[a continuation of the last sermon]
“And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself. The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why asketh me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said. And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphus the high priest. And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.”
Five points on ‘what to do when your world falls apart’
“Well if we could turn in our Bibles to John chapter 18. You know, sometimes you have experiences and you wonder if they’re preparing you for something else. And maybe I just had one of those. When I was at San Diego, and my wife and I were getting ready to move here, and they way it works at our HQ church there, like here, is when somebody’s heading out to start another ministry or something, they’ll bring you up and pray for you. It was the week for that for my wife and I. So we had family there and everything, and don’t you know, worship went through, the announcements went through, Mike started his message and never invited us up. I’ve got my family, we’ve sat through two services [chuckles, subdued laughter], and finally, I think somebody remembered, at the very end of the last service, services over, I think they had communion like we’re going to do today, they brought us up, got 30 seconds before everyone runs out the door, you know. And the Lord used it, I was running back to talk to Jim, because as I sat down after we prayed for him, I remembered ‘Jim was supposed to say something’, we’ve already talked about this, he had something to tell the church. And I forgot. Well, before you run out this morning, maybe you want to stop downstairs and grab a slice of cake, Jim of course and Cindy have been a blessing to us, Jim’s got things on his heart he’d like to exhort us with, and remind us. So please forgive me, Nelson’s. But I had the same experience, so I can relate to what you’re going through.
John chapter 18, we are picking up with verse 15, and we’ll just go a little ways. This is a second part of a message we started last week, what to do when your world falls apart. And this is the second part of that message. We had three points last week, we’re going to add five more points this week. But as we discussed last week, there are times in our lives when it appears that everything is coming apart around us, things are breaking loose, our world is suddenly crashing down. Those seasons that come into our life, and as we noted them last week, we can call them ‘a Ground Zero experience’. Maybe it’s the result of a national calamity like last week with the Space Shuttle Columbia, where now we all sit and watch the televisions. Maybe it’s more personal in nature, maybe it’s some bad news from an employer, we’ve just learned we don’t have a job anymore, a career anymore. Maybe it’s a bad checkup at the hospital, appointment, or maybe it’s a failing marriage, maybe it’s a rebellious child [how about those last two things simultaneously], or maybe it’s even the failing health of a loved one, maybe even a death of someone close to us. Then again it also could be the result of decisions we’ve made, we enter into a really rough season because we’ve made decisions and now we’re bearing the fruit of some poor choices. So we have these ‘Ground Zero moments’, personal ground zero moments, these storms that come into our lives. And the reason why we talk about that is we’re in John chapter 18 as the disciples are having one of those ‘Ground Zero moments’ in their lives. Things are starting to break loose and come apart for them, it’s not an easy time for them. [Three and a half years building a close emotional bond of love and friendship with Jesus, now being blown apart in one twenty-four hour period.] Now as we noted last week, God was preparing them for the hour, that’s very clear. Jesus was even telling them directly it was going to come, even though they didn’t fully understand. But they’ve been prepared for this time. Now as we studied the narrative last week, we kind of posed the question, ‘What can we learn from their experience, that might help us when we find ourselves in similar experiences as far as those Ground Zero moments where things are very difficult for us?’ What are some things that we can learn? Well we noted three points last week, the first point that we should note, that we don’t give in to fear, we’re not to give into fear, point one. Now fear is normally a healthy response that God has given us. But as we talked about last week, it can be dangerous if we are overcome with fear, and if we stay that way. That can be very dangerous. Second point we noted last week is, we should allow God to heal us, that is, to heal our hearts. But also to heal us from those fleshly responses that we have to pain at times. Sometimes we do things that we wish we didn’t do [like Peter lopping off the high priest’s servant’s ear], and we get into a situation, and maybe it’s bitterness. We talked about that last week. But we should allow God to heal us of that, as we saw God even heal that servant as he had his ear cut off. Thirdly, we should humbly accept the cup that God has for us. That can be very powerful for us, to accept whatever God brings into our life, whether it be a joyful time, a happy time, or even a difficult time. There’s real power in being humble and yielding to whatever God has purposed for us. Well this week again we’re going to consider a few more points that we can learn from the disciples here in their Ground Zero moment, points that will help us when we are in those times too. And this is not a comprehensive list by any means, it’s just simple points that we can take out of the narrative as we go along. So let’s say a word of prayer, and then we’ll get started with chapter 18, verse 15. ‘Lord, as we look at these verses and consider this story, this moment in history, of course we see men that are in a very difficult time, men that are struggling, there’s confusion, there’s anxiety. We even see men stumble in this time, because of all the pressures, all the fears that come their way. And Lord, it’s true, some of us have been there before, we’ve been in those seasons, those Ground Zero moments where things suddenly are just falling down all around us. And then we’re overcome with anxieties and stresses and struggles. And maybe some of us haven’t been in one of those moments yet, but it’s certain that some day we’ll experience that, that’s just part of life, its par for the course. But I ask you Holy Spirit, as we go through these texts and these truths, that you would minister to our hearts, and that you’d open our eyes all the more to truths that are here, and you’d give us just greater discernment about our own lives, that we would be able to take some of these nuggets that we see here and apply them all the more to our personal lives, and that we would be better equipped for those Ground Zero times. And maybe there are people here right now in the midst of a Ground Zero time, and I ask God you’d encourage them as they even consider the text time they go through one. So I ask you Holy Spirit that you’d be upon all of us, and even upon myself now as we go through your Word, in Jesus name, Amen.’
A little historic background on John, son of Zebedee
Chapter 18, verses 15-18, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside, then the other disciple who was known to the high priest went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers who had made a coal of fire stood there, for it was cold and they warmed themselves, and Peter stood with them and warmed himself.” So let’s get the picture here again, and let’s remind ourselves of where we were last week. It’s evening, it’s a full moon, so there’s this light being cast down from the moon you would imagine, it’s one of those type of nights, the full moon. It’s the side of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and eleven of his disciples have just been together, and they’ve been in prayer. And they’ve been in the area of one of these olive gardens that’s on the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane. And while they were there, a large detachment of troops headed up by Judas came and arrested Jesus, and they bound Jesus. And then they began to take Jesus and lead him away, down the side of the Mount of Olives. And we would assume that there in the front of this pack, there’s hundreds of soldiers. There’s one of the disciples named Judas who is leading now this whole detachment down the side of the Mount of Olives. Now as the crowd starts to make its way down, we would assume then that nine of the disciples evidently scattered to various places, maybe they all go together to one place, but they head for safety, they flee away. And that’s according to even an earlier exhortation or warning from Jesus, Matthew chapter 26, Jesus told them “All of you will made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” So we assume nine of them have scattered, maybe together, but they’ve left the scene. But as the torches and the lanterns carried by the mob are seen weaving their way down these narrow paths and the alley streets from the Mount of Olives, two of Jesus’ disciples, one of them we see is Simon Peter and another follow at a distance. We have Simon Peter and it says another disciple. Now who is this other disciple? We don’t know for sure, there’s different theories. Some have suggested that maybe it was Nicodemus. Now Nicodemus was a secret disciple of Jesus, at least for a season. He’s a wealthy man, he’s a respected teacher, he’s a Pharisee, and as you can tell from our text there that we read, this other disciple is known by the high priest. So Nicodemus is one that some people consider. Another suggestion is Joseph of Arimathea, another wealthy man that may have been known by the high priest. But most commentators believe it’s the apostle and disciple, it’s John, it’s John. Now how would John, a fisherman in the area of Galilee have a connection with the high priest? How would he have such access as you see here? He’s able to get into certain places, because of who he knows. He’s also able to get other people into certain places. Now how would that be the case? Where would the connection come from? Well we know that his father Zebedee was in the fishing business, and there are some, and there are reasons they propose this, they propose that Zebedee had a very successful fishing business. And in those days fish was a big part of the diet, and the Sea of Galilee in the north was the primary source of fish [the Sea of Galilee has a depth in places over 1,200 feet down], so fisheries up there, the fishing business, they’d catch the fish, they would apply salt to them, preserve them, and they would ship them down to other places like Jerusalem [as well as exporting them to other parts of the Roman Empire]. So it’s believed that Zebedee had a prosperous business. And potentially even an office or an outlet for his business in the city of Jerusalem. And John potentially was involved with that. So maybe John spent time in Jerusalem, helping ship this fish to the city of Jerusalem as he grew up. And with that, now this type of fish when it was transported would be expensive, so only the wealthy would generally be the customers. So then you have the high priest. And we noted that Annas was wealthy as we noted last week. So potentially he was one of his customers. Now that might seem a bit far fetched for you, but there is this story from H. V. Morton, who talks of visiting in Jerusalem. Now this is awhile ago, in some of the back streets, and he found a little building that was at that time an Arabic coffee house, and while he was there, I guess sipping his coffee, there were some stones and arches that he was told about that were part of an early Christian church evidently. And they were believed to have stood on the site of the house that belonged to Zebedee, that is, John’s father. Now according to the Franciscans, Zebedee’s family were fish merchants, as we know, but they had an office for their business in the city of Jerusalem, and they supplied fish to Caiaphas. So there is some historical data anyway that that may indeed be the case. So John is potentially the disciple here, and he’s known the high priest from the fishing business before. But either way, it’s just a side point. Whoever this other disciple is, I think it’s John, as they follow the mob, Simon Peter and this disciple, they follow the mob to Caiaphas’s residence. When they get there, he’s able to gain access to the residence, to the courtyard anyway. And then while he’s there he comes back, as you see in the verses, verses 16 and 17, he gets access for Peter. Peter is stopped at the door. Now they enter into a courtyard, so you get this vision that around the residence of Caiaphas there’s a wall, and there’s a door in the wall. I’ve seen places like that, maybe you have, southern California, I’ve seen it in the Middle East, where the houses will actually have walls around them, and doors. You think you’re actually entering into a house, but when you go through it you’re actually entering into a courtyard. [You can see this in the movie Ben Hur. Ben Hur’s house in Jerusalem was exactly like that.] And the house is set back. Well we have now Peter and this other disciple having access into this courtyard. And now as they enter in, Peter enters in, we’re told in verse 17, when he steps through, there’s this little gal, she is a servant girl, and she’s guarding this door, and as he steps through she throws this question at him. She says “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” She evidently recognizes him, thinks she’s seen him with Jesus before. Now in the Greek language, when she posses this question, in the Greek language there’s a little bit more there, and it seems in the Greek that she’s indicating, she’s expecting a negative response. She’s expecting “No”, she’s expecting a denial. Yet in the Greek when she states this question, she actually believes he is a disciple. She expects him to say no, but she believes that he is indeed one of the disciples of Jesus. Well I would imagine Peter doesn’t expect this question, maybe he does. But either way, we get his response, his response is ‘I am not, I’m not one of his disciples.’ Now contrast that with his words a little bit earlier to Jesus. You remember in Mark 14, verse 29, Jesus said to him that he was going to stumble. And he responded “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be”, “Assuredly” Jesus said to him, “I say to you today, even in this night before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But then Peter spoke vehemently back, he said “If I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” We see here a little gal, little servant girl, ‘You’re one of them, aren’t you?’ ‘No I’m not.’ But earlier, right to Jesus, ‘Not a chance, I would die with you. I wouldn’t deny you Jesus. I wouldn’t deny you.’ Considering his attitude and his heart earlier, and now a short time later, doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t do. Now it’s true, and we can see this also in our text, it’s true, Peter has a strong love for Jesus, no doubt about it. I mean, the guy actually pulls a sword. He has a strong love, but he also has a confidence that he will follow Jesus. I mean, he pulls a sword, these troops come and he pulls a sword and he takes a swipe at the troops, and I guess he misses and he hits the servant’s ear. But he has a confidence, he does have a strong love, there’s no doubt about it. He has a confidence even after Jesus says to him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat.” That’s when he replies, ‘Not a chance. I’m not gonna deny you, even if Satan comes against me, I will not deny you.’ He’s got a lot of love for his Master, it’s seen throughout the Gospels, a real boldness, a real confidence. But here we see, in the midst of the ever increasing pressure, in the midst of the confusion, in the midst of the mounting fear and anxiety, he does exactly what he said he’d never do, exactly what he wishes he’d never do.
1. We need to understand our weakness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit
This leads me to my first point. It’s the fourth point in this study if you have the last tape from last week [See the previous transcript, John 18:1-16.]. That during these times of trial in our lives, these times where it seems that everything is just breaking lose, pressure and anxiety is mounting, we need to fully understand, fully understand our weakness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to know that without the power of the Holy Spirit, we truly are weak. Maybe, like self-confident Peter, you’re here this morning, and you don’t necessarily, you know, you think about a trial, you’ve been through trials, you consider maybe trials ahead, you don’t see yourself giving into fear, you know you’re pretty strong. Maybe you don’t see yourself overreacting in the flesh, and doing things that you don’t think you should do, maybe you’re confident that whatever God brings your way, you’re going to accept. [Let me tell you, after 39 years as a believer in Jesus, one thing I have learned, looking back, is just how weak I am on my own, and even with God’s Spirit (but obviously, not enough of his influence in my life) when these Ground Zero moments occur in my life.] And if that’s your case, if you’re confident like Peter, that is true for some of us, but may we also understand the danger of self-confidence, the danger of having a confidence rooted more in our self than in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is true, I think on a normal day, Peter would have never done this, on a normal day. I’d say, even on a bad day he’d never have done this, he wouldn’t have denied his savior. But this isn’t just a bad day, this is one of those Ground Zero days. This is one of those days that everything starts to get overwhelming, there’s this cumulative stress that just starts to build up. You know, the soldiers come, there’s that stress, that anxiety, all the bewilderment with that. There’s then the rebuke of Jesus, I mean, he slices the guy’s ear, and Jesus rebukes him for it. And then they actually arrest Jesus, and then they see them bind Jesus, and he follows Jesus, and he ends up now in this mock trial before the high priest. All of that starts to take its toll. The other disciples have scattered. So all the pressure and anxiety of that, couple together, that now he struggles, and with just a little tiny girl. It says a little servant girl comes, and he buckles, when she gives just a simple question. And I think it’s true, it can happen to all of us. What happens to Peter here certainly, given the right conditions it can happen to you and I. This last week I was with some firefighters in a class, a C.I.S.M. class, Critical Instant Stress Management class, and the instructor in this class shared with the firefighters who were very confident that they can handle stress, a lot of stress. They can handle seeing some pretty difficult things and being in some pretty high pressure moments, and they’re confident in that, and he even noted that it’s true, firefighters, with their type of personality, they’re able to resist and withstand under greater pressure and stress than the average person. That’s why they do what they do. A lot of people would buckle early on, but they’re able to withstand a lot more. So this instructor was sharing these things with these firefighters, and there was a sense that they agreed, that we’re tough, we’re not gonna, we don’t really struggle much with these things. But then he noted though, the issue of cumulative stress. But he talked about, it’s different when there’s cumulative stress. He shared personal stories, you can be very strong, but given the right situation, you buckle. It’s one thing to be strong, and know that I can deal with hard times, but then when you have things happening earlier in the week, you know you’re a parent, you have a teenage child, you maybe have a stressful job, you think you can handle all the stress of the job, but now you’ve learned about your teenager, some horrible thing, maybe they’ve gotten pregnant, or maybe they’ve run away, and you’ve been dealing with that for a week, and then maybe you’ve gotten a bad report from the doctor, and now you’re dealing with that, and then you go to work, and then you have that stressful moment, then it’s different. It’s all the cumulative stress, all that stuff building up together, that now you find yourself buckling, saying something, thinking something you normally wouldn’t do. And I think that’s what happens to Peter. [I remember when going through my divorce, loosing my temper with an older tech friend of mine who was in the position of being a boss over us at the time, saying something, loosing my temper, my cool, in a way I never would have done. He was gracious, realizing what stress I was under, and let it pass.] This guy really loves Jesus, he is a tough guy, he’s confident, but this has built up, and now he struggles. Well, you may have that same self-confidence, maybe you can look back and say ‘You know, I’ve been pretty successful, I’ve been pretty tough, I’ve grown in the Lord. But, understand, when you have a lot of things going on, when the tough times come and a lot of things are happening, you may not be able to stand. The real source, the only source of power that will carry us through anything and everything is the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s what we need to understand. Peter’s going to learn this class. He’s going to learn this. It’s only through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Elijah went through this kind of breakdown under mounting stress, and fled to Sinai when Jezebel said she was going to have him killed, just after he had prayed and had fire come down and miraculously consume a water-drenched offering in front of the 400 priests of Baal, after this huge miracle in response to what some say was an 18 second prayer. But all the cumulative stresses of dealing with this evil ruler, where she had killed all the priests and prophets of God except him and a few others, he caved, went to Sinai and asked God to retire him. God did say OK, but made him go back and train his replacement.] And you know, if we’re confident today, self-confident, good chance God has got just the little trial designed for you, to teach you that you need the Holy Spirit. You need to be confident in the power of the Holy Spirit. A little later, Peter’s going to have less self-confidence, and more of a brokenness, and more of a desperate ‘I need the Holy Spirit’s power.’ And then in that, later, he faces even more difficult times, he encounters really harsh things. But he’s able to stand, and give glory to God, because it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit. So the first thing we can note this morning, watching Peter here, is that we need to understand our weakness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. We need to partake in the strength of the brethren
Now in these verses here, also verse 18, we see him now gathered around this fire, maybe you’ve heard a lot of Bible studies on this, you certainly can get a lot of pictures and images here. But there’s the servants and the officers, you imagine some soldiers, they’ve made a fire, it’s cold. I know when we went to Israel last time, late February, early March when we were in Jerusalem, it was really cold at night and in the morning. So it’s cold, and they’re warming themselves. And I just see this picture of Peter standing there alone as a believer, standing in the midst of a very difficult hour in his life, standing amongst the world, and as I see that picture, I’m reminded too when I’m in the midst of those storms in my life, I’m reminded the danger of staying and being alone. How’s it’s important that in those hours, how fellowship is so vital, that when I’m in a difficult time, I need also to partake in the strength of the brethren. You remember what Solomon said, this man that the Bible says was the most wisest man ever, Ecclesiastes chapter 4, he said this, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” No one to help him up. You know, would Peter have stumbled if he had fled away and stuck with the other nine disciples. You know earlier it seems that was Jesus’ intention, because he said to those that were coming to get him, to his captors, he said ‘Let those that are with me go, let them go their way.’ And evidently the others leave, but Peter now follows and it seems he probably would have done better if he would have been with the brethren at this time rather than standing around this fire alone. John seems to be around somewhere, but maybe he’s not with him at the present moment, it’s not noted there that he’s around the fire with Peter. Well, I’ve seen it happen many times, even in the church, believers encountering a time of pain and difficulty in their life, coming into a difficult season and there’s discouragement, and then in the discouragement they begin to withdraw. You know, of course, privately sometimes, I need to be alone in private for seasons because of my grief, because of my struggle, I need to deal with it in private, maybe alone with just my family, that’s true. But to stay there is dangerous. To stay there especially in a trial is dangerous. I’ve seen it happen multiple times, where people have done that, and then they’ve stayed there, and then you see them a year or two later, and they aren’t doing well at all. In some cases they’ve gotten off on other roads and have gotten hard against the Lord, and have gone back to their old ways. I’ve seen some even drift away, doing well, there’s some sad stories even in this congregation, folks that were doing great with the Lord. Man, they were doing great. And then difficulties came in their life and started to rattle their cage and continued, and then they stopped coming to church. And now years later, they’re not doing well at all. They’re not doing well at all. So if you’re listening in at this moment, and you’ve been in a difficult time, and maybe it’s caused you to withdraw, that’s natural for awhile, you need to maybe personally wrestled through things, but don’t stay there, it’s dangerous. And maybe you’ve been staying there for awhile, and God is getting your attention, that hey, it’s dangerous to stay there. And Peter’s kind of alone at this time, and we’ll see, he could use the strength of the brethren at this time, and he doesn’t have it. [This is one of the biggest reasons why Christians should find a congregation which fits their secondary spiritual beliefs and attend there, and not try to be an Internet Christian, or Radio Christian, or TV Christian one who solely relies on their spiritual meals and food from listening to radio pastors or relying totally on websites like this one, while attending nowhere, never darkening the door of a church. And also, just attending a church doesn’t afford the protection this pastor is talking about. Attending, and getting involved, being a part of a prayer-group, sharing your prayer-requests, concerns, with others, in the bond of Christian friendship is where the spiritual safety and help can come from. This website is merely meant to be a supplement to the benefits of attending a church congregation regularly, participating in their activities and worship. So if you are one of those “loners”, get shopping for a church. Also, there’s the responsibility Christians and Messianic believers have to evangelize. Most of the major evangelistic efforts are carried out by churches who have the combined support and resources of their members working together. It’s actually selfish to remain church-less, you aren’t working in a unified way with others to accomplish the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Enough said.]
3. Realize God is still with us in our trials, Jesus protects the disciples, just as God protects his saints through their trials
Well verses 19-24, “The high priest then asked Jesus about his disciples and his doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world, I always taught in synagogues and in the temple where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard what I said to them, indeed they know what I said.’ And when he had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do you answer the high priest like that?’” Oh man, I wouldn’t want to be this guy. Could you just imagine, if this guy never turned to the Lord, you know what he must think at this moment, now understanding on the other side what he did. Or if he even did turn to the Lord later, he must have been bothered by this, I mean, he took, and he slaps Jesus, just slaps. “Jesus answered him, ‘If I’ve spoken evil bear witness of the evil, but if well, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him down to Caiaphas the high priest.” [Comment: Both Annas and Caiaphas had their houses within this same courtyard. Their two houses may have even been connected, but with separate doors, but obviously, their two houses were within this same courtyard.] Now only John gives us this little bit right here, these verses, this examination by Annas of Jesus. And he places it here between the first denial of Peter, and then the second denial. But only John has this little part here. Now initially you see Annas questions Jesus about his teaching, also his doctrine, about his disciples. So he’s asking him questions about his disciples. And it’s interesting to me that Jesus does not answer directly the question. He does that a lot, and he does that here, and I believe for certain reasons. We should note first though, the questioning that’s going on is illegal according to Jewish law. For according to their law, they had like we do, a fifth amendment type of thing, where a prisoner could not be asked a question that would bring about self-incrimination. So it was not legal for Annas to be asking Jesus these questions, trying to bring self-incrimination, trying to get him to discredit himself, that was not legal in Jewish law. [Nor was it legal to hold meetings of the Sanhedrin or legal proceedings at night, after sundown. This was strictly forbidden by Jewish law.] And in response Jesus is sort of pointing that out, that this is not a legal question. He basically responds, ‘If you want to know the story, ask the witnesses.’ And that was the course of the law, that according to the law the witnesses were supposed to bear witness of what they heard, and that the prisoner could not be forced to testify against himself. But they’re seeking to force Jesus to give evidence that’s going to discredit him. And that was illegal. [And Caiaphas went on with this same tactic a little later, after he had failed to get witnesses whose testimonies would agree.] So I believe that’s one of the reasons Jesus is pointing that out in a subtle way. But I also see in this especially, in his response, him protecting the disciples. For if he had revealed names and addresses of the disciples, we could only imagine what would happen to them later. They’ve asked questions, potentially, ‘Who are the disciples?’, ‘Where do they live?’, those kind of questions. They’ve asked about the disciples, the high priest has asked about the disciples. And he doesn’t answer that, he steers away from that. And in that I see him protecting the disciples. [Comment: The same kind of questions were asked about true believers by the Inquisitors, both in France in the 1100s to 1300s, and then in Spain thereafter. The same things happened in England of the 1500s to 1600s, the Privy Counsel trying to get people in England to inform on the nonconformists, the SEPARATISTS, Brownists, and PURITAN’S, and later the Sabbatarian Churches of God around London. When some were caught, they were tried and put in prison, or burned at the stake. Millions were murdered in the Inquisitions in both France and Spain. This Inquisitor pattern the high priest attempted to carry out starting with Jesus himself has carried on throughout the Church age, where false ecclesiastical authority attempts to stamp out those who carry on God’s Work down through the ages.] That’s consistent with earlier, verse 8, he definitely was doing that. And I mentioned when I got to verse 8 we’d pick up on it later. But they came to arrest him, he said ‘I am he, and he says, ‘Therefore if you seek me, let them go their way’, purposely, at that moment, protecting the disciples, so that they’re not arrested, looking out for these men that have been with him and followed him. And so there’s that picture here, there’s that thought here, there at a very difficult time, there’s a lot of stress, there’s much grief. But there in the midst of it God’s protection is still with them. God’s protection is still with them, he’s ensuring that no greater harm will come upon them than what he’s purposed in this trial. And as we stated last week, the heat’s been turned up, but God still has his hand on that thermostat. [Comment: Jesus spent three and a half years training the 12 disciples, amongst other disciples too (the 120), to prepare them as the holy foundation to the Church he intends to found 50 days after his supernatural resurrection back to his immortal state of being. Thus he had to protect those he was about to use to found his Church on earth, the early Church of God in Jerusalem and Judea.] He’s determined this is where it stops, it isn’t going any higher. And I see that in this story here of Peter and the disciples. And it’s true of us in the same way, in our difficult hours, we can also understand that God is still with us, he’s still in control, he still has his hand on that thermostat. He’s prepared us for the hour. He’s prepared us for what lies ahead. But even in the midst of it, even though it doesn’t feel like it, he is with us, he’s protecting us, he’s right there in the midst of the trial, he’s making sure that it stays within that envelope, that we don’t get into a situation where we cannot endure it. You know, the Bible tells us, the New Testament teaches that God has purposed that we will not encounter a trial that we cannot, any test, that’s too great [to endure], that we’d have an excuse. “No temptation has come to you, but such is common to man, and God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted above what you are able to endure.” And that’s what we see here. He’s still protecting. And God is doing the same in your life. Maybe there’s challenges that have come your way, maybe they seem unfair. But you can be sure God has prepared you, it’s not more than you can handle, with the Holy Spirit. He’s guaranteed it. And he’s even there, if you look at times, you can see, he’s still protecting you, he’s still with you. You see his grace in the midst of it. And that’s what’s happening with Peter. Last Saturday, you know, watching all that was transpiring there Saturday morning with the Space Shuttle Columbia, there was an interview that caught my…[tape switchover, some text lost]…and you can be sure of that too. No matter where you are or what you’re going through, you are still in the hands of a loving God. It’s true of Peter, and it’s true of you and I. I like these lyrics from a simple chorus from the Brooklyn Tabernacle singers, “Hold me, hold me, I’m in the midst of the storm. Hold me, hold me, I’ll be safe in my Father’s arms. Hold me, hold me, in the midst of the storm, yet I’m still safe. Things are tough, but I’m in the Father’s arms.” And you can be sure, though it’s difficult, man, you’re still right in the Father’s arms, the arms of a loving Father. Here’s a story I just read recently from the book Fresh Power, I quoted from it a couple times, a great book written by Jim Cymbala. In his books he always writes of testimonies, so they’re often great illustrations for sermons. But the story of Denise, and it would fit at this point. ‘She was a single mom, somewhat a new believer, had been delivered from binge drinking, delivered from drugs, had been delivered from smoking, depression, a hard life, now a new believer getting started in Christ. But within a few months after coming to Christ, difficulty, Ground Zero experiences come into her life. She one day went over to her mom’s house and there her mom lay dead on the bathroom floor. Just a young believer now. But if that wasn’t difficult enough, and it was, not long later, getting counsel from brothers and sisters, I guess her mom didn’t live in the best place, she decided to take over her little house, moved into her house. But it wasn’t the best neighborhood. This is a short time later, she’s in bed one morning, and she’s woken up, there’s a stranger in her bedroom, who then at gunpoint proceeds to rape her. Now this is a young lady in Christ. Difficult things even to hear, it doesn’t stop there. Then it was a harsh winter, I guess it was going on in the wintertime, it was a harsh winter. Her roof started to leak, her heater-boiler broke down. Her daughters and her were then going without heat, harsh winter. Then her girls got the chicken pox, one thing after another. Traumatic, any of those can be tough, some of those can be absolutely brutal.’ Cymbala writes about Denise’s Ground Zero experience, ‘For that to happen to anyone is horrendous, but how does a new believer make heads or tails of it, how do you cope and manage to move on? Well though Denise was clearly overcome with pain, this little gal decided to press on ahead anyway. And she joined the choir. She didn’t let the fear overtake her and master her. But nevertheless’ Cymbala in his book notes, ‘she even came in for the interview as they do for the choir, that when he was interviewing her, she just looked down the whole time, she wouldn’t look him in the eye. He could just sense this woman was a woman that was enduring pain, and he learned her story from his wife. But then when she was in the choir, initially up front, you could see this woman was numb, she was singing, but there was a numbness to her, there was a hardness to her, there was a sadness to her. Well anyway, later, months later, Sunday night, choir’s singing, Cymbala’s sitting there in the congregation, and he looks up and he sees Denise up in the front again, but now there’s a difference. This lady has her hands raised high to the heavens, she’s singing to the Lord, and there’s an incredible joy on her face, an incredible joy that had overtaken her life. And it turned out, as he had learned, it was happening then, and I guess it happened after that, this season ended, God was there with her, began to heal her life, began to just take her through and deliver her from different things. Even men in the church came and helped her work on her house, replace the windows, fix the roof. God even provided a low interest loan for her to get a new heater system and get the heat going in her house. But then she met a Christian man named Gordon, whom she married. They began to have a solid Christian home, and she began to grow in the Lord. So God brought her through that.’ The reason why I tell you this story, how does it fit here, about this reminder that God is with us? This is what she says, referring back to her difficult year, it all happened in a year, these things, “Yes, I went through a lot of stuff that year. Through it all I was just thankful that I had the Lord in my life to help me. What would I have done in similar circumstances without Him? I would have given into my pain and depression.” Well, I think that story says it well too. You know, the reminder that God is with us in those difficult times, he’s got his hand there upon us, he’s protecting us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, that get’s us through. When we lose sight of that, it can be really difficult. Well, you and I in our trials, we can know that God is with us. He is with us. Even though it might be difficult, he hasn’t left us, he hasn’t checked out, he hasn’t forgotten us, he is still with us. Well Jesus, I see him protecting the disciples here, he doesn’t answer anything about the disciples. In fact it says, ‘Hey man, you heard, plenty of people, I’ve done all of this in the open. I’m sure some of you have heard what I’ve said, you know, this isn’t the right order, this is out of order.’ And as he says that, man, one of the temple police, just one of these zealous protectors of the high priest slaps Jesus, and says ‘Don’t answer like that!’ And Jesus says, ‘If I’ve spoken evil, bear witness of it, but if well, why do you strike me?’ ‘Why do you strike me?’ He says it again in a round about way, ‘This is illegal, I only made a point, that there’s another way to do this. Go get the witnesses, that’s according to law.’
4. In a trial, we as believers can be vulnerable to the enemy and his deceptive tactics
Verses 25-27, “Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, ‘You’re not also one his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter then denied again, and immediately a rooster crowed.” [Roosters crow just before dawn, so this was between 4am and 5am] Well each of the four Gospels obviously give, as you’ve studied them before, maybe you’ve studied them, they talk about the denials of Peter, all four Gospels. But if you’ve ever tried to put it together, it gets difficult. It seems, wait a minute, there’s two people talking here, there’s different characters talking. How do you resolve this? There’s critics of the Bible that say “Here is an inconsistency, you can’t put this story together”, and it is difficult to put it together. And I believe the way you solve it is, you realize that there’s groups of people, and often when people will be together, they’ll speak things together, they’ll say things together, they’ll question together. Somebody will say something and somebody else will respond with another question, you know, as we’ve been noticing, ‘This guy is familiar, this guy was with him’. And I believe that’s how you resolve it. We do know from Luke though, at this point, after the first denial it’s been an hour, Luke chapter 22, verse 59, it’s been about an hour he’s been standing around, standing amongst these soldiers and officers and servants. And in verse 25, one of them, somebody who stood there says to him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” Now, this question is very much identical to verse 17. But it’s put in a form where it almost suggests to Peter, the way it’s stated is ‘Are you?’, almost suggesting to him in a very subtle way, ‘Say no’, ‘say no’. The person evidently believes that he’s not, but it’s like putting away that doubt, ‘I know that you’re going to say no, and I’m suggesting that you say no.’ Sometimes you can do that when you say a question, you almost can egg on a certain answer. And it’s kind of posed that way in the Greek. So you get this sense, and that’s the way the devil works, is at a very vulnerable moment, the enemy’s trying to entice him, you know, in a very ‘You’re not one of them, are you?’. And said in a way that, in the Greek especially, ‘You should say no to this.’ And of course, what does he do? He denies it and says “I am not, I am not.” So you see the enticing there of the enemy, I do. Other commentators note that too, as if the enemy’s there enticing him, at a vulnerable moment, pressures, anxieties, struggles, now enticing him, just bait him along. And Peter does exactly what he says earlier he wouldn’t do, he does it now for the second time. In that I’m reminded that in our trials, in our trials we must also realize the deceptive tactics of the enemy. Because, man, we can be vulnerable to the enemy, and we can be in the midst of real heartache, and yet, if he’s given the opportunity, man, he’ll be right there, trying to entice, trying to deceive, trying to manipulate. I think of the times that I’ve seen somebody go through a real grievous process, maybe it’s the brake-up of a boyfriend or girlfriend, maybe it’s even their spouses died, and it’s a Christian person, and then later you see a non-Christian come in on the scene, very seductively, nice guy, nice gal, I’ve seen it happen, in fact, I’ve seen people that were walking with the Lord, go through a tough time, and then a non-Christian comes into their life, and they start a relationship, and you don’t see them around the church anymore. And they were vulnerable. You could say, they were vulnerable at that time, they were vulnerable. And they were. And the enemy knew it. So as we’re looking at Peter’s story here and considering this, that’s something we need to remember, that even when we’re weak, even when we’re weak, the enemy’s there, if he’s given the opportunity, and he’ll think ‘Ah, I got him now, I got him thinking, I got him going, I’ll try to throw out some bait, I’ll try to do something.’ Jim Cymbala gives again in his book an experience, a personal experience, he says, talks about when his oldest daughter Crissy, it’s in his first book (Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire), his older daughter Crissy was in a real rebellious state, and here’s a pastor of a large church, and she was really, really rebelling, really doing some terrible stuff. It was grieving his heart, his wife’s heart, but then, not only that, his wife had major surgery, it was a slow recovery, a slow process. So all the struggle with that. And he in his life, with these things and other pressures, had come to the lowest point of his life. He was at a low point. And he tells in his book about Astoria, sitting in his kitchen, and there’s a Christian brother fortunately that gave him some good advice, was ministering to him in his kitchen. He said to Jim, “You don’t think this is really about Crissy do you?” Jim shot back to him, “Oh course it is, that’s why we’ve been interceding for her with all our hearts.” His friend responded, “No, it’s not about your daughter. Do you think the devil just wants her? He wants you. He wants your marriage, and more than that, he wants to strike a blow against the church that you pastor. So far he hasn’t been able to drive a wedge between you and Carol. But he’s finding a weak spot in you regarding Crissy. If he can tear you down, and make you that crazy, causing you to lose it and disgrace yourself, the people you pastor will be devastated and vulnerable. That’s what he really wants.” So Jim Cymbala writes, “At that moment something rose up in my soul. I knew God was speaking to me through a human instrument. Something inside me said, God you’re going to hold me, not only are you going to bring back our daughter to yourself, but you’re going to hold me through this trial. Teach me something through all this mess.” [By the way, God recovered Crissy, all on his own, and brought her back to her family, with a totally changed attitude.] Well, here back with Peter, Peter is, as Jesus prophecied, he’s stumbled a second time, he’s denied him. He was confident he wouldn’t do it. On a good day he wouldn’t, on a bad day he wouldn’t. But it’s a difficult hour, it’s a Ground Zero moment, and now you’ve got the deception going on, deceptive questions. Almost doesn’t seem fair. But yet God really is allowing that, because he needs to teach this man “Self-confidence, Peter, it’ll hold you through sometimes, but I want you to be even greater, I want you full of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Holy Spirit, dependant on me, and watch what God will do.” Well, one of the servants of the high priest, now a relative of the guy whose ear got whacked off, now that would make me a little nervous if I was the guy that swung that sword, and he says, ‘Wait a minute, you hit my brother, or my cousin. I saw you cut off his ear.’ I mean, you remember things like that. This is a relative now, of the servant, Malchus. Now, his question is more emphatic, it’s direct. It’s got a lot of thrust, it’s like a spear to, in the Greek, to Peter’s heart. “Did I not see you in the garden with him!? Sure I did.” It’s a little different. “Sure I did.” Now helping him, really too, in a way, to deny a third time. And then with all the pressure, all the anxiety---Peter would never have thought he would ever do this---just the cumulative stress, not only does he deny Christ at this point. But you remember in the other Gospels, he begins to curse and swear, curse and swear. Bringing swears in a sense that, you know, “I swear that this is not the case, I am not a disciple of him.” This is emphatic cursing and swearing that he’s not. Well we’re told there, then as he denied the third time, that immediately the rooster crowed. Now there’s an interesting side note with that. That, like a lot of cities, communities, there’s these ordinances, you know I remember when we were in Juarez in our last missions trip, last year. We were down there, a lot of us would get up early, and there’s a little dirt road in front of the little church we were sleeping in, and it was in a poor section of the community, and we’d get out and you could hear the roosters at a certain time, in the dark night, early morning. They’d just start crowing. And we even talked about Peter, you just thought of that, crowing cock-a-doodle-do, just throughout the little community you could hear them going. Now it’s possible that it’s a rooster, but there are lot of communities, and evidently there’s evidence that in Jerusalem there was an ordinance that you couldn’t have a rooster because of that reason, for cities that do that. ‘Let’s get those roosters out of the community so we can sleep in the early morning. We don’t want them going ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ So, there’s evidence, I guess historical evidence, that that was the case in Jerusalem. But there is this interesting side-note, I’ll just note it to you, that the soldiers, the guards had four watches during the night, one started at 9, then it would change, and another watch would start at 12, a third watch would start at 3am in the morning, and a fourth watch at 6am, there were four watches that changed, four guard watches that changed. But after the 3rd watch, which was at 3am, that watch, the guard changing was announce with a trumpet. But here’s what’s interesting, that Latin word for that word “trumpet” was called Galacinium, and the Greek word is Elektorophonia, something like that. I’d better just stick to English, I don’t even do well with that one. But anyway, both of those mean “cockcrow”, both of those mean “cockcrow.” So it is possible that that’s what Jesus was referring to, it’s 3am. And do-doodle-do, the trumpet goes, it’s the cockcrow. Or otherwise Jesus would be saying, ‘Before the trumpet sounds, the cockcrow, you’ll deny me three times.’ That’s very possible, just a side note if you never heard it. I thought it was interesting. But anyway, the point is, verse 27, maybe you’ve been there, I’ve been there, this man stands now in shame. This man is overcome in shame. John doesn’t note it here, the other Gospels tell us that when this happened and the rooster crowed, after the third time [of his denial], in fact we’re told in Luke that at that point, Jesus turns, and wherever they are in the courtyard, Peter can see Jesus, Jesus turns and looks at Peter. Peter then remembers the words of the Lord, that Jesus said before the rooster crows you’ll deny me three times.’ We’re told then that Peter went out and he wept bitterly. This man is overcome with shame. This man is overcome with grief.
5. We should trust that God is using our Ground Zero moments for our spiritual growth and good
Our last point, and we’ll just note this, is it doesn’t stop there does it? The story doesn’t stop there, and neither does it for us. This is Peter’s lowest moment, lowest hour, but as we move on from here, and as our home fellowships are studying in the Book of Acts, this is not the end of the story [for Peter]. God uses this to incredible good, God works this to great good in Peter’s life. And it’s true to every one of us here, in our tribulation, in those times where our world seems to fall apart, and things are starting to break lose, we can know, and it can help us if we remember and hold fast to it, that God is working it to good, it’ll work to great good. In fact, many times you can look back and say ‘You know, I didn’t like it, but I’m thankful for what God brought through it to my life.’ We can trust, this is my last point, that God is going to grow us through it, he’s going to grow us through it. Mike MacIntosh in his book “When Your World Falls Apart”, page 25, he talks about Peter, so I said ‘I’ll include him, because he talks about this very moment in this book where he’s ministering to people from September 11th, Ground Zero. “Needless to say, Peter was very distraught. If that were the end of the story, we would have no hope today. But as you read Peter’s writings you quickly realize”, this is the Epistles he writes, “that God loved him, and healed him of his impetuous manner, and his own self-reliance. So then, in 1st Peter he can write what he does, chapter 5, verse 10, he says, ‘When it’s all over,’ he talks about suffering and trials and heartache and difficult times, but he days ‘When it’s all over, you can know that God is going to strengthen you, he’s going to settle you, he’s going to grow you…’ in fact, Mike goes on. “Note that he said in that verse “After you have suffered a little while”, it may be hard to believe, but your Ground Zero is for a little while, it’ll pass, when it is passed will it make you or break you? You get to choose. It is your life, your decision. Peter decided to let his Ground Zero make him a better man.” Well we all fail, that’s the truth, can’t judge Peter, this guy is a tough guy, he’s a mature guy, he loves the Lord, but what a difficult hour. We all fail, but spiritually like Peter, we can understand that failure is not the worst thing that can happen to us. In fact, depending on how we respond to those failures, those failures can be great teachers, and can contain the greatest lessons. And that’s what we see here. This is now the turning point for Peter. As we go on in his story, later as Jesus reaches out to him, reminds him how much he loves him, and then of course Acts chapter 1, with the power of the Holy Spirit, as he’s prepared really to be a vessel for that work. This man goes from being self-confident and self-determined, a willful man, to one now who totally entrusts himself to the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit. And God can do that for all of us, he can turn failure into transformation, and that’s the story of Peter. You know, another little historical note that’s interesting. There are legends that say, that after this time, when people saw Peter, there are people that would make that cock-a-doodle-do sound, they would crow like a rooster. Can you imagine that? After this, kind of bumming, shameful, and then later, years later, one of the disciples sees you going by ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ There’s legends, historical legends that say that was the case. Well, we’ve got our 8 points. Ground Zero experiences come into our lives, difficult times. Last week we saw on our television, seven families, suddenly, didn’t expect it, friends, co-workers of people at NASA, didn’t expect it, and now the day has this difficulty and challenge, and questions and confusion. Well they come into our lives, these things come into our lives too, and when it happens to us, these Ground Zero moments, we need to look at our 8 points. First, we should remember not to give into fear, fear is natural, but may we not be overtaken by it. Jesus, as you remember, he said to the church there in the book of Revelation, ‘Do not fear, you’re coming into seasons where you’re going to be in prison, some of you are going to die, but do not fear.’ Secondly, we should allow God to heal us. That includes healing us of our own fleshly responses that build up. We’ve responded the wrong way and we’ve gotten into this fleshly rut, let God heal us of that. Thirdly, we should humbly accept the cup that God has for us. Fourthly, we should understand our weakness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Fifthly, we should partake in the strength of the brethren. Sixthly, we should understand that God is still with us. Seventh, but we should also realize in the midst of those hours, the deceptive tactics of the enemy. Eighth, we should trust, especially trust that God is going to use it to our good and grow us through it. You know that song Amazing Grace, we sing it, don’t we. We sing it a lot. The chorus, ‘Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. To us grace brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Let’s stand together. [transcript of a sermon given on John 18:15-27, given somewhere in New England.]