How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 2

“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.’ ” John 18:17

We are learning from John 18:13-27 how to overcome failure and religious hatred. First we saw that we can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Today we discover how to overcome failure. To do this, we will transfer our attention to stage two in the gospel of John involving Peter’s failure as a disciple of Christ (John 18:15-18). From these verses we learn how to overcome failure.

Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38). Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life about 3 ½ years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples fled (Matthew 26:56) except Peter and another disciple, who followed at a distance as Jesus was led to the house of Annas. “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.” (John 18:15). The phrase “another disciple” implies that Peter was also a disciple even though he was following Jesus from a distance (Matthew 26:58). “This unnamed disciple was John, the author of the Gospel. John never identifies himself by name but typically calls himself ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’ (see 13:23; 19:26; 20:2).” Since John “was known to the high priest,” he was able to gain access to the courtyard in front of Annas’ house.

“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.” (John 18:16). Because of John’s acquaintance with the high priest, he was able to secure Peter’s entrance into the courtyard. “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.’ ” (John 18:17). The servant girl on duty at the door of the courtyard may have known John was a follower of Jesus and suspected Peter was also. Or perhaps it was Peter’s hesitance that gave him away. Regardless, her question expects a negative answer and made it easy for Peter to say no. Peter was afraid to identify himself as a disciple of Jesus because of unfamiliar surroundings and the presence of the temple guards and religious leaders. So he said, “I am not!” The negative particle (ouk) is in a place of emphasis. Peter was saying, “No, not me!” 2

What has happened to this man who vowed to die for Jesus’ sake earlier (John 13:38) and courageously tried to defend Jesus when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10)? We can tend to be hard on Peter for his denials of Jesus, but who has not had a similar failing? Peter was facing a dangerous situation. He had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant and no doubt feared being seen by him or by the temple officers who accompanied him. So he panicked and lied. Many of us have lied rather than be embarrassed or discovered. Are we still disciples when we fail the Lord like this?

I believe the apostle John would say, “Yes!” Here is why. In these verses John writes “Peter followed… and so did another disciple” (John 18:15) – this means Peter is a disciple even though he is following Jesus from a distance. When John refers to himself as “the other disciple” (John 18:16), he is implying that both he and Peter are disciples. And when John records the servant girl’s question, “…are you one of this Man’s disciples?” he is suggesting that the girl is identifying Peter as Christ’s disciple. Even when Peter denied Jesus Christ, he is still following Him, albeit from a distance.

“Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.” (John 18:18). Jerusalem is located in the Judean mountains, two thousand feet above sea level, and spring nights, especially without cloud cover, can be quite cool. To take off the chill, a fire was burning in the courtyard. Peter joined the servants of the high priest and other officials, and warmed himself by the fire. When John says “it was cold,” he may be referring to more than the air temperature. Peter’s heart was cold, too. 

It is also worth noting that the same Greek word translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used one other time in the gospel of John. When it shows up again in John 21:9, Peter’s life will be dramatically changed by the restoring love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so might yours.

I believe there are two reasons why Peter failed to publicly identify with Jesus in these verses. One was because he was following Christ from a distance (John 18:15-16; cf. Matthew 26:58). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter was close to Jesus’ side and felt confident next to Christ. But in the courtyard, distance separated him from Jesus and his faith faltered due to this separation. Self-reliance had distanced Peter from his Lord. Remember how Peter vowed to lay down his life for Jesus in the Upper Room? He did not say, “By Your grace or with Your help, I will lay down my life for You, Jesus.” No, Peter said, “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:36). Instead of relying on Jesus for the courage he needed to identify with Him, Peter was relying on himself and he failed his Lord when given the opportunity to publicly confess that He knew Him. 

Another reason why Peter refused to publicly identify with Jesus is because he sat down in the company of Jesus’ enemies (John 18:18). Instead of warming up against Jesus, Peter warmed up against Christ’s enemies around the fire in the courtyard. When we closely associate with those who are against a crucified Christ, we will lose our spiritual vitality over time. If we spend all our time listening to people undermine the Lord Jesus or the reliability of the Bible, we will become prone to doubt our Christian faith.

Sometimes we set out to follow Jesus and we may run into hard times and publicly deny our discipleship relationship with Christ because we are relying on ourselves instead of the Lord or we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies instead of with Jesus Himself. This leads to our second principle: We can overcome failure when we  REMAIN CLOSE TO CHRIST AND OTHER COMMITTED DISCIPLES (John 18:15-18). If we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies than we are with Christ or His followers, we are going to be less prepared to speak up for Christ when religious hatred is directed at us. Only Jesus can give us the courage to face His enemies.

If we neglect to meet with other believers in Jesus we will be less prepared to publicly identify with Christ when faced with opposition. Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). After all, the Bible warns us, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.” (I Corinthians 15:33). We cannot make unbelievers our constant, intimate companions and think we will remain unscathed. If we constantly and closely associate with those who deny the Person and work of Christ or the reliability of the Bible, we are going to begin to doubt our faith and be less prepared to stand up for Jesus in the face of persecution.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is a part of Peter in all of us who are Your disciples. We can make promises to You and fail to keep them because we are relying on ourselves instead of You or because we are spending more time with Your enemies instead of with Your followers. Thank You for showing us that even if we follow You from a distance and fail to publicly identify with You, we can still be Your disciples. May we never become so proud that we conclude we could never fail You like Peter did. Help us to learn from his mistake and stay close to You and those who follow You. We are living in a world that is trying to keep Christians from gathering together to encourage one another in their pursuit and worship of You. Please make a way for us to connect with one another as often as possible. We need You, Jesus, and we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You, for always being with us and never abandoning us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1818.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 322.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 3

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” John 13:38

We are learning how to impact our hate-filled world for Christ. So far we have discovered we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33) and commit to loving others as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). The final way to impact a hate-filled world for Christ, is to CLING TO JESUS SO HE CAN LOVE OTHERS THROUGH US (John 13:36-38).

Jesus’s announcement of His departure and consequent separation from His disciples raised concerns in their minds (John 13:33). Peter spoke up first. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ ” (John 13:36). Peter loved the Lord so much he wanted to go with Him. Jesus gently tells Peter it would not be possible for him to be with Jesus right then, but He did encourage Peter when He said, “you shall follow Me afterward.” Perhaps Christ was referring to when Peter would die and go to heaven to be with Him.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ ” (John 13:37). Peter was perplexed about the Lord’s destination. Because of the opposition of the religious leaders on previous visits, Jesus had departed from Jerusalem. Peter supposed on this occasion that Jesus would depart to another region outside of Jerusalem.  The disciples had accompanied Jesus on other departures from Jerusalem, why couldn’t Peter accompany Him this time? Peter concludes that Jesus was departing alone because it was too dangerous for the Eleven to follow Him. On this occasion Peter was not afraid to go with Jesus in the face of danger. He would be loyal to Christ even unto death! Notice Peter’s self-reliance: “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” He does not say, “By God’s grace or with God’s help I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

Peter had good intentions, but it is much easier to express them in a secure room after good food than in a darkened garden with a hostile mob. We can be a lot like Peter. In our minds we envision ourselves as better followers of Jesus than we actually are. Pride can cause us to think too highly of ourselves and then we fall flat on our faces.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” (John 13:38). The Lord knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew Peter would disown Him when his life was threatened. Peter needed to learn to rely on the Lord to remain loyal to Him. Jesus would lay down His life for Peter, but Peter in no way would lay down his life for the Lord at this time.

How do you think Peter felt when he heard Jesus predict his three denials of knowing Christ? Confused? Shocked? Peter was certain he would be faithful to Christ even when threatened with death. “I’ll show You, Lord, how loyal I am to You!” Peter thought he could remain faithful to Jesus in his own strength. Perhaps he thought he could love the other disciples like Jesus loved him by using his own abilities. “Lord, I love these guys so much, I will even lay down my life for them!” “No Peter,” Jesus says, “You must learn to rely on Me to do this in your life.”

We cannot love one another as Christ has loved us unless we trust Him to love others through us. It is not a natural desire to wash dirty feet, especially when those dirty feet belong to someone else. Nor is it natural for us to want to cleanse the dirt in our own spiritual lives. God must work in our hearts to enable us to do this.

Jesus is calling us to let Him live a supernatural life through us so we can love the undeserving as He has loved us. This coming week, you will probably have opportunities to love other believers with dirty feet. You may learn that someone has gossiped about you and said some very hurtful things about you. You may be tempted to do the same to him or her. Someone at your work or school may push your buttons and test your patience. You will be tempted to get angry and retaliate.

Like Peter, John is reminding us that we cannot love Jesus’ way in our own strength. We must rely on Christ who can give us the power to love others selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally as He has loved us. Today will you make a commitment to obey Jesus’ new commandment and love one another as He has loved you? You won’t regret it and it may encourage an unbeliever to investigate this Person by the name of Jesus Christ. The world desperately needs disciples of Jesus who love like Jesus loves.

Prayer: Lord God, I cannot give to others what I do not have. This is why it is so important to spend time with You so I may receive Your love for me. Like a water bucket under a faucet, I need You to refill my love bucket under the fountain of Your love when I am running on empty. I can tell when I need to be refilled. I tend to be easily irritated or angered, and it is difficult to let go of past hurts and be available to love others. Thank You for reminding me that I cannot love others in my own strength. I need to spend time with You, talking to You in prayer and listening to You as I read and study the Bible. The more time I spend with You, the more You enable me to love those who matter to me. I give myself to You, my Lord and my God, to be a channel of Your love to others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.