Jesus' Saving Initiative to Bring Cowards Into His Presence
Passage: John 13:36–14:3
Sermon from John 13:36-14:3 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on August 3, 2014
You know, last Sunday we looked at Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us. Today we’ll see even more of how Jesus has loved us as we look at his initiative to save cowardly disciples—like Peter—turn them into bold followers for his mission, and then bring them into his presence. In fact, I don’t think this passage could come to our congregation at a more appropriate time, and let me tell you why.
Addressing Real Fears with Truth
As we’ve been growing in our evangelism efforts as a church—whether that’s sharing with coworkers or engaging people in your neighborhood or participating in the Saturday morning outreach—some of you have voiced fears that you struggle against. Going public with the gospel in order to make disciples has brought you face-to-face with fears you didn’t know you had; it’s tested your confidence in Christ.
Even in some of my own most confident moments preaching the gospel, my inner-man still has doubts to deal with. A couple months ago, I remember telling a fairly intimidating fella over lunch, “Put a gun to my head right now, and I’m choosing Jesus. He’s worth more than anything this life could offer.” And then I felt it—my insides saying, “Uh, are you so sure about this?” I argued back, “Yes!” But still, I felt the inner weaknesses rise, the fears attack, the doubt troubling my soul.
Also, many of you are very aware of multiple things happening in our culture and with our government that will eventually test the sincerity of your devotion to Christ. Just a few weeks ago, our religious liberty was nearly called into question in the Supreme Court with only a 5-4 vote in favor of Hobby Lobby. Or think of all the repeated—and gradually more influential—attempts in our culture to redefine marriage, to welcome homosexual behavior, to challenge the Bible’s ethics on human life and sexuality. And as it all continues to unravel, we’re reminded of those cultures who’ve walked similar trajectories before us—such as Canada—and we hear the stories of pastors being arrested for hate speech when they call homosexuality “sin” from their pulpits. When things like this in our culture confront our Christian worldview—such that we start teasing out the consequences of following Jesus—it forces us to evaluate our confidence in Christ, to check how firm our grip on him really is.
And then we read the headlines about ISIS giving an ultimatum to the Christians in Mosul, Iraq—“convert to Islam or die,” they say. And you realize these are your brothers and sisters in the Lord (Heb 13:3). You are one with them in the blessings and spread of the gospel; and the only reason you’re not receiving the same sorts of threats is the sheer mercy of God. But your mind at least wonders, “Where would I get the strength to endure under such pressure and persecution?”
That’s the question that went through my mind when I sat down with a brother in Central Asia last January and watched him through tears ask us how he’s supposed to follow Jesus in a city of 200,000 Muslims and he’s the only Christian. The same questions ran through my mind again this past Wednesday, when I Skyped with another brother in South Asia. And he’s got people asking him whether they should get their government ID changed once they convert to Christianity. How would you cling to Christ if you had to walk up to Muslim government officials and say, “Can you please change my ID to say Christian instead of Muslim?” What do you do when facing that kind of trouble?
So whether these questions rise in our soul as we live out our faith here, or they rise from what we see happening in other contexts, we need a word from Jesus himself to help us endure. We need to learn how Jesus strengthens cowards and makes them bold for his mission. And that’s what we get in Jesus’ interaction with Peter and the disciples here. So let’s read, beginning in verse 36.
36Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.14:1Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Three Truths to Endure Trouble When Following Jesus
Three truths we need to cling to in this text if we’re going to stand firm in the face of trouble. If you’re going to follow Jesus and love others as he has loved you, sacrificially; if you’re going to overcome your own fears and cowardly ways to follow Jesus, then you must cling to three truths Jesus mentions in our passage.
1. The Power to Follow Jesus Comes from Jesus
The first truth is this: the power to follow Jesus comes from Jesus and what he accomplishes for you. You need to remember this. The power doesn’t come from within you; it comes from outside you, found only in the person and work of Jesus. I get this from Jesus’ interaction with Peter in verses 36-38. Jesus said in verse 33 that he’s going away, and that where he plans to go, the disciples cannot come. So Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36). And Jesus answers him with nearly the same words—it’s just that he gives Peter a bit more to consider: “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” This is a profound answer, and it tells us where the strength to follow Jesus actually comes from; and it’s not within us.
Peter's Lack of Ability
Jesus tells Peter straight up that Peter lacks the ability to follow Jesus at this point. The reason for this is that Jesus has a very unique work to carry out that nobody else can accomplish. He will die on the cross; and that cross will also become his pathway back to the Father in glory. That’s what Jesus means by “going away” (7:33; 13:1, 3; 14:12)—going away to the Father through the cross. Because he is God, because he’s without sin, only Jesus could take away the world’s sins, absorb God’s wrath, swallow the grave, and then rise victoriously for his people into glory. Peter can’t follow Jesus in that sense.
Peter, of course, doesn’t understand what Jesus means by all this, but he definitely thinks he’s got what it takes to follow Jesus right now: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (13:37). Now, we could dismiss Peter’s remarks as insincere—I mean, after all, he’s saying these things behind closed doors (13:2). Anybody can be bold in that kind of setting. But I think Peter’s remarks are sincere. Later on, when they’re in the garden and the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Peter stands by his words. He lashes out with a sword and cuts off the right ear of the High Priest’s servant (John 18:26; cf. Luke 22:50-51). He seems ready to die for Jesus. So, his words are sincere—they’re just totally misguided and self-centered.
At this point, Peter will lay down his life for Jesus as long as Jesus fits Peter’s mold of what a Savior should look like and do for him. See, the soldiers and some of the Jewish officers eventually carry Jesus away to be put on trial before the High Priest. And once that happens, Peter’s boldness goes out the window (18:12-27). He’s next seen standing sheepishly in the courtyard denying that he even knows Jesus three times over. His boldness to follow Jesus is rooted in the wrong things. His confidence is independent of Jesus and self-centered. He’s bold as long as things are going his way, as long as Jesus does what Peter thinks he ought to do, as long as Jesus’ way doesn’t involve a cross.
And Jesus calls him on it even before the denial happens: “Will you lay down your life for me, [Peter]? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (13:38). In other words, “You sound bold, Peter, but that boldness isn’t the result of you resting in me; that boldness isn’t drawing from who I really am and what I’m about to do for you. The truth is that you’re not ready to take up a cross and follow me on the Calvary road. You’re ready to give your life if it means you die like a warrior; but you’re not ready to give up your life if it means you’re hung up like a criminal.” Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows himself; he calls him on the weakness of his soul.
Where Peter Is Weak, Jesus Is Strong
But the point of Jesus’ interaction with Peter isn’t merely to point out that Peter is weak, but more so to point out that Jesus is strong. Peter would deny Jesus on the way to the cross; but Jesus would never deny Peter all the way through the cross. There’s a point on the Calvary road when Peter will forsake Jesus; but there’s never a point on the Calvary road when Jesus will forsake Peter—or any of his other true disciples. The promise of verse 36 stands as a result of Jesus’ cross: “Where I’m going you cannot follow me now [Peter], but [and here’s the promise] you will follow afterward.”
And the rest of the New Testament tells us Peter does just that: once Jesus dies, rises, and ascends into heaven, Peter follows Jesus just as Jesus promised (John 21:18-19, 22; 2 Pet 1:14)! We see that play out in the Book of Acts and even Peter’s letters exhort the church to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ sufferings (1 Pet 2:21-22). Listen to this exhortation from 1 Pet 4:12-13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Jesus' Work as Basis of Peter's Following "Afterward"
How did this Peter here become that Peter? How does Peter go from lacking the ability to follow Jesus to having the ability to follow Jesus, from a place of denying Jesus to dying like Jesus (2 Pet 1:14)? The answer is Jesus and what he accomplishes for Peter! The “afterward” in verse 36 means everything for us, because it shows that our power to follow Jesus isn’t rooted in what we do for Jesus but in what Jesus does for us. The “afterward” refers to all the saving results bound up with Jesus and his death and his exaltation (13:31-32; cf. 7:39; 12:16; 13:7): “Where I’m going [back to the Father through the cross] you cannot follow me now [Peter], but [once my work is finished, and I am seated at his right hand] you will follow afterward. So we’ve got massive realities bound up with Jesus and his work that—once they’re accomplished for Peter—will make Peter a different sort of man, a different kind of disciple who’s drawing his strength not from within himself but from Jesus as he really is. And let me tell you what some of those things are specifically, so that you can draw your strength from them as well when you encounter trouble.
Jesus Takes Away Sin. Here’s one: John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” When Jesus dies on the cross, he will suffer the wrath of God for Peter and then take away all his sins, including his sinful, cowardly denials. You know, one of the first group of sinners to be thrown into the lake of fire in Rev 21:8 is the cowardly. If you are Jesus’ disciple, Jesus died to take away your cowardice and absorb in his body the fire you deserved for that cowardice. That’s good news for you, if you believe in Jesus: you will not suffer for punishment for your cowardice on the last day because Jesus suffered it for you.
Jesus Breaks Sin's Power. More than that, listen to John 8:34-36: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin [think of your faithlessness]. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free [meaning free from your sin, the very sin keeping you out of God’s house], you will be free indeed.” When Jesus died on the cross, he broke the power of sin for everybody who trusts him, whether that’s Peter or you. And when you’re united to Jesus by faith, cowardice no longer rules over you, so that it controls you. Jesus has set you free; he has overcome it for you in the cross.
This is really huge for Jesus’ disciples, because that’s not what he told the Jews who despised him in 8:21. In 8:21, he said, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” To Peter he says, “you will follow afterward.” To the Jews he says, “you will die in your sin.” The only difference between Peter and the Jews is that Jesus has opened Peter’s eyes, so that he embraces Jesus by faith. Peter will not die in his sins, because Jesus has overcome the power of sin for Peter. He will follow Jesus and finally be saved.
Jesus Breaks the World's Grip. Here’s something else he does. John 12:24-25, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies [he’s talking about himself], it remains alone; but if it dies [if I die], it bears much fruit. [And what is the fruit it produces?] Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The fruit of Jesus’ death is a people who hate their lives in this world. His death liberates our souls from the world’s attraction, so that it no longer holds us back from following him at all costs.
Jesus Sends the Holy Spirit. And one more thing. Once Jesus dies and the Father raises Jesus to glory, Jesus then sends the Holy Spirit not only to apply his cross to his followers—so that they experience the forgiveness of sins and liberation from Satan and sin and the world—but also to empower his followers to embrace his cross. That’s what chapters 14-16 are about, and all these things are bound up with what Jesus means by “afterward.”
What Only Jesus Can Do Enables Peter (and You) to Follow
Peter can’t do what only Jesus can do; but what only Jesus can do enables Peter to do what he’s supposed to do. Jesus is saying, “You will follow afterward, Peter, because guilt will no longer weigh you down—I will remove it; because sin will no longer control you—I will set you free; because the world will no longer have you—I will overcome it; because the Spirit will fill you with power—and I will send him to help you.”
If Jesus is your life this morning, then that’s true of you, too. In every circumstance you find yourself, you must remember what Jesus has done for you. When the trials come, when the persecution begins, when the doubts rise, when the troubles cloud your soul, you must remember that your strength to endure is not found inside you, but found in the person of Jesus alone and what he has accomplished for you.
Jesus gives us the same instruction in Matt 10:16-20: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Strength to endure isn’t found in yourself, but in Jesus and what he does for you.
2. Jesus Must Remain the Object of Our Faith in the Midst of Trouble
Which brings us to our second truth to hold on to: Jesus must remain the object of our faith in the midst of trouble. He says it very plainly in 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” His words don’t come to a bunch of disciples who are cool and calm with the way things are going. His words come to disciples who are confused about what’s going on—the Jews want to kill their Master; Judas just walked out; Jesus is telling them he’s going away; they just found out the leader of the pack will deny him three times. Their souls are troubled. But here’s where they must set the entirety of their trust: “believe in God; believe also in me.”
This is a remarkable statement if you consider who Jesus is speaking to and when it is that he’s saying it. Jesus is speaking to Jews. Their Bibles have told them that there is but one God, Yahweh, and he’s revealed himself through many mighty deeds. He sent the terrible plagues on Egypt when Pharaoh said No; he delivered his people from Egypt by splitting the Red Sea; he fed his people miraculously with manna; he held back the Jordan River; he defeated army after army after army; he raises up kings to punish and then tears down their thrones to prove his sovereign might and to show his covenant love for Israel.
And now Jesus is telling these Jews to believe in God and also in him while he’s on his way to the cross as a slave. To their eyes, this looks weak not strong. In fact, their own Bibles said, “Cursed is the man who hangs on a tree,” and yet Jesus is telling them to trust in him just as they would trust in the God of Israel.
He’s still trying to help them see that God’s mightiest act of salvation was now unfolding right before their eyes, but in a way they didn’t expect it to. God had come down in the person of his Son to take the form of a slave and live courageously faithful to God at every point his people failed to, even when it meant dying a cursed death for their sins. To believe in Jesus was simultaneously to believe in the God of Israel, not just because Jesus accomplished the work of God, but because Jesus accomplished the work of God as God. He is the supreme revelation of who God is, because in him the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell. He is fully God and fully man. That makes him unique and therefore the necessary object of our faith.
Our faith can be in nothing else except Jesus, because Jesus is the one and only eternal God. So we must calm our hearts in the midst of trouble by trusting in him. We cannot bank on our own strength, or our own financial security, or our own ability to tolerate pain, or our own cleverness to control this or that trial. We will not find strength through self-realization—discovering some power inside that was always hiding but we just never knew about it. We can’t just pump up our spiritual life with louder music, a bit of caffeine, and a self-pep-rally in the car. True comfort and boldness in the midst of trouble comes only by running into the arms of Jesus; for he’s God almighty who’s come to save us.
Rest Your Soul in Jesus in the Midst of Trouble
So the next time fear rises in you when you’re sharing the gospel, or your soul is troubled by the trials of the day, or some suffering and confusion has come your way, rest your soul in Jesus. He is God, and there are no limitations to his power or his provision for you. If he sustains the universe by the word of his power, then he’s upholding your little life, even with all its various trials. If he owns the earth’s riches and is totally wise in all their distribution, then he can meet all your needs—he may not give you what you want, but he will give you what you need, what is wise. If he has already forgiven your sins through his death—the biggest problem in the universe for you and me—he can certainly deal with your fears in his resurrection life. If he’s saved you for a mission, he will ensure you’re equipped for that mission, lacking in nothing. If he’s raised himself from the dead, you can be sure he will make every provision for you to die with confidence in his resurrection power. So calm your soul in trouble by trusting in Jesus.
Confess Your Fears to Jesus and Then Trust His Provision
Some of you try deal with your fears and doubts by hiding them—whether from God or from each other. You’re like Peter: you want people to believe that you’re strong. But that only shows that you’re not trusting in Christ to be your strength. The truth is that by nature you’re not strong in the way you need to be strong in order to follow Jesus. And Jesus knows this about you. He is God and therefore he is all-knowing. He sees your fears and doubts already, just like he saw Peter’s. And not a single one kept him from leaving glory to die on the cross for them. So, tell him your fears and doubts. He already knows them; he already died for them; and he has the power and the infinite supply of grace to do something about them.
So there’s no need to hide your cowardly heart behind anything—even behind excuses like “evangelism could cause problems at work; taking this ethical stance might cost me my job; aren’t there some other things that are more urgent; people won’t want to listen to me; they probably already know the gospel.” There’s no need to hide our fears; but there’s every reason to confess them to God—he knows them—and then lean upon his strength made available to you through Jesus. Jesus must be the object of our faith, because Jesus is God.
3. Jesus Promises an Eternity in His Presence
Third and last truth for enduring trouble: Jesus promises an eternity in his presence when he comes again. So, we’ve seen what Jesus has done for his disciples through the cross; we’ve seen who he is—God almighty—and now we see where he’s taking us. He takes us from present troubles and lifts our heads to future glory. Look again at verses 2-3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Now, we’ve got to be careful, here.
Otherwise, our finite minds and our materialistic hearts will begin turning heaven into some dream-house that’s full of everything we would’ve loved anyway on earth. We hear “house” and “rooms”—some translations have “mansions”—and we begin imagining things that aren’t even close to the reality of the kingdom. Jesus is simply using a metaphor to talk about heaven. He says there are many rooms—or even better “dwelling places”—simply because he’s referring to heaven as his Father’s “house.” His point isn’t to get us fixed on the rooms; his point is to get us fixed on the fact that his “going away” will guarantee our future dwelling with God in Jesus’ presence.
Jesus Wins for His Disciples an Eternity in His Presence
It will never be the case that a true disciple of Jesus finds himself without a place in the future kingdom. He will dwell with God in glory, because of the work of Jesus. The point that Dan made a few weeks ago from Habakkuk—that what makes heaven “heaven” is Jesus being there—is made explicit here. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” It’s not about the rooms; it’s about dwelling in the presence of Jesus—and not dwell at some distance from Jesus; he says “that where I am you may be also.” Later on Jesus will even pray that the whole goal of the Father sending the Son was that all God’s elect may be with Jesus, to see the glory that God has given him, because God loved him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). Heaven is the divinely prepared dwelling place in which the eternal, omnipotent intensity of the Father’s love for the Son goes public for his resurrected people’s everlasting pleasure.
That’s what Jesus’ going away—his cross, his resurrection, his ascension—guarantees for all who follow him. If he has endured the cross to secure your place in God’s presence; it would be unthinkable—and a contradiction to his character—that he not also bring you into God’s presence. It would be as unthinkable as a bridegroom who prepares a marriage feast for his bride without ever bringing her to the table. If he has prepared you a feast at the cost of his own life; if his whole mission is wrapped up in winning his bride for himself, then he will bring her to eat. Isn’t that what this Table is about this morning?! Not a single drop of his blood will be overlooked. All that his blood secured for your future, he will give you. If you’re drawing from the power of his cross, if he alone is the object of your faith, then your future is bound up with him and his glory.
Confidence in Future Glory Gives Us Boldness
And this truth also gives us strength in the midst of trouble. It means that there is no trouble in this life that will thwart his purpose to bring you into his glorious presence. There is no militant Islamist group or oppressive government that can change your destiny if you belong to Jesus. They can threaten you; they can put you in jail; they can even kill you. But they cannot undo Jesus’ promise or keep you out of his presence. If he has prepared you a place, then he will come again and bring you into it, even when that means giving you a new body to enjoy it.
Or just think of how it applies to your evangelism efforts, or your unpopular ethical stances in the public square. There’s not a single word or attitude or rejection or job-loss that can strip from you the riches of an eternity in God’s presence. So, what’s there to be afraid of when you follow Jesus? What trouble threatens Jesus or what he’s done for us? There are none. So, let’s make Jesus our confidence every morning and preach with all our might, Redeemer. Let’s serve with all the zeal God gives us, and let’s not let our personality types or our fears or our weakness become excuses for keeping quiet about the message of truth.
Jesus' Dealing with Peter Helps Us Deal with Each Other
And at the same time, let’s remember the way Jesus was patient with Peter. Jesus knew the feebleness of even his best disciple, and yet never rejected him. Rather he restored him after his fall. So that should teach us as a church to be patient with weaker brothers and sisters, and watchful of any prideful attitudes as if such boldness in the gospel came from us in the first place. We can then take each other, whether strong or weak, to these three truths, so that we all might grow together in our boldness in Christ. Our power to follow Jesus comes from Jesus and what he’s done for us; Jesus must remain the object of our faith in the midst of trouble; and Jesus promises us an eternity in his presence when he comes again.
The Lord’s Supper reminds us of these three truths as well. It calls us to remember what Jesus did for us on the cross, to believe in who Jesus is now—God our Redeemer—and also to look to where he’s bringing us when we eat this meal with him again in the kingdom. Let’s eat together with these things in mind.
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