Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
If you have noted the title of this sermon from the bulletin – A Rock Study – let me assure you that you have not mistakenly entered a university lecture theatre for a geology 101 workshop We are not talking literal rocks here! The idea for this title came from a commentary on Mark’s Gospel written by Kent Hughes. Many of you will know that the Lord Jesus is described in several places in the Bible as the Cornerstone or foundation stone of the church. 1 Corinthians 10:4 even speaks about Him as a rock. And you may also remember that when Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus then blessed Peter saying to Him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” So both the Lord Jesus and Peter are described as rocks in the Bible.
And it is quite plain that Mark has recorded the events surrounding the first of Jesus’ trials at least in part to contrast Jesus and Peter. In v53 we read of Jesus, in v54 we read of Peter, in vv55-65 we read of Jesus’ trial, and then in the rest of the passage we read about Peter’s threefold denial. So Mark interweaves events involving these two rocks – Jesus and Peter. Hence, A Rock Study.
So the question is Why this Rock Study? Why this contrast? Well, what we read here about Peter is not flattering at all. When the heat came on, Peter crumbled, spectacularly. But later on in the Bible we are going to read about Peter as the fearless and bold ambassador of Christ. How did that come about? How can it be that a Christ-denier can become the leader of the Apostles? And as we read about Peter here, it is likely that every single one of us can sympathize with him because we know that we too have crumbled in the face of one temptation or another, perhaps also by not acknowledging Christ when we had the opportunity to do so. Can you think of a time when that happened to you? I can. More times than I care to remember, in fact. So again, how did Peter go from being a Christ-denier to being the leader of the Apostles? How did Peter find forgiveness for this sin?
Well, what we shall see is that the answer to that question is as much or more about Jesus than it is about Peter. You see, all through his Gospel, Mark has been urging us to ask and answer two questions, over and over again: Who is Jesus and What did He come to do? And we shall see that it is how Peter ultimately answered those questions that helped him get past this three-fold denial. And in so doing, we will have to answer those same questions ourselves – Who is Jesus? and What did He come to do?
In these verses then, A ROCK STUDY REVEALS MUCH ABOUT REPENTANCE. And we see this as we consider Jesus – the SOLID rock, and Peter – the FRAGILE rock.
I. So, first of all, in vv53 & 55-65 we see Jesus – the SOLID rock.
A. Jesus is taken to the High Priest, who at that time was a man named Caiaphas. And from vv53 & 55 we learn that the SANHEDRIN, which was the 70 member ruling council of the Jews, gathered there also. And because we still have the historical rules for meetings of the Sanhedrin, it becomes pretty plain that this was an absolute sham of a trial.
• Ordinarily, for example, the Sanhedrin was not supposed to meet at night; their sessions were required to be held in daylight so that the public could view proceedings. However, it is night time at present.
• In addition, the Sanhedrin was not allowed to pronounce the death penalty on the day of the trial; they had to wait at least one more day in order to prevent hurried or rash judgments when so much was at stake. But that rule is ignored also.
• Also, Caiaphas should have played no part in the trial because he had already stated that he believed it would be better for all concerned if Jesus were killed, as we read in John 11. So his bias was plain. And remember also that these Jewish leaders are the very ones who paid Judas to betray Jesus – so the bias of all of them is plain.
• And there are many more reasons I could list but I think you get the picture. V55 spells this sham trial out for us, very plainly – “They were seeking testimony against Jesus to put Him to death.” This was not a trial to establish whether Jesus was innocent or guilty; this was a ‘trial’ where the outcome was already locked in – Jesus will die.
B. And yet, despite their despicable laying aside of the principles of justice, still they have trouble finding a ‘legitimate’ reason to have Him executed. And this is so despite the fact that they are satisfied with false witnesses even! For not even the false witnesses could agree about what they ‘heard’ Him say.
1. To make a threat against the temple was a very serious charge. In the Book of JEREMIAH, we read of him prophesying of a time when the temple would be destroyed. And the Jewish leaders immediately seized him saying that he deserved the sentence of death for what he said. So if this charge had stacked up, Jesus would have been in trouble.
2. And Jesus did in fact speak about the temple earlier in His ministry. Listen to what He said as recorded in JOHN 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Now, notice that Jesus did not say that He would destroy the temple. And the Jews at that time understood this because in their response they focused only on how quickly He said He would rebuild it. But more importantly, we are told in John that Jesus was not speaking about the literal temple then but about “the temple of His body” and His resurrection in three days. So all of this is why there was confusion even among the false witnesses!
C. Well, all this is too much for CAIAPHAS. After all, as they say, If you want something done properly…? You have to do it yourself. So as we see in v60, in the hope that with His response Jesus will get Himself into trouble, Caiaphas invites Jesus to respond to His accusers. But Jesus said nothing; “He remained silent and made no answer,” as we read in v61.
1. You know, the Book of ISAIAH was written 700 years before this trial. And Isaiah 53 describes one who was to come and who would be a suffering servant. Listen to what it says in v7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” 700 years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would remain silent before His accusers. And here that prophecy is fulfilled.
D. Well, time to play the LAST CARD; the trump card, as it were. So Caiaphas ask Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And knowing that with these words His ‘fate’ is sealed, Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
1. The Book of Exodus in the OT speaks of a time when Moses asked God for His name. And God replied, “I AM.” It is a name that speaks of His eternal majesty. And that is how Jesus begins His reply here, “I am…” Now, it is true that “I am” is an ordinary way of answering the type of question Jesus has been asked, but in this context “I am” is what we could call pregnant language; it is language that carries within it a claim to divinity – Jesus is calling Himself “I am.” And the rest of Jesus’ reply is also ‘pregnant’ with similar truths – Psalm 2 talks about “the Lord and His anointed.” Psalm 110 talks about the Lord reigning at the right hand of the LORD, who “will execute judgment among the nations.” And Daniel 7:13 speaks of the Son of Man who receives “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” So in effect, Jesus is saying to Caiaphas, you are judging me as a man now but one day I will judge you as God.
2. So let’s think about Jesus’ reply for a moment. You may have heard many things about Jesus before. It is very popular today to speak of Him as loving and kind and gentle and as a good teacher. But if you read the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – Do you know how He most often speaks about Himself? As a Judge. Listen to Matthew 25:31-33, for example, where Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.” To those on His right, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To those on His left, Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
a. One day, you are going to see Jesus on His glorious judgment throne. And He will either welcome you into heaven or condemn you to hell. And He has told us how we may be sure that we will be welcomed into heaven. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is not about doing enough good, as many people think, but believing in Him – believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. And please, I beg you, if you have not done this already, do it now; do it today; do it while you live for none of us knows if we will see tomorrow. And if you die before you have believed in Him, then He will stand before you as your Judge and not as your Saviour!
E. Well, Jesus’ reply was too much for Caiaphas who TORE HIS GARMENTS in disgust and horror. And congregation, Caiaphas might have started the tear as he ripped his high-priestly garments, but do you know where the tear ended? It ended, as we read in 15:38, when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” With this heinous act of rejecting the Christ of God, Caiaphas brought God’s judgment down on the Jews and the temple and Jerusalem. Now God would turn His saving gaze toward the Gentiles – the non-Jews.
F. And next we see that Jesus is SPAT ON and beaten and told to prophesy who it was that was hitting Him. And this too is a fulfilment of prophecy, as you will recall from our earlier reading in Isaiah 50. Again the prophet of 700 years earlier spoke of the servant of God, saying, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”
G. Well finally in terms of Jesus – the Solid Rock, I wonder if you notice the irony in the mention of Jesus as a PROPHET that we read here in v66? At the very moment when the leaders of the Jews are calling on Jesus to prophesy, and He is refusing to ‘play their game’ so they are writing Him off as a prophet, what is going on out in the courtyard? Peter is busy denying Jesus three times. And if you look back at v30 you will see that this is something Jesus prophesied earlier that very evening!
Jesus is the long ago prophesied Messiah – the suffering servant who is the Son of God who came to die on the cross to save His people from their sins. And Jesus is a prophet who speaks the truth about God and Himself and man. And one day He will come to judge all mankind. That is the truth about Who Jesus is and What He came to do that is being set before you in these verses. He is the Solid Rock that you can build your life on today and in eternity. Do you believe this?
II. But secondly we turn our attention to Peter – The FRAGILE rock, from vv54 & 66-72.
A. As we read earlier in the chapter, Peter had been told by Jesus that He together with the other disciples would fall away and that He alone would deny Jesus, three times, before the rooster crowed twice. He was then urged by Jesus to watch and pray lest He fall into temptation, but Peter did not do this because of tiredness. But Peter knew better than Jesus. And even after Jesus arrest, when Peter fled together with all the disciples, as we read in v50, still Peter knew better than Jesus. The reality, however, was that Peter was WOEFULLY ILL-EQUIPPED for the temptation that was now about to come his way. But despite this reality, we are told in v54 that Peter followed Jesus “right into the courtyard of the high priest.” And as one commentator puts it, his act “brought on him fresh trials of faith, for which he was utterly unprepared. It threw him into bad company, where he was not likely to get good but harm. It paved the way for his last and greatest transgression – his thrice denial of his Master.” Having placed himself in a situation he was ill-equipped to handle, as we said earlier, when the heat came on, Peter denied Jesus to save his own life, not once, not twice, but three times, and the third time with cursing and swearing.
1. And you know, Peter is NOT ALONE in the foolishness of thinking himself above temptation or more able to resist it than others. It is a mistake common to all believers at one time or another. And the sad truth is that once a believer begins to backslide, he or she seldom stops at the first sin. Common-sense and wisdom seem to quickly disappear.
2. We see this also in the story of KING DAVID and Bethsheba from the OT. How did it all begin? With laziness; David chose not to go to war with his troops as he should of done and instead lazed about on the palace rooftop where he saw a woman bathing. And it didn’t stop there, did it. The first perhaps even unintentional glance became a long stare and then lust set in and eventually came the sins of adultery and then murder.
3. And there have been MANY MORE PETERS AND DAVIDS since then, There are Peters and Davids in this room right now – believers who think they are above giving into temptation; believers who when they are warned that they are ‘playing with fire’ reject that counsel because it is ‘legalistic’ and ‘too strict.’
4. Jesus said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off because it is better for you to enter heaven with one hand than with your whole body to go into hell.” But you say, “I can handle it. I may have committed this particular sin several times in the past but now I am strong enough to resist.” Or, “others might be too weak to resist that temptation but not me.”
5. Brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” He knows that we are weak – all of us. So let us not foolishly pray that prayer and then put ourselves in positions or places or among company that invite temptation.
B. For as we look to v72, we see WHERE BACKSLIDING LEADS, as we read about Peter hearing the rooster crow for the second time and remembering what Jesus had said to Him and then breaking down and weeping. For people of God, that is where backsliding leads. Backsliding, giving into temptation that spirals downward into more and more and deeper sin, sooner or later, will end in tears; tears of frustration, tears of brokenness, tears when you are found out, tears of embarrassment, tears of hurt, tears of depression, tears of ill-health, tears of guilt, tears of sorrow, tears of anger… Backsliding, sooner or later, will end in tears.
1. And you know, Mark doesn’t mention this in his Gospel, but I think we can reasonably assume that JUDAS ISCARIOT also wept. We read in Matthew 27 that when He saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the betrayal reward he had been given, saying “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But the Jewish leaders didn’t care about how he felt now so Judas left. And do you remember what he did next? He hanged himself. So it has to be acknowledged that sometimes sin can end with the tears of a funeral.
C. So what, then, is the difference between Peter and Judas? Both committed very serious sins – Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied Jesus. Both were overcome with sorrow for what they did. But there were vastly different outcomes for Judas and Peter, weren’t there: Judas committed suicide while Peter became an apostle of Christ. Why? Well, the answer to that question has to do with two things: The Lord Jesus and the presence, or not, of the tears of godly sorrow and repentance.
1. Have a look with me, again, at Peter’s third denial. Note his words there; He said, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And you know, Peter was actually speaking the truth at that moment. He did not yet know who Jesus really was and What He had come to do. Now, what we know is that the Holy Spirit was at work in Peter’s life and not in the life of Judas Iscariot. But for now, Peter was holding on to the grace of this man He had known these last three years and four days from then, on Sunday, Peter would see the risen Jesus and then begin to know and believe that Jesus was the Son of God who had died to save him from his sins. So while Judas’ tears were tears of being found out and tears of despair, Peter’s tears were tears of sorrow and repentance. 2 CORINTHIANS 7:10 says, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Judas had worldly grief but Peter had godly grief.
2. And Brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, it maybe that right now you have come under the HEAVY CONVICTION OF SIN AND GUILT. Perhaps you have been playing fast and loose with temptation. Perhaps you are leading a double life that looks good to all of us in here but is actually rotten at its core when you are out there. Perhaps you too deny Christ either with your behaviour or by refusing to tell others that He is your Lord and Saviour. If so, I say to you, look to Jesus. It doesn’t matter what your sin is. Turn to Him and weep; cry out to Him in sorrow and repentance. He is the solid rock! He came to save His people from their sins. With Him there is forgiveness. And then confess your sin to those you have sinned against and face whatever consequences you might have to face. And then you shall enjoy the rest and peace of forgiveness that can be only be found in Jesus.
And this, congregation, is the chief lesson from our rock study:
• You can and must learn lessons from how Peter played around with temptation and you should try and avoid making those mistakes yourself, but ultimately you will never be free from sin until the Lord Jesus welcomes you into heaven.
• And you should pray and train yourself to use every opportunity to tell others that Jesus is your Saviour and Lord. But there will be times when you ‘chicken out,’ for one reason or another.
• Until the Lord Jesus brings you home or returns to earth, you will be a FRAGILE rock like Peter was. But Jesus is the SOLID rock. He needs to be the foundation of your faith. It is only looking to Him that you will find power to resist sin and to be an effective witness. And it is to Him that you must turn to for forgiveness when you have given in to temptation and sinned. His promise to weak sinners is found in 2 COR. 12:9, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So let those be the words you preach to yourself over and over again. Amen.