Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Crisis of Confidence - Mark 14:27-31

Audio available here

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he spoke of a fundamental threat to American democracy. He referred to is as a crisis of confidence. He said, “We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” Perhaps those words are even more applicable in this day of political and economic uncertainty than they were in 1979. But according to sociologists today, there is a greater crisis of confidence in our culture today. It is not a crisis of national confidence; perhaps we’ve given up on ever recovering that. They say that the crisis of our day is a crisis of self-confidence. Here I would agree with those sociologists. However, I would disagree with them over the nature of this crisis. They would say that the crisis is an overwhelming lack of self-confidence among people. I, on the other hand, would say that the greater crisis is that of an over-abundance of self-confidence. Americans are stereotypically rugged individualists. We are raised to value self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-esteem and self-effort. We read stories like, “The Little Engine that Could” to our children, instilling in them the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” This is why Paul says that the Gospel of Grace is a stumbling-block to so many – even God cannot help someone who is determined to do it on their own. We desire to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, not realizing that we are sinking barefooted in the quicksand of our own arrogance.

In our passage today, we find a dialog between Jesus and Peter as they walk from the Upper Room where they shared in the Last Supper to the Mount of Olives where Jesus will spend time in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And we see in this interchange between them the dangers of self-confidence. I don’t want you to think that I’m saying that all self-confidence is a bad thing, but an unhealthy dose of it is spiritually dangerous and blinds us to the pitfalls that we may encounter. Dependence on ourselves will lead us into spiritual failure. And in our text today we discover the times when that may occur.

I. Self-confidence is dangerous when we make claims that contradict God’s Word (vv26-29).

Over 500 years earlier, the prophet Zechariah wrote: “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered.” Here Jesus applies that prophecy to the events that are going to soon take place in His life and that of His disciples. He says, “It is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’” Jesus gives fuller expression to the statement, indicating that the intent behind it was to say that someone calling themselves “I” would strike the shepherd, thus scattering the sheep.” Who is this “I”? While we are tempted to say that the death of Christ came about as a result of the evil schemes of man, and that is true to one extent, on the other hand, the ultimate agent of the death of Christ is the Father Himself. Isaiah 53, a prophecy written 200 years before that of Zechariah, makes this clear. There in Isaiah 53:6, the prophet declared this about the Messiah: “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” And in verse 10 the prophet said, “The LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” The impending death of Jesus was a fulfillment of God’s ultimate and eternal plan to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself. He would strike the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, with the result being that at least for a brief season, the sheep would be scattered.

And on the basis of this ancient prophecy, Jesus made a very simple assertion: “You will all fall away.” And Peter makes a very simple assertion in return: “I will not.” Now, here’s the thing – they can’t both be right. Either they all (Peter included) will fall away, or they will not all fall away. If even one does not fall away, then Jesus’ words are not true. So, Peter can either believe Jesus or not. Now, if he doesn’t, then essentially what he is doing is calling Jesus a liar to His face. That may sound like a harsh charge, but that is what it is. Jesus says, “You will all fall away,” and Peter in essence says, “That is a lie.” The statement is a lie, the prophecy is a lie, the interpretation of the prophecy is a lie. These are bold claims on Peter’s part.

Would any of us be so bold as to look Jesus in the face and say, “You are a liar!”? Surely not us. But often times, our self-confidence leads us to make claims that contradict God’s Word, which is just as strong an offense as that. God’s word says that we are all sinners by nature, yet sometimes in our self-confidence we assert that we are really all good people by nature. We say, “Well, I think I have it all together pretty well, thank you very much.” But God says in His word, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” God’s word says that apart from Christ we can do nothing. His word says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but sometimes our self-confidence says, “I can do some pretty impressive things on my own apart from Him.” His words says in James 3, “We all stumble in many ways.” But when our self-confidence claims that we will not stumble, we are in a state of spiritual danger.

These words of God which remind us of our limitations and frailties are not meant to lead us into depression and defeat, but rather to remind us of our constant need for God’s grace and help in our lives. And when we self-confidently begin to think that we can make it on our own, chugging away like that little engine that could, without the empowerment of divine grace, we are certain to fail spiritually. We must believe what Christ has said, and what the Bible has said about who we really are. Where the weaknesses of our natural abilities and innate strength are pointed out to us, we must believe what God has said. Where He promises us of the things that we can do when we abide in His grace, we must believe Him, and never think that we can attain those things in the powers of our flesh. Otherwise, just as Peter did, we call God a liar, if not by our words then by our actions and attitudes. Anytime our self-confidence causes us to make claims that contradict God’s word, we are in danger.

II. Self-confidence is dangerous when we measure ourselves against others (v29)

When Jesus said, “You will all fall away,” it seems that Peter looked around in the dimly lit night at the faces of the other disciples and said, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” In other words, Peter is saying, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them do. But I am better than they are.” Yeah, what Jesus really needs is more followers who are just like Peter. Then He wouldn’t have to worry about everybody falling away. Or so Peter thinks.

And so may some of us think. So self-confident are we that we think we outshine everyone else. Someone else has an idea, well mine is better. Someone else attempts to do something for Christ, well I could do it better. Someone else fails the Lord, well, I would never do anything that bad! We tend to view sin like we view surgery. Do you know the difference between major and minor surgery? It is whether or not it is on you or on me. If you are having surgery, it’s a minor thing to someone else. Oh, but if I am having surgery, I think it is major, and I want you to think it is major. That’s the way we view sin. If someone else sins, that is a major sin. But my sins aren’t that major. In fact, one wonders if they can even be called sins at all. They are like sinlets, just tiny little things. Often we are so concentrated on the weaknesses and failures of others that we do not see the gravity of our own. This is the danger of comparing ourselves to others. Do you remember what Jesus said about this? He said in Matthew 7:3-5, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

Let’s suppose there was a contest to see who could jump farther. I might jump farther than some of you, and some of you might jump farther than me. But what if the goal of this contest was to jump all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? Then, it wouldn’t really matter how much farther we could outjump each other, because none of us are going to hit the mark. This is how it is when we compare ourselves with others. You might find some people out there of whom you can say, “Well, I am better than that person.” And you might find some of whom you can say, “They are better than me.” But when it comes to meeting God’s standard of righteousness, what does the Bible say? In Romans 3:23, it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

What Peter does here, and what you and I often do when we compare ourselves to others, is to underestimate our own depravity. When you understand just how thoroughly infected and corrupted we all are by sin, we realize that there is NO sin that would be impossible for us to commit. Jesus says, “You will all fall away.” Peter says, “Not me. Everybody else probably will, but I won’t.” How can he be so sure? In fact, a good case can be made that even in saying this, he has already fallen away, for he has questioned the credibility of Christ’s words, and opted to trust in himself than in the necessary empowerment of God’s grace for our perseverance. We may point to the murderer and say, “Well, I’ve never killed anyone.” Well, maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t. And besides that, Jesus said that unbridled anger is tantamount to murder. We may point to the unfaithful husband or wife and say, “Well I’ve never committed adultery.” That is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t, and Jesus says that if you’ve ever looked upon someone with lust then we’ve already committed adultery with that person in our heart. So, with that in mind, can any of us really say, “What Jesus needs is more followers like me,” and look down our noses at others contemptuously? Let me answer that for you: No. We cannot.

Self-confidence can be a good thing at times, but at other times, it is very dangerous when it causes us to compare ourselves with others and boast of our own goodness as Peter does here.

III. Self-confidence is dangerous when we don’t know the circumstances we may face (vv30-31)

Remember that this conversation is set against the backdrop of Judas’ defection in the Upper Room. Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” and at this point Judas has gone off to do just that. But now Jesus says, “All of you will fall away.” While Peter thinks that others perhaps could follow Judas’ example, he is self-confident that he would never do such a thing. But when Jesus speaks of “falling away,” it is not the same as the act of betrayal that Judas committed. The Greek word that is used here has the sense of “stumbling” or “falling.” Here it is used in the passive voice, meaning not that they will all willfully turn away from following Jesus, but that external factors will act upon them and cause them to fall away. It is not their willful intention that Jesus speaks of, but rather their personal weakness and failure to do as Jesus had admonished them in Mark 13:33, to take heed, keep on the alert, and be watchful. Isn’t this the way it usually is for us? Our great spiritual failures come rarely in moments of intentional, premeditated acts of rebellion. Rather, they more often come in momentary lapses of spiritual discipline, when we are caught off guard. We do not often leap into sin, but more often we “fall” or “stumble” into it, as we trip on the snares that have been set in our path by the world and the devil.

Jesus says, “You will all fall away.” But Peter insists, “I will not.” But Jesus knows things about what Peter will face that Peter doesn’t even know himself. In the Luke 22:31, Jesus informs Peter of a spiritual battle that is being waged on him that Peter has no idea of. Jesus tells him there that Satan has demanded to sift him like wheat. Peter has been singled out in the crosshairs of Satan’s artillery for a full-on attack. And because of the onslaught Peter is about to face, Jesus tells him, “Truly I say to you (that is an assertion of divine authority and truth), that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter is still engulfed in self-confidence. Notice the intensity of his response. He kept saying, repeating over and over, and even insistently. The Greek word used there means “exceedingly, or beyond measure.” Time and time again, Peter kept on saying, “I will not deny You.” He even says, “If I have to die with you, I will not deny You.” And everyone else was saying this too. Those are awfully bold claims considering that just 12 verses earlier, they all recognized the possibility that they could be the betrayer. But Christ has still spoken: You will all fall away,” and specifically to Peter, “even this very night … three times.”

Peter does not know what Christ knows. He does not know the intensity of hatred that the mob will bring against Jesus and his followers. He does not know the reality of what is about to transpire. He does not yet know how cozy one can get by the firepit in the courts of this world’s comforts. He does not yet truly know the cost of being a follower of Jesus, nor if he is willing to pay such a cost. But Jesus does. And on the basis of what Jesus knows, He can say with authority, “You will, and you will tonight, and you will three times.” For Peter, it is easy to make grandiose claims of heroics in the quiet comforts of the garden path with Jesus by his side. But what claims will he make when Christ is undergoing unjust cruelty and being identified with Him becomes a capital offense?

You know, we can make some pretty grand claims ourselves here in the comfortable confines of this sanctuary with our padded pews and plush carpet and the sunlight shimmering through the stained glass images of our favorite Bible stories. Someone has written, “When I became a Christian I stopped telling lies and started singing them.” Think about it, we sing, “I surrender all,” and then don’t trust God enough to tithe ten percent. We sing “I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love,” but we’re afraid we’ll offend somebody if we actually do. We are just like Peter. We make great claims when it is safe and comfortable, but when the circumstances around us begin to be a little more unpleasant, will we live up to those claims? When we make self-confident assertions in God’s presence of what we will or will not do, we have to remember that we do not know the circumstances we will face in the coming years, or even in the coming day, or even within the hour that we exit the sanctuary. But Jesus does. And when He warns us about the being presumptuous or overly self-confident, we must take His word seriously. We must bear in mind that we are dependent on God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit within us to accomplish anything of spiritual merit.

Let’s recap for a moment. Self-confidence can be spiritually dangerous for us when we make claims that contradict God’s word, when we measure ourselves against others, and when we don’t know that circumstances we may face. When Jesus warns, “You will all fall away,” we must be so self-confident to think, “It won’t happen to me.” The excessive insistence of Peter only accentuates the greatness of his failure that will occur just as Jesus has promised. But notice that the promise of falling away is not the only promise that Jesus states here. He also promises that He will rise from the dead. He will go to the cross for the failures of these disciples and for our failures as well. We will bear the full weight of humanity’s sin and receive the deluge of God’s judgment on that sin in His death. Yet, He will triumph in resurrected glory, and He will go ahead of them to Galilee. Going ahead of them indicates that He will continue to be their Shepherd even after He has been struck, and they have been scattered. And in Galilee where He first called them to His side, He will regather them to Himself and restore them to right fellowship with Him, and recommission them to His service. Their failure is not final. It is humbling and embarrassing. In fact, that is one of the indications that we have a true report here, for if the early church had concocted these stories, we would certainly not expect them to come up with such a humbling and embarrassing account. Their failure brings them to the realization of what Jesus says in John 15:5 – “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” But their failure is momentary. His grace is everlasting, and in Him they will be able to stand after they have been restored into the fold.

This should be of great encouragement to those of us who, like the original band of disciples, are committed by faith to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but who in moments of weakness fall away from our faithful walk with Him. We will never fall so far that He will not restore us as He leads us like a shepherd back into the fold of His loving arms. Have you failed Him? Me too. And I would venture to say that it is very probable, not to say absolutely certain, that we all will again. But from our failures, we learn the dangers of self-confidence, and we learn of our desperate dependence upon His grace and the power of His Spirit who is at work within us to face the pressures of life in this fallen world. And learning this, we recognize that our confidence is not in ourselves, but in Him. Let the world have its self-confidence, but let the church stand in Christ-confidence. Apart from Him we can do nothing. But we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, the Apostle Paul says this: For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

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