If We Are Faithless, He Will Remain Faithful

“It is a night that Peter will never forget… All week the feeling of danger, the sense of threat, has been growing. Now, while those strange words at the Passover table are still ringing in their ears, Jesus leads them out of the city to camp under the trees. Outside the city gates, they splash their way through the Kidron stream and make their way towards the Mount of Olives. Numbers of others are doing the same—there just isn’t room for all the festival crowds to stay within the city. Finally, at the foot of the hill, perhaps twenty minutes’ walk out of the city, they arrive at [the Mount of Olives]… an unforgettable night is about to take another dramatic turn.”

Surely this night is unforgettable. That word hardly does justice as we know what events are going to unfold. But at this point in the evening we find ourselves in the middle of yet another argument. 

This time it isn’t the twelve disciples arguing with one another—it is Jesus on one side and Peter on the other.

Each one is making a prediction. 

Jesus predicts failure, and Peter predicts success. Like two announcers debating over who will win the big game, Jesus and Peter are at odds in their conflicting predictions about the future. I called our outline a duel because that’s what happens here—a back and forth.

4 Declarations from a Duel of Conflicting Predictions (27-31)

  1. Jesus predicts the men’s defection and reinstatement (27-28)

He tells them all they are on the brink of a moral failure.

2. Peter pledges his devotion despite the others defecting (29)

Peter responds by elevating himself above the others. So, Jesus has to go over-the-top.

3. Jesus portrays Peter’s downfall in painfully specific detail (30)

Rather than humbling him into silence or teachability, Peter digs in deeper.

4. Peter promises utter dependability along with the others (31)

And so we get a very raw look at our faithlessness and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This passage demonstrates one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life. Two realities that seem to be in conflict, and yet aren’t.

What is it in this passage that is seemingly contradictory? 

As a Christian you have been promised victory in Jesus (oh sweet that it is). Satan’s head is crushed. The reigning power of sin is removed. You are no longer enslaved to sin as your master. The condemning power of law is removed. You are not under judgement and condemnation. And now in Christ you can obey from the heart.

Meanwhile, your flesh is so weak that you are capable of any sin. You possess within yourself the ability for committing any sin. And the only reason why you don’t is the restraining power and grace of God in your life.

Your power and enablement comes to you by faith in the Son of God. It is the life of Jesus through you. And the moment you take your eyes off of the enabling power of God and begin to trust in yourself you will surely fall.

You are a weak and powerless sinner who is given great strength and power from God through faith.

This passage just exposes not only how weak we are in the flesh, but the tendency to not see our weakness properly. Peter is going to underestimate the power of temptation, underestimate his own weakness (overestimating his moral strength) and underestimating his need for depending upon the power and promises of God.

To quickly remind us of our setting… last week we saw the end of the Passover meal and the end of the first communion as Jesus instituted this ordinance for his disciples. He ended the night with a statement captured in verse 25:

(25) “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 

Last week I said the supper probably wrapped up around 9pm give or take as they departed. Reading and assessing the situation it was probably later than that, perhaps even midnight.

They were in a room above the living quarters. This upper room was located within the city limits of Jerusalem. In order to get to the Mount of Olives, the men had to cross the Kidron Valley. The basin of the valley was homes to a brook, a creek really. This time of year, it still had water flowing from the winter. 

But at Passover, the excess blood from the animal sacrifices in the city would drain here. The brook was likely red that evening.

It’s now late Thursday night giving way into the wee hours of the morning on Friday. With the number of people in the city for Passover, there would be others here. Picture if you’ve ever attended a conference in a big city and there are people outside the hotel milling around on the lawn or in the park. Little groups gathered together talking.

If you remember, this is the place where the same group (plus Judas) gathered for the Olivet Discourse where Jesus began to explain the last days to them, recorded for us in Mark 13.

We aren’t the Garden of Gethsemane yet. That will come soon in v. 36. Most likely then this conversation took place in route to the Mount of Olives. And so as the men leave the upper room and make their way across the Kidron Valley we read beginning in Mark 14:27—

(27) And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 28 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 29 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” 31 But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.

4 Declarations from a Duel of Conflicting Predictions (27-31)

  1. Jesus predicts the men’s defection and reinstatement (27-28)

Although this is a serious moment in the narrative, I want you to see this point as glorious. 

It is glorious because there is a comforting promise that follows the sober warning. It exposes our human condition piercingly and it simultaneously displays the glory of Jesus Christ who is patient and faithful.

He begins first with this painful prediction that they are all going to compromise and leave him out of self-preservation in a quest for personal safety and security.

(27) And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, 

Just one word in the original (σκανδαλίζω). It only takes one word when it packs a punch like this one. It’s the root concept of our English word scandalize.

Originally, the word meant to trap. As in the physical mechanism of snapping closed. It would describe a spring-loaded trap used by a hunter to suddenly catch an animal. σκανδαλίζω translates two concepts in the Old Testament: ensnarement and falling. Both are related metaphorically to sin. 

This depicts the powerful influence of sin that gets you in its grip and captivates you and keeps you in bondage. That’s the ensnarement side of things. The other side is the reality that often times our sin isn’t something we plan to do, but rather something we slip into.

He says you are guys are about to fail. You are going to blow it. You are going to fall away. You are going to get caught off guard and stumble into sin. 

It’s as if the disciples are walking along through the woods, and soon they will step over a pit covered by sticks. They will slip and fall into a trap. Not physically, but spiritually.

Look carefully at the words in your Bible. This is comprehensive you all. It is certain, Jesus says will. It is vivid. This is a passive verb. Jesus doesn’t say you are going to rebel against me. He doesn’t say you are all going to actively betray me. 

Jesus warns the disciples to guard against the kind of sinfulness of which most of us are most guilty: sins of weakness and irresoluteness.

Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook as though sin doesn’t matter. But he is thoughtful and careful in his explanation here, which focuses on our human weakness and how outmatched we can be by sin in that sometimes we get caught up in it through the subtle deceitfulness of our own hearts.

Now Jesus gives the reason for his prediction of defection.

because it is written, 

Jesus says, “it’s already been written in Scripture.” I’ve got divine confirmation. 

Now, the passage he is going to quote is from Zechariah 13. That chapter had an immediate fulfillment that pertained specifically to Israel.

But Jesus reaches back here and says, “I’m handing you the additional application of this passage. Here’s the quote:

 ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 

The “I” isn’t specified, but the picture is that God is the one who will strike down the shepherd who is Jesus. To strike down is to deal a fatal blow.

And this striking down is the action that precipitates the second clause, which functions as the result or consequence of the first clause. 

You take down the leader and the followers will disband.

Do you see the wonder and the beauty of this? With Jesus, these men have power, bravado and courage. They follow him wherever he goes. But as soon as his presence is gone they are going to be scattered.

They’re all going to go running off in different directions. It’s what you do when you’re scared.

Now if Jesus stopped talking here it would leave something hanging and unresolved in the minds of the disciples.

See σκανδαλίζω, to fall away often means falling permanently. You are familiar with this word when it describes the result of the rocky soil in the parable of the soils:

Matthew 13:20–21—20 “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

That is not a temporary falling away. That’s falling away from the faith. Then adding pressure, Jesus just said two nights ago to these same men:

Mark 13:13—You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

We have to feel the weight of these words the way these men did. That when Jesus says you are going to fall away it isn’t minor. Because sometimes people fall away, and they never get up again.

1 John 2:19—They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

Should stop everyone in their tracks. And then that makes this next statement so reassuring where immediately after this prediction of defection Jesus offers them a comforting promise.

(28) “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 

The contrast here “but” connected the being struck down and the going ahead to Galilee. So, I will get killed, but then I will meet you again in Galilee. To remind you of the geography, Galilee is where all of these men are from.

Right now, they are in the big city.

Imagine a group of farm boys from small towns who have been following their leader. Now they are in Portland and he’s going to get killed there. And he says, “I’ll meet you back in the countryside after I have been raised.

Two things that are comforting about this. For one, Jesus isn’t going to be dead for long. For two, even though I’m going to fail, it’s only temporary. Jesus is accounting for their failure and telling them that they will pick up later where they are about to leave off.

Sometimes our sin leaves us feeling as though it disqualifies us from usefulness. Certainly, there are lasting ramifications of sin, and some of the scars will endure with you throughout the remained of your stay on this earth.

For these disciples’ failure isn’t the end of the story. These men belong to Jesus. And so, in terms of abandoning Christ, Judas is the only one who permanently fell away. These men will have a lapse here where they sin.

But they won’t ultimately abandon Jesus. It’s going to be a temporary weakness of convictions that results in greater humility, and a deeper understanding of their human condition and their neediness to depend upon the power of Jesus to carry out his commandments.

Failure in the Christian life is not determinative. 

All of these men will repent. All of these men will learn to depend upon Jesus. And all of these men will endure to the end in the face of great persecution.

Jesus is the good shepherd, and he’s going to be there still for these men.

Now if you are the disciples, at this moment you are being confronted with a lot. Up to this point in the conversation you have God telling you:

  • All of you are going to fall away.

  • Scripture has already predicted this is going to happen.

  • I’m giving you a plan for how to respond after this whole thing goes down.

You’ve been confronted with truth before. In this moment, the Spirit of God is bringing clarity and conviction to the hearts of each of these men. What would we hope to see here as a godly response?

Grief. 

Sorrow. 

An instant awareness of your own frailty and insignificance. When your sin is exposed it ought to make you soft to God. When the Spirit of God enables you to see your sinful motives compared to his righteousness, it should make you soft.

Pride prevents this type of response. If your heart isn’t broken over your sin, then you have a pride problem. And that’s exactly what we encounter here.

Peter hasn’t yet been sufficiently humbled in life to temper him. He loves the Lord Jesus so much. He’s going great guns with zeal. But his humility and his dependence upon Jesus hasn’t yet caught up with his ambition.

And so, he takes the words of Jesus as a challenge. In the original the storyline breaks down according to this, v. 27—Jesus said to them… v. 29—but Peter said to him.

(29) But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” 

These words will haunt Peter in a few hours, for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. And this self-confidence will be the very liability that paves his path his failure.

This is the second point in our narrative:

  1. Jesus predicts the men’s defection and reinstatement (27-28)

  2. Peter pledges his devotion despite the others defecting (29)

This is pretty raw here.

The English softens it just slightly. Peter’s pride is even more brazen that it first appears.

The way the grammar is constructed in the original, the word may isn’t there. What Peter’s actually saying is: I agree with you that they are going to defect. I affirm your prophecy, but I want you to know that you can count on me, that unlike them, I won’t.

Even though they all are going to fall away, I am not going to. One pastor writes, 

Peter’s stubborn pride again refused to acknowledge the possibility of any weakness.

Unfortunately, we’ve become familiar with this response as we have read the Gospels. Every time Jesus predicts his death, it results in a fleshly response from the men. It’s what comes out when these men feel threatened.

What’s more is that this is not the first, but the second conversation on this topic this very night. Back up in the upper room John records that Jesus said, “where I’m going, you cannot come.” (v. 34). A minute later,

John 13:36–38—36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 

I’m gonna die now, you are going to die later.

(37) Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

The lines are drawn. Jesus’ ability to predict the future vs. Peter’s ability to predict the future.

Listen, Peter’s desire to stand by his Savior is commendable. Furthermore, it is wrong to walk around expecting to fail. But the issue here is that Peter over-estimates his spiritual maturity and underestimates the power of the flesh.

He’s flattered himself.

And worse. He thinks he’s better than the others. Rather than slaying the thoughts of personal superiority, he has nursed them and fostered them. You can just hear the dialogue from the words we have for us here.

Jesus, I totally get why you said all the other guys are going to fail. And frankly, if we can speak openly, I’ve seen the same things in them that you have. I’m in full agreement, we’re on the same page. They are susceptible and they are going to blow it.

Thankfully though, you can depend upon me because I don’t struggle the way those other men do.

You cannot allow thoughts that elevate self to remain unchallenged. It paves the path to moral failure and compromise. It is destroying the foundation you need for battling sin, but you can’t see it or feel it.

You have to admit that your flesh loves to feel superior. For Peter? Who knows. “I was one of the first disciples called by Jesus, one of his top pics… I was there when he raised that girl from the dead and most the other guys couldn’t come in… I got to see Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration and it was with just James and John… Jesus chose my house in Capernaum as his home-base for ministry.

Comparisons in the flesh.

What is it for you? You are better than others due to what? We find all types of reasons. Your decisions about entertainment, how much you read, how much you evangelize, how much you serve, how committed you to gathering with God’s people, how on-time you are, how you spend your money, how you make parenting decisions. 

The flesh loves to boast. Loves to feel superior. But those thoughts are opposed to God and they leave us vulnerable to temptation.

Peter needed the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 (which weren’t written yet but are throughout the Old Testament.

1 Corinthians 10:12—Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

Well, because Peter won’t listen, Jesus has to up the ante now.

  1. Jesus predicts the men’s defection and reinstatement (27-28)

  2. Peter pledges his devotion despite the others defecting (29)

  3. Jesus portrays Peter’s downfall in painfully specific detail (30)

(30) And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” 

Really Peter. Truly. Verily. Seriously. 

I don’t know how to emphasize this more effectively to you. In the earlier account in John he said, Peter, Peter.

I promise it’s gonna happen on this day, at this time, this many times.

Now in terms of my disposition, I’d say I’m tapping out at this point. Even if I’m convinced that I’m right and Jesus is wrong. The argument’s getting intense and I’ll back off and let Jesus have his wrong perspective.

The reason why I said this is painfully specific detail is because this is just around the corner. It’s probably around midnight. The rooster would crow before the final night watch, preceding dawn around 3:00. 

And he says that this will happen three times.

Denying someone three times isn’t a slip up.

You have a breather to regroup and collect yourself. You have an opportunity to sense the weight of what you are doing. You have time to confess your sin and renew your mind.

The struggle is real. The temptation is serious.

This warning is going completely unheeded. Peter dismisses it. He takes it to the next level, and he stirs the other men up in the same folly.

  1. Jesus predicts the men’s defection and reinstatement (27-28)

  2. Peter pledges his devotion despite the others defecting (29)

  3. Jesus portrays Peter’s downfall in painfully specific detail (30)

  4. Peter promises utter dependability along with the others (31)

(31) But Peter kept saying insistently, 

It wasn’t another time or two. The verbal aspect here indicates he was repeating himself over and over. And he was doing it with great emphasis. Insistently here means that he was doing it excessively. 

He’s arguing with God.

 “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” 

Translation: there’s nothing that could ever cause me to deny you. Let ‘em come and take me. You die, then I’m dying too. 

Peter talks a bigger game than he can play.

Crazy to think about the language here. Jesus said, “you’ll deny me.” Peter then uses a double negation here to stress his point, “I will never, never deny you.” Impossible, Jesus.

Peter’s feeling defensive. 

He doesn’t want to see Jesus killed. And he is vowing his allegiance to him. He’s pledging to be there in his moment of need. To declare loyalty to Jesus isn’t a bad thing. It’s only bad when you are doing so in the face of your Lord telling you the opposite.

Peter isn’t intentionally lying right now. 

As he considers all that Jesus is for him, he is adamite concerning his love for the savior. The problem is he doesn’t yet comprehend the weakness of his own flesh.

You know the last time Mark recorded this word for denying it wasn’t from the lips of Peter, but from the lips of Jesus? There he was using it positively saying if you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself. 

You must renounce allegiance. You must disavow your loyalty. You must act in a selfless manner. 

Now Peter uses the word vowing allegiance to Jesus that he would never disavow him, which he will do three times.

Well, as usual, Peter is an influential dude. For better or for worse. Worse here. Worse when he acted hypocritically and even Barnabas joined in (Galatians 2). But many times, in Acts we find others being bolstered and fortified by Peter as they looked to his leadership. He had huge influence. He was a force to be reckoned with.

Here his influence is negative:

And they all were saying the same thing also.

Peter’s words have stirred up the other ten. And they are emboldened to pledge their allegiance too. Just a few hours ago after Jesus predicts one of them will be his betrayer, each of these men is looking Jesus in the eyes saying, “It’s not me, is it?”

These men do everything together. They drink one cup together (v. 23). They promise allegiance together (14:31). And within a few hours all of them together will scatter (v. 50).

There’s not much more time for arguing… they are going to make their way now to the Garden of Gethsemane. The last place Jesus will walk of his own accord. From there on to his death he will be led away.

I want to take the remainder of our time and flush this thing out a bit together. 

First, addressing the problem of self-reliance and a high view of self. Peter doesn’t see himself rightly and this situation is just serving to expose that. Next week it is going to reveal itself in prayerlessness and a lack of vigilance in the Garden.

Romans 12—think so as to have sober judgment. Not expecting the Christian life to be perpetual failure and weakness, but rather putting no confidence in the flesh.

Ephesians 6:10—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

It’s his power. His armor. His Spirit. His resources. He doesn’t obey for you. You access it by acting by faith.

Jesus is the perfect contrast. Donning a towel and washing the feet of the disciples.

This passage leveled me. I can relate to these men far more than I care to admit, even to myself. And I praise God that this story doesn’t end here.

Finally, I want you to see the disposition of Jesus here toward his followers. Jesus is patient with us. He accounts for human weakness and sinfulness. It shows up with Peter individually, and all of the men collectively.

In terms of Peter individually, consider the sovereign care of Jesus for this man:

Luke 22:31–32—31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 

You want to keep from despair when you sin then ponder this. Jesus assures Peter will an absolute promise that he will not only fail, but that his faith will endure, and he will repent, and he will be used by God to strengthen others.

God redeems even your failures to produce greater usefulness to him.

And it isn’t just with Peter.

I want to show this to you. It’s just remarkable to see Jesus care for these men as he restores them. We see this when we consider the bookends of the Gospel of Mark, a beautiful portrait of our shepherd takes shape.

Jesus first commissions the disciples, he calls them into service, in Mark 1:16.

Mark 1:16—As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.

Jesus calls these men out of their lives in Galilee. Notice the location. Here he first chooses them, they don’t choose him. He loves them first. He appoints them for the work he calls them to. 

Now they are going to abandon him. Every single one.

But on Sunday morning at the end of this weekend when he is raised, the Marys go to the empty tomb and encounter an angel. And the angel says to these women:

Mark 16:7—“But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’ ”

Do you see the beauty of this? He first commissions them in Galilee. They defect. Then he calls them again to Galilee, and what’s the big rendezvous that he has planned? Well this is where Jesus gives the disciples the Great commission found in Matthew 28.

Here’s the context and the background for that instruction.

Jesus comes to these men who are still raw from what just happened, and he says, “you guys are still on my team.” Its time move forward. We’ve got a mission to accomplish together.

It just serves to magnify the greatness of our God. Does it not?

I’m sure that’s what they thought too.

Those words at the beginning and the end of the Great Commission gain such weightiness when we see them against this backdrop. 

They blew it. 

And now they hear Jesus saying to them, in the same region originally commissioned them: All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth… I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Implication? It’s okay. I’m here. My spiritual presence will never leave you. And you will have incredible usefulness and influence, but it’s not going to be established by the flesh, but my power and promise.

What a good shepherd we have!


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