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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Christ prophesies his imminent lonely suffering and death
Text:Mark 14:27-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 100
Hymn 11:9
Psalm 80:1,7,8
Hymn 23:1-3
Psalm 79:5

Reading:  Zechariah 13
Text:  Mark 14:27-31
* 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,

When it comes to a passage like the one we’re looking at this morning, it’s easy to fall into a certain trap.  That trap involves missing the point.  It involves focussing all our attention on the disciples and what’s going on in their minds and hearts.  As we do that, we’ll miss the main focus of Scripture in general and the main focus of this passage in particular.  We’ll miss what is happening here with Christ. 

This passage is not here so that we can figure out why the disciples did what they did in the events leading up to the cross.  This is not a lesson in how to be a better disciple.  How to be better than these twelve who denied Jesus and abandoned him at his lowest point.  This passage is not about learning true committed discipleship.  No, the intent of this passage is to direct our attention to Jesus.  We have to ask what’s happening with Jesus.

To remind you of where we’re at in Mark, Jesus is in the area of Jerusalem.  It’s late in the evening of Thursday or early on the morning of Good Friday.  Jesus has just instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  He has revealed that one of the twelve will betray him.  After singing Psalm 118, they head out for the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  Along the way they talk and that’s where we find our text for this morning.  I proclaim to you God’s Word and we’ll see how Christ prophesies his imminent lonely suffering and death.  We’ll consider how he speaks of:

1.      The scattering of all the sheep

2.      The three-fold denial of one

3.      The reunion of the Shepherd and his sheep

Seemingly out of the blue, our Lord Jesus tells the eleven that they will all fall away.  They will all commit apostasy, turning their back on Christ.  He will be left entirely alone.  All human fellowship and support will be removed from him. 

When Adam was first created, he was alone.  In Genesis 2:18, the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”  So God created Eve, the first woman, and Adam found fellowship and communion with a fellow human being.  Thus from the beginning, human beings were designed for life in relationships with other human beings.  In Israel, banishment from the community was a curse.  To be removed from fellowship was something horrible.  Now the Second Adam comes and he is about to take our curse on himself.  And as part of that, he will suffer entirely alone.  His disciples will fall away and there will be no encouragement or support left for him.  The cross will be a lonely place. 

This is the way it had to be.  This is the way that God’s Word said it would be.  Our Lord Jesus knew it.  He quotes from Zechariah 13.  In Zechariah 13 we find what’s called a judgment oracle.  This passage speaks of a figure closely associated with the LORD, with Yahweh.  This figure is a shepherd.  God strikes this Shepherd with a death blow.  As a consequence, his sheep are scattered. 

In a sense, this is a natural outcome.  Most of us know little about sheep.  Most of us don’t have any personal experience with sheep.  Neither do I.  But from what I’ve read, I can tell you that sheep like to have a shepherd.  The shepherd is their center of gravity.  They’re drawn to him and follow him.  He keeps them safe and brings them to food and shelter.  When something happens to the shepherd, the sheep get thrown for a loop.  They become disoriented and lose their direction.  Without the shepherd in their midst, they end up heading here and there and everywhere.  The shepherd’s loss means the scattering of the sheep. 

But why does this happen?  The gospel gives us the answer to that question.  We know that Christ is the Shepherd and he is struck down in the place of the sheep.  He takes the judgment that they deserve for their sin.  They have sinned against a holy God and those sins demand a just judgment.  Full payment must be made and Christ is the only one who can make it.  He does it as our substitute, the Shepherd taking the place of the sheep.  That answer is clear in the New Testament, but it was also there in Zechariah 13, the passage that Jesus refers to.  As a result of this Shepherd being struck down and the sheep being scattered, there will be a refining process.  At the end of this process, there will be those who can say, “Yahweh is our God.”  There will be those whom Yahweh can say, “They are my people.”  The judgment brought on the Shepherd is the means by which the sheep are redeemed, by which they are saved.     

Because the shepherd was struck, the sheep can anticipate a glorious future.  Since Christ endured the wrath of God against our sin, we can be sure that we will not spend eternity alienated and lonely.  There will be fellowship and communion, not only with God and with Christ, but also with all who are in Christ.  Imagine if we didn’t have this gospel hope.  Imagine that there was the possibility of spending forever all by yourself, with no contact with anyone, just you by yourself abandoned and forsaken forever by both God and fellow human beings.  The fear of being alone is something that many people struggle with.  It’s normal to not want to be lonely.  The gospel says that because of Christ we will never be lonely in the age to come.  Like Adam in the garden, we will have fellowship with God and with fellow human beings.  All because Christ was struck down and forsaken.

Now after our Saviour says this then he makes another prediction of his resurrection.  I’m going to come back to that in a few moments.  But for now let’s jump ahead to verse 29 where we find Peter’s statement that he will not fall away.  Though they may not appear that way at first glance, these are sinful words of unbelief.  Peter is saying, “Let’s just hypothetically imagine that what you’re saying is true, Jesus.  Even if all the others were to leave your side, not me.  No way.”  But Jesus had just said it.  “You will all fall away.”  Peter says, “No, you’re wrong, Jesus.”  Christ had quoted Zechariah to the same effect:  “The sheep will be scattered.”  Peter says, “No, you’re wrong, Zechariah.  You’re wrong, Holy Spirit.  You didn’t expect a disciple like me.  I’m the super-disciple, the one who will never fall.” 

There are several noteworthy things here in Peter’s response.  First, he claims that Christ is wrong, the prophet Zechariah is wrong, and the Holy Spirit is wrong.  Second, he claims to be superior to all the other disciples.  They might fall, but not him.  Third, all this is evidence of his pride and his thinking of himself more highly than he should.  Peter stands tall with his nose raised above all the others, even above Jesus himself and the Word of God.  Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. 

And Peter will fall and fall hard.  Christ Jesus prophesies of that too.  He gives a solemn and forceful answer to Peter’s bravado.  “I tell you the truth,” he says in our translation.  “Amen, I say to you,” is a more literal way of translating it.  What it means is clear.  “Peter, I’ll give you the straight goods – you don’t have a clue of what you’re talking about.  Before the rooster crows twice (so before the sun comes up), you will deny me not just once, but three times.” 

Judas betrays Jesus and his betrayal is the most heinous.  The other ten disciples simply scatter.  But then there’s Peter.  He’s the big talker.  He’s often the spokesman for the disciples.    Now Peter hears that words will come out of his mouth that will disown Jesus.  One can only disown someone when there’s been previous ownership or commitment.  Peter has been a follower of Jesus for the past three years.  He left the fishing boats behind and went with Christ and listened to his preaching and teaching.  Peter did preaching and teaching and healing on his own in the name of Jesus.  He’s identified himself with him in many ways.  Peter said that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  There’s a real depth of commitment that’s been evident in Peter’s life.  But now Christ says that in a couple of hours all of that is going to get turned upside down.  Completely.  Not just once.  Not just a slip of the tongue or an accident.  But a three-fold denial.  This is a thorough-going disownership of Jesus. 

We could focus our attention here on Peter and then maybe draw a line from Peter to us.  And then maybe the application would be something like: “don’t be like Peter.  Don’t disown Jesus in your life with your words or actions.”  And it’s true, we should acknowledge and confess Christ wherever we can and should.  The Bible does teach that.  Just not here.  Here the focus is on Jesus. 

Christ Jesus is the prophet here who knows what lives in Peter’s heart.  He is the prophet who knows how frail and fragile Peter’s faith is.  He knows how easily Peter can stumble.  He knows that Peter will.  Peter must.  Because, again, our Lord Jesus has to go to the cross alone.  The judgment which comes on him he has to bear by himself.  God’s just judgment against all our sins, including our pride and our denials of Christ with our lives or words, that judgment requires Jesus to be completely forsaken by heaven and earth.  He can have no comfort.  He can’t be on the cross and be thinking, “Well, at least I still have Peter.  I can always count on Peter to stand up for me.  Peter is there for me.”  Part of his forsakenness means that he will be disowned by even his closest disciples.  Loved ones, this is what our Saviour endured for us.  This is what he knew he had to endure and he went to this suffering with a clear head.  He knew that he had to do it and he wanted to do it.  He wanted to do it because he knew your name from before eternity.  The Father gave your name to him and Jesus went to the cross with love for you in his heart.  Just like he did for Peter. 

Peter heard Jesus’ prediction, but it didn’t change his attitude.  He’s determined to be right, even if that means basically implying that Jesus is a false prophet.  Verse 31 tells us that Peter began to be rather emphatic.  Now he says that even if he had to die with Jesus, he would never, ever disown him.  That’s just simply not going to happen.  And the other ten disciples are listening in on this and they don’t want to be outdone by Peter, so they chime in and assert the same thing.  They’re going to stand with Jesus no matter what.  Or so they think. 

It’s worth noting that Mark’s gospel is often associated with Peter.  The tradition has it that Mark learned most of the details of Jesus’ ministry from the apostle Peter.  There’s good reason to believe that this tradition is accurate.  If it is, it’s all the more remarkable that we read what we do about Peter here in Mark.  Peter doesn’t come off looking very good.  He comes off looking like an arrogant blow-hard.  But remember that as Peter matured after Christ’s resurrection, he knew that it wasn’t about him.  This story is not about enhancing Peter’s reputation, making much of him, but about pointing us to Christ.  And as Peter matured, he would also have grown in humility.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he would have been able to tell Mark this story with all honesty, not being concerned with how people might perceive him.  He had repented of his pride.  Then later in life Peter would be the one to quote Proverbs 3:34 in his first epistle, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  He would go on to write, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  Exaltation can only take place after we humble ourselves.    

This passage here in Mark mostly has a dark flavour.  We have striking, scattering, falling away, and disowning.  And yes, it is all for our salvation.  But that’s only implied.  Yet there is one explicit bright spot and it comes in verse 28.  After saying that he will be struck a death blow, our Lord Jesus says he will rise from the dead.  This is the fifth time in Mark that he has prophesied his resurrection, the last time.  He will die, but he will not remain under the power of death.  He will come back victorious.

When he does, there will be a reunion of the Shepherd and his sheep.  He tells them that he will go on ahead of them into Galilee.  Remember at this moment they’re in the vicinity of Jerusalem.  He dies on Golgotha there just outside the city.  But Galilee far to the north is their home turf.  He says that they will meet again up there.  The scattering and everything associated with that is only a temporary mess.  With these words he gives them reassurance and hope, even in the face of imminent darkness and evil.

With these words, our Saviour gives us the pattern of his earthly ministry.  It’s a simple pattern:  he passes through suffering and then, only then, can he attain to glory.  It’s the same pattern for those who are in Christ too.  In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas strengthened disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.  They encouraged them to remain true and committed and reminded that that “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  The path to glory travels through suffering.  It was that way for Jesus and it is that way for his disciples too.  No, we don’t suffer the wrath of God upon sinners the way that Christ Jesus did.  But yet the general pattern is the same:  through suffering to glory.  That suffering which believers experience can take different forms.  For some believers in certain parts of the world, it’s persecution.  For all of us, it involves a hard struggle with sinful desires.  But some day Christ promises us that there will be glory and victory.  At the end of it all, there will be Jesus.  He is preparing a place for us, just as he promised.  He has gone on ahead of us.               

Loved ones, think of what Scripture says in Hebrews 12:3.  We’re encouraged there to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  He endured the cross and everything leading up to it.  He endured opposition from sinful men like Peter, men who were supposed to be his most loyal disciples.  Christ put up with Peter implying that he’s a false prophet.  Why did he do it?  For the joy set before him.  For the joy of bringing redemption to you and through that glory to God.  We have a great Saviour, brothers and sisters, and Scripture calls us to continue to fix our eyes on him as we run the race here. 

The good news is that he went to this lonely suffering and death for you, so that you would be set free from all the curse of sin.  And looking to him in faith, you are!  No longer condemned, but loved and accepted.  Believe it and rejoice today and every day.  AMEN. 


Our faithful Saviour,

We thank you for your great love for us.  Thank you that you endured the cross and everything leading to it.  We’re grateful that you bore the opposition of sinful people and suffered and died for them – for people like us.  You endured great loneliness in your suffering so that we could have an eternity in fellowship with you and our brothers and sisters.  For that, we praise you.  For that, we express our love for you.  Please give us help with your Spirit so that we show our love and commitment to you not only with our words, but also with our lives.  And Lord, we do pray that you would bring the day quickly when we get to see you and can enjoy the place you are preparing for us.        

* 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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