October 19, 2003

Weakness of the Rock

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 13:36–38


Weakness of the Rock

John 13:36-38
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

John chapter 13 contains two of the most radical commandments ever delivered by our Lord, Jesus Christ. In verses 14 and 15 He said, "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." And then in verses 34 and 35 Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. The former command calls all disciples to serve one another imitating the humility of Christ. The latter calls all disciples to love one another imitating the love of Christ. Lofty commands indeed! How have you specifically applied these commands in the past three weeks?

We would think that John would follow each of these commands with examples of obedience. Yet surprisingly, each of these commands are followed by predictions of great disobedience. In chapter 13, Jesus reveals His two greatest defectors: Judas and Peter. Both prophecies are fulfilled in chapter 18. Their disobedience is similar, yet very different as well. William Barclay put the contrast like this: "Judas' betrayal of Jesus was absolutely deliberate; it was carried out in cold blood; it must have been the result of careful thought and careful planning; and in the end it deliberately and callously refused the most poignant appeal. But there never was anything in this world less deliberate than Peter's denial of Jesus. Peter never meant to do it. He was swept away by a moment of weakness" (Barclay, John, v. 2, p. 175-176). We covered Judas two weeks ago. His downfall was somewhat predictable. But what happened to the Apostle Peter, the man known for conviction, boldness and dedication?

After all, it was Peter who realized his true condition in the holy presence of the Christ and remarked, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man" (Lk. 5:8). After most of the "disciples" departed from Jesus (Jn. 6:66), it was Peter on behalf of the 12, who said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life" (Jn. 6:68). While the other Apostles cowered in the boat thinking Jesus was a ghost (Mt. 14:26), it was Peter who had enough faith to step out onto the water (Mt. 14:29). When the other 10 Apostles fled in fear after Jesus' arrest (Mk. 14:50), it was Peter who closely followed behind His Lord (Lk. 22:61). Yet it would be this man, the mighty Apostle Peter, who would not once, but three times, publicly deny His Savior with an oath saying, "I do not know the man" (Mt. 26:74).

There is much we can learn from the example of Peter's downfall. What caused the Apostle Peter to deny his Savior? How did Jesus respond to Peter's denial? How did Peter bounce back from his graven mistake? Our walk with the Lord will be greatly impacted by the answers we assign to these three questions. Our objective this morning is to biblically seek and apply those answers.


Let's begin with a preview of the situation. At the end of verse 33 Jesus told His disciples, "Where I am going, you cannot come." In verses 34 and 35, Jesus delivered the great love commandment we studied last week. But based on Peter's response in verse 36, it seems the love commandment fell on deaf ears. Peter was sidetracked by Christ's prediction of His departure. So in verse 36, without making any reference to the love commandment, Peter replied , "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus responded in the remainder of verse 36 by basically restating verse 33. "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later." In other words, "Peter, I'm going back to the Father. You will join me eventually, but not right now."

Peter responded similar to our children when we say that can't immediately have what they want. ("Daddy, why can't I have a puppy right now?") Verse 37, "(Why) Lord, why can I not follow You right now?" Peter then goes on to emphasize his desire. (Our children may say, "I will walk and brush the dog every day!") Peter went much further, "I will lay down my life for You." Peter's comments were similar to Jesus' from John 10. There we learned about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for His flock (Jn. 10:15). Soon we will learn that Peter was not prepared to lay his life down for the Good Shepherd.

Jesus Christ who knows all things said in verse 38, "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" (c.f. Mt. 26:33-35; Mk. 14:29-31; Lk. 22:31-34 - Interestingly the rooster was a symbol of "cockiness" (Pr. 30:29-30). The same night that Peter predicted the courageous loss of his life, would be the same night that he would deny his Savior to save his life (Jn. 18:25-27). D.A. Carson put it well. "Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob" (Carson, John, p. 486).

"Tonight, I will die for you, Jesus!" No Peter, "Tonight, you will deny that you ever knew Me!" Imagine Peter's surprise when he heard Christ's comments! Imagine his shame and embarrassment, even more than the Cub's fan who tried to catch the foul ball this past week! Possibly this is why the normally outspoken Peter is never heard from again in the Upper Room discourse (next time Jn. 18:10), though the Scriptures record the other disciples speaking quite frequently (Jn. 14:5, 8, 22). The man was silenced, humbled by Christ's prediction of his denial.


We must ask the question, how can a man of such dedication and commitment, succumb to actually denying his Savior? After all, I believe Peter really wanted to depart with Jesus. I believe Peter really was devoted to the Lord (Lk. 5:11; 18:28). I believe Peter really meant that he would die for Jesus. We must not forget that it was Peter, just hours before his denial, who cut off the ear of the high priest's slave (Jn. 18:10). And had Jesus not intervened, it appears Peter was prepared to defend Jesus to the point of death. What happened that allowed Peter to yield to the awful temptation?

Was it the events that transpired just prior to the denial? Possibly it was because Peter lacked the faith to stand firm that night in the heat of ridicule, persecution and harm. Did his faith falter when he witnessed evil apparently triumphing over good? Possibly it was Peter's failure to pray. Three times in the Garden, Peter was summonsed to pray (Mt. 26:44). Twice Jesus said, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk. 22:40, 46). Did the indifference toward prayer lead to the sin of denial? Possibly it was spending time with Christ's enemies. Just before the denial Peter was associating with those bent on eliminating Jesus (Lk. 22:55). Did their bad company corrupt his good morals? Was it a lack of faith, a lack of prayer or a lack of accountability that led to Peter's sin?

Maybe it was the events that transpired in the Upper Room just before Christ's prediction that led to Peter's denial. Possibly it was the fact that Peter refused to listen to Jesus. I find it amazing that Jesus had already mentioned the timing, method and reason for His departure many times but Peter never caught on. If he did, he never would have asked in verse 36, "Lord, where are you going." If Peter would have listened more to the words of the Lord, perhaps He would have had the confidence and hope necessary to resist the temptation. Possibly it was not only failing to hear Christ's words, but also failing to heed Christ's words. I already mentioned that it seems Peter ignored the great love commandment in verses 34-35. If Peter would have loved Christ with the same love Christ had for him, there is no doubt that he would have stood for Jesus and died for Jesus if necessary just as Jesus would die for him.

I think all these reasons may have contributed to Peter's sin. In the same way the cause of our sins can be traced back to a lack of faith or a lack of prayer or temptation from unbelievers or failing to listen to Jesus or failing to love Jesus. I think we would all agree that victory over sin comes from a commitment to the Word and prayer to impart the faith we need to resist the tempting influences (world, Satan, flesh) and lovingly draw near to Jesus in obedience. These suggested reasons may all be true, but I believe the primary cause for Peter's failure is something I have yet to specifically mention. I believe the underling cause of Peter's denial was pride. Peter was overconfident in his natural abilities and his natural strengths became his greatest weakness.

Every year for more than a decade, The Parachutist, the official publication of the United States Parachute Association, has published an article called their "fatality summary." In the article a writer analyzes the factors contributing to parachuting deaths in the previous year. Parachutists are classified first as students, then after twenty jumps they receive their A license. After fifty jumps, they receive their B license. After one hundred jumps their C license. After two hundred jumps, their D license. In the 1993 fatality summary Paul Sitter points to an alarming statistic. Fifty-nine percent of all parachuting fatalities were suffered by elite jumpers, those with a D license. A graph accompanying the article shows a dramatic upward spike for fatalities among those with two hundred to one thousand jumps. The spiritual application is clear. Just because a person is mature doesn't mean he or she is invulnerable. Long standing Christians, like some parachutists with multiple jumps, can get overconfident.

I strongly believe that Peter's overconfidence led to His denial. Like so many, Peter misunderstood the weakness of his own flesh. Rather than depending on the Lord, he depended on himself. Rather than going to Christ for supernatural love and strength, he depended on his own natural love and strength. Peter was soon to learn the painful lesson that He was inadequate to please God if he depended on his own resources.

The Christian life is not a "just do it" Nike commercial. The Christian life is journey whereby our Lord is forever in the process of weaning us from our own self-sufficiency. The more we grow in Christ, the more we learn to depend on His strength to fulfill the high demands of discipleship. And the more we depend on His strength, the more victorious we will be and the more glory God will receive.

It's often those blessed with natural gifts such as charm, discipline, communication skills, physical attractiveness, intelligence, wit, aggressiveness, position and wealth who have the most difficulty weaning from the dependency to self. They have been used to having the resources to "get the job done." But those who may not be as "blessed" in these areas are actually better off since they find themselves with no other option than to rely on the Lord for strength.

Six days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Daphne in a hospital in Queens. Daphne is a beautiful 26 year old woman who fell off the back of a motorcycle going 75 miles per hour down the Clearview Expressway. Daphne nearly lost her life and her current condition has her almost completely handicapped and semi-retarded. She said she was thankful for the accident because it led her to trust Jesus for salvation. Rarely have I witnessed such a sincere love and genuine faith in the Savior. Do you think Daphne needs to depend on the Lord? She recognizes her need even in the mundane tasks of feeding herself and going to the bathroom. That's where the Lord wants all of us!

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this lesson. Undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and ambitious Christians who have ever lived. Few, if any, were ever used by the Lord in a more prominent way. But to keep him humble and dependent on the Lord for strength, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us about a "thorn in the flesh" that was given to him. He says, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

When we die to self and realize that "apart from (Christ we) can do nothing" (Jn.15:5), we will depend on His strength. Only then will we realize our greatest natural strength is actually a weakness, compared to His empowerment. And our greatest weakness becomes an occasion for His strength to shine. For example, "Our shyness, an occasion for His boldness; our weakness of speech, an occasion for his articulation; our lack of imagination, for His creativity; our ignorance, for His instruction; our insecurity for His assurance" (Kent Hughes, John, p. 334). But when we ignore Christ and try to live the Christian life on our own strength, we are epitomizing pride and should heed the warning in Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling." According to 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." In Matthew's account Peter emphatically declared, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Mt. 26:33). Peter thought he stood with his exuberating overconfidence and he fell, and great was his fall.

The same applies to many Christians today. They conclude, I'm already blessed; I don't need prayer. I can battle the devil; I don't need spiritual armor. I know what to do; I don't need accountability. I have good theology; I don't need to study the Bible. I'm doing enough already; I don't need a ministry. I am already strong; I don't need to rely on the Holy Spirit. I have this Christian thing figured out; I don't need to attend church every week. If you are thinking this way, beware! You obviously do not realize the weakness of your own flesh. Your overconfidence is setting you up for the fall. You too, like Peter, may be only one step away from denying your Savior.


Though I could end this sermon here by this stern warning against prideful overconfidence and dependence on the flesh, I have chosen to soften the blow and present the other half of Peter's denial which depicts the graciousness of our Savior and growth of Peter. Though the prediction of Peter's denial and the denial itself were tragic, the story does have a happy ending.

Though I am not seeking to minimize Peter's sin, allow me initially to show you the tenderness of our Savior and the forgiveness and love He bestows upon His children when they do fail.

Immediately after Jesus predicted the betrayal in 13:38, Peter barely had enough time to blush before Jesus said in the very next verse, "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me" (Jn. 14:1). Jesus did not belabor the point nor did He seek to humiliate Peter. Following the words of the prediction, were words of encouragement.

Second, just prior to the denial, Luke records that our Lord prayed for Peter. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Lk. 22:31-32). James Boice explained this hope well. "Put into language that we can better understand, this means that Satan had come to Jesus boasting that Peter was nothing but a bag of hot air and that if he, Satan, were allowed to blow on him, Peter would sail away like chaff when the wind separates it from the grain at the threshing time. Jesus answered that there was indeed a great deal of chaff in Peter but that Satan was wrong in thinking that Peter was nothing by chaff. "My grain is in Peter," he said. "Consequently, I will let you blow on him; but when you are done all you will have succeeded in doing is blowing away some of the chaff. Peter will be stronger than before" (Boice, John, v. 4, p. 1055). Though Jesus once again acknowledges that Peter will turn away, He prayed for Peter and assured him of spiritual victory and future usefulness.

Third, right after the denial, Jesus granted Peter the immediate ability to repent. The Scriptures declare that Peter "went out and wept bitterly" (Mt. 26:75; Lk. 22:62). When's the last time you or I have "wept bitterly" after offending God by a personal sin? Peter's heart was broken. It was tender and contrite. He knew he had sinned greatly against his Savior. And his sin brought him great anguish and pain. These responses demonstrate true biblical repentance. And true biblical repentance is a gift from the Lord (Ac. 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25).

Fourth, although Peter sinned greatly against His Lord, Jesus is a God who forgives. After the resurrection, Jesus sought out Peter. John records the dialogue in chapter 21. "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep'" (Jn. 21:15-17). The Lord recognized and received Peter's repentance, and as always, is quick to forgive, restore the relationship and reinstate for service.

Fifth, as in all of our trials and mistakes, our suffering is not meaningless. God used Peter's situation to teach him a valuable lesson. Doubtfully Peter would ever think as confidently of his own strength again. God graciously allowed Peter to be humbled, only to heal the wounds of the trial and make him stronger in the faith.

What an awesome God! Even when we fail, He is there to encourage, offer prayer, grant repentance, restore and instruct. All of this is not to take advantage of our Lord's forgiveness, but rather the impetus to move us to greater obedience because of His profound love for us.

Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary says he can remember only two of his childhood school teachers; his fifth and sixth grade teachers. He had a reputation for causing trouble in the classroom. His fifth grade teacher dealt with him by tying him to his seat and wrapping paper over his mouth. As he walked into sixth grade his new teacher immediately said, "Oh, you're Howard Hendricks. I've heard a lot about you." And then she added, "But I don't believe a word of it!" She convinced him that she had confidence in him, and Dr. Hendricks said, "I knocked myself out to please her." Our Lord's love and forgiveness is intended to knock us out to please Him (2 Cor. 5:9)!


Finally, before we close, we need to take a peek ahead and see how Peter responded to this trial and the gracious provision of his Lord. Did he walk away from the faith? Did he continue to repeat this sin? Did he get angry or backslide or engage in some extended pity party? Did he remain stagnant in his spiritual walk? Absolutely not! The Scriptures declare that Peter bounced back and became the first leader of the early church. All you need to do is go one book forward to Acts and witness Peter's bold preaching in the presence of those who crucified Christ. Our Lord weaned Peter from his cowardice and overconfident spirit, only to empower him by His strength to be a faithful shepherd and mature example of the faith. The man who we read about this morning in the Upper Room is totally different than the man who penned two epistles entitled first and second Peter.

After the Lord's ascension, Peter lived three more decades, faithfully testifying salvation through Jesus Christ to a hostile world. Eventually he would stand before the wicked emperor, Nero. With his life once again on the line, Peter, this time, would not deny His Savior. Rather, this time he would stand firm on the Lord's strength. According to tradition, Peter was condemned to be crucified. Being moved by the fact that he was to share in the Lord's death, the once proud Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as His Savior and humbly insisted on being crucified upside-down.

John chapter 13 contains two profound commandments from Jesus. One is to follow His example of love and the other is to follow His example of humility. Following each of these commands are two prophecies. One is Judas' betrayal and the other Peter's denial. Could it be that Judas failed because he lacked Christlike love and Peter failed because he lacked Christlike humility?

Peter's spiritual life finished well, but it was nearly derailed after the denial. Yet our Lord is faithful to forgive and restore. By His grace we can grow stronger from our trials, not stronger in our own strength, but stronger as we rely greater on his strength. In tender love, He seeks to break us from pride, self-sufficiency and overconfidence.

An article I read this week contained an imaginary letter from Jesus Christ. I think it's contents are a fitting conclusion to this message. "I don't want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and to distrust yourself, and to trust Me and no one else. As long as you rely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: Your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of Me. You need to distrust yourself completely. My (strength) is infinite" (Taken from: Paul Miller, Where the Spirit Moves, Discipleship Journal, n. 136).

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John