The Faithlessness of Man and the Faithfulness of Jesus – John 18:12-27

The Faithlessness of Man and the Faithfulness of Jesus

Nick Esch, 9/16/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Intro

Do you know anyone who has made shipwreck of their lives? Do you know anyone who has sinned so bad that it traumatically effected their lives? No doubt, we’ve all seen people who we thought were Christians fall away from the faith: people who once seemed to be following Jesus, but eventually left Him for the world… And likewise, we’ve all seen people who truly are Christians make horrible mistakes—committing some of the worst of sins… And if there’s one thing we can learn from all this, it’s that, in and of ourselves, none of us are safe from sin… Perhaps some of us already know this because we ourselves have fallen hard into sin before… Outside of God’s grace we’re all capable of the worst of sins… Even if it’s a sin that we’ve never struggled with, or a sin that we feel we have decisive victory over; friends, as Christians, we are not perfect, but we are all recovering sin addicts… So, we dare not grow prideful or lazy in the fight against sin…

In God’s providence, we have just started studying 1 Corinthians 10 in our Wednesday night Bible study; and there in verse 12 Paul says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And that’s the exact verse that came to my mind as I studied our passage this week… Today in our text we’re going to look at one of the most famous examples of someone falling into sin: Peter’s denials of Jesus… Peter, who seemed to be the leader of the disciples, who was always seeking to be on the frontlines for Jesus, falls hard… And though we may think we’re overly familiar with Peter’s story, it seems to me that this is exactly the type of thing we need to study… So, Lord willing, we’ll see some of the causes that led Peter to his fall into sin, and we’ll look at what can be done to prevent such a fall… So look with me at John 18:12-27…

Context

Remember the context of our passage; Jesus has just finished His great High Priestly Prayer for His people… And now the time for Him to go to the cross has come. Judas betrayed Jesus and led a group of Roman soldiers and Jewish Temple Police to arrest Him… But Jesus stands firm and even proclaims Himself to be God once again in front of them, and even displays His sovereign might to them… But then, He willingly surrenders Himself to them, showing that no one takes His life from Him, but that He lays it down of His own accord… But in the process Peter tries to save Jesus and be the hero by swinging a sword; a vein act of foolishness… But Jesus in His grace fixes the mess that Peter makes, and then gives Himself over… He protects Peter and the rest of His disciples, telling the soldiers to let His disciples go, but to take Him… And that brings us to our text today…

John 18:12-27

Our passage begins With Jesus being arrested. The same crew that Judas led to the garden of Gethsemane binds Jesus, and the Jewish Temple police take Jesus to Annas. Now according to Roman rule Caiaphas was the high priest; but according to Jewish Law Annas was the high priest because the high priest held the office for life. So it makes sense that the Jews would bring Jesus to him first. As we’ll see, they’ll have to take Jesus to Caiaphas for any thing official to happen to Jesus according to Roman Law; but all of this is mere formality anyway. As verse 14 tells us, Caiaphas has already advised the Jews that it would be better for one man to die for the people, than for the Jewish people to get accused of some sort of insurrection against Rome, and suffer Roman wrath… So his mind, along with the minds of the Jewish leaders had already been made up… Jesus had to die… But Caiaphas spoke more truth than he knew; Jesus did indeed have to die if His people were going to be saved… And Jesus knowing this submits Himself to what’s happening…

Now, before our passage goes further into this scene with Jesus and Annas we’re told that Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Most commentators, along with most throughout church history agree that the unnamed disciple here is none other than John himself. In humility he never names himself in his Gospel. Here he refers to himself simply as another disciple; elsewhere he refers to himself as the disciple loved by Jesus; but he never out right claims it for himself. In humility he remains anonymous… I love what he does here; because that, alongside the failings of Peter that we are about to look at reinforce that this is the truth… People often accuse the apostles of just making all of this up, but it’s clear that isn’t the case because the New Testament doesn’t do anything to add to their pride. I mean, if Peter was picking and choosing what to put into the Bible, I’m sure he would’ve left this part out. And if John was out for fame and self-glory, he would’ve named himself in this scene. The Bible over and over again shows us that it is God’s Word, not man’s…

So Peter and John follow Jesus to the high priest. Now to get into the area where the high priest was they had to get passed this servant girl who guarded the way. John goes first; he goes up to the servant girl, and apparently tells her something to get her to let him and Peter in. It’s clear everyone knows who John is, and no doubt knows that he’s a disciple of Christ. But when Peter walks past the girl, in verse 17 she says to him, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” In other words, “You’re not a disciple of Christ too, are you?” Now keep in mind that this is a mere servant girl; she posed no real threat to Peter… But, even the way she asks the question isn’t in any way threating… She kind of just says it in passing; again, we know that she knows that John is a disciple of Jesus… But Peter, just instinctively lies. He responds immediately, “I am not…”

Now all of this has a context to it… First, in John 13, Jesus was telling the disciples how He would soon go to the cross and Peter responded, “I will lay down my life for you.” But Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38)… Peter was so sure that he would be able to stand fast for Christ that he told Him that he would lay down his life for Him… But he failed to see how bad he needed Jesus to lay down His life for him… So Jesus tells him that before the rooster crows he’s going to deny him three times… And that’s what we see begin to play out here… What’s astonishing here is that Peter has just taken out his sword and sought to defend Christ… So it wasn’t as though he had no courage… But, after Jesus is arrested it’s like Peter’s courage leaves him…

Now, we’re told here that John followed Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard where Jesus was; but Peter stayed at a distance, and that’s when he denies Christ before the servant girl… And I can’t help but think that these two things have to be connected… Peter didn’t grasp the absolute necessity of the cross, and here he’s seeking to follow Jesus incognito at a distance… Friends, if the cross is not central to us, and if we are not seeking to follow Jesus as closely and as openly as possible, we are setting ourselves up for failure… We cannot halfheartedly follow Christ… And if we’d keep our eyes on the cross we wouldn’t want to halfheartedly follow Christ; we’d be so amazed by grace that we’d be all in all the time… So our prayer should be like what that old Fanny Crosby hymn says, “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me; help me walk from day to day, with its shadows o’er me.” But Peter wasn’t near the cross or to Jesus in any way here…

Peter tries to follow at a distance, and then ends up making himself comfortable with the people who arrested Jesus. In verse 18 we’re told, “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.” Now that may seem innocent enough; but that’s not where Peter should’ve been… His place was with Jesus; but instead he gets comfortable with the same sinners who are seeking to murder his Lord and Savior… Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re all sinners, but Christians are repentant sinners… And yes, as Christians we are called to live among sinners and seek to influence them and lead them to Jesus… But, we must never get too comfortable in this sinful world… This is not our home… We are not of this world… Wherever Jesus is is where our home is… But Peter here is getting far too comfortable with sinners instead of staying close to Jesus… Let that be a warning to all of us; do not get too comfortable in this world… Do not let comfort and security become your god; Jesus is our God.

Now while Peter is warming himself by the fire the high priest begins to question Jesus… In verse 19 we’re told, “The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” Notice he doesn’t ask him about his miracles… At this point no one could deny that Jesus was powerful… But the high priest isn’t concerned with whether or not Jesus is who He says He is… He just wants to get rid of Jesus and his effects on the Jewish people… So he wants to know about his disciples and his doctrine so he can put a stop to both. And Jesus knows this; so look at how He responds…

In verses 20 and 21 Jesus answered him and said, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” Here Jesus is doing a couple of things. First, He’s protecting His disciples… He draws the attention away from them and back to Himself. He loves and protects His disciples; we know this to be true ultimately because of the cross… In our place condemned He stood; and sealed our pardon with His blood… Protecting us from sin, Satan, death, and eternal wrath… And what He’s doing here points forward to that fast approaching reality… But, secondly, here He’s calling for a fair trial and calling the Jews out on their sin…

Again, Jesus is standing before Annas, the true Jewish high priest of the time; and according to Jewish Law an accused person was not to be questioned until witnesses had first established some sort of guilt in the accused… That’s why Jesus says it doesn’t matter what He taught His disciples in private, because He taught the same things in public… There are plenty of witnesses to that… So Jesus says, go ask them… Because that’s what you’re supposed to do anyway… But they don’t want to hear that…

In verses 22 and 23 we read, “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’” Jesus calls them out and they respond violently, seeking to shut Him up… But Jesus doesn’t back down an inch… Even after being struck He continues to point them to their sin… Beloved, that’s how we should be… We should pursue justice like Jesus here… And we should lovingly and boldly call out sin, come what may… But I fear we are more like the officer who struck Jesus, than Jesus Himself…

Many of us are far too good at blocking out conviction… Someone lovingly points out sin in our life, and we respond in pride and simply defend ourselves… We tear them down, and make them feel horrible for pointing out our sin… We say things like, “Who are they to tell me I’m in sin? I mean, they’re not perfect…” Our fleshly pride simply does not want to hear it… And not only do we ignore the words of others when it comes to our sin, but we ignore the words of our own conscience. Internally we know so many of the things we do are wrong, yet we ignore it… And each time we do we harden our conscience and put ourselves in grave danger…

I heard a story recently about an airplane that crashed into a mountain… There were no survivors, but they were able to recover the little black box that recorded what happened… Apparently the pilot was flying through a storm or something that made it hard to see, but he wasn’t worried… He thought he had it handled… On the recording you could hear his self-confidence… In fact it was one of the last things you heard on the recording… As he’s flying and things are getting worse and worse, suddenly you hear an alarm go off that says over and over again, “Danger! Pull up!!!” But then suddenly you hear the pilot say, “Shut up…” And he turns off the alarm; and then the plane crashes into the mountain and they all perish… Beloved, that’s exactly what will happen to us if we keep ignoring the warnings of sin… If we ignore our conscience, if we ignore God’s Word and God’s Spirit, and if we ignore God’s people, we will crash… It’s a kindness when we are made aware of sin in our lives… It doesn’t feel like it; but it keeps us from crashing into the mountain… So may we all be there for one another in truth and love as Jesus is here; and may we all by His grace have ears to hear, and enough humility to listen, and to fight sin and pursue holiness…

But that wasn’t the posture of this officer or Annas… In fact, they had enough of Jesus, so they sent him bound to Caiaphas; after all, Caiaphas was the one who had to officially charge him and send him to the Roman officials to get him crucified… But while all of this is happening Peter is going through something himself. In verses 25-27 we’re told Peter was standing and warming himself with all of these people who arrested Jesus; and then they ask him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter denies it again, and says, “I am not.” Then one of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” No doubt it was dark, and he didn’t realize that Peter was the one who tried to cut his relative’s head off, but he’s sure he saw him there with Jesus nonetheless… But Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed…

Now John takes us back and forward between Jesus and Peter for a reason… He’s giving us a contrast here… In the garden Jesus asks the officials who they are after; and they tell Him Jesus of Nazareth… And He boldly steps forward and tells them that’s who He is… They want to know who is Jesus and where He is… And to that He says, “I Am…” Every time He’s asked who Jesus is He says, “I Am…” He never backs down… And He never forsakes who He is… But Peter on the other hand, when ask if he is a disciple of Jesus says, “I am not…” Again and again and again; three times he denies him… This shows us one of the great realities of the gospel; where we fail, Jesus is perfect… Where we’re weak, Jesus is strong… And as Peter is here not on trial like Jesus, though he’s guilty; Jesus is on trial and headed to the cross, though He’s innocent… And that’s what the gospel tells us: Jesus lived the life we failed to live, and died the death we deserve to die… Jesus is the perfect God/man who lives in our place and dies in our place. So here we see the sinfulness of man and the perfection of Jesus…

Well, let me say a word about both of those… First, never underestimate the sinfulness of man, including your own sinfulness… The other Gospel accounts tell us that Peter’s answers get more intense as he goes. It’s like he’s going deeper into sin with each denial… First he says he’s not Jesus’ disciple, then he says he doesn’t know the man Jesus, and the next thing you know he’s denying Christ and cussing and ranting and raving… He declines deeper and deeper into his own sinfulness… And we do the very same thing… We tell one lie, and then we tell another to cover that one up, and on and on it goes, until we’ve forgotten what the truth is… We start with one sin that doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal; perhaps it wasn’t even premeditated, and the next thing you know we’re so deep in our sin that we don’t know how to get out… It makes me think of what God told Cain; He said, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7)… But his bitterness turned to anger, and his anger turned to violence, and his violence turned to murder… Beloved, we must not underestimate our sinfulness; we must fight it; we must rule over it… Or before we know it, it will take complete control of our lives…

Well, how do we rule over our sin? How do we keep from underestimating it, and instead make war against it… Well again, think about what Peter is doing wrong here… Obviously he’s denying Christ, and that’s wrong, but what’s driving his denials? As we’ve seen, Peter was far too focused on himself; he was too self-confident… He never thought he’d deny Christ… He himself thought he could save Jesus, instead of needing Jesus to save him… So his pride and self-confidence were part of his problem… But, there’s more going on here than just that…

In the other Gospel accounts we’re told that right before this Jesus asks Peter to stay up and pray, but instead he slept… And that was after Jesus told him that he would deny Him… He even tells him that Satan has demanded to sift him like wheat… No doubt, part of the reason he’s not desperate in prayer is because of his arrogance; but, it would seem another problem is that he’s being lazy… Instead of praying he slept… Beloved, the Christian life is not easy; it takes great effort to fight sin and pursue holiness, and live lives of sacrificial love and service… But he wasn’t willing to put in that effort… And also we see here that a great driving force behind Peter’s sin is fear of man… J. C. Ryle says, “Few are aware, perhaps, how much more they fear the face of man whom they can see, than the eye of God whom they cannot see.” God is always watching us, and yet we care more about what man sees and thinks than God… And ultimately that’s because we care more about ourselves than Jesus…

You see, at the heart of all of our sin is pride; it’s about what we want, and doing whatever we have to to get it… The passions of the flesh drive us… We get so caught up in what we want that we forget about Jesus, God’s Word, and the consequences for our sin… Clearly that’s what happened to Peter here… Peter’s decline into the pit of sin began before the first denial, but, no doubt, behind his denials was the fact that he wanted to save himself… He didn’t want to suffer… And so he denies Jesus three times just as Jesus said he would… But he seems to have forgotten all of that… That is, until that roster crows… Then he remembers what Jesus said… And I’m sure, in that moment, he also remembered what else Jesus said… In Mark 8:34-38 He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Peter is gathered around the fire with the very people who represent his adulterous and sinful generation—with the very people who were out to murder Jesus… And he’s too scared and too ashamed to identify with Jesus… So as the rooster crowed and he remembered the words of Jesus and came under conviction, I’m sure he wondered, “Did I just save myself and forfeit my soul?” In Luke we’re told that after he heard the roster crow he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62)… And while I’m sure he was scared, he was also heartbroken over what he had done, and how he had disassociated himself from Jesus… And so while Jesus did speak directly to being ashamed of Him and loving Him over our selves, He also said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)… And that’s exactly what Peter does over his sin… Unlike the officer who hit Jesus when Jesus pointed out his sin, when Peter hears the roster, and is reminded of Jesus’ words, he weeps—he mourns over his sin… And that’s the proper response… We must not harden our conscience, but when we fall into sin we must respond with godly grief and true repentance; which we know Peter lives out later… So while I’m sure he was scared for his soul here, just as he shouldn’t have underestimated his sin, he likewise shouldn’t underestimate Jesus…

As I said, Jesus is everything Peter isn’t here… Where Peter says, “I am not,” Jesus says, “I Am…” When Peter does whatever he has to to avoid suffering in order to save himself, Jesus embraces suffering to save His people… Where Peter is weak, Jesus is strong… And beloved, this is infinitely true… That’s why Jesus not only saves Peter, but commissions him as an apostle… Think about it: one who fell so hard, and was so prone to wander, Jesus saved and used to advance the gospel, to plant churches and make disciples, and to even write Scripture… Because Jesus is mighty to save, Peter became a mighty man of God… Peter’s sin was great, but the grace of Jesus is greater still… It’s like what that old puritan Richard Sibbes once said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…” And you see, it’s here in that truth that we find the ultimate key to fighting sin: keeping our eyes on this great Savior… Remembering who He is, what He has done, and will do…

As we look at Peter here, we can see two grave mistakes, that we are too capable of making… First, he thought that somehow, in and of himself he could live for Jesus… He was too self-confident… He was trying to live the Christian life in his own strength… It seems as though he didn’t think he needed the gospel… Then, a reality check happens, and he denies Christ; and in that moment he seems to think he’s too sinful for the gospel… But in both cases he’s missing the most important thing: the cross of Christ… “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)… He didn’t come and say, pick yourself up by your own bootstraps… No! He said pick up your cross and die to yourself, and follow me… Salvation isn’t found in self-sufficiency or self-preservation… Only in giving our life away do we save it… Only in giving it to Jesus… Salvation is found in dying to self and following Jesus… It’s found in dying to our old way of living: forsaking our self-righteousness, forsaking our sin, and clinging to Jesus… Not following Him at a distance, but staying as close as we can… For He is our only hope… We don’t just carry our cross, but follow Him so close that we can cling to His… That’s where salvation is found… That’s where freedom is found… That’s where the power to fight sin is found… That’s where joy is found…

Conclusion

We can’t do this on our own; and we’re not supposed to… That’s why Jesus promises us that He will never leave us nor forsake, even when in our pride we try to forsake Him… He shows this to be true with Peter… He asks Peter to stay up and pray, but Peter sleeps; but what does Jesus tell Peter? He says, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:31-32)… Jesus boldly stands for the gospel, but Peter denies Jesus… Jesus embraces suffering to save His people, but Peter avoids suffering to save himself… And in our pride we’re just like Peter; but like Peter we are not outside of the reach of God’s grace in Jesus Christ… So get your eyes off of yourself, and get them on Jesus… He’s our only hope for salvation… He’s our only hope in the fight against sin… He’s all we have; but, He’s all we need… Looking to Jesus, knowing Him, loving Him, and seeking to follow Him as closely as possible is the key to the fight against sin… So, look not to yourself, but to Jesus; and let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.