John 13:36-38 | The Path to Denying Christ | Andrew Gutierrez

April 23, 2017 Speaker: Andrew Gutierrez Series: Love & Betrayal

Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 13:36–38

Please turn to John 13 for the final time—not in your life.

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People around us do—neighbors, teachers, co-workers, and we think, I would never do that. Sometimes we hear of things other Christians do and we think I would never do that. Those are dangerous words. Those are dangerous words because they’re not always true.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne said that the seed of every sin lies in my heart. Maybe a better phrase when we hear things that other people do is, by the grace of God, I will never do that. Only by the grace of God. We have a giant in church history before us in Peter, and he fell. We know that that’s the case with many other people in Scripture. Moses, the deliverer of Israel, dishonored the Lord. David, a man after God’s own heart, murdered, committed adultery.

Serious sins are not beyond any of us, even us Christians. By the grace of God, we’ll never do some of those things. I think this morning in finishing up chapter 13 of John, it’s important for us to understand that we need to see this example sometimes, because we have such spiritual pride. We’re tempted to such spiritual pride, thinking that we’re constantly better than people who have failed. We’re not. We’re just like them. It just hasn’t happened to us.

Peter was chosen by Christ, changed by Christ, cared for by Christ. Do you know anybody else like that? Us. Us. And he denied Christ. How do we keep from doing that? How do we keep from going down the path of Peter? Well, I believe that we can gather some things in these three verses. This morning, two ways to guard against denying Christ. Two ways to guard against denying Christ.

1.  Guard Against Denying Christ by Accepting His Word

Number one is this—we find it in verse 36 and beginning of verse 37: Accept his word. Accept his word. Jesus has just told the disciples that he’s going somewhere, and they can’t come right now. And I told you last week, they would have been just a few days earlier on this high, this spiritual high. We’re on the right team. Everyone’s singing praises to the one that’s entering Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. We’re with him. He’s the Messiah. He’s come to rule and reign, defeat Rome. We’re with him. And then he says, one of you is going to betray me. And he’s reminded them that he’s going to die. As I mentioned last week, the air was probably sucked out of the room.

The first thing Peter does when Jesus gives him this statement, that he’s going to leave and no longer be with them. The first thing Peter does is question the wisdom of what Jesus had just said. He questions Jesus. Verse 36: Simon Peter said to him, Lord, where are you going? Enough of this “I’m leaving” talk. Where are you going? He wants to know that if you say Nashville, I’m coming with you to Nashville. Wherever you’re going, I’m going to be there. Lord, where are you going? Peter’s panicked. His pattern—listen—his pattern of life in the last three years is to follow this rabbi wherever he goes because this rabbi is going to give eternal life.

Now this rabbi who’s been saying things like follow me, follow me, follow me, follow me to everybody that came to him, now says, you can’t follow me. You can see why Peter would have been shaken. This is supposed to end in eternal life, not you leaving. Peter’s been expecting that his following would immediately lead to eternal life, and that’s clearly not what the plan is in the way Peter thought it was going to flesh itself out.

Jesus answered him, where I am going, you cannot follow me now. That word now is important, because he told the Jews, where I’m going, you can’t follow me and you’ll die in your sins. Now he tells Peter, where I’m going, you can’t follow me now. What does that imply? That later on you can. Where I’m going you cannot follow me now, but you—and this is singular—that word in the Greek is singular. He’s talking specifically to Peter. But you will follow me afterward.

Jesus makes him aware that there are stages to Jesus’ redemptive plan. There are stages to the plan that ultimately leads to eternal life, and Peter thinks he follows Jesus—bam! Eternal life. Jesus teaches, you follow me, I go and take a cross, die, then eternal life. I rise again. And you, Christian, if you follow me, be willing to take up your cross daily and die to yourself and follow me. Jesus is teaching in there something before follow—there’s something in between follow and eternal life. It’s take up a cross.

Peter doesn’t understand this yet at this point. Jesus is going to lead Peter and the other disciples and even us for a time. He’s physically not here today. We’ll learn later on in chapters 14 and 16 that he sends his Holy Spirit; and as one pastor has said, it’s better to have the Spirit inside you than Jesus beside you. And Jesus preached that message before he left. It’s better that I leave, better for you that I leave. We’ll come to that later. Sorry, I couldn’t contain myself.

Jesus is going to leave Peter for a time, this world for a time, and even us, in a sense, for a time before we ultimately follow him to glory. Peter doesn’t understand this yet, but he’s going to understand that before he comes to glory he’s going to endure suffering. The New Testament actually teaches us that as well. We will be glorified once we are done bearing our cross on earth. We might be saved. Our reservation is in heaven. Colossians 3:1-4 would tell you to consider yourselves as good as there. You’re there. You’re in the Lamb’s Book of Life. You’re there. But he still leaves us here to endure our own flesh, the world, persecution, temptation. He leaves us for a reason.

The word “cannot” that Jesus uses in verse 36—see it there? “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord , where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me.’” You know what that word speaks to? Inability. Where I’m going, Peter, you can’t get there. Now, you don’t say things like that to Peter. Peter thinks he can do everything. The word “cannot” speaks to Peter’s inability. Peter, the prideful, asks why can I not follow you? Because Christ’s pattern is often to fit his people for heaven through suffering. Even Hebrews 5 says that Jesus was ultimately fit for his glory, and he learned it through suffering. Interesting to think about that.

Christ was going to reward Peter with heaven after he had suffered for him. After Peter denied Christ, understood that Christ died on the cross, saw the resurrected Christ, saw Christ ascend to heaven, later on in life Peter wrote an epistle—wrote two of them actually. We know them as 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Listen to what he says in 1 Peter.

So this is way after the upper room, when he’s learned the lessons that Christ wanted him to learn. Listen to what Peter says to us. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)”

Peter encourages us to embrace the testing of our faith that will ultimately result in glory and praise to Christ at the revelation of Christ. Peter’s basically saying, listen, I didn’t believe it at first, believe me, go through it, and see what comes in the end. Christ is teaching Peter that he needs to go through suffering before he understands true pleasure. Now, he’s going to flesh this out in the rest of the book of John. We’re going to see ultimately, in the last chapter of the gospel of John, Peter restored, and these lessons kind of come full circle.

But what we should know based on understanding what Christ told to Peter is that deep suffering often results in high praise. Deep suffering often results in high praise. When you’re going through a time of your life where you feel like God is far, often that leads you to the point where you understand, no, God is actually very near. God is near to the brokenhearted, the Bible tells us.

You know, in Romans 9 through 11 Paul kind of lays out God’s plan of salvation because it looks like the Jews have ultimately rejected him and it’s like, okay, they finally rejected. Are they blotted out of the plan and now it’s the Gentiles? And Paul fleshes that whole thing out and says, no, actually they’ve rejected now, but God’s saving the Gentiles, and it will make a remnant of the Jews jealous, and so God will be faithful and keep his promise to the Jews, and he’ll bring Jew and Gentile together into one man, and they’ll praise Jesus forever. God has chosen that that would be the way it happens. And you kind of scratch your head at that plan. And Paul knows that you would scratch your head at that plan, and he writes at the end of Romans 11, when God appears to bring groups of people or individuals through trials and it leads to a greater salvation and a greater result that we scratch our heads and go, I don’t understand this whole thing.

Here are the words of Romans 11:34-36: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.” Paul reminds us we don’t always know the ways of Christ, the ways of God, the plan of God. We don’t understand it. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but all the more reason to praise him because he’s other than us and knows everything.

Peter doesn’t get that he can’t follow Christ. Something needs to happen first, and Peter’s scratching his head. And because Peter scratches his head, he questions Christ’s plan. Verse 37: “Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now.’” Remember, hear “ability” in that word “cannot”. Lord, why can I not follow you now? That’s what he’s saying. Peter thinks that there’s a better plan other than Christ’s. You see that? Lord, why can I not follow you now. Lord, surely there’s a better way, a different way. Lord, I mean you’ve done the whole loaves and fishes thing and, you know, walking on water, but you might be missing something here. Why can I not follow you now?

You hear pride in this kind of statement? That’s what it is. If you trace back the thoughts of a person who’s denied Christ, you’ll often find that they go back to a point that they’ve asked why repeatedly without listening for the answer, or maybe I should say without reading for the answer. Or maybe they’ve read the answer, but they’ve refused to accept the answer. This is what happens in someone who ultimately denies Christ. They question Christ, question God, question his word. And they deny, refuse to look at, refuse to submit to what he’s actually revealed. Peter should have just submitted to what Christ had revealed. Those who deny Christ start by questioning his will, his working, his word. That’s what often happens.

There’s a song that I love. It’s by a Christian band named Ghost Ship. Ghost Ship writes a song where they basically in poetic form tell the story of Job 38-42. Job has thought, why is God doing all of this in this way, and God preaches that wonderful sermon to Job in Job 38-42. Do you know everything about the universe? Did you create this? Do you do that? And that song, every time I listen to that, it humbles me, and appropriately so. I want to read that song to you. Peter could have listened to this song. Job starts out the song by saying this:

I said God I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but suffering

God I'm asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?

He said where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?

Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show

Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth

Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor

Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife

Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike

Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built

Can you hunt the prey for young lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?

The songwriter writes these words as if they’re coming from Job’s mouth:

I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me

The road to denying Christ starts by questioning him. Christian, I would encourage you, know the difference between questioning God and asking God questions. Asking God questions is certainly appropriate because he gives answers. God has condescended to us to speak in a language we could understand about what he is like and what he does. You can ask questions because he by nature is a God who reveals himself. But one thing you cannot do is question him.

I’ve often thought about this with people who may be questioning God, do you know what’s happening in Istanbul, Turkey right now? No. God does. Every blade of grass in Istanbul, every person, every household, every atom, every speck of dust in Istanbul, Turkey he knows, and he’s got a plan for it all. Multiply that by the universe. It’s okay to ask God questions, but not to question a God like this. Peter’s questioning the Son of God.

To know the difference between asking God a question and questioning God, I would also encourage you when you find yourself in those times where you’re tempted to question God, read Job 38-42. Read Job 38-42.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Risen. Risen is a fictional account based on the true story of the resurrection. Fictional account of a Roman soldier who is presiding over the death of Christ who ultimately becomes a follower of the risen Christ. I’m normally suspect of Christian movies, but I liked this one. In Risen, the Roman soldier Clavius becomes a follower of Christ, and he’s sitting in Jerusalem after the resurrection where Christ meets with his disciples. And he’s just sitting back and watching Christ relate to his disciples. And he has questions for Peter. He’s just kind of eyes big, mouth open, what’s this all mean, taking it in. And he has questions for Peter. And Peter says this statement in the movie: “I haven’t every answer. We are astounded too.”

Later on, the disciples, along with this man, Clavius, a Roman soldier, are going to Galilee to meet Jesus there for the final time. They’re going to Galilee, and they’re on this path and Jesus obviously isn’t there on the path with them. He’ll meet them in Galilee. And they’re on this path and Clavius wants to know, where are we going? Why do you keep doing this? When will we have answers? And things like that. Peter says, we are followers. We follow God to find out. It’s just that simple statement.

Lord, where are you taking me? What are you doing with my job? What are you doing with this relationship? It’s good to remember sometimes and to hear a disciple of Christ say, we’re followers. We just follow God to find out. He doesn’t give us the answers tomorrow that he might have reserved for four years from now. Sometimes he doesn’t give us the answers that we want even ten years from now because he’ll show us in heaven. But we are followers. We follow him to find out.

Let us have a strong trust in the word of God. When we want to know why, when we want to know what’s happening, why, it’s good to remember we are followers. We follow God to find out. Jesus tells Peter, where I’m going you cannot come. Peter’s probably wishing he could have said, okay, I trust you. But Peter pridefully announces that there should be a different way. Why is it that way, Lord? It should have been this other way, and I can do it. I can follow. And that ultimately led to his denial. He did not accept the word of Christ.

2.  Guard Against Denying Christ by Avoiding Self-Confidence

So the first way to keep from denying Christ is to accept his word, and the second we see in the second part of verse 37 and 38. If you want to avoid denying Christ, avoid self-confidence. Avoid self-confidence.

We see in Peter a wonderful desire, right? I mean, you can appreciate the desire Peter has. He wants to be with Christ. He never wants to leave his side. If Christ goes somewhere, he wants to be there. You can appreciate that. The problem is when he starts thinking that he’s capable to follow Christ perfectly himself. There’s an overestimation of how strong he is to fulfill that desire.

Verse 37, second part, Peter says this: “I will lay down my life for you.” Peter said to him, Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you. So remember, Peter has just heard that he can’t do something. Peter says, why can I not do that? I’ll do the ultimate—lay down my life for you. He’s trying to prove to Jesus that he can do what Jesus says he can’t. Yes, Peter shows the depth of his commitment to Christ. He’s to be commended for his love for Christ, but not to be commended for the resulting pride.

Peter’s essentially saying, I’m able to come with you now. Nothing can keep me from doing it. Not even you. Verse 38: “Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me?’” I’d really love to know the tone of Jesus’ voice there, because Jesus knows how Peter’s life is going to end. Peter is going to lay down his life for Christ. Will you lay down your life for me? Jesus questions what Peter’s just said as if he knew something about Peter’s future.

Now, here’s the thing to understand: In the next 24 hours Peter was not strong enough to actually lay down his life for Christ. Once he received the Holy Spirit, saw the resurrected Christ, knew his mission, knew what Christ had in store for him, then he was strong enough to lay down his life for Christ. History tells us he was crucified on a cross upside down because he was unworthy to die the same way Christ did. Peter would die for Christ, but he wasn’t that strong yet.

Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” Now, if Jesus told you within the next 24 hours you will deny me three times, what would you say? I think sometimes in my own pride, I’d grit my teeth and be like, bring it on. No way. I know what’s coming. I’m going to hold my Bible wherever I go the next 24 hours. I’m going to have Christians around me. I mean, they’re just going to be singing and reciting Scripture. No way is that ever going to happen.

Peter thought he could overcome this prophecy from Christ. And notice the specificity of the prophecy. Before the rooster crows you’ll deny me three times. This isn’t some generic thing. You, Peter, might have a bad day. Jesus is God. He can prophesy specifically what’s going to happen. He’s not a fortune teller that sometimes gets general things right. This isn’t a fortune cookie. You will have a good day tomorrow. I’ll keep that one. This is specific. God in human flesh says, before the rooster crows three times you’ll deny me.

We know what happens later on, don’t we? Before the rooster crows, Peter denies Christ three times. Jesus is specific and he’s dead on because he’s God. He knows what’s going to happen. Who should Peter trust? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Peter should accept the word of Christ, trust his prophecies. Even when they’re prophecies about his own weakness, he should trust Christ. Who does Peter trust? Himself. That’s the problem. Peter’s downfall was that Peter was confident in Peter. Peter thought that he was strong, but Jesus confirmed that he in fact was weak.

One of my sons—he will not be named. I mean, he is named. He has a name, but I won’t name him here. One of my sons believes that he is stronger than he is, faster than he is. He’s told us many times that he has fast powers. And so when I try to be a faithful dad and warn him about being in the street and not looking out for cars, he says things like, but Dad, I have fast powers. When I warn him to be careful and wary of strangers, he says, Dad, if they do anything, I’ll just beat them up.

Here’s the problem: It’s not his weakness that would get him into trouble, because if he knew he was weak and danger was there, he’d cry out for help and be fine. It’s not his weakness that takes him down. It’s the fact that he thinks he’s strong that would ultimately take him down. That’s Peter. That’s us. I can go to that website. I can watch that show. I won’t be tempted.

It’s not our weakness that takes us down morally. It’s the fact that we think we’re stronger than we are that takes us down, and we refuse to cry out for help or to flee temptation. And we flee to do what God has given to provide us strength: flee temptation, pray, surround yourself with the body. Those are all ways that God gives strength, and we’ve chosen to deny those and to go with our own strength, and that leads to a fall. That’s Peter. It wasn’t his weakness that took him down. It was the fact that he thought he was strong.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul basically gives a lesson to the Corinthian church on how to read the Old Testament, and he gives the Corinthians an account of what the Old Testament Israelites were like in their sin of lust. And then he tells them that they also complained. And he’s giving this picture of the ancient Israelites, and you can almost see the Corinthian church reading this letter going, oh, yeah, I know; they were a mess. I would have done it differently. I can’t believe they did that. I mean, golden calf. Who would have made a golden calf? You almost hear the Corinthians saying that.

And Paul writes this: “Therefore [and he brings it into first century language to his audience, the Corinthians, and it could be spoken of today to us] let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

Notice in those two verses from 1 Corinthians 10, God wants us to know something about ourselves, and it’s not what you’ll often see on Christian television programs or read in some Christian books. You are enough. You are this. You are that. You are strong. You are man. You are woman. You are this. No, how about you are nothing. I am everything. God wants the Corinthians to know, Peter to know, us to know, be careful because when you think you stand, that you often will fall. Proverbs tells us that. Pride goes before destruction. Pride goes before the fall.

But God doesn’t just want us to know that we’re weak. God wants us to know that he is strong. He wants us to know that he has provision to escape temptation. He gives what we need to avoid denying him. No temptation has overtaken you that’s not common to man. God is faithful because, you can hear Paul saying to the Corinthians, listen, you think you’re strong and you could fall. No temptation has overtaken you that’s not common to man. Everybody goes through this. You think you’re strong, and you kind of see their heads start to droop down. Well, maybe we’re not. Maybe we’re not strong. But then you hear Paul say this: God is faithful. Pick your head up; don’t look in the mirror; look up to God. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.

There’s provision to overcome temptation in God’s plan. In God. But with the temptation, he will also provide a way of escape. Look around at any temptation. There’s a way of escape and God has provided it. When we fall, it’s because we say, no, I’m good. I can do this on my own. Fall.

So, what’s the application to all this? How do we not be like Peter who was so self-confident, so self-sufficient? Simple. Three words: Ask for help. Ask for help. A Christian who never asks God for help, the church for help, one another for help, anybody for prayer, for spiritual prayer requests, a Christian who never does that thinks they don’t need it. We can’t be that. I can’t be that. You can’t be that. We must always be beggars. Be beggars for spiritual help.

You know, after this upper room meal, messages from Jesus, foot washing, after this whole thing, before Jesus would be arrested, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane and he took his three closest disciples furthest in the garden with him. Peter would have been one of them. And he told them to watch and pray. Watch and pray. And then he went off and what did he do? Watched and he prayed. He came back and you know what happened. Matthew 26:40-41: “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? [Peter,] Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

You know how many times Jesus told Peter to watch and pray? Three. Coincidence? Absolutely not. You’ll deny me three times. And even look at the grace of Christ. He didn’t just say you’ll deny me three times; see you later, and the next scene is the rooster crowing. He told Peter, you’ll deny me three times, and then in the garden Jesus said, watch and pray so you don’t enter into temptation. Jesus preached to him a second sermon. He preached to him a sermon against self-sufficiency, and then he preached to him the opposite sermon of Christ’s sufficiency. Pray. You’re not enough. Ask me for help and you’ll get through this.

Peter thought he was enough, didn’t ask for help, denied Christ. I would encourage you to be suspicious of your own strength to live the Christian life. Ask him for help. Ask him for strength. Those who deny Christ often question his word, and they believe that they can live their lives in their strength and in their way. They’re enough. The prayer is that we would avoid questioning of Christ’s plan and of self-confidence that we can do things on our own.

Peter’s denials weren’t the end of Peter like Judas’ betrayal was the end of Judas. Peter’s denials were not the end of Peter. In fact, in Luke’s account of this conversation, he tells us a little bit more of what Jesus said to Peter. Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon [which Jesus often called him when he was acting like his old self], behold [listen to me, pay attention to me], Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.”

Now I want to stop there before I go to verse 32. Notice the similarities between Judas and Peter. Satan went after Judas. Who else did Satan go after? Peter. Satan went after both of them. Judas, we learned from John 6, was never a believer. Peter gives a great confession in John 6 that Jesus is the one he believes and trusts in. There’s a difference between these two men when Satan attacks them. Peter’s the one who has a relationship with Christ and trusts him. Judas acts like it and Satan achieves his purposes. Satan goes after both men. Judas’ life ends in betrayal and suicide. Peter’s ends in denial and then restoration. Why? Because he finally got a clue and was strong enough? No. We find out why Peter endured.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith ma not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” I love this because it teaches me that when my grip is weak, his never weakens. It’s always strong. What was Peter to find his confidence in? Christ’s intercession for him before the Father, not his own ability to strive and live the Christian life.

When it all comes down to it, the trials are numerous, the pain is great, and the questions may be many. Christ wants us to know that he is the strength that’s available. I heard one pastor say, The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible. It’s impossible to live the way Christ wants us to live and endure till the end. It’s impossible. He needs to do it through us. Depend on him. Doubt yourself, your own self-sufficiency apart from him. Trust in your strength that you have in him.

We see this in Zechariah 3, the prophecy; we see it in Revelation 12, Christ prays for his own before the Father even today. Hebrews 7:25 says that he makes intercession for his own day and night. When the accuser comes, because he doesn’t just go after Judas and Peter, he goes after all of Christ’s disciples. When the accuser comes, Christ prays for them. He is the reason our faith will not fail.

I’ve probably given you this quote a million times. My favorite quote by my favorite Christian dead guy. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies, yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” We want to find our confidence in the strength of Christ. Trust in his word. Go to him for help. Doubt our own self-sufficiency. And in that, we will endure. Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you because even as we pray before you, you pray before us. Your Father knows your wounds. Your Father knows that we are yours. Your Father knows that we are covered by your blood. Your Father knows that we are righteous because we are found to have your righteousness, not our own.

God, when trials come, when temptation comes, when enticement comes, quickly cause us to cry out for help, to cry out for strength in the ways that you’ve supplied it. Lord, make this a strong church, strong Christians, not because we are strong in ourselves, but because we depend on and daily live in light of a strong Savior. We praise you for all of your provision. You are enough to get us through the difficulties of the world. You are enough. Help us believe that. Amen.