Big Idea: Jesus (the innocent one) lays down his life for us
Well morning friends, visitors and those watching online. My name is Matt Johnson and today is GOOD FRIDAY. Today, the Christian church worldwide PAUSES and REMEMBERS the wonderful truth that Jesus died for us. On a Friday 1991 years ago – God’s Son – the Lord Jesus Christ died an awful, terrible, humiliating death on a cross to save us from something far, far worse. So please pray with me – as we begin…
Well, the Easter story is primarily about Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospels all tell the same truth. In 30AD, during the reign of CAESAR TIBERIUS (and during the governorship of PONTIUS PILATE in Jerusalem) a man named Jesus Christ was crucified, died and then came back to life three days later – starting the Christian church. It is a story of love, courage and victory on the part of Jesus Messiah. But it is also a story surrounded by weakness, betrayal, doubt and humiliation on the part of the disciples. And Johns gospel, focuses on the frailty of the disciples – especially as seen in the apostle Peter.
Peter goes from SUPER-CONFIDENT “I’ll lay down my life for you Jesus”, to 1) cutting off Malchus’ ear; 2) denying Jesus three times, 3) not understanding the empty tomb, 4) he abandons his calling to fish for men (and goes back to fish for fish) and then 5) he has to eat humble pie – as Jesus asks him three times – Peter do you really love me? (Talk about being a LOSER – with a capital L). But not only do we see Peter in all his failures, we also see Thomas with all his doubts. John’s gospel doesn’t just focus on A) the glory of Jesus’ death and resurrection, John also highlights B) the patheticness of Jesus’ disciples. They are not great people – in their own right. The disciples are in fact – less than ordinary. And that is good news for us. How good do you need to be to be a disciple of Jesus? Well, if the bar for discipleship – is the apostle Peter and doubting Thomas – the good news is the bar is not very high. Jesus doesn’t call the strong to follow him, but the weak and pathetic.
Yet, that is the very thing that many people fail to grasp about Christianity. The 12 apostles are often portrayed as 12 noble saints – that we should 1) pray to and 2) emulate and 3) if we follow them closely enough we may be good enough to be accepted into heaven. But the truth be told the 12 apostles were more like the 1960’s movie – the dirty dozen. (Anyone remember the movie?) The disciples were NOT a group of great ones – they were the dirty dozen. The disciples were a bunch of very ordinary men – who fell far short of God standards – but nonetheless were shown mercy and grace even after gross failure and misconduct…
Point 1: The Apostle Peter thought he could follow Jesus
Show: Jn.13:37-38 (Slide 1 – DP)
Explain: Well this is one of the events that are recorded in ALL FOUR GOSPELS. Jesus says Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows. Now in the context Jesus has just explained in the last supper that he has to die to save the world. Just as the Passover Lamb died to save the Israelites in Egypt, so Jesus will have to die to save his people. THE PENALTY of sin is death. THE CONSEQUENCE of rejecting God is death. So, in the last supper meal Jesus has been explaining that he will die to take the punishment for his disciples so that they can be spared God’s final judgment.
Now the irony is that Jesus A) has been explaining that he will do for the disciples, exactly what B) Peter says he will now do for Jesus. Peter says (ENTER); “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus has just explained that he has to lay down his life for the sins of the world AND Peter says “No, no, I’ll lay down my life for you.” WHAT THE… If God’s justice is to be upheld then sin must be paid for. But if the disciples pay for their own sin – it will destroy them. If Jesus pays for their sin – they will be spared. So Jesus is trying to help the disciples understand that his death on the cross is not some accident of history. It is not just an unfortunate incident. No! In the last supper Jesus is trying to help the disciples understand that the whole reason he left heaven and came to earth – was to die on the cross for our sins.
But Peter is like – no, never. I will follow you now AND I will die for you before I let you die for me. In many respects this is the noble, and high view that we often have of ourselves. We believe that we are essentially good and faithful people. WE LIKE TO IMAGINE ourselves putting others first, making sacrifices for them and basically, being good decent people. A) I don’t need a Savior because I’m a good person. Or B) I don’t need a Saviour because I can follow Jesus’ commands. When we look at ourselves in the mirror we tend to see George Clooney or Julia Roberts. We have a far more ROSE-COLORED view of ourselves than the awful reality.
So Peter says to Jesus – “I reckon I can follow you (and your instructions) and if necessary I’ll even lay down my life – to prove it.” Now we have similar ideas today. We think we are following Jesus perfectly because we go to CHURCH every week. OR we claim to follow Jesus because we give to CHARITY OR we are NICE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. There are hundreds and thousands of people in the world trying to prove to themselves they don’t need a Saviour. SOME (like Peter) may even be decent, nice people. They are not criminals. They are not murderers and they may even keep the 10 Commandments (at least most of the time). I mean the 12 apostles were generally speaking decent blokes. But Jesus has just explained to them (that even as decent blokes) he still needs to die for their sins – because they’re not good enough. THAT’S THE MESSAGE OF CHRISTIANITY. None of us are good enough to get to heaven by ourselves. None of us (have or do) live up to God’s standards. We have all fallen short and we need a Savior. But Peter is like; ‘well that’s all well and good for the other disciples. They probably need it. But Jesus, how about I lay down my life for you – because I think I can follow you. Whatever, your standards or expectations I reckon I can follow you.”
Illustrate: Sadly, EVERY RELIGION in the world (apart from Christianity) has this mindset. Every religion in the world – teaches man can do it. ISLAM basically says follow Mohammad well enough; keep the 5 Pillars of Islam, and you’ll save yourself. BUDHISM says follow Buddha well enough and you’ll eventually get to Nirvana. But this is wrong. The whole reason Jesus came to earth is to save us is because we can’t save ourselves. We can’t pay for our sins and we’ll never be good enough for God.
So, Jesus says to Peter. “REALLY?” Look again at verse 38. (READ) Are we really going to play this game? Will you REALLY lay down your life for me?” Of course, if Peter can look at himself in the mirror and say “YES” perhaps he does NOT need a Saviour.
If Peter really is willing to lay down his life for Jesus – it kind of proves that he does love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength and he does love his neighbor as himself. But does he? REALLY?! Is Peter really as good, loving and courageous as he claims to be? (PAUSE) Sadly, Jesus knows Peter (and us), better than we often know ourselves. Jesus says to Peter – before the rooster crows you will disown me three times.” In other words, “No, Peter you are far more selfish and messy and weak than you realize.”
Point 2: The Apostle Peter finally saw – who he really is? (Mk.14:72)
Show: John 18:10-11 (Read)
Explain: Well as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested by the soldiers on the Mount of Olives – Peter starts to show his true colors. He draws a sword and starts swinging like a madman. With just the slightest bit of stress Peter forgets Jesus’ words about 1) loving your neighbor, 2) turning the other cheek and 3) praying for your enemies. Instead, he comes out all swords blazing and chops off Malchus’ right ear. Now this isn’t even a despised Roman. This is a fellow Jew. Malchus is a servant of the Jewish high priest – Annas and he is just a man following orders.
But with just a little bit of pressure – Peter (like most of us) resorts to fight and flight. He automatically goes into self-preservation mode and comes out swinging the sword AND running for the hills – to save his own skin. So yes, at this point it looks like Peter can follow Jesus perfectly. (Yes, that’s sarcasm). Peter doesn’t need a Saviour. He is loving, and brave and considerate of others – NOT!
But sadly, it doesn’t get any better. Peter goes from bad to worse. Look at Jn.18:15-17 (READ). Now I admit this is a bit scary. Jesus has warned he is going to die and the tension is mounting. Jesus has now been arrested and dragged off to see the authorities. Now Anna’s was officially high priest from 6-15AD, and then he was succeeded by some of his sons and eventually by his son-in-law Caiphas.
But like bishops and archbishops – once you held the title of high-priest you always held that status even when you stopped holding the position. Anna’s remained a mover and shaker in Jerusalem even after he stopped being high priest – a bit like the Jensen brothers. So naturally enough Peter is getting worried. Anna’s is questioning Jesus with the 70 most powerful Jewish men in Jerusalem.
But Peter over-reacts and gives way to irrational fear. We are told that another disciple (an unnamed disciple) smuggles Peter into the high priests’ courtyard. Who is this other disciple? Traditionally, many scholars believed this other disciple was John (the writer of this gospel). But it is more likely that this other disciple was either Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. Both Nicodemus and Joseph were on the Sanhedrin of Israel – having equal standing with Anna’s the high priest. We also know that after Jesus’ death Nicodemus and Joseph were the ones who buried Jesus. The only potential disciples (who really had the clout) to get Peter entrance into Anna’s courtyard on such a nignt as this – would have been Nicodemus or Joseph.
So it’s not like Peter is entirely alone. He has friends in high places. Indeed, Joseph or Nicodemus have just got Peter past the girl on the front door. But as she turns to Peter (and questions him about his relationship with Jesus) his legs go to jelly and he denies Jesus outright. Even with Nicodemus or Joseph standing right next to him (powerful men in the Sanhedrin) – Peter still lacks the courage and compassion to stand by Jesus. Yes, he is a perfect example of a disciple and follower of Jesus. Totally ready to lay down his life for Jesus, NOT!
Now look at John 18:25-27 (READ). Well just as Jesus foretold – Peter ended up denying Jesus three times before sunrise. Peter couldn’t even keep his word to Jesus for half a night. And Marks gospel tells us that as the rooster crowed Peter realised what he had done (and he broke down and wept bitterly). In that moment of the rooster crowing – Peter began to see himself in the mirror for who he really was. He wasn’t a GOOD man, he was a PATHETIC man.
He wasn’t COURAGEOUS, he was a COWARD. He wasn’t even LOYAL, he was a LIAR AND he was more interested in saving his own skin, than being a true friend to Jesus. What sort of man was he? Just an hour or two before the rooster crowed – Jesus told Peter (SLIDE 2; Jn.15:13). Peter wasn’t even a good friend. He said he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus (like a good friend). But when push came to shove he was pathetic. Yet, despite this failure (and even knowing Peter would betray him) Jesus still loved Peter enough to die in his place. Peter was not a good friend to Jesus. But it turned out Jesus was a good friend to Peter.
As we read through John’s gospel especially we are meant to see that Jesus is dying to save people like Peter and Thomas. Although, we pretend to be confident and good people – when push comes to shove – we often act like Peter or Thomas. FIGHT OR FLIGHT, rather than faith. DOUBT, rather than faith. The point is – we all need saving. We all need Jesus to save us from our fears and failures and doubts. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus does for us. He dies (on the cross) for our sin – so that we might live with faith, hope and love. But sadly, Peter even missed that…
Point 3: The Apostle Peter wasn’t even there as Jesus died for him
Show: Jn.19:25-30 (READ)
Explain: Well, despite all Peter’s bravado, when Jesus was finally hung on the cross – he wasn’t even there. AFTER 1) chopping off Malchus’ ear, 2) denying Jesus three times (and realising his failure), 3) he still left his mate to die alone in a terrible execution. Jesus was right – Peter was not ready to follow him at all. I kind of wonder whether Peter was looking on from a distance? Wanting to see…, but too ashamed to show his face. We don’t know. What we do know – was that the only people near Jesus as he died on the cross were his mum, a few women and the apostle John. Everyone else had scattered – just as Jesus foretold.
What needed to be done – Jesus had to do alone. He didn’t try to dodge death. He didn’t try to talk his way out of execution. Jesus willingly and intentionally went to the cross to pay the price for our sins. What Peter said he would do for Jesus, but couldn’t, Jesus did for us. As Jesus said; “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” THAT IS TRUE. In this world – the greatest expression of love that we perhaps ever see – is a person laying down their life for their family or close friends.
But in a way Jesus did show us a greater love. Jesus didn’t lay down his life for true and faithful friends. Jesus laid down his life for people who DISOBEYED him, BETRAYED him and even ABANDONED him – in his hour of need. Jesus laid down his life for people like Peter and doubting Thomas. The cross is a reminder that God’s love is unconditional and his forgiveness total. Jesus doesn’t forgive us – because we are worthy, he forgives us because we need forgiving.
Apply: But the question we have to wrestle with – is the question that Jesus asked Peter (after his death and resurrection). When it was all said and done – (and Peter had totally stuffed up) Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” For each of the three times that Peter denied him – Jesus asked; Peter, do you love me? Do you see that I had to die for you – because you are a sinner. Do you see that I died – to take the punishment for your sin? Do you see that I died (and came back to life) – so that you could be forgiven and free from fear for the rest of your life? Peter do you love me – for dying for you? And in that moment Peter realized A) he was a terrible, terrible sinner and B) Jesus was a wonderful, wonderful Saviour. And struggling to look Jesus in the eyes – he mumbled out “Lord, you know all things. You know me better than I know myself. But yes, I love you.”
And that is the question I want to ask you. Do you love Jesus for dying for you? Do you love Jesus for his grace and his forgiveness and his free gift of eternal life? Do you really love Jesus?
Of course, you will never do it perfectly because you and I are still sinners. But do you love Jesus for dying for you? Peter struggling to believe Jesus still wanted him as a disciple said yes (and in that moment) he was saved. Peter was set free from the law of the jungle. He was no longer living by fight and flight and fear – struggling to be top dog. As he truly grasped God’s grace and fell in love with Jesus, he became ready to truly follow Jesus – even unto death. For if Jesus loved him enough to die for him and Jesus had power to even overcome the grave – what did Peter have to fear. NOTHING. Even the threat of upside-down crucifixion in Rome was not enough to have Peter deny Jesus a fourth time. Peter was was truly set free from fear, to follow Jesus in faith. The question is; do you grasp God’s grace to you; do you love Jesus for dying for you and are you a person of faith,