Faithful & Innocent, Jesus Suffers for the Faithless
Passage: John 18:12–18:27
Sermon from John 18:12-27 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on March 1, 2015
If you weren’t with us last week, we entered some of the final events of Jesus’ earthly ministry in the Gospel of John. John is now walking us from one event to the next till everything climaxes in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. But as he does this, John doesn’t simply rehearse the facts from a historical viewpoint. John gives us God’s perspective on Jesus’ journey to the cross.
We must remember that the Holy Spirit is behind John’s account (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). And the Holy Spirit doesn’t do things willy-nilly (cf. 1 Cor 14:33). There’s divine intent behind every syllable he inspires. He lays things out such that we understand God’s perspective on Jesus’ death.
In other words, there are things you could never understand about Jesus’ passion and his cross simply by looking at the events themselves. Hundreds of people were tried by the Jews and Romans; hundreds of people died on crosses. How could we ever know—simply by looking at the events—that Jesus died to appease God’s wrath? That he was God’s gift of love to a lost world? That Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises with his sacrifice? The only way we know those things is by divine revelation; by the way the Holy Spirit tells the story. He gives us the events; and he gives us the events’ meaning by the way he unfolds the events through words.
Today, the Holy Spirit unfolds two events—one alongside the other—so that we see something more of the salvation Jesus brings. On the one hand, we get the devastating picture of Peter’s faithless denial of Jesus. On the other, we get the glorious picture of Jesus’ faithful confession for Peter—and really for all his disciples. And as we walk through these two scenes, we learn something about our Savior: Jesus is faithful and innocent, but he suffers for the faithless and guilty. Verse 12:
12So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. 15Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
Reading with Jesus’ Substitution in Mind
Jesus is faithful and innocent, but he suffers for the faithless and guilty. That’s where we’re heading this morning, and verses 12 to 14 set the stage. Jesus has just given himself into the hands of the authorities (18:8). He isn’t going as helpless victim, but as willing Son of God (18:4). He must drink the cup of his Father’s wrath; and his arrest is all part of the plan (18:11; cf. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 17:1).
“So the band of soldiers,” it says, “and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.” Stop there.
Had we not read the rest of John’s Gospel, we wouldn’t think too much of this report. But on closer look, we see that John is doing more than reporting; he’s reminding us of something very important, something we should have in mind before we keep reading. Remember, he says, Caiaphas’s advice that one man should die for the people. Why bring that up again? And why bring it up here?
God’s Perspective on Jesus’ Death through Caiaphas
Look back to 11:49. The Pharisees are panicking over what to do with Jesus. They’re afraid Rome might undo to them, because all the commotion surrounding Jesus (11:48). And so Caiaphas offers his political opinion. Verse 49, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” The words sound familiar, don’t they? They’re the same words John reminds us of in 18:14.
But those words also came with this interpretation. Look at 11:51, “[Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” In other words, we’re getting more than political opinion, aren’t we? In some strange providence, God uses Caiaphas to give us God’s perspective on Jesus’ death. And according to these words, Jesus’ death is a substitutionary one. Simply put, Jesus is going to die in the place of others. One man should die for the people, so that they don’t perish but are gathered to God.
Caiaphas in John’s Gospel versus Matthew, Mark, & Luke
That’s why John brings up Caiaphas’s advice. He brings it up to remind us of the kind of death Jesus will die: his death will be a substitutionary one. That’s what John wants lodged into your minds as you start reading about Peter’s faithless denial versus Jesus’ faithful confession. That’s why he brings up Caiaphas at all. You see, John’s Gospel differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke on this very point. The other three Gospel writers include accounts where Jesus is on trial before Caiaphas (Matt 26:59-68; Mark 14:55-65; Luke 22:54, 66-71). But not John. John skips right over the trial with Caiaphas.
Look at 18:24. Annas has just finished questioning Jesus (18:19 [“high priest” = Annas]; cf. Luke 3:2 [“during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”]). And then we get this in 18:24: “Annas…sent [Jesus] bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” The next thing we would expect to find is the trial before Caiaphas. But that’s not what we find, we get Peter’s denial, followed by this in verse 28: “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.” John skips the trial with Caiaphas.
So, you’re going, “What’s the point in mentioning Caiaphas at all, John? If you’re not going to give the trial, why not just skip him all together?” The point is this right here: Caiaphas is brought in simply because of what he prophesied by God’s design. He becomes a foil of sorts to help us understand the nature of Jesus’ death. It’s going to be substitutionary. He will die for—or in place of—the people (18:14). God said so.
John’s story, then, becomes a perfect complement to the other Gospel writers. You don’t have to follow others who throw suspicions at the Bible over differing Gospel accounts. You simply need to ask, “What’s the purpose of the Holy Spirit writing this way?” The purpose is to get Jesus’ substitutionary death on our minds before taking us to Peter and Jesus. So, let substitution—Jesus in our place—saturate your mind as we come to Peter’s faithless denial and Jesus’ faithful confession. Then we’ll bring all of it together at the end.
Peter’s Faithless Denial
But, first, look at what happens with Peter. Verse 15, “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple [most likely John; cf. 13:23; 19:35; 20:2; 21:24]. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.” Basically, we’re getting John’s eyewitness account.
Verse 17, “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also aren’t one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”
The Shame of Peter’s Denial
What happened to Peter? He seemed so bold just a few minutes ago—cutting off a guy’s ear (18:10). And wasn’t it Peter, who said just a few hours ago, “Lord…I will lay down my life for you” (13:37). And now, “I’m not his disciple.”
It’s so shameful. In fact, the way John presents it, Peter actually sides with the opposition. Remember the blind man who was healed? What did he ask the Pharisees back in chapter 9: “Do you also want to become his disciples?” And the Pharisees reviled the man (9:27-28). And now Peter is asked a similar question; and he, too, denies being Jesus’ disciple. And even worse, he chooses comfort with Jesus’ enemies rather than suffering for Jesus’ sake. Where’s he standing? Next to Jesus, ready to die with him? No, he’s by the fire warming himself with the officers.
And within a few more minutes, two more denials. Verse 25, “‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’… ‘I am not.’” Then “One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asks, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter denied it again.”
O the vulnerabilities of a disciple when pressure comes, when you hear the swords clanking in the background, when you’re face-to-face with what following Jesus will cost you—that’s when our true beliefs stand out. If there’s one question you face in trial, it’s this: Am I real? Is my faith true? Am I trusting in the right Savior? And when faced with the cost of discipleship, Peter proves faithless.
Why? What is it that Peter couldn’t believe? He couldn’t believe that salvation involves a cross. His denial is the culmination of his unbelief that Jesus must suffer for him. The unbelief just takes on different forms. In 13:8, Jesus tries to wash Peter’s feet as a servant; and Peter refuses to be washed. He didn’t want this to be a relationship in which Jesus serves him by washing him.
In 13:37, Jesus tells Peter there’s a unique work he must do before Peter will gain the ability follow him. It’s the cross again. But Peter rejects it and says he’ll lay down his life for Jesus instead.
Then last week in 18:10, what does Peter do? He doesn’t choose the way of Christ’s humble cross. He yanks out his sword and cuts off a guy’s ear. He still doesn’t get the way of the cross. He rejects self-denial, self-humiliation.
And now here, he watches his Master willingly go to his death, and he doesn’t even have the courage to tell a door-keeper that he’s a follower of Jesus. He still loves the approval of others too much. He doesn’t crucify his pride, he asserts it: “I’m not his disciple.” He denies knowing Jesus, because he rejects self-humiliation. He chooses comfort with enemy approval over a cross with Christ. It’s devastating.
The Shame of Our Own Denials
It’s just as devastating when we do the same. And it’s maybe even worse, since we have more revelation than Peter did when he denied Christ. Now, the majority of us in this room wouldn’t necessarily deny Jesus with your lips. We have heard each other’s testimony of how the Lord saved us. We confess that Jesus is Lord—he is wonderful to us. But, how many of us functionally reject Jesus’ self-humiliation?
Think about it. It manifests itself in different ways. When our actions, choices, and attitudes turn from the Calvary road to go down our own road, we deny Jesus. We tell Jesus that his way isn’t the way of salvation, that self-denial isn’t the pathway to joy.
Husbands, Jesus has called us to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:22-33). That doesn’t mean you put up with your wife, as if to say she is your cross. It means you crucify every passion that’s keeping you from serving her, and you exert every energy to her advantage. If that’s not the road you’re choosing, it’s denying that Jesus’ cross is the right way.
How many of you live for the approval of others—you fear what others think of you or what they might do to you; you live in a constant struggle to be noticed by others, to be accepted by others; you regularly allude to all the good works you do in hopes of a compliment? Or maybe you cower in public when people challenge your evangelism appeals. Someone says, “So you think I’m going to hell without Jesus?” And you response with great hesitancy, “Uhhhh…” Or perhaps you say nothing at all when it would have been more appropriate to speak for Christ’s sake. Is this not the equivalent fear of man that Peter manifested three times over?—“I am not, I am not, I am not…”
Or how many of us would rather have the place of power over others instead of the place of serving others? The temptation is real, is it not parents of children? Why else would Paul say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21)? The temptation to abuse power is real, is it not my fellow elders? “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3). The flesh wants control; we want to do our own thing, instead of considering the interest of others better than our own (Phil 2:3-6)—“Picking up his toys and cleaning her clothes and discipline takes time from what I want to do. If I show this kind of generosity with my money, I’m not going to get to live with the luxuries I want.” The sinful flesh craves selfish-ambition over self-denial; it always chooses comfort over sacrifice.
Peter turned his back on Jesus when he should have turned his back on self. Self-denial is a matter of renouncing the right to do our own thing, in order to follow Jesus. And when we turn from self-denial, we—just like Peter—deny Jesus. We reject God’s Son. And it’s shameful to the core…which is why we need a substitute.
Jesus’ Faithful Confession
We can’t stand before God like this, carrying the stains of self-rule and selfish-ambition. We need a substitute. We need someone who can take away our shameful deeds. We need someone who is faithful for our faithlessness. We need someone who is innocent for all our guilt-producing denials—and we get that someone in the person of Jesus Christ. We looked at Peter’s faithless denials; now we turn to Jesus’ faithful confession.
Look at verse 19: “The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” So, right there, you need to note something. Everything Jesus is about to confess is not just to vindicate himself—which he does; it’s also to vindicate those united to him, his disciples. So, Jesus answers: “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’”
Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Jesus is bold as a lion, here, because he is righteous.
What’s the point of this picture as it stands in contrast to Peter’s denials? It’s point is to show that while Peter is faithless, Jesus remains faithful. While Peter stands guilty in his denial, Jesus stands innocent in his confession. While Peter folds under the pressures of a cross, Jesus remains strong. While Peter stumbles, Jesus stands. “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”—and we as readers say, “O he is right! There is no wrong in him!”
That’s how I got saved. I remember watching a church put on play—a kind of reenactment of Jesus’ Passion. And whatever Gospel they were using to frame their script, I just remember it becoming crystal clear: “That man is innocent! Why are they crucifying him?” And the Holy Spirit broke on my soul with the good news of Jesus’ substitutionary death. He didn’t die because of anything he did wrong; he died a righteous man for everything I did wrong. He didn’t die because of his faithlessness; he died as a faithful man for all my faithlessness. He didn’t die because he was guilty; he died as an innocent man for all my guiltiness. And that saved a 17 year old boy bent in on himself.
Friends, John introduced us to substitution in verse 14 to send a message when we look at Peter’s faithless denial against Jesus’ faithful confession. And that message is this: we are guilty in unbelief before God, and we need an innocent man to stand in our place—just like the sacrifices in the Old Testament. You had to bring an unblemished lamb if God was going to take away your sins. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb that all those other lambs pointed to. There is no wrong in him, he is innocent; and therefore he—and no other—qualifies to stand in the place of sinners. God clears our guilt by offering up Jesus to death on the cross. He stood condemned in our place.
We often fall into faithless decisions, brothers and sisters. And we need a faithful One, who can make the confession we can’t make on our own. And here he is for you—right here—making the good confession for his disciples. Do you see this good news? He sees Peter (Luke 22:61). He predicted Peter’s denials (John 13:38). He knows your hidden denials, too. And he still makes the confession, he still suffers, that you might be gathered to God. Though he had every right not to suffer—since he was innocent—he chose to suffer this way for your sake.
What a perfect illustration this is of Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners [think of Peter denying Jesus while Jesus is suffering], Christ died for us.” He stood in your place. He was faithful wherever you have been faithless. He is innocent wherever you stand guilty. Jesus is faithful and innocent, but he suffers for the faithless and guilty. Or, let’s say it like Peter himself eventually learned to say: “Christ…suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:8).
Welcome to the Supper & More
That’s why we come to the Lord’s Supper this morning. Jesus is faithful and innocent, but he suffers for the faithless and guilty. Jesus welcomes the faithless and guilty who are trusting Christ to this Supper, and none others. Anybody, who believes himself to be righteous and innocent by his own doings is not welcome to this Supper and will not sit down at the marriage Supper of the Lamb in the kingdom to come. They will be cast into outer darkness. But everybody who admits to being faithless and guilty, and trusts Christ as your only faithful and innocent substitute—you are welcome to eat and drink. And you can eat and drink, looking forward to the Day you sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The church is built on Jesus, not on feeble men
But before we eat, let me mention a few more points of further application. First of all, let us remember from this passage that the church is built on Jesus Christ and not on feeble men. There’s a theological reason why God built the church using failing men like Peter: never did God want us to think our existence was owing to something in us, to some faithfulness in us, to some goodness in us. The church owes its existence solely to the faithfulness and goodness of Jesus Christ. Faithfulness is still necessary, but you will fail and fall short and wrestle against unbelief. Trials will come and your faith will be tested and at times found wanting. Leaders that you follow will stumble and fall—some never to be restored again to the faith, while others will come to repentance (1 Tim 5:20-25).
But in these moments when feeble men fail us or we ourselves fail others, we must trust that the success of the church doesn’t rest on faithless men. It rests ultimately on the faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus is able to withstand the day of testing. Jesus makes the good confession on the day of trial. Jesus will endure when you cannot. Jesus will keep all his own when you find yourself exhausted. Jesus is able to finish his Father’s work. And so let’s build everything on him. He is our only hope and stay.
We must show patience when others are faithless
We must also show patience when others are faithless. It is true that some will deny Jesus never to return to him. It is true that we will encounter false converts along the way, just as Jesus’ parable of the four soils indicates. But that doesn’t mean this must be our first assumption when any professing Christian finds themselves acting faithlessly. As J. C. Ryle once put it: Peter’s denial shows “an amazing degree of weakness that may be found in a real Christian.” Or better, Paul instructs us to “Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14). Jude even tells us, “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 22-23); and he’s talking about believers.
As you encounter a brother or sister denying Christ—in whatever way that may be—remember the way Jesus was patient with Peter. Jesus knew the weakness of even his best disciple, and yet he never rejected him. He never wrote him off. Rather he took up a cross to save him. He even restored him after his fall.
The scene is great at the end of John’s Gospel. Some of you know it. There’s even a charcoal fire present, just like the one Peter was warming himself with when he denied Jesus (18:18; 21:9). But this time, Jesus made the fire and was using it to cook Peter some fish. He built him a fire that would—I’m sure—conjure up all kinds of bad memories in Peter. And then for Peter to look up and see his Savior serving him breakfast. That’s how comprehensive Jesus’ work on the cross is for you! “Sit down and eat brother; sit down and eat sister. Have some breakfast with me, Lord of the universe. I took care of your sins!” And then Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter says, “Yes!” And so Jesus then commissions him to watch over his church. It’s great!
That should teach us as a church to be patient with weaker brothers and sisters, and watchful of any proud attitudes as if such faithfulness to Christ ever came from us in the first place. We can then take each other to Christ, to his faithfulness and his innocence. Faith will only grow when it’s planted in the rich soils of the gospel; and that’s where we need to be planting each other when we find ourselves faithless.
Jesus dies for the faithless, but not to leave us faithless
One more: Jesus dies for the faithless, but not to leave us faithless. The account with Peter isn’t written to get people off the hook—as if to say, “O no worries if you’re faithless, just look at the cross…without any repentance or change necessary.” No, the account remains a constant testimony to the shamefulness of unbelief. And that alone should move us to repentance.
But more than that, when we read it in light of the whole New Testament, we find that Jesus died not only to pay the penalty for Peter’s sin, but also to break the power of sin over Peter and all Jesus’ followers. And more than that, Jesus rose from the dead to give us everything we need to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:1-14).
You see, Jesus already promised that Peter would be able to follow him after he finished his work on the cross. John 13:36, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now [Peter], but you will follow afterward.” And sure enough, at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus restores Peter and says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This he said to show by what kind of death [Peter] was to glorify God.”
Everything it would take for Peter to follow Jesus, Jesus provided. And that’s made evident in the book of Acts. Whereas Peter folded under the pressures of the authorities before, denying Jesus, now we see him preaching Jesus boldly before the authorities, willingly suffering for Jesus’ name and never backing down. When Jesus saves people, he doesn’t leave them the same. And he will not leave you the same, if you are truly his disciple. Everything you need to follow him, he will grant.
You don’t have to borrow trouble from tomorrow—over “When your next test of faith is coming?” All you must do is trust the Savior with today. And when tomorrow’s trial come, when tomorrow’s suffering approaches, when the fear of man enters—he will stand by your side and give you strength (2 Tim 4:17; 1 Pet 4:14). He not only clears the guilty with his innocence; he gives faithless men his own faithfulness. Peter testifies to this himself in 1 Peter 5:10-11, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Jesus dies for faithless men, to make us faithful till the end, and it’s all owing to the God of all grace. Shall we sing before we eat together?
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus