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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on April 23, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, April 23, 2017 from Mark 14:23-31

Theme: From Peter’s experience, there are some important lessons to be learned about our own times of stumbling in the Lord’s service..

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

I invite you to turn with me this morning to a story that we find in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. And I believe the best way to begin is by simply digging into the story itself.

* * * * * * * * * *

It would be very important to notice the context in which this story is told to us. And you pick up something of that context by looking first at Mark 14:26. The Lord Jesus had just finished His final meal with His disciples in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem—just before being betrayed and arrested and eventually crucified. After this marvelous meal in which He instituted the communion to them, and taught them many things about His and the Father’s love for them, and about the Holy Spirit’s help to them, and the future He has for them, and—according to John’s Gospel—prayed a glorious prayer to the Father for them, we’re told;

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26).

That’s how our passage begins. The end of this wonderful meal is marked by the beginning of about a 10 to 15 minute walk. And then, I ask that you look ahead at how it ends. You find in verse 32 that we’re told,

Then they came to the place which was named Gethsemane … (v. 32).

I point this out to you because this means that the passage we’re about to study was part of a conversation Jesus was having with His apostles while they were traveling. They were walking—under what was probably a very beautiful moonlit night sky—across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. And it was a conversation He was having with them while He was—unbeknownst to them—on the way to agonize in that garden, and then willingly allow Himself to be betrayed by Judas, and to be arrested, and then to be crucified. It is a very important conversation, that occurred at a very crucial moment, and just before a very holy occasion.

As they were walking along, Mark tells us, in verse 27;

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night …” (v. 27).

What a shocking and upsetting and painful thing that must have been for these disciples to hear—these men who recognized Jesus as the Son of God, and who had pledged whole-hearted devotion to Him. It would have caused them to argue that it could not be so.

Let’s take a moment to consider what He told them. He said that they all would be made to “stumble” because of Him. That word “stumble” means, of course, what you would think it would literally mean—that is, to trip and stumble or fall out of a path or a way. But its figurative meaning is that of being offended, or to be caused to falter and fall from one’s commitment to something or someone. It’s interesting to know that this Greek word is the one from which we get our English word ‘scandal’.

I don’t believe, though, that it meant that the disciples would somehow become offended at the person of our Lord. They knew Him too well for that to happen. Rather, I take it that Jesus was saying that they would become ‘offended’ at the surprisingly high cost of following Him; and would be made to ‘stumble’ from their commitment to Him because of that high cost.

Jesus shocked the disciples then, as they walked along on their way to the garden, by telling them that all of them would be made to stumble because of Him that very night. And then, He surprised them even further by letting them know that their ‘stumbling’ would be in accordance with Old Testament prophecy. He added;

for it is written:

I will strike the Shepherd,

And the sheep will be scattered’” (v. 27).

Jesus was quoiting here from Zechariah 13:7. It was a prophecy that taught about the suffering that would fall upon God’s promised Servant—who was also the Messiah. The apostles, of course, would have understood that Jesus was indeed the Messiah—their Shepherd. And they would have understood that they were His sheep. But until then, they had not put it together—that as God had promised in the Old Testament that He would strike the Shepherd in some way, they too, as the sheep, would then be scattered from Him.

Jesus was making it clear that what was about to happen was promised by God and established in His sovereign purpose and plan. But it still must have been a horribly upsetting thing for them to hear. How could it be that they—His devoted followers—would ever fail Him in such a way as He was saying? How could He think that they would ever desert Him? Far from it! They were ready to die for their Lord if needs be!

And yet, in this dark pronouncement that He was making to them, He spoke of hope and promise. In verse 28, He told them;

But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (v. 28).

Here, He was reminding them of something that He had already told them several times before. Three times in this Gospel—in Chapters 8, 9 and 10—He told them in advance that they were going to Jerusalem, that He would be betrayed into the hands of evil men, that He would be killed, and then “after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; see also 9:31 and 10:34). He was letting them know then—on this brief nighttime walk to the garden—that He would indeed be raised from the dead.

And even in spite of their failure—even though they would stumble because of Him—He would nevertheless meet them afterward. He would go before them; and they would find Him in Galilee. And we know the rest of the story; don’t we? It would be there in Galilee—after His resurrection—that He would meet with them, and assure them of His love, and teach them more about Himself, and give them the Great Commission to go out and preach about Him to the world. There was a great future for them in His service—even after their time of stumbling.

But right then, they couldn’t believe that they would ever stumble from Him. In fact, they argued with the Lord about it. If I may say so, they were even going so far as to say that He was wrong in what He was saying would happen. And as was so often the case, it was Peter who was taking the lead in it all. In his devotion and zeal for the Lord, Peter said something that—after all these centuries—still makes us cringe whenever we hear it. Verse 29 tells us;

Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (v. 29).

In his intense love for Jesus, Peter was daring to set Himself up above the others. Maybe they would fail Him—as Jesus even said they would; but he insisted that he himself never would! In fact, in the original language, we’re told that he said it in an emphatic way; “But not I!”—and that he was saying it over and over in an ongoing, repeated way as they walked along.

And may I suggest to you what I suspect you already believe? Peter meant, with all his heart, every word of what he said. He truly believed that he would never stumble in his devotion to the Lord. But sadly—given the privileged position of closeness he had to the Lord, and given the great honor of his calling, and given the terrible denial he made of the Lord later on—his was truly one of the greatest failures of devotion to the Lord in all of sacred history. No one else could have fallen from so high a place of honor through so stunning an act of stumbling as Peter did—in spite of what he believed right then about himself.

Verse 30 tells us of the Lord’s response to Peter’s boast. Our Lord knows our hearts better than we do; doesn’t He? And what painful words it must have been for our Lord to have to utter:

Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (v. 30).

“Assuredly …” That means ‘truly’ or ‘truthfully’. Jesus told him the truth. He told Peter that, in spite of his boasts right then, he would “today” betray Him. The day, for the Jewish people, began at sunset—at around 6 pm; and so the very day of Peter’s denial was already underway. And Jesus even went further and told him that his denial would occur “even this night”. It wouldn’t happen sometime long after morning had come; but just a short time after he was making this boast of devotion. In fact, Jesus made it even more specific. He told him that “before the rooster crows twice”—a very specific event to mark the night—Peter would deny Him “three times”. And it all happened in amazing conformity to our Lord’s words; didn’t it? Jesus knew—with absolute precision—what would happen—and even when it would happen—and even how.

But still, Peter couldn’t accept this. He ramped-up his insistence. We’re told, in verse 31;

But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (v. 31a).

His insistence exceeded the bounds of normality. Repeatedly—as it is in the original language—he went over the top in saying that he would not only not deny Jesus, but would even die with Him if needs be. And Peter wasn’t the only one. As the end of verse 31 says;

And they all said likewise (v. 31b).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; we all know how this turned out. We know that they would all indeed be scattered from the Lord after He was arrested. And we know that Peter did one of the most horrible things imaginable. While being questioned after Jesus was taken away—with strong oaths—he sternly denied that he even knew who the Lord Jesus was.

But we also know what happened after that. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day; and that He appeared to all the apostles; and that He promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and empower them to be His witnesses; and that they would go out and proclaim the gospel and change the world. We know also that Jesus made a particular appearance to Peter; and that Peter would go on to become the instrument by which God introduced the gospel to the Gentile world; and that he would write two letters that we have in our New Testament today; and that his testimony of Jesus—as historians tell us—would become the basis for the very Gospel of Mark that we are reading right now; and that he would eventually down his life for the Lord Jesus that he had formerly denied and failed.

This seemingly sad and dark story has a very happy and victorious ending. Praise God!

But I suggest to you that it also has some important lessons to teach you and me. It may be that, as I read the story of Peter, you find yourself described in it in some way. It may be that you have failed the Lord. It may be that you have openly denied Him—just as Peter had; and that you now feel as if you could never serve the Lord again. Or it may be that you have committed some other sin, in some other way; and that you have brought such shame upon the name of Christ and upon His cause that you feel that He could never use you again.

I hope you know that we should never use Peter’s story—or the stories of the other disciples—in any way that might make us feel that we have ‘permission’ to fail our Lord. The Bible warns us to never make the mistake of saying, “Let’s continue in sin that grace may abound.” We must never presume upon God’s forgiveness in advance; and if we do, it gives us reason to question whether we are really under His grace at all. But for those of us who do fail our Lord and who feel the pain of it—for those of us who have stumbled along the way, and think that we are now of no use to Him any longer—let me suggest some lessons from this story that we’ve just read.

First, consider that …


I don’t think you can find a greater community of saints than the apostles. They were the hand-picked originals. And think of Peter. He gave the confession upon which Jesus said He would build His church. And yet, all of those apostles failed the Lord. And if they all failed Him, we should never think that we couldn’t.

And we also shouldn’t let it become a complete defeat to us when we do fail. Their failure is a reminder that we are in good company. We may fail; but it’s doubtful that we could ever fail as much as they did. One from among them who failed—the apostle John—once wrote;

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

If we admit the truth, then our failures are not fatal to our relationship with the Lord; just as the failures of the apostles were not fatal to their relationship with Him.

Second, consider that …


The fact that the Lord Jesus told His disciples in advance that they would fail, and even describing in detail how it would happen, and even showing them from the Scriptures that it was prophesied that they would, all shows us that our Lord remained sovereign in spite of the failures of His followers. I take great comfort, dear brothers and sisters, in knowing—and I say this, I hope, with the utmost care—that my failures are under the sovereign control of God. I do not somehow fail because God had somehow lost control over that small portion of the universe that I live in.

I’ll never forget something that happened early on in my ministry. I won’t go into the details about it; but I had made a terrible mistake once that involved another, older minister at another church. I said something—without thinking—to a member of his staff; and this staff member asked the minister about it; and that minister called me shortly afterward and said, “My friend, I hope you did not cost me my job just now.” I felt terrible. I apologized profusely. And then, I talked to one of my seminary professors about what I had done; and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “If the Lord had wanted to, He could have stopped you.” That was true; and it has often brought me comfort ever since.

Now; please know that I don’t ever take that to be permission to be reckless or irresponsible or foolish. But I do take courage in knowing that—in spite of my many failures and stumbles along the way—God the Father remains sovereign, and the cause of His Son will succeed. I cannot somehow blow it for Him.

That reminds me of a third thing to remember about our Lord; and that is that …


I come to this by remembering what it was that the Lord was doing right then—even as He was having this conversation with His disciples and warning them that they would fail Him. He was on His way to Gethsemane to yield Himself to the cross, where He would die for all of their sins—even their failures—and even Peter’s denial—and even your sins and failures and mine.

On a personal level, we should always remember that our failures—past, present and future; well-intentioned, ill-meaning, or ignorantly blundered into—are all covered by the blood of Jesus; and He has made us eternally righteous in the Father’s sight.

Let’s remember too that …


I love the matter-of-fact way our Lord speaks of the promise that—after their stumbling and denial of Him—He would still rise from the dead after having been nailed to the cross; and that He would still go before them and meet them in Galilee, where He would then still give them further instructions after having redeemed them from their sin. Their failure would not result in a failure of God’s redemptive plan..

Let’s remember that God is God, and that we—faulty creatures that we are—are not. Like Paul says elsewhere in the Bible,

If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

What’s more …


This is true even when He knows in advance that we would fail. This was certainly the case for Peter. The Gospel writer Luke tells us of the conversation that Jesus had with Peter at about this time; found in Luke 22:

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Think of that! It was as if He said, “Peter, you are are leader. But you will fail Me. And yet, you will return to Me. And when you have returned, I want you to encourage your fellow apostles, and build them up, so that they too may be restored and serve Me.”

Now; there are of course serious consequences to our sins and our failures. Those consequences can’t always be undone. But clearly, our Savior has a future of restoration and service for those former-stumblers of His who return to Him for forgiveness and cleansing.

In light of that, I love considering that …



As Jesus walked along with these disciples—knowing that every one of them would fall away and deny Him in His moment of trial—He still nevertheless walked along with them. He didn’t turn them away, but still went to the cross for them. And He does the same for you and me. It’s true that, as Paul said, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Have you ever thought of our Lord’s conversation with Peter after He rose from the dead? He met Peter along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And as they ate together, Jesus asked Him;

Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).

Do you know what Jesus did in saying all this? He lovingly gave Peter a chance to reaffirm his love for Him; and He gave it to him three times—one opportunity to reaffirm his love for every time he denied the Lord. He loved Peter before his denial; and He still loved him afterward. That’s how consistently He loves us too.

And let me close with this. I believe this passage teaches us that …



At this time, Peter and the other apostles boasted that they would never deny the Lord—that they would even die for Him if needs be. But they were wrong. Their spirits may have been willing, but their flesh was weak. It would have been better to have said, “Lord; I love You. But I am a weak and frail and sin-prone creature. If you ever removed Your protective hand from me, I would most surely fail You, and deny You, and sin against You horribly. Please never take Your hand from me! Please sustain me in faithfulness and love to You!”

Near the end of his life—many years after this great ‘boast’ and then his great ‘stumble’ afterward—the apostle Peter wrote these words to a group of troubled Christians who were under the threat of the devil and were in danger of falling away:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

May we former and potential ‘stumblers’ learn the lessons from Peter’s experience.

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