August 13, 2017
From the very beginning, Jesus promised His followers would suffer. Severe persecution, even martyrdom. For example, in His first recorded sermon (Matthew 5), Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great…” Later, when Jesus sent out the disciples (Matthew 10), He said,
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves….[really]
17 “beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts…scourge you in their synagogues;
18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony ….
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.
22 “You will be hated by all because of My name….”
In the Farewell Discourse, John 15, Jesus reminded them again:
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
20 “Remember…, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you….”
We’re starting to get the dark picture – the world will hate and persecute followers of Jesus. Later, the apostles remind us. Paul in Philippians 1, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Peter in his first letter:
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus…
We’re starting to get the picture. The New Testament promises persecution for followers of Jesus. And while we live in an anomaly called the United States, meaning we live in relative ease, the church has experienced persecution through its history.
We know the stories, don’t we? I could tell them by the hundreds. Let me tell you one, the story of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in 107 AD. Persecution was again at its height in the Roman Empire. Ignatius was arrested and condemned to die by the local authorities. But, since there was some great festival being planned in Rome because of a recent military victory, Ignatius was sent there – it was thought his death would help amuse the people.
Apparently, on his way, Ignatius heard there was a group of Christians in Rome who were considering a rescue – freeing him from martyrdom. Ignatius did not like that at all – he was ready to seal his witness with his own blood. So, he wrote a letter, saying it was his purpose to be an imitator of the passion of Christ. It is then, he believed, through this sacrifice, he begins to truly be a disciple. So, he asks them not to free him, nor to pray for his release, but pray he would have the strength to face the trial. He wrote:
“so that I may not only be called a Christian, but also behave as such…. I no longer savor corruptible food…but wish to taste the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ…and His blood I wish to drink, which is an immortal drink…. When I suffer, I shall be free in Jesus Christ, and with Him shall rise again in freedom…. I am God’s wheat, to be ground by the teeth of beasts, so that I may be offered as pure bread to Christ.” Now, we may question his pursuit of martyrdom, but never his faith.
Ignatius received his wish to die a martyr’s death shortly after arriving in Rome. He was thrown to the wild beasts. As he prepared to die, he said, “May the wild beasts be eager to rush upon me. If they be unwilling, I will compel them. Come, crowds of wild beasts; come, tearings and manglings, wracking of bones and hacking of limbs; come, cruel tortures of the devil; only let me attain unto Christ.”
At some point, almost every believer has asked the question, do I have what it takes to be faithful? If faced with a life or death decision, would I deny Christ? We hope we’d have the moxie to stand firm, to claim Christ, to remain courageously faithful…. Remembering, Jesus said, I’m sending you out as sheep among wolves.
Sheep is a favorite analogy in Scripture for followers of Christ. At first glance, the picture that comes to mind is a wolf coming into a flock of sheep and picking one off. But that’s not what Jesus said. The idea is that of sheep being sent into a pack of wolves. Where do I sign up? Think about it. As you said yes to Jesus, He says, you’re like a sheep going out into a pack of wolves. That’s encouraging, isn’t it? Do you think you have what it takes? I’m gonna get eaten alive. I’m gonna die.
It’s natural for a wolf to creep into a flock of sheep and pick one off. But it is unnatural for a sheep to go into a pack of wolves. And it is not normal for a shepherd to send sheep into the pack. It would be a feeding frenzy.
As you may know, sheep are perhaps the most dependent, helpless and stupid of all domesticated animals. The shepherd has to watch them to make sure they don’t eat poisonous weeds. They’ve been known, when flies buzz around their heads, to get so scared they beat their heads against a tree and kill themselves. When the real danger comes, wolves, sheep are completely helpless. About the only thing they can do is run, and they’re not built for speed – a big fat body on a bunch of toothpick for legs – they’re not going anywhere. They don’t fight, they don’t bite, and even if they did, no one would care. Which brings us to this truth: the only hope sheep have is a good shepherd. But what happens if the shepherd goes down?
I pointed this out before: almost every animal we’ve domesticated can be seen in the wild – and can be dangerous. Many of us have pet dogs or cats, and have heard of wild packs of dogs or stray cats that can be a problem. Wild horses are dangerous, difficult to break. They can bite, kick, stampede. But let me ask you a question – have you ever heard of a wild sheep? “Wild sheep on the run.” Even if you did run into a pack of wild sheep, who’d care? Sheep couldn’t survive in the wild. They only way they survive is if they have a shepherd to lead them, care for them, feed them, protect them.
These poor, defenseless, weak, spineless, helpless sheep, Jesus sends to the wolves. Why would He do that? Doesn’t He care? Just the opposite. You see, poor, helpless, defenseless sheep must be dependent. They must stay close to the Shepherd. That is a consistent message in the gospels. He is our only source of strength, help, protection, nourishment – He is our only source of life. Without the Shepherd, you’re dead.
Paul said it this way, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You can’t separate us from the love of the Shepherd. And so, we cling on for dear life – or better said, He holds us tightly.
We are in the final days, the final hours of Jesus’ life. And as He gets ready to go, I believe He wants to remind them of this significant truth. It’s found in our text in Mark 14:26-31.
What happens to sheep when you strike the shepherd? False bravado won’t do. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about preparation for the cross. This morning, Jesus is going to prepare the disciples for His cross, and their cross, in the life that follows. He’s going to impress upon them this truth – you can’t do it alone – you’d better hold onto Me with everything you’ve got, and I will hold onto you. He gives them an object lesson they will never forget. Our outline goes like this (sandwich):
- The Prediction of Scattering (26-28)
- Peter’s Boast of Self-Confidence (29)
- The Prediction of Denial (30)
- The Disciples’ Boast of Self-Confidence (31)
I’m going to approach this text a bit differently than you’ve probably ever heard it before. Not that what you’ve heard is wrong – no doubt, you’ve heard teachers railing against the disciples. My hope is you leave here with a little different understanding, and as a result, a little smaller, holding onto Jesus a little tighter. I’m simply going to tell the story this morning, and answer the question, “Do I have what it takes?” Can I tell you at the outset, the answer is no, and yes.
Most of us are familiar with the story, and, know the way it ends. They’ve left the upper room, on their way to Gethsemane. In a couple of hours, the soldiers will arrive, Jesus will be arrested, and we will read these words in verse 50, “And they all left Him and fled.” By the time we get to the end of the chapter, we read about Peter’s denial – not once, three times, before the rooster crows.
Again, most of us know the story. And in our heads, we say, I’m sure given those circumstances, I would have fled, too. But in our hearts, many think, But I hope not – I hope I would’ve stood firm – I hope I wouldn’t have fled – I hope I have what it takes. Do you? Do you have what it takes to remain faithful – to not flee, to not deny? No, and yes. Let’s look at the story.
It is Thursday night, the night of His betrayal. In fact, Jesus has already prophesied He would be betrayed by one of His own number. Judas, the betrayer, has left to do the deed. Jesus and the disciples have just finished the last Passover and the first Lord’s Supper. They’ve sung the final hymn, the Hallel. They’re making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Now, John’s gospel fills in a lot of detail, recording what has been called the Farewell Discourse, which He gave them just before they left the Upper Room. Jesus had a lot to say. He tells them He’s going to prepare a place for them, and promises to return. Ask anything in My name, and I will do it. He gives them a new command, that you love one another. He commands them to remain faithful – to remain in Him. He gives them peace: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives…Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. He gives them the promise of the Holy Spirit, I will not leave you as orphans, but will send another Helper who will be with you forever. He calls them friends, “No longer do I call you slaves,…but I have called you friends.” “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” He ends by praying for them – Father, keep them – sanctify them by Your truth. Pretty much the Farewell Discourse is an upbeat, positive message of hope. They’re feeling pretty good, affirmed, positive about things. Not sure what Jesus was talking about with that body and blood stuff, but things are looking pretty good. We come out of that, which Mark by the way skips, and we come right to the prediction of their scattering.
“You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’” It would have hit the disciples like a blow. We can face anything, they think, then He hits them with this truth. Earlier, He had prophesied one of them would betray Him. Each of them denied it, asking, “Surely not I?” Now, He tells them, not one of you, but all of you will fall away – skandalizo – scandalized because of Me. How did Jesus know? Besides the fact that He was omniscient – besides the fact the Father was orchestrating the events foreordained before the beginning of time, He knew because of an obscure prophecy found in Zechariah 13:7. It is written – there is no way to avoid this.
There, Zechariah spoke of a time when Israel would be spiritually cleansed – when false prophets would cease their wicked prophesying. He says a remnant of Israel would be redeemed. And in the midst of all that, we read these words, “‘Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,’ Declares the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones.’” The Jews understood this as a Messianic prophecy – they just didn’t know what it meant.
Here, Jesus explains it. He says the passage spoke of Him – that God, with His own sword, would strike My Shepherd, my Associate, which in the Hebrew speaks of One His equal. I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep – that is, Israel, will be scattered. When Jesus applies the passage to Himself as the Messiah, the Shepherd, God’s Associate, He applies it to His own disciples. Jesus says, when the Shepherd is struck, killed, the sheep will scatter.
Most of the time we come to this passage with thoughts like this: the disciples fled when Jesus needed them most, and that’s true, they did. The disciples, once again, woefully failed Jesus, and that’s true. They deserted the Christ, and that’s true. And in our minds, we think, I probably would have fled too, but in our hearts we think, I hope not. I hope I have what it takes.
Can I suggest there is a significant object lesson Jesus is teaching His disciples – His disciples then and now. Here it is: without the Shepherd, we are in big trouble. Of course they scattered when the shepherd was struck – not only was it a fulfillment of prophecy, it’s what sheep do – they can do nothing else. Remember, earlier in His ministry, Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion on them – why? Because they were distressed and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd, and that is a problem.
I came across one author who suggested what the disciples did should not even be considered sin – that is, they did what sheep do when left alone. I won’t go that far – their desertion in His time of greatest need was terrible. But I do agree with him – without a shepherd, sheep will scatter. And Jesus wants to drive that truth home. Which is why, right before this, in the Farewell Discourse, He said to them, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” If the Shepherd is gone, we’re in trouble. Which is also why He promised after He left, He was going to send another comforter – counselor. The Holy Spirit to come alongside them, to live in them, to empower them to be faithful. Did they have what it takes? They didn’t then.
Can I remind you – at this point, the Holy Spirit had not come. Their only response, empowered by their flesh, was to scatter – they didn’t have the ability to do anything else. They fled – because they didn’t have what it takes to remain faithful. Not yet. And you wouldn’t either.
As Jesus predicts their betrayal, their desertion, He also gives them a ray of hope, But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee. Do you see what He’s is saying? He says, listen guys, the shepherd is going down, and there is a sense in which, when I go down, so will you – you will be scattered. But, know this – I’m not staying down – after I have been raised. He tells them again, although they miss it, He will be raised from the dead – and in some sense, so will you. And I will meet you in Galilee after you have been regathered from your scattering. We’ll get to 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.” Right here.
The disciples didn’t get the message. Their egos were bruised. Oh, okay Jesus, we understand – we’ll scatter, because we don’t have what it takes when we lose the Shepherd, then you’ll call us back. No, they didn’t get it. They did what most people do when they’re told they’re insufficient, incapable, empty, unable without Christ. They get bigger – don’t tell me I can’t. You can almost see them pounding their chests in self-confidence and arrogance. Look at verse 29 again, “But Peter [surprise, surprise] said to Him, you’re wrong about this one, Jesus. Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”
Look at this group, Jesus – I agree with you – they’re a miserable lot. But not me – if they all fall away, you can count on me – I have what it takes. I know what the prophet Zechariah says, and he’s probably right about these losers, not me. He’s wrong, I won’t fall. You forget who you’re talking to, Jesus. I was there when you raised that little girl from the dead, I’m the one who walked on water, I’m the one who called you the Christ first, I was there at the Mount of Transfiguration. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back, I have the right stuff, I can do it, I will do it, I have what it takes.
And he even looks to have what it takes a few verses later when he pulls a sword and cuts off Malchus’ ear. He was going for his head. He was trying to fight a spiritual battle with physical stuff – his own abilities, competent swordsman that he was. He got big, for a little while. Just like many of us do when faced with big problems – I will, I can, I won’t.
So Jesus says to Peter, “you’re right, Peter, you are made of different stuff than these guys. They’re all going to be scattered, but truly I say to you, this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” You won’t be scattered, Peter, you’ll be shattered.
It was probably about midnight – roosters then were known to crow at the end of the third watch of the night, 3 a.m. – in fact, that hour became known as the “rooster crow.” In other words, Jesus was saying, in about 3 or 4 hours, Peter, you will deny Me – not once, but three times. And we know the story – he did. We’ll talk about it in a couple of weeks, but the question is, what was the problem? He denied Jesus – would you? I have decided to follow Jesus. Before we’re too hard on Peter, let me remind you – He didn’t have what it takes.
By the way, Mark is the only one who records the rooster crowing twice. What’s that about? We remember, Peter is Mark’s source. And he remembers Jesus said the denials would come before the rooster crowed twice. The first time would have been a wakeup call – that’s one – but Peter plunged ahead. You ever fail God more than once, despite repeated warnings?
Before we’re too hard on Peter, I believe Jesus was giving the disciples, and Peter, and us a very important lesson. Peter, I am going to use you in great ways in the church. But before I do, this business of I can and I will and I won’t must go away. Because you can’t. This self-sufficient spirit must go, and in you, Peter, it’s going to be painful. But I’m going to do it because I love you, and I will use you. But I’ll do it, not you.
You see, roll the clock forward about 50 days from now, we find ourselves in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. On that day, we find Peter preaching a bold message to the same people who had crucified Jesus – to the same people he cowered before on the night of His arrest. He said,
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know —
23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
24 “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power…
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified.”
What? This is the guy who denied Jesus to some servant girls? What’s the difference? Peter now had what it took – he’d received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. The Shepherd was back, in the Person of the Spirit of Christ. And the object lesson is complete – without Christ and His empowering, enabling Holy Spirit, we don’t have what it takes to remain faithful. The sheep will scatter. But with the promised Holy Spirit, we have everything we need for life and godliness. Most assuredly, faithfulness to Christ is impossible without total dependence on Christ, but possible with His presence. Do I have what it takes? No…and yes.
There are two indispensable truths we learn from this passage – one is our utter insufficiency and the other is Christ’s complete sufficiency. Those truths are driven home – the Shepherd went down, and the sheep scattered. We need to be reminded of those truths every day. You walk out the front door of your house without being filled with the Spirit, that is, surrendering to the control of the Spirit, and you don’t have what it takes. Because you see, it’s not about what we can muster – not only to be saved, but to be sanctified – to be holy, to be faithful. We don’t have what it takes in ourselves – but we have everything we need with the Shepherd.
Some of you have gotten big – just like Peter and the rest of the disciples. “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You – and all the disciples said the same thing.” Some of you have been living the Christian life, or trying to, on your own, and you’ve been failing miserably. And it’s time you get small – and become a sheep again. The only way you’ll be faithful is to get small and let Christ’s Spirit do His supernatural work through you. And remember that Christ is your only hope – He is your only source of life.
You see, sometimes, I’m not sure we do this Christian thing right. Most would see a Peter and go, wow, look at that strength. We applaud it. We would encourage a Peter – go for it. We try to produce Peters. We preach messages, we teach, we go to youth camps – and the call is to muster it up. We want to fill the altars with people who say – I will, I can, I won’t, I have decided to follow Jesus, I will choose Christ, I will live for Him. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all good. That’s a good heart. Peter had a good heart, a passionate heart. He just didn’t get it.
I would suggest many of our calls to commitment are nothing less than calls to the flesh – I will do it. Woven into the fabric of that truth of self-surrender needs to be self-denial, self-insufficiency, and God-sufficiency – desperate dependence. But we also need a balance. We don’t need people running around saying, I’m worthless, I can’t do anything, you better ask someone else. We need people who realize they can do anything, through Christ, who strengthens them. Paul understood it – when I’m weak, then I’m strong.
Let me closes with this example. Remember the story of David and Goliath? Goliath was real big, strong, big muscles. And the Israelites were in their tents quaking in fear – you know why? Because they compared their flesh to his. Because they looked at their biceps, and compared them to Goliath’s biceps, and said, I can’t – I’m staying in the tent.
Along comes David – scrawny teenager. David took a look at the situation – big Goliath, men of Israel in their tents – and he didn’t compare himself with Goliath. If he would’ve done that, he would’ve joined them in the tent. David was a scrawny kid who looked at God and then looked at Goliath and said, “you don’t have a prayer, pal – you’re in big trouble.” Why? Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, why? Because you are with me! He had no strength in the flesh – but he had everything He needed because he had the Shepherd.
I’d love for churches, youth camps, this church, to be full of people who come saying, not, I can. But I can’t. God, you’re gonna have to do it. And then people leaving saying, I can, because God will.