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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Disciples need the Lord, not the other way around
Text:John 13:36-38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 81:1-4

Psalm 81:5-8 (after the Law of God)

Hymn 46

Psalm 86:1,2

Hymn 65

Scripture reading:  1 Peter 2

Text:  John 13:36-38

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In the Old Testament, we find the remarkable story of Moses and the burning bush.  It’s in Exodus 3.  Moses was watching over the sheep of his father-in-law in the land of Midian.  God suddenly speaks to him out of a burning bush.  We’re told that “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”  This burning bush was a powerful picture of a truth about God.  The truth is that God is self-sufficient.  He needs no one. 

The burning bush didn’t need any fuel for it to burn.  It contained a most pure fire that existed all on its own.  Similarly, God doesn’t need anything.  He doesn’t need anyone.  He is completely self-sufficient.  So, as someone once said, “need” is a creature word.  Only creatures need.  The Creator doesn’t.

In our passage from John we see a disciple of Jesus who needs to learn this lesson.  Peter thinks that our Lord Jesus, who is God incarnate, Peter thinks our Lord Jesus needs him.  But he needs to learn that it’s the other way around.  This is true for all of us as disciples of Christ.  So let’s listen to God’s Word, as we see how Disciples need the Lord, not the other way around.  We’ll see that taught with the contrast between:

  1. Peter’s idea of how things should go
  2. Jesus’ idea of how things will go

In verse 33 of chapter 13, Jesus told his disciples, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.  You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now also I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”  Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus had told the religious leaders he was going away somewhere they couldn’t go.  He meant he was going to be with his Father in heaven.  So long as they remained in their unbelief, they would not able to go to that same place.  In order to go to the Father, in order to go to heaven after you die, you need to believe in Jesus Christ.  That’s what Christ says in John 14:6. 

Now Peter latches on to this statement that Jesus has made earlier in verse 33.  It confuses him.  It shouldn’t because Jesus has said several times to his disciples that he was going to his death, but Peter either didn’t understand or didn’t remember.  So, he asks in verse 36, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer to Peter’s question.  However, he does qualify what he just said in verse 33.  Now he makes it clear that it’s not an absolute statement.  He wasn’t saying that Peter and the other ten disciples weren’t going to be able to go to the Father.  Rather, he can’t go now.  The word ‘now’ is crucial in verse 36.  Now is Christ’s time to go to the Father, but Peter’s time will come later.

In verse 37, Peter doesn’t give up.  But he also still doesn’t understand.  He doesn’t know where Christ is going and he thinks he can follow.  The way it should go is that a disciple should follow his Master.  That’s what they’ve been doing for the last three years.  Now all of a sudden, their Master Jesus tells them that they can’t follow.  But Peter’s ready to really show his commitment.  More than just following, Peter is ready even to lay down his life for Jesus.  He is ready to die so that Jesus may continue to live.  That’s how committed he is to his Lord.

He’s so committed that he thinks Jesus needs him so he can continue living.   The all-important thing is that the Lord stays alive and with all the opposition around them now, he may need Peter to lay down his life in his place.  Peter thinks this is the way it should go.  A disciple should give his life for his beloved Teacher and Master.  The Lord needs him to do that, because without him, he’ll die.

What is it that leads Peter to have this idea?  You could say it’s his lack of understanding.  It’s his lack of insight.   Maybe better:  it’s his lack of consistent insight about Jesus as the almighty and self-sufficient God who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush.  At this moment he doesn’t understand how Christ needs nothing.  He certainly doesn’t need a disciple to lay down his life for him. 

But there’s also a hint of pride in Peter’s thinking.  In his arrogance he thinks he really has something Jesus needs.  This puny weak creature actually thinks the infinite Creator of heaven and earth somehow needs him.  As if he could somehow provide something God lacks.  How could he dare to think such a thing?

Loved ones, in our pride, we might be tempted to think we’re really important.  We might be tempted to think we’re indispensable.  How will this or that project or this program or whatever be able to run without us?  A pastor or elder can start thinking that way too.  The Lord needs me here.  If he doesn’t have me here, everything will fall apart.  God needs me.  To that, Scripture says, “Reality check:  you’re just a creature.  He’s the Almighty, self-sufficient Creator and he doesn’t need you for anything.”  And for church leaders, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 4 that we’re just jars of clay.  Jars of clay are disposable.  They’re a dime a dozen.  Why are we “jars of clay”?  “To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  For all of us in general, when God calls us and uses us for some purpose, whether it’s as parents, office bearers, teachers, or whatever, it’s not because he needs us.  It’s because he chooses to use us.  He could choose to use someone else.  But in his sovereign good pleasure he has chosen you at this moment to be the parents of this child, the elder of this congregation, the teacher of these students.  But never let it get into your mind that God needs you.  If it does, kill that thought and repent of it.  Because it’s wrong, it’s sinful.

When Christ hears Peter say he will lay down his life for him, he’s incredulous.  You can see that with the way he replies in verse 38: “Will you lay down your life for me?”  In other words, “Really, Peter?  Weren’t you listening when I said that I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep?  I lay down my life for the sheep – for you.  You don’t lay down your life for me.” 

In a few hours’ time, that’s exactly what Jesus will do and he knows it.  The next morning, he will be nailed to the cross at Golgotha.  They will lift up that cross and drop it in the hole they’ve dug in the ground.  There, on that cross, Christ will suffer the judgment and wrath of God in the place of everyone who believes in him.  And at about 3:00 on the afternoon of the next day, Jesus would breathe his last.  In his infinite love, he would lay down his life for Peter, for you, for me, for everyone who rests and trusts in him.  He would obtain the forgiveness of sins that we all need from him.

Peter needed God’s forgiveness for thinking the Lord Jesus needed him.  He needed forgiveness for his pride.  Without that forgiveness, he would forever be under God’s judgment.  It’s the same for all of us.  We need the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ laying down his life in our place.  Do you see your need for the Lord and what he came to do?  If you do, rest in what he’s done, trust in what he’s done for you on the cross as your substitute.

Still in verse 38, Christ then foretells how things will go with Peter in the next few hours.  We find those words we often hear Jesus speaking, “Truly, truly, I say to you…”  That’s just a way of emphasizing how he’s making a solemn declaration.  Everyone should pay attention to these words because they’re weighty.  Jesus solemnly declares that Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows.  Now when we hear that we might be tempted to think that this is a reference to dawn.  The rooster crows at dawn, at sun-up, so Peter will deny Jesus three times before dawn.  But from the other gospels we hear Jesus saying that Peter would deny him on that night.  The fact is that roosters can crow several times before dawn.  That’s what happened here. 

But the focus isn’t on the time, but the actual act of denial.  We noted a few minutes ago how Peter spoke of his commitment to Jesus.  He spoke about following him and then upped the ante by saying he would even die for him.  That would appear to be an intense commitment to the Lord.  He was going to be the most intensely committed disciple he could, because he thought Jesus needed him like that.  But now Christ provides an intense contrast with Peter’s statements.  Rather than following and laying down his life, the way it’s really going to go is that Peter will deny him, not just once, but three times. 

Notice how it’s “three times.”  In Scripture, when something is really emphasized, it’s said three times.  For example, in Isaiah 6 God is said to be holy, holy, holy.  In other words, God is emphatically holy – there is no one holy like him.  Well, here Jesus foretells that Peter will deny him three times.  This isn’t just a one-time mistake – this will be an emphatic and intense denial, one which dramatically shows Peter’s weakness.  Jesus says that this is how things will go in the coming hours.  It sounds horrible.  And it is. 

But there is a bright spot in what Jesus says to Peter.  There is hope.  It’s back in verse 36.  Christ said Peter couldn’t follow now, but would definitely follow later.  This is a promise of eternal life to Peter.  When he died, Peter would assuredly follow Christ to the presence of the Father.  Even though Peter was going to commit this horrible sin, Jesus would pay for that sin on the cross and he would pay for all of Peter’s sins.  Christ was going to fulfill the words he had said in John 10:28-29 about the sheep.  Remember he was going to lay down his life for the sheep, for those who would believe in him.  Then he says in John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  We’re talking here about the comforting doctrine of eternal security or the preservation and perseverance of the saints. 

A true believer in Jesus Christ can never be lost.  You might commit a horrible sin like Peter did.  The Bible teaches us that Christians can sometimes do terrible things.  But the Bible also teaches us how God will always hold on to his own.  He will bring them to repentance.  They will have a change of mind about their sins and turn back to the Lord for forgiveness.  That happened with Peter.  When he heard the rooster crow, he hated himself for what he had just done.  He repented and later in John’s gospel, we read of how Christ gently and kindly restored him.  In his great love, Jesus held on to Peter and he’ll hold on to you too.

If you’ve had a loved one turn away from the Lord, this also gives a measure of hope.  If you’d been watching Peter deny Jesus and you hadn’t heard what Jesus had said in our text, you may have thought to yourself, “Well, that’s it for Peter.  Denying Jesus three times like that – you don’t come back from that.  He’s definitely turned away.  Peter is definitely going to hell now.  There’s no hope at all for him.”  But if you’d have thought that, you’d have been wrong.  Peter was someone God had chosen from before the creation of the universe.  Christ wasn’t going to let go of him.  This is true for all who’ve been chosen by God.  The thing is that we don’t know who those people are.  With your loved one who’s turned away, you don’t have a Scripture passage which says what our passage says to Peter.  So you don’t know.  But you do know that if someone is really one of God’s people, the Holy Spirit will eventually bring them to true repentance and faith.  As long as there’s life, there’s hope.  As long as there’s life, keep praying for your loved one that the Holy Spirit will do his work of bringing about repentance and true faith in Jesus Christ.    

You see, Jesus’ idea of how things will go is the best way that things could go.  We need him to lay down his life for us, as he said he would.  If Christ didn’t do that for us, we would be stuck paying for our own sins forever in hell.  We need him to keep a tight grip on us too.  If our Lord didn’t lovingly hold on to us, if we had to rely on our own strength, we’d soon fall away.  We’d deny Christ and keep on denying him till our dying day.  Then we’d certainly not be able to follow him where he’s gone.  Loved ones, we depend on him.  As the old hymn says, “I need Thee, ev’ry hour.” 

By the time he wrote his first epistle, Peter had well and truly learned that lesson.  The first chapter of First Peter speaks about the precious blood of Christ that has redeemed us.  We need that blood.  We read from chapter 2 and there Peter wrote about Christ suffering in our place.  He bore our sins in his body on the tree, on the cross.  Thus we have been healed by his wounds.  How we need that healing!  How we need him!  And the chapter concludes by saying that we are now under him as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.  Such a Shepherd will never allow us to be lost.  We need this good and almighty Shepherd of our souls. 

Besides believing this, how might we take that truth further into our lives?  One way is through expressing it regularly in prayer.  We ought to express our dependence on the Lord with words.  Try it this week.  Before you get out of bed each morning, stop and pray something like this:  “Lord, I need you today just like I needed you yesterday.  I need your righteousness and I need your cross, but I also need you to hold on to me tightly in your love. Lord, I need you like I need no one else.”  Just try that tomorrow morning when you wake up and each day this week.  After a week, maybe it’ll become a habit.  Christ is honoured when we pray regularly in this way.

As disciples of Jesus, there is no one we need more than him.  We need to him to provide the basis for our salvation from sin and then we need him to preserve us in our salvation.  He does it all.  Let me finish with this quote from Dane Ortlund about how Christ holds so tightly on to us.  It’s such an encouraging picture he paints and I’d like to leave you with this thought in your mind:

“Our strength of resolve is not part of the formula of retaining his good will.  When my two-year-old Benjamin begins to wade into the gentle slope of the zero-entry swimming pool near our home, he instinctively grabs hold of my hand.  He holds on tight as the water gradually gets deeper.  But a two-year old’s grip is not very strong.  Before long it is not he holding on to me but me holding on to him.  Left to his own strength he will certainly slip out of my hand.  But if I have determined that he will not fall out of my grasp, he is secure.  He can’t get away from me if he tried.

So with Christ.  We cling to him, to be sure.  But our grip is that of a two-year old amid the stormy waves of life.  His sure grasp never falters.  Psalm 63:8 expresses the double-sided truth:  ‘My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.’”



O Lord Jesus,

We worship you for laying down your life for us on the cross.  Thank you for bearing our sins and carrying our sorrows.  We love you for having loved us so deeply that you suffered the wrath of God in our place.  Lord, we also adore you for the way you firmly hold on to us in your love.  We’re grateful that we’re not left to ourselves, but you’re always there with a firm grip on us.  Lord, we depend on you for everything.  We need you every hour.  Please continue to be near to us and help us with your Holy Spirit to depend on you.  Help us to recognize our continual need for you. 

LORD God, we also pray for those in our congregation who have loved ones who seem to have turned their backs on you.  We pray for those loved ones.  We earnestly pray that you would yet work with your Holy Spirit in their hearts.  Please bring them to repentance and faith.  Even if they won’t listen to us as we share the gospel with them, we pray for others to come into their life who will love them and encourage them to repent and believe the gospel.  We pray this because we love these people, but above all we want to see your name praised by them along with us.  Father God, please show your mercy and grant us the favour of seeing them turned to you.                                                               

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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