.”
Christ Predicts the Cure (vs. 32; Luke 22:31-32)
Jesus, Even as He Made His Initial Prediction, Pointed Ahead to His Resurrection Victory!
Well, let's go back to verse 32. Jesus predicts the cure. Amen. Jesus predicts the cure. The final word will be grace, the final word will be triumph and victory, not defeat for these 11. Then Jesus told them in verse 31, “This very night, you will all fall away on account of me. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” Verse 32, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Furthermore... They Would See Him Again... They Would Not Be Abandoned
I'm going to die, but I'm going to rise again. And then I'm going to see you again. This isn't gonna be our last night, it's a bad night, but this isn't our last time together, you will meet me in Galilee and we will be together and you'll see me in my resurrection glory, and we'll go on from there. And I'm not gonna fire you, I could, but I'm not gonna fire you and find some people who will be more loyal and more courageous and more faith-filled, I don't know where I'd find them, 'cause we're all the same. No, I'm gonna work with you and I'm going to restore you, I'm not gonna abandon you, I'm going to renew you, and even better, I'm gonna give you the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the power of the Spirit, you're gonna overcome your self-reliance and you're gonna overcome your fear of death. And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And when they arrest you, don't worry about what to say, because at that time it will be given you what to say, because it's not gonna be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
And you will lose your fear - and so he did, in Acts chapter 4, there's Peter arrested for the healing of a lame man, and he and John are brought in, and then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, said this, “Rulers and elders of the people,” those were his arrestors, his inquisitors, his executioners, he's not afraid of them at all. “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel, it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” He's lost his self-reliance, and he's lost his fear of death. And why? Because the Holy Spirit was poured out on him.
And so it would be for all of them. All of them would be martyred. Church history tells us one story after another, you can look it up, what tradition says. Some hideous deaths awaited them, but they were not afraid, they continued to testify to the resurrection of Christ. All except John, who went in exile in Patmos. They lost their fear of death, and they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. And so, this story has a happy ending. Praise God.
Forsake Your Self-Reliance and Come to Christ!
What applications can we take from it? First of all, the most significant form of self-reliance you have, has to do with judgment day, your own death, judgment day and heaven and hell. May I plead with you on the basis of the gospel to stop trusting in yourself and flee to Christ? May I plead with you to look to Christ alone? Do not begin to say, “I'm not a sinner.” You know you are. The law of God stands against you. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is not one of us righteous, not one of us can stand on our own righteousness before the judgment seat of a holy God who sees everything we've ever done, and survive. And so we must have a savior. So turn away from self-reliance and trust in Christ. He is the Son of God, his blood was shed on the cross for sinners like you and me. And as we've already said, God raised him from the dead on the third day, and that atonement has been accepted.
See in This Account Your Own Weakness
If you've already come to Christ, you're a Christian, face the weight of the question I asked you earlier. How do you know you're going to finish this race? Is it because it's going to be easy? It's not. The world, the flesh and the devil will oppose you every step of the way, and you know it. How then do you know you're going to finish? There is still a part of you that says, “Because I …” There's still a part of you. You may not say it at the time of confessional, you know where I say, “How do you know?” “Jesus saved me.”
You know the right answers, but we don't live them like we should. All of us struggle with self-reliance. How do I know that? Because one of the greatest apostles, greatest men that ever lived was the Apostle Paul, and he struggled with it, badly. And as a matter of fact, the only thing that would get him to turn away was to be in trial so severe that he thought he was going to die. That's the only thing that can wean us off our self-reliance.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the trials we faced in Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might no longer rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” There's so much in there. What that teaches me is that even the apostle, a mature man of God, was still somewhat self-reliant. And only the pressure of extreme trial caused him to rely fully on God who raises the dead.
So what are those things you think you can handle and don't need to pray about? What would you include in that? Parts of your job, your work life, financial life, academic life, relationships, marriage, parenting, single life, sexual purity? You got that one? Are you able to handle that one on your own? How about anxiety? You can handle anxiety. “I got anxiety licked, I'm good at anxiety.” Well, you're good at anxiety, you're not good at beating it, but we can be anxious.
Alright, what is it? Circle with a red pen those areas of your life that you don't think you need to pray about. It's like, “Oh, I know the right answer. That's nothing, I know I need to... “ Alright, what do you actually pray about and what do you not pray about? And I would contend those things you actually don't pray about, there's a good indication you're probably relying on yourself. Forsake that. Learn to pray about everything. Learn to ask God for help in everything. Encourage one another in your fellowship with another, look to God, trust in God, let's trust in him for all things.
The High Priestly Ministry of Christ... Praying for Our Faith: Luke 22
Finally, I want to point you up into the heavenly realms, and I wanna tell you something that's going on right now to help you, and it's mentioned in the parallel account. Go in your Bibles, hope I get the quote right this time, Luke 22:31-32. I wanna finish by pointing to this one. It's the same story, but it was told with a little more detail in Luke's gospel. Jesus predicting Peter's falling away. Luke 22:31-32. There Jesus says this to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you as wheat.” The you there is plural. So he's gonna sift all of you. “But I have prayed for you, Simon,” the you there is singular, “I've prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
This is an incredibly vital glimpse into the heavenly realms to the priestly prayer ministry of Jesus for you. He is at the right hand of God, Hebrews 7:25, and is interceding for you right now. And it tells us who he's talking to, we know, he's talking to the Father. He's talking to the Father, but it tells us the topic of the conversation. “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith” - Simon's faith is the topic of that conversation. “Father, I'm praying right now for Simon's faith.” What is the end of that prayer? What is the end result? “That it won't fail. That it won't fail.”
Let me ask you a question, without Jesus' priestly ministry for you, do you think your faith would fail? Can your faith survive the siege warfare of the devil as he hurls the world at you, and as your flesh unlocks the gate of the walled fortress to let the enemy in, can you survive all of that without Jesus' intercessory prayer for you? I tell you, you can't. So therefore, he's praying for you continually, that your faith won't fail. And guess what? It won't. It won't. Why? Because the God who gave it to you will sustain it every moment of your lives until the day you die. And the Son who died, who shed his blood to buy you that faith, is praying that you'll keep having it until the day you die, and then you will. You will.
So what I would urge you to do is, first, just know that's going on all the time. He is interceding for you, that your faith won't fail. Don't trust in yourself, rely on him and join him in his intercessory prayer ministry for yourself. Say, “Oh Lord, please, sustain my faith, don't let my faith fail, let me keep believing in you, let me... “ And then extend it outward and join in a kind of a priestly ministry for each other. Let's pray for each other. Pray for so and so that his faith won't fail. Her faith won't fail. They're going through a medical trial, I'm praying that their faith won't fail. They're going through medical trials, I'm praying, Oh God, that their faith won't fail. That's the focal point of your prayer. And away with self-reliance. Amen? Away with self-salvation. Away with all of that. And look to the savior, the one who saves us.
Let's close in prayer. Father, we thank you for the lesson that we've had. It's been painful, it's a painful lesson, to look in the mirror and find in Peter and the 11, such self-reliance, to find in them attitudes that we deplore in ourselves, but they're there, of self-reliance. Forgive us for our self-reliance. Forgive us for our prayerlessness. Forgive us for thinking we can do this or do that or do the other on our own. Apart from you, Lord, we can do nothing. Strengthen in us a sense of total dependence on Christ, and to realize that only through that high priestly praying ministry will our faith not fail. And God is sovereign, the one who gave us the faith to begin with will sustain it until the day we die and don't need it anymore, because faith will be sight. We thank you for these things and pray in Jesus’ name, amen.