If you would, turn with me in your Bibles to John 18:12-27. John says:
Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the Jewish temple police arrested Jesus and tied Him up. 13 First they led Him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was advantageous that one man should die for the people.
15 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was following Jesus, as was another disciple. That disciple was an acquaintance of the high priest; so he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16 But Peter remained standing outside by the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the girl who was the doorkeeper and brought Peter in.
17 Then the slave girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?”
“I am not!” he said. 18 Now the slaves and the temple police had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold. They were standing there warming themselves, and Peter was standing with them, warming himself.
19 The high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus answered him. “I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple complex, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven’t spoken anything in secret.21 Why do you question Me? Question those who heard what I told them. Look, they know what I said.”
22 When He had said these things, one of the temple police standing by slapped Jesus, saying, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
23 “If I have spoken wrongly,” Jesus answered him, “give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit Me?”
24 Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of His disciples too, are you?”
He denied it and said, “I am not!”
26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the garden?”
27 Peter then denied it again. Immediately a rooster crowed.
This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:
Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.
We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Well, we are back after having to take a week off because of the flash flooding. We weren’t quite sure how it was gonna go, all we knew is that our parking lot is made primarily of grass and it’s pretty steeply sloped downhill, and the weather forecasts were saying that it was entirely possible that there would be another flash flood that morning, and we figured the most reasonable direction to take was to hold off till this week before coming back to do another drive in service.
We all missed each other, but now we’re back, and judging from the conversations I had this week it looks like we haven’t missed a beat since the Sunday before last.
We’ve been dividing up the gospel of John section by section, which his made this whole series kind of funny in a way, because we’ll have a really long passage – like a chapter and a half of stuff, like 50 verses in row – and then we’ll have a passage that’s about 6 verses, then another long passage, then a short passage, and just kinda switch off back to back, so if you’ve been getting whiplash through all this, I apologize.
But the good news is that we’ve got another shorter passage this week.
But because we’ve got a shorter passage this week, we might be tempted to write it off as unimportant. We might be tempted to breeze through it so we can get on to something longer, something that feels a little heavier, feels a little bit more substantial.
But we don’t want to do that. We want to look every bit as closely and carefully as we can at every single section in the gospel of John, so that by the end, we can look back and see as clearly as possible John’s witness to us about his Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, even as short and simple as our passage today is, there are two points that jump out at us with astonishing clarity.
The first thing that John shows us this morning is that absolutely nothing can stop the will of God. That’s our first point. There is absolutely nothing that can stand in the way of God’s will. Even when we can’t see it at first, everything that happens ultimately works out in a way that fulfills God’s will, even against all odds.
We see exactly that beginning in verse 12. John says:
“Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the Jewish temple police arrested Jesus and tied Him up. 13 First they led Him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was advantageous that one man should die for the people.”
Now, that’s kind of a weird couple sentences, but John is talking about something that he recorded earlier in his gospel. If you look back at John Chapter 11, you see right after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, people start to flock to him something fierce.
Because they would.
Like, if I brought somebody back to life who had been dead for four days, it would probably make the news. They didn’t have the Franklin Times back then, but word still traveled fast, and in this case word did travel fast, and so people started wising up to the fact that this Jesus guy we’ve been reading about was probably the Messiah.
That’s good news of great joy.
And almost everybody who heard it, heard it as good news of great joy that the Messiah had come, and that it was Jesus, from Nazareth.
But there was at least one group that did not hear that as good news of great joy. Looking at John Chapter 11, picking it up in verse 47, we see that:
The chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? 48 If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.”
49 One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God.
Once again, that’s a weird couple paragraphs. It’s strangely worded. Even the way that Caiaphas talks is awkwardly phrased. So it’s kind of difficult to understand up front.
And yet we see something really incredible happening, here.
We see God’s will working itself out in real time. We see God’s will demolishing all obstacles on the way to fulfilling itself.
That’s kind of a strange thing to say, given what’s happening on the surface in this passage, right? Because the Sanhedrin is talking about the most efficient way to off Jesus. This is a brainstorming session on how they can get rid of him.
Why are they plotting to kill him? There are plenty of reasons, but among other things, they see Jesus as a threat to the well-being of their nation. They know plenty well that the reality of a Messiah who has come to redeem his people would sound dangerously like “revolutionary activity” to the Roman Empire. Right?
Like, imagine that you were the Roman Empire, and you had fairly recently conquered and then subjugated a whole nation, in this case the nations of Israel and Judah, and then you learn that those nations had been waiting for a very long time for someone who was going to come and liberate them.
Does that sound like the kind of thing you’d let slide? Does that sound like the kind of thing that you would encourage?
Now imagine that you’re the Roman Empire, and you heard that a guy has been traveling around Galilee, then around Judea, then around Jerusalem – so, bigger and bigger and bigger cities and population centers – performing miraculous signs and preaching about something called the Kingdom of God. /
You going to just let that slide?
The way that Rome usually dealt with things like that was by sending in troops, crushing any sign of rebellion, taking away every bit of freedom or autonomy that the people had, and then monitoring them closely from there on out.
The Sanhedrin wants to avoid that.
And, obviously, like we talked about last week, Jesus was not a revolutionary figure. Jesus was not stirring up an insurrection. Paul very specifically forbids us from doing either of those things in Romans 13, and Peter does something similar in 1 Peter chapter 2. Jesus isn’t stirring up a violent revolution. But Rome doesn’t know that.
And even if the Sanhedrin knows that, you’re gonna have a hard time convincing Rome of that. And they decide the best way to avoid that is to kill this guy.
And so Caiaphas says, “Don’t you realize that it is to our benefit that one man would die for his nation.”
You see where this is going?
These men are utterly opposed to Jesus in every possible way, they’re sitting in a closed room plotting how they can murder him and get away with it. These men are conspiring together against the will of God, against the plan of God, against the mission of God.
And yet, reading through this passage this morning, we know something the Sanhedrin doesn’t know.
We know that even as they are conspiring against Jesus together in our passage this morning, they’re in the process of fulfilling God’s plan.
I’m gonna say that again. Even as the Sanhedrin plots together to kill Jesus the Messiah, they are in the process of fulfilling God’s plan.
Even as the Sanhedrin gathers together to brainstorm ways that they can get away with murdering Jesus, they are still in the process of fulfilling God’s will, even against their own wills.
Because that’s how this works.
That’s how God’s will works. That’s how God’s plan works.
God willed to redeem us by coming to earth, living a human life without sin, and then being crucified in our place. And absolutely nothing in the world could stop that from happening. Not even Christ’s enemies.
If you take nothing else from our passage today, you should take away the fact that God’s purpose will prevail.
God’s plan will succeed.
God’s will is going to come true.
And we know that because even the people who plot against him on purpose ultimately fulfill his plan without even meaning to. Nothing in the world can ever overturn the will of God.
That is, maybe, one of the clearest threads running through scripture.
We see that in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
And again, Proverbs 21:30, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.”
And Isaiah 14:27, if “the Lord of Hosts Himself has planned it,” then “who can stand in its way?” And if “His hand is outstretched” then “who can turn it back?”
And Paul sums all of this up in Romans 8:28, when he says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” /
That is the truth. It’s the truth about God, and it’s the truth about you.
All things work together for your good because you have been called according to God’s purpose.
That’s a fact. And that means that if things haven’t worked together for your good yet, then you just haven’t reached the end yet. /
I’m gonna get really repetitive here, even more than before, because I really want to drive this home: Everything in the world bends towards fulfilling the will of God.
Everything that has ever happened, has moved towards fulfilling the will of God.
Even more specifically, everything that has ever happened to you has been a building block towards fulfilling the will of God.
Even the terrible things that you don’t want to talk about.
Even the things you can’t think about without crying.
Even the stuff you still haven’t recovered from.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying God approves of the bad things that have happened to you. I’m not saying God did those things to you. But what I am saying is that even the worst things – the things that fly directly in the face of God’s commands, of God’s love, of God’s will, of God’s desires – even the things that directly contradict God’s good desire for you ultimately work towards fulfilling his good will.
Because all things work together for your good, period. Even the boring sermons you have to sit through every week. /
As a case-in-point, that means that your family struggles, as terrible as they are, will ultimately work together for your good. If not today, then tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then next week, if not next week, then next year, and so forth.
In the same way, the tragedies that you have had to suffer through, nauseating as they are, have ultimately been working together for your good. I know that’s not easy to believe with your heart, but if things aren’t working for your good today, that just means that today is still just the middle of the story.
But by the end, it will be clear. By the time the Lord is finished with his work, it will be clear. It’ll be clear how every single thing you’ve ever lived through has been for your good. Everything. Because there is absolutely nothing that can overcome the will of God in the end. Not even the Sanhedrin, gathering together in a backroom, plotting how to murder Jesus. Even Christ’s enemies ultimately fulfill Christ’s will. /
That is extremely good news. It is very good news that the Lord’s unstoppable will is to work everything together for your good.
Because, as you might have noticed during your years on planet earth, you are usually not working for your good. /
Right? Like, let’s not be naïve. We usually do not do things that contribute to our good. We usually do not have our own best interests at heart. When Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” it’s not kidding. /
I know that runs against the grain of our “Only You Know What’s Best For You,” “Don’t Let Anybody Tell You What To Do” culture, but it’s true. We rarely know what’s best for us. We are rarely working for our own good. We rarely do what’s in our own best interest. We are almost always on a crash course towards ruining our own lives.
Think about it. Think about your own life. Think about your own history. Think about the pattern of your behavior. How well do you actually fare when you put yourself under the microscope?
My goal here is not to take a hammer to your self-esteem, but to chip away at a dangerous delusion that’s probably already done a number on your self-esteem. And that is the delusion that you are “self-sufficient.” That you are your own guide. That you are your own voice of reason. That you are your own compass. You know what I’m talking about?
Now, theoretically, those are good things. Right? But the problem is that if you are a human being on planet earth, those things are probably not true about you. Because Jeremiah 17:9 says that your heart is deceitful above all things. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Lean not on your own understanding.” In 2 Corinthians 3:5, Paul says, “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.” The pattern is clear: You are not self-sufficient. You are not a trustworthy guide. You are not a voice of reason. You cannot be your own compass.
You do not have the strength or the wisdom or the power to stand on your own two feet.
So if you’ve wrapped up your identity in being self-sufficient, you will be perpetually disappointed.
Every failure, every dumb decision, every mistake will cut you like a sword.
You’ll go home dejected, constantly, because you cannot be the thing that you’ve invested your identity in. /
If you’ve been living under the delusion that you can be good enough for years, chances are it’s already crushing you under its weight. Because most of the time, you are not even acting in your own best interests.
And in the most extreme sense, that takes shape in the fact that if you could damn yourself, you would./
You heard that sentence correctly. One of the things we see in our passage this morning is the fact that if you could damn yourself, you would.
I know we just cranked it to eleven, but bear with me.
Take a look, beginning at verse 17. It says, “Then the slave girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” “I am not!” Peter replied.”
See what just happened there?
Peter just denied Jesus. This is the guy who was ready to take on an army regiment and a group of Temple police with a sword about 15 verses earlier. Now he’s denying Jesus to a door girl.
We see the same thing in verse 25. It says, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of His disciples too, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!”
And again, “One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the garden?” 27 Peter then denied it again. Immediately a rooster crowed.” /
Just as Jesus predicted, Peter has denied Jesus 3 times before the rooster has even crowed.
And, remember, Peter was not an imposter. He wasn’t a “Christian in name only” type. He wasn’t one of the several million went-to-one-revival-said-the-sinner’s-prayer-under-emotional-durress-and-then-went-home-and-lived-the-rest-of-his-life-however-he-wanted-to cases that we see every year in the United States of America.
This is Peter.
This is a guy who’s left everything to follow Jesus.
This is a guy who’s devoted his entire life to Jesus in a way that probably strikes most of us as weird and nonsensical.
The guy who just denied Jesus three times is no slouch.
And so the point that you should carry away from this story is not that Peter was extra stupid and bad and that he was the sorriest fellow out of all the disciples, it’s that Peter has the same condition as you and me, and that is that Peter cannot trust himself. He cannot trust his own heart. He cannot trust himself not to lose his nerve. He cannot trust himself not to lose his faith. He cannot trust himself to obey the Lord when it comes down to it. He cannot trust his character to hold firm in difficult times. He cannot trust his resolve to hold steady when the pressure is on.
That’s not a Peter problem.
That’s a me problem.
That’s a you problem.
That’s a problem we all share, because that’s just what people are like. Right?
This is how people actually work. Our hearts are deceitful. We cannot lean on our own understanding. Our spines are made of flimsy plastic. That’s us. We are not self-sufficient, no matter how tough we seem or feel in our brightest moments. Period.
And because of that, if we could damn ourselves, we would.
If you could condemn yourself, you would.
If you could break off your relationship with the God who rescued you, you would.
But you can’t.
Because Christ has purchased you. And he’s not taking you back to the return desk.
That’s what Jesus means in John 10:28, when he says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish–ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.”
He’s saying, “I’ve redeemed my people, and I am not giving them back.”
He’s saying, “I’ve rescued them from the darkness, and I’m never putting them back.” “I’ve snatched them out of the fire, and I’m never tossing them back in.” “I’ve pulled them back from their just condemnation, and I am never cutting them loose again.”
You and I are like Peter. If we could damn ourselves, we would. But we can’t. Because that’s not an option Christ has given us. No one can ever snatch us out of his hand. Not even us./
And what that means is that you need to get used to hearing the words “Feed my sheep.”
You know what I’m talking about?
We touched on this a little bit a few chapters back, and we’ll touch on it in depth a few chapters from now, in John 21. But that’s what Jesus tells Peter as he restores him after Peter denies him.
After his resurrection, the disciples are fishing by the sea of Tiberious, and Jesus appears. And he singles out Peter, and he says:
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Then feed My lambs,” He told him. 16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Then shepherd My sheep,” He told him. 17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.” “Then feed My sheep,” Jesus said.
Notice what just happened. In our passage today, Peter denies Jesus 3 times, so in chapter 21, Jesus restores him three times.
Because that’s what Jesus does when his people abandon him.
He restores you.
He invites you back, to feed his sheep. To shepherd his sheep.
He refuses to let your sin separate you from him ever again. He refuses to let your doubt separate you from him ever again. He refuses to let your uncontrollable drive to run away and hide and cower and die in darkness separate you from him again.
Because Christ has purchased you, and he will have the you that he purchased. Because he has paid with his blood to give you life, so he will never give you over to death again. Period.
Over against every ounce of your hard-headedness and foolishness, Christ is working everything together for your good, because you have been called according to his eternal purpose.
That’s why, looking at Romans 8 again, Paul loses his train of thought and just bursts out into song. He just starts, like, sing-writing, a hymn, beginning in verse 31, that says:
“What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
34 Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 But no, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
39 height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
That is the truth about God. And it’s the truth about you. Today.
And so draw your comfort, your rest, and your strength from that truth.
This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.