************ Sermon on Matthew 26:31-35,69-75 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 14, 1999
I Peter's Denial Predicted
A After the Last Supper, while on the way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples, "This very night you will all fall away ..." (Mt 26:31).
"Fall away." In mind here is not just a simple leaving, a good-bye; Jesus is speaking of desertion, abandonment. Soldiers who do what Jesus says the disciples will do are usually executed. So this "falling away" that Jesus is speaking of is a serious matter.
B Peter insists, however, that he will be the one exception. "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (vs 33). "I never will." As someone once observed, "Never is a mighty long time." This is pretty strong and emphatic language on Peter's part. Peter claims that he never will fall away from, that he never will desert, the Lord.
Jesus knows better and answers Peter with a prediction specifically about him:
(Matt 26:34) "I tell you the truth ... this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.""Disown." The word we usually use here is "deny." Jesus predicts that Peter will disown or deny Him. The Greek word that is used here implies a previous relationship of faith, trust, and fidelity. In other words, only those who have a relationship with the Lord can disown or deny Him. How it must have hurt Jesus to say this: after all, He is not talking of unbelievers, atheists, or pagans here; rather, He is talking of a trusted companion and friend, someone He loves, someone who loves Him in return. "You will disown me three times." "You, who know me, who follow me, who love me, will disown me three times."
Peter can't believe this will happen. Peter can't believe that he will turn his back on the Lord. "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you," he says (Mt 26:34). Peter expresses his willingness to die for the Lord. And, his words are echoed by his colleagues, the other disciples.
II Peter's Denial
A We all know what happened next: Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and taken to a meeting of the Sanhedrin. But where was Peter? Did he stay right by the Lord's side, even as he claimed he would be? Verse 58 speaks to this:
(Matt 26:58) But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
Do you realize what has happened? He who had so defiantly asserted that he would never forsake the Lord, even if it meant dying for the Lord, had followed his Master "at a distance" to the high priest's palace. If Peter was true to his words he should have been right at Jesus' side, walking right beside him; instead, Peter followed "at a distance."
There is reason to wonder why Peter even did this. Did Peter follow the Lord because of his great love for Him? Did Peter follow the Lord because he longed to be near Him? Verse 58 indicates that Peter followed "to see the outcome"; in other words, Peter followed out of curiosity.
B Peter followed at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards. You know what happened. Three times Peter denied knowing the Lord. And, each time he denies the Lord more forcefully than the time before.
Do you remember Peter's earlier words – his proud, boastful words?
(Matt 26:33-35) "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will ... Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."How the mighty have fallen! Peter did fall away: he denied or disowned Jesus three times. And, he heaped burning coals of fire on his head by swearing falsely about this.
III Peter Denies a Suffering Lord
A Why did Peter follow the Lord "at a distance" instead of side-by-side? Why did Peter deny knowing the Lord? What was the reason? Was it fear? Was he scared for his life? Was he all talk and no action? We know this can't be the case because when the crowd came to arrest Jesus it was Peter who drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear (Mt 26:51). Peter quite literally put his life on the line by doing that; don't forget, Jesus and the disciples were badly outnumbered and surrounded by a large crowd armed with swords and clubs.
B Why, then, did Peter follow the Lord "at a distance"? Why did Peter deny knowing the Lord? In our text Jesus tells us the real reason: "on account of me." "This very night you will all fall away on account of me," says Jesus.
To support what He says, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7
(Matt 26:31) 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'Jesus is the Shepherd and the apostles are His little flock. When the Shepherd is struck the sheep are scattered.
Jesus changes the Zechariah quote just a little bit. In his first line the prophet Zechariah says, "Strike the shepherd." Jesus changes this to "I will strike the shepherd."
Why? Why this change? Jesus makes this change to emphasize the truth that He will suffer and die according to God's set purpose and foreknowledge (cf Acts 2:23). More than that, Jesus makes this change to emphasize that God is the Prime Mover in the story of Christ's suffering and death. You see, the "I" in "I will strike the shepherd," has to be and is God. It is God's hand we are to see at work in the suffering and death of Christ. As Isaiah had foretold, "It was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (Is 53:10). And, on this Lord's Supper Sunday, we all know why this was the Lord's will for Jesus: to save us from our sins, to free us from our bondage to Satan, to deliver us from the forces of darkness and evil.
Peter could not accept this. Peter could not accept that this was God's will for Jesus. Peter could not accept that this was the only way to fulfill the writings of the prophets (cf Matt 26:54). Peter could not accept a Jesus Who allowed Himself to be led as a Lamb to the slaughter. Peter could not accept a Jesus Who willingly submitted to suffering and death.
Remember when Jesus first predicted His suffering and death? At that time
(Matt 16:22) ... Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16). But his vision and understanding of the Messiah did not include the cross and the grave, suffering and death. His hope and dream and thought was that Jesus would be a kind of Jewish Caesar Who would re-establish Israel as an independent nation and world power.
And now, now Peter comes face-to-face with a Jesus Who claims it is God's will that He go the way of the cross and the grave. Peter comes face-to-face with a Jesus Who refuses to fight, Who refuses to run, Who even encourages the crowd sent to arrest Him by saying, "do what you came for." Peter could not accept this kind of Jesus so he falls away.
Why, then, did Peter fall away? As Jesus puts it in our text, "you will all fall away on account of me." Peter, and the other disciples, when it comes right down to it, could not accept Jesus as the Suffering Servant of the Lord so they all fall away.
C Peter is a perfect illustration of what God teaches about the Christ in Isaiah:
(Isaiah 8:14) ... for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare (cf 1 Pet 2:8).Peter also illustrates what God teaches through Paul in his letter to Corinth:
(1 Cor 1:23) ... but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles ...
So many cannot accept a Lord Who suffered and died. They, like Peter, stumble over the cross and the grave. They can't identify with a king so meek. They can't follow someone Who suffered so much. They can't pledge allegiance to Someone Who died. Peter couldn't, so he fell away; Peter couldn't, so he denied or disowned the Lord.
Subtopic: The Sinner's Friend
Title: Identifying with Christ
In the book The Fire of Your Life, we are told the story of Emma, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps. Emma was bitter, angry, and enraged at what the Nazis did. The most bitter pill for her to swallow, though, was that most of the Jews--including herself and her family--offered no resistance to the Nazis. They meekly allowed themselves to be rounded up like cattle and herded onto the box cars that took them to the Auschwitz and Dachau death-camps. She blamed Jesus for this--Jesus so meek and mild, Jesus Who went like a sheep to the slaughter, Jesus Who stayed still like a sheep before its shearers is silent. So every day at 4 p.m. she stood outside a Manhattan church and screamed insults at Jesus. Emma could not accept this kind of Jesus.
D Peter should have known better. When Christ predicted His death and crucifixion He always predicted His resurrection too (cf Matt 16:21; 17:22f; 20:17ff). And, in our text for today, in predicting the falling away of the disciples, Christ again sounds a note of triumph: "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Peter, and the other disciples, should have known that suffering and death, the cross and the grave, were not the final word. Jesus would be raised from the dead. But Peter either didn't hear these words or, more probable, he didn't understand them.
"This very night you will all fall away on account of me." Peter stumbled over Christ crucified.
IV Do We Deny the Lord?
A What about us, congregation? Do we deny or disown the Lord?
How can we deny or disown the Lord? When we fail to acknowledge or confess Christ we deny Him. In every church, it seems, there are those who fail to publicly confess their faith in Christ – this is a form of denial. There are so many who neither accept nor reject Jesus; rather, they simply neglect Him; they put off a decision about the Lord – this is a form of denial. God gives us many opportunities for witness, but we remain silent – this is a form of denial.
B How can we deny or disown the Lord? When we fail to believe rightly in Jesus, we also deny Him. Scripture presents certain infallible truths about the Lord: that He is true God and true man; that He was conceived by the Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; that He suffered and died for our sins and was raised for our justification; that He ascended into heaven; that He shall some day come again to judge the living and the dead. We deny Jesus if we do not believe all this. The Athanasian Creed can say in Article 44, "This is the catholic faith: one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully."
Why is it so terrible to deny or disown the Lord? Because at stake is our salvation. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 10:
(Matt 10:32-33) "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (33) But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
When those who acknowledge Him appear before the Judgment Throne, do you know what Jesus says? "I died for him; he is washed clean by my blood; he shares in my righteousness and is an heir to life everlasting." But Jesus will not do this for those who deny or disown Him.
Does this mean the Lord Jesus did not acknowledge Peter before the Judgment Throne? No, not at all.
Why not? Because Peter repented of his sin. When the rooster crowed, Peter "went outside and wept bitterly." He "wept bitterly." His tears were a symbol of his shame, remorse, sorrow, confession, and repentance.
Peter repented so he was forgiven. And, we know that if we too repent we too can be forgiven. Nevertheless, the fact remains: you are saved only if you acknowledge Jesus. And, you are lost if you deny or disown Him.
If you deny the Lord, I want to warn you right now against taking the Lord's Supper. But if you acknowledge the Lord, then I invite you to come to the Lord's Table.
Do you deny or do you acknowledge Christ?
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