SERMON: Promises, Promises | Mark 14:26–31

Promises, Promises | Mark 14:26–31
Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | February 17, 2018

How much confidence should we have in our own abilities?  Peter professes unyielding zeal, but his faith was misplaced.  We're not called to trust in our own faithfulness but in the grace of God.



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We are in the midst of the longest and holiest Passover in history.  Remember that we saw the Lord sovereignly arranging the logistics Passover meal, giving His disciples specific instructions to prepare for what would be their last supper together.  This past week, we saw that He took the bread and wine from that meal and instituted a new supper; now, we remember not the blood of countless lambs slain for the protection of the people, but the blood of the Lamb of God that ushered in a New Covenant.

Backing up before that first communion, also remember Jesus predicted one of the twelve would betray Him.  Their shock became grief, prompting each to ask the searching question, “Surely not I?” (v. 19).  For the most part, He allows their questioning to go unanswered, as Mark’s words here seems to indicate.

Of course, one disciple played the part.  Judas did ask if Jesus was referring to him, as Mark indicates.  However, he asks only after Jesus pronounces the woe of vv. 20–21, according to the parallel (Mt 26:25; cf. Jn 13:26).  It’s then that Jesus sends Judas on the way.

I wonder why Jesus didn’t tell them at that time.  Perhaps it was so no one would stop Judas, but He could have alleviated their fears after Judas left the house.  He lets this thought linger, and the momentary humility was likely for their own good. 

Why?  First, in John, we read that they were “at a loss to know of which one He was speaking” (Jn 13:22) — they weren’t just introspective, but also somewhat suspect of one another.  Now, let’s consider the parallel in Luke 22; after Jesus pronounces His betrayal, they start looking at each other.  We read in v. 24, “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”  Perhaps this dispute prompts Jesus to bend down and wash their feet, teaching them about the heart of service they should have.  Whatever the case, His bombshell announcement seemed to have little lingering effects.

In fact, notice how Jesus warns Peter in v. 31 — “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.”  Peter rejects Jesus’s words as he responds, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” (v. 33).  To that, Peter’s Lord replies for the first time that Peter will deny Him before the rooster crows (v. 34).  They seem to lack true knowledge of their frailties.

Jesus extends them grace in the Upper Room Discourse (Jn 14–16), and now they head toward Gethsemane.  Along the way, Jesus again predicts the desertion of the disciples, but grants them grace in promising to regather them.  However, the disciples respond again with promises of self-effort.  We see contrasted in this passage the problematic promises of man in contrast to the persevering promises of God.

I.               Notice first how God’s promises persevere (vv. 26–28).

After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’  But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

Verse 26 can be easily part of the previous passage or this one, but let’s take a moment to discuss what they sang.  The word hymn can sometimes refer to music that honors God but that does not come from the Book of Psalms (cf. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16) as well as to the singing of Psalms.  In this case, normal practice for the Passover meal was to sing from Psalms 113–118, the Hallel, and they probably sang the last four to conclude their evening.  (By the way, if you are ever tempted to think that singing isn’t important, remember that our Lord sang with His disciples.)

Consider some of the Psalms they sang that night.  Jesus, heading to Gethsemane, the kangaroo trials, and the cross, sang, “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?  The LORD is for me among those who help me; therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me” (Ps 118:6–7).  Resting in the hope of the resurrection, He sang, “I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (vv. 17–18).  Rejected by the Sanhedrin, He sang, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.  This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (vv. 22–23).  Not only should He draw personal comfort from these words, but His disciples, as well.

The time might be near midnight as they head toward Gethsemane (cf. v. 32).  One commentary notes of the journey, “Leaving Jerusalem through the eastern gate, they would have traversed the Kidron Valley, crossing the brook that was still flowing with water from the late winter rains.  During the Passover, the water in the brook was mingled with blood from the lambs slain at the temple—a vivid reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that the Son of God Himself would soon make.”[1]  The Lord will face another time of temptation there which we’ll discuss next week, Lord willing.

As the disciples unknowingly approach the hour of their greatest testing, He knows they needed the truth of God.  So, Jesus points them to the prophetic Word, reminding them of what it says.  A faithful God can produce a faithful Word, so they should find rest in the prophetic words of Scripture and of Christ here.

As such, in the next verse, Jesus points them to Zechariah 13:7.  In the words of the quotation, we read, “I will strike down the Shepherd.”  God the Father will do this.  He initiates the process — not Judas, not the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and not Rome.  Elsewhere, we read, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Is 53:6), and “the LORD was pleased to crush Him” (v. 10a).  It’s vital to understand both that God the Father smites the Son for our sins and that Jesus willingly accepts it on our behalf.

The beginning of the striking begins in Gethsemane, and Jesus says, “You will all fall away.”  We get the word “scandalized” from the Greek word “fall away.”  Other translations highlight aspects of the term; the KJV has “be offended” and the NKJV has “made to stumble.”  Another way to consider it is that they’ll be baited into a trap, falling into sin temporarily.  As such, while Judas is the betrayer of Christ, we must also wrestle with the fact that all His disciples fall away from Him, scattering like sheep.

However, Jesus gives them words of comfort in v. 28.  First, He says, “But after I have been raised.”  He reminds them again that He will be raised from the dead, a grace to them.  The use of the passive also points to God the Father, Who smote Him. 

He then says, “I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  Calvin notes here, “For Christ does not simply say that he will rise again, but promises to be their leader, and takes them for his companions, as if they had never swerved from their allegiance to him; and, to impart to them greater confidence, he mentions the place where they will again meet.”[2]

The angel at the tomb reminds them of this promise in 16:7.  According to Matthew 28:16–17, they went back to Galilee and worshipped Him there.  Jesus spent a forty-day period after the resurrection appearing to Peter and John (Jn 20:19–20), the twelve (Jn 20:19, 20; Lk 24:36; Acts 1:22), and more than 500 others at one time (1 Cor 15:3–6). 

No concept of a shared, grief-induced hallucination can account for so many not only seeing but interacting with Jesus.  After His time of post-resurrection teaching (cf. Acts 1:3), He led them to Bethany, and there ascended into Heaven (Lk 24:50–51).

This concludes the instructions the Lord gave to His disciples.  For those of us who know the story, it seems clear enough and straight forward.  The disciples were still confused, however.  Just that week, we read that “they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Lk 19:11).  Peter responds to this as if it were a challenge.

II.            Notice second how man’s promises are problematic (vv. 29–31).

But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”  And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.”  But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.

We come to a point of comedy, if it wasn’t so tragic.  We have Peter actually arguing with Jesus, again.  However, before we go too far, let’s consider how often we disregard God’s Word.  In fact, when we get into trouble for it, we often make promises to get out of the issue.  So, before we are too hard on Peter, let’s just take a look at the nature of Peter’s statements.

A.              Man’s promises are self-exalting and full of self-will (v. 29).

But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”

Peter uses a strong adversative in the Greek to place distance between himself and the others.  He doesn’t seem to care that the others hear him.  He only wants to ensure Jesus understands his measure, that he is strong enough to withstand any challenge.

Matthew Henry says, “He supposes himself not only stronger than others, but so much stronger, as to be able to receive the shock of a temptation, and bear up against it, all alone; to stand, though nobody stood by him. It is bred in the bone with us, to think well of ourselves, and trust to our own hearts.”[3]

Peter’s pride will lead him to fall, just as certainly as it will to anyone else.  Proverb 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”  Similarly, 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”  Peter thinks more highly of himself than he ought to (Rm 12:3), a malady of the sin condition Scripture calls us to watch in ourselves.

However, that’s part of the problem, for:

B.              Man’s promises fail to accept Christ’s Word (vv. 30–31).

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.”  But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.

Jesus calls Peter out on this boast.  He uses one of His “truly” statements to emphasize the certainty of Peter’s betrayal.  In the Greek, we see Jesus zeroing in on when the betrayal will take place; “today,” — before the Passover is done — “this night,” — before the sun rises — “before a rooster crows twice” — within the next three or so hours.  We also see Jesus emphasizing to Peter (which the translators provide here) that “you yourself will deny Me.”  Jesus then follows that this will not happen once, nor twice, but three times within this span of time.

Beloved, this alone should make us beware our hasty promises to God.  He knows the truth of our lives, and we need to humble ourselves before Him.  He knows precisely when how often we’ll fail. 

Peter was certainly sincere in his conviction in the moment; he outshines Judas and the rest with his staunch words.  Still, Jesus has just told him how sincerely wrong he is.  In fact, as Matthew Henry puts it, “Christ tells him that he will do worse than any of them. They will all desert him, but he will deny him; not once, but thrice; and that presently.”[4]

How does Peter respond?  Verse 31 says, “Peter kept saying insistently.”  He was emphatically defending himself, using many words to describe his resolve.  Peter feels emboldened; “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”  So moving are his words that they inspire the others to say “the same thing also,” mustered by sheer force of his proud speech.

I dare say we all would have been swept away by the strength of Peter’s conviction.

However, what are we witnessing except the rejection of God’s Word?   Jesus has proved His supernatural knowledge on countless occasions.  He quotes the passages of Scripture that pertain to both Himself and them, demonstrating their meaning.  Those Holy Words essentially say, “All will fall away, even you.  You will even deny me multiple times.”  Peter clenches his fist, straightens his back, and (perhaps without being fully conscious of it), he declares his denial of it all.

The pride of sin always leads us to think we know better.  Scripture might say the heart is deceitful, but I’m still going to trust my feelings over any biblical evidence to the contrary.  God might tell me not to trust in flesh, but I still must be personally involved in solving all my own problems.  The Lord didn’t entrust Himself to any man, but I still prefer the opinions of my friends over revealed truth.  God commands certain activities in my life, but I get busy.  I would never, ever say I doubt the Bible, but I ignore it all the time.  That is the weakness of the flesh.

Remember that this isn’t even the first time Jesus has told Peter this.  As we saw from Luke 22, Jesus prophesied Peter’s denial in the Upper Room, perhaps an hour or so earlier.  Now as they come to the Mount of Olives, Jesus is repeating Himself.  Again, Peter seems to interpret it as a challenge to be overcome rather than a word of humility.

Man’s promises are always false because it neglects grounding in the Word of Truth.

III.         Conclusion

We can’t place our trust in man, and we certainly can’t place our trust in ourselves.  We are called to faith in Christ, not faith in our own faithfulness.  We must hold firm to the Word of Christ and trust the work of God in our lives.

Again, remember Luke 22:31.  Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith not fail, and it ultimately did not.  We need dependence upon the Lord if we’re to have any hope of walking the Christian walk.  He’s provided Jesus as not only our salvation, but our sanctification (1 Cor 1:30).  We daily seek God in prayer and in His Word, obeying it, knowing that it is only by the Spirit that we can consider ourselves “to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rm 6:11).  May we stop trusting in the power of our own flesh and instead depend upon the grace of God for this life and the life to come.

[1] John MacArthur, Mark 9–16, 295–96.
[2] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 219.

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