Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on November 20, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 13:36-38. Today we are focusing on just three verses. I have to confess, I considered just passing over these verses and referring back to them when we get to Peter’s denial in John 18, but I decided against it for I think there is something here that we need to allow to convict us.
And with that said, let me just take a moment and talk about the Bible. For those who have been attending Cornerstone since the beginning, you have heard me say this a number of times, but as we slowly grow, it is something that I need to bring up periodically.
Here at Cornerstone we believe in the Bible, not just some of it, but all of it. I embrace the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And again the words in 1 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The Word of God is the way of God. It is the way that God feeds our hungry souls. It is the way that God equips us to live the life that God intends; a life of power, and righteousness, and hope, and joy, and purpose.
And this is why we do what we do at Cornerstone, preaching and teaching the Word of God, resisting to desire to skip over things. We desire for God to transform us with his hands through the Word of God and the power of his Spirit. However, it shouldn’t end when you walk out of these doors. Every single one of you needs to be reading the Bible every single day, not just some of it, but all of it.
Charles Spurgeon said, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” So with that reminder, let us read our three verses, pray, and see what God has for us this morning.
Briefly in review, our passage this morning takes place in the Upper Room, the night before Jesus crucifixion. This night was intense to say the least. If you recall, just being in Jerusalem was extremely dangerous for Jesus and his disciples. If you recall back in John 11, Jesus was away from area of Jerusalem when Lazarus died. Jesus was going to return to the area and raise Lazarus from the dead. However the disciples said to Jesus in John 11:8, “The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” This question was just a mask for their fear. They know if Jesus went back to Jerusalem, there was a good chance that he would be arrested and killed. In fact in verse 16, Thomas of all people says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Such a valiant and bold statement made by Thomas. This is very similar to the one we see Peter makes in our text today, verse 37, “I will lay down my life for you.” Now why does Peter say this? For the same reason that Thomas says it, he was caught in the moment.
Peter had a tendency to just blurt out whatever popped into his head. If you recall in Matthew 16 when Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer at the hands of the elders and chief priests and be killed, and then be raised on the third day and then we are told in verse 22 Peter responds by saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus then says to Peter in verse 23, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter seemed to have a hard time wrapping his head around spiritual matters. He seems to be a man who is caught up in the physical. He regularly failed to see the world through the proper lens.
Our text today is no different. Peter is still not connecting the dots regarding what Jesus must do. With the words, “Lord, where are you going?” we see that Peter does not understand that this is the hour of Jesus' death, and this is something that Jesus must do alone.
Verse 36, “Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now.” Jesus is referring to his arrest and crucifixion, and he is telling Peter that the cross s not a joint effort, it is a work completed by Christ alone. As Jesus has made abundantly clear, Jesus is the one and only Lamb provided by God to take away the sins of the world. His sacrifice is a single offering.
The independence and sufficiency of Christ to save us is a theme that runs through the entire Gospel of John and the entire Bible itself. As the famous words of John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world,i that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus is the single and narrow gate for the sheep to enter into the pastures of God. And this is why I think Jesus says this to Peter, this is an hour set aside for Jesus alone.
Later on in John 18:8 Jesus says this when he is arrested, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” Jesus is setting the stage so that all of history would recognize that this is not about squashing a rebellion of revolutionaries, it is about the death of Emmanuel. When he hangs on the cross the spotlight will be on him and him alone.
This seems to be an easy concept to understand, but unfortunately so many people fail to allow Christ to be completely sufficient to save them from sin and death. Every other religion has an element of works associated with salvation, and all other religions are counterfeits. Islam is based upon the works of men, Hinduism is base on works of men, Judaism is based on the works of men, Mormonism is based upon the works of men, and Catholicism is based upon the the works of men. Every single one of them is a false religion. True Christianity is based on Christ alone. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
I am asked regularly, usually by Catholics, do I believe Catholics are Christians. My answer to them is to say it is not whether you are a Catholic or Protestant that makes you a Christian, it is whether you believe in the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus. That his blood fully and completely paid for all your sins, past, present and future. If you believe that you must add something to the sacrifice of Christ, then you do not believe in the sacrifice of Christ, and you are still condemned to Hell. This is not according to me, it is according to the Bible. This is, in fact, why the entire book of Galatians is written and Galatians 2:16 cannot be any clearer, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
This is why Jesus says, “.Where I am going you cannot follow me now.” The cross is a one many show.
A Sovereign Christ
As we have already said, Peter's response was “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” These confused words of Peter sounded good. They sounded heroic. They appeared to be courageous and admirable. However, here is the problem. They weren't true, at least not in the immediate sense. How do we know this? Because Jesus says so, “Jesus answered, “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.”
First, what does Jesus 's response tell us about Jesus? It tells us that he knows the future before the future happens.. This is not true for Peter and it is not true for you and I. The next several hours, even though they have not taken place, are as good as locked in as it relates to Peter. No matter how bold Peter is in this moment, this is Peter's destiny, and Jesus knows his destiny. Peter will crumble. Once again, it is verses like this that cause me to be a Calvinist. God is regularly revealing to us that He has already written the story.
How can Jesus make a statement like this before it happens, unless it is predestined. Peter, even knowing that it was gong to happen could not stop it. It was as if Jesus had read play before it was performed. My guess is, prophecies like this by Jesus to Peter is why Peter later says in Acts 4:27, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Very few Christians would argue that the crucifixion of Jesus was predestined, but so were the means to reach that end. Herod's apathy, Pilates weakness , the existence of Roman cross, the hate of the Sandedrin, the rejection of the Jewish crowds, and even Peter's denial.
Jesus knows our sins before we commit them. He knew our sins before we existed. And even with that knowledge, he still chose to die for those who are his sheep. Why? Because this is what a Shepherd does for his sheep. He lays down his life for them, even if they deny him three times before the rooster crows.
The Vanity of Man
What does this destined denial tell us about Peter? First, as we said, it tells us that Peter can't see into the future. He has no clue what is in store for him. He is as we are, blind to what the next second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, or decade will hold. Peter is merely a creature bound by time. He is no where close to being on the same plane as Christ, and his words have no authority. Just because Peter speaks them does not make them so, in fact they are false. When spoken from the flesh, and not by the Spirit, the word of man is mere vanity.
Second it tells us that Peter does not know the sin of his own heart. As Peter stands in the midst of Christ, with freshly washed feet and a full belly surrounded by his friends it is easy for him to pridefully proclaim that he would die for Jesus. It reminds me of Jesus rebuke in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Sure he talks a good game in this moment, but there is no substance to these words. Peter's heart lacks faith, and this will become very apparent to Peter when the rooster crows. In fact, it will bring him to tears as he realizes the wretchedness of his heart.
I can't but wonder if we, in this room are a group just like Peter. Think about the songs we sing. Last week we sang these lyrics, “Where you go, I'll go; Where you stay, I'll stay When you move, I'll move; I will follow.” Are we not Peter when we sing these verses out in the comfort of our Church, and then cower like wimps in the presence of our co-workers? Do we brashly claim to be fellow soldiers fighting for the Kingdom of God, but never going on a week long mission trip for fear of the latest virus, or terrorist attack? Many times I have pondered these questions in my heart, do I just talk the talk, or do I walk the walk. Unfortunately, I fear I am like Peter and likewise do not know the depths of my wretched heart.
The Call to Lay Down Your Life
Now your response to this could be to commit yourself to never sing certain songs, or never declare your radical allegiance to Christ, but to instead to hedge your bets and become the Christian Eeyore. However, I do not believe this is the right response. We should not lower our mouth to match our heart, we should instead raise our heart to match our mouth. Peter's mouth was not the problem, his lack of faith was the problem.
Notice that when Jesus heard Peter's claim that he would die for him, Jesus did not say, “Wait a second, don't go getting all zealous and radical on me, Peter. What I want from you is to just make sure you go to Church every Sunday, put some money in the plate every now and then, and say your prayers like a good little boy.” No Jesus wasn't bothered by Peter's words, he was bothered that the words weren't true.
Prior to this particular night Jesus said these words in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
To be a Christian means that you are willing to die for Jesus. If you do not hate your own life, you cannot be a Christian. If you do not bear a cross, you cannot be a Christian. If you do not renounce all that you have, you cannot be a Christian. To be a Christian means to let go of everything and grab hold of Jesus. On the night of Jesus arrest, Peter was not there, but some day he would be.
In Luke's more detailed version of these events found in John 13 we are told this in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Did Peter deny Christ, yes. Did Peter after his denial, hang himself like Judas? No. Why not? Because he had an advocate, Jesus. Jesus had interceded for him and therefore, he would persevere, and there would come a day when Peter would lay down his life for Christ.
If you notice, in verse 36 Jesus says this, “but you will follow afterward.” What does this mean? It means that some day, Peter would go the way of Christ and die for the glory of God. John writes about this in John 21:18 when Jesus is restoring Peter, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Eusebius, writing around 325 AD in his Ecclesiastical History claimed that Peter was crucified upside down while in Rome under the rule of Nero. Are those details true, I am not sure, but we do know that Peter gave up his life for the glory of God. This was Peter's call to follow Jesus, and our call is no different. We are called not to change our songs, but to allow Christ to change our hearts.