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The Disciples will Flee

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 14, 1999

Matthew 26:30-35

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If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 26. We continue our study in the gospel of Matthew today. You remember the last time we were in this gospel together, we were looking at Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. And at least in part, Jesus in that Lord’s Supper was pre-explaining to the disciplines the meaning of His death on the next day. He was telling them ahead of time the significance of His dying on the tree. Think of it. If the Lord Jesus had come into the world as the Messiah of God and died, and there had been no word of Scripture, no word from the Lord Jesus, no word from God explaining what that meant, we would have been clueless. We would have had no idea as to how to explain what it meant that the very sinless Son of God had died. And so Jesus over and over with His disciples especially from the time of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew, chapter 16, continuously taught his disciples the meaning of his death, not only because it was going to be central to the message that they would have preached the world, but because it was central to their own experience of grace. They needed to understand what it meant that Jesus had died for our sins on the tree. So in the Lord’s Supper he is pre-explaining that to the disciples, but he is also giving to them a word of comfort and encouragement that they desperately needed in the trials and the persecutions and the tribulations of the next hours. And so let’s turn then to the follow-up passage here in Matthew, chapter 26, beginning in verse 30. Hear God’s holy word.

Matthew 26:30-35

Our Lord and our God, You speak to us by Your holy Scriptures. You have words both of warning and of comfort as we receive this word today. We pray that You would open our hearts by the Spirit to see its specific application to our own lives and circumstances. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

God teaches us at least three things in this passage. He teaches us something about Himself. And He teaches us something about the Lord Jesus Christ, and He teaches us something about ourselves. Jesus and His disciples had just finished the Lord’s Supper, and they were making their way to the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives was about fifteen minutes away from where they were, and it was about eleven o’clock at night. And as they walked, Jesus had a word of warning and a word of comfort that He gave to His disciples. Had they listened to that word of warning and had they listened and understood that word of comfort, it would have helped them much in the event that we’re going to unfold that night and on the next day and on the next day and on the next day. They would have been greatly helped had they taken to heart these words of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Lord Jesus spoke these words with the precise intent of strengthening His disciples’ weak faith. And it’s important for us to pay attention to these words, this word of warning and of encouragement because these words are for us just as surely as they were for the disciples. So let’s give some attention to this passage.

You see that it really falls into two parts. In verses 30 through 32 Jesus, according to Scripture, predicts the desertion of His disciples. And then He instructs them on what they are to do after His resurrection. And then in verses 33 through 35 the disciples respond to Jesus. Peter speaks out loud, but Matthew lets us know in verse 35 that all the disciples felt this way. They respond to Jesus’ word of warning. They seem to totally miss His word of encouragement and focus on that word of warning, and they respond to it, and they respond to it in the wrong way. And it’s these two parts of the passage that I’d like to use to guide us in our study of it today.

I. God’s warnings ought always to drive us to a greater realization of His and the Son’s love and our weakness.

Jesus in verses 30 through 32 basically comes to the disciples and says in fulfillment of God’s certain word, the Father is going to strike Me down and He is going to scatter you. I put it precisely in those words, because that is the force of the quote and how Jesus uses that quote from Zechariah, chapter 13. And I put it in that way to you to see how shocking those words would have fallen on the disciples’ ears. He’s saying to them, according to God’s certain word, in fulfillment of God’s certain word, the Father is going to strike Me down, and He is going to scatter you. Jesus, in verse 31, tells the disciples that all of them are going to fail Him that night. All of them are going to fall away. All of them are going to desert him. In other words, He says to them, all of you are going to be untrue to your Master tonight, the one whose name you have professed; the one whom you have befriended, the one who has befriended you; the one with whom you have been serving and ministering in the kingdom of God in these last three years. And I want you to note three alls in this story.

In verse 31, Jesus says to the disciples, "All of you will fall away." In verse 35 Matthew goes out of his way to say that all of the disciples said back to Jesus, "No, we’re not. We’re not going to fall away. We’re going to be faithful to You to the end." Matthew tells you the end of the story in verse 56. It’s outside the scope of our passage, but it’s important for understanding what’s going on here. In verse 56 of Matthew, chapter 26. Matthew says to us that in accordance with the words of the Holy Scripture all the disciples left Him and fled. It is vital for you to understand that. It is not simply Peter, it is all of the disciples who participate in this desertion of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Matthew Henry puts it, "Though there was only one traitor, they were all deserters." That’s what Jesus was facing that night, and He knew it.

And He told the disciples that it’s not only that Jesus told them this, He quotes scripture to back Him up. He takes them to Zechariah 13. I’d like you to turn with me there. It’s the second to last book in the Old Testament. You won’t have to turn far. Turn back through Malachi into Zechariah, chapter 13. Because it’s a very surprising passage. It’s a passage that’s not obviously messianic. In other words it doesn’t obviously, the first time we look at it, refer to the Messiah. In fact, if you look at Zechariah 13, especially the second half of the chapter, it appears that God the Father is speaking about false prophets, and it appears that God the Father is talking about striking down false prophets. And yet the Lord Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13, verse 7 which reads like this: "Awake O sword against my shepherd and against the man my associate declares the Lord of Hosts. Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered." Now Jesus quotes from what looks like the Greek translation of that passage, and He quotes it in such a way as to emphasize who is striking the shepherd. And I think if you’ll understand that, you’ll understand exactly what Jesus is saying. Jesus does just say strike the shepherd in an imperative form of that verb. He says I will strike the shepherd. And who is speaking in this passage? The Lord of Hosts. The Lord Jesus Christ, by the way He quotes Zechariah, chapter 13, verse 7, is drawing the disciples’ attention to the fact that it is His Father who will strike Him down. And that is so important for the disciples to understand. They must understand that the events of the next hours are the will of the Heavenly Father.

And furthermore, the events of the next hours are the will of the Heavenly Father in order to express His saving love for them. The events of the next hours may look like that Jesus’ life is out of God’s control. It looks like the leaders of the Jewish people are in control. It looks like Pilate is in control. It looks like Herod is in control. It looks like the mob is in control, and it looks like Jesus’ life is totally out of the hands of God’s providence. But Jesus’ says it is so vital for you disciples to understand that it is My Father that will strike me down. And you say how in the world can that be comforting. Well, you have to understand the twist there before you understand the comfort. Jesus is saying that it is Father’s initiative which sends Me to the cross because the Father knows that the only way that you can fellowship with him forever is if your sins are paid for. And so in His love for you, He is willing to render me up as the substitute for your sins.

It is so important for you to understand that when Jesus is on the cross, He’s not trying to get the Father to love you. When Jesus is on the cross, His death is the expression of the Father’s prior love for you. It is the genius, it is the strategy of God the Father’s love for you, and that’s the first thing that God teaches us in this passage. He teaches us something about Himself. He teaches us that His love is the source of our salvation, and His love is the source of Jesus’ provision on the cross for our sins. And if we don’t understand that, we’ll never understand and apprehend and be persuaded of the Fatherly love of God about which we heard from Calvin in the beginning of the service. If you don’t understand that the cross is the expression of the Father’s love, you’ll never understand the cross. But that’s not the only thing that Jesus teaches in this passage.

Jesus emphasizes His own willingness to die by saying to the disciples again. This is not the only time, Jesus has said that over and over. In fact if you’re remembering what we’ve already covered in Matthew, chapter 26, you’re saying well Jesus has said this before. You’re right. He has emphasized the Father’s control, the Father’s sovereignty, the Father’s involvement, the Father’s plan, and He has emphasized His own willingness to accept that, to embrace that, to eagerly embrace it on our behalf. And I believe that the reason that Jesus emphasizes that, the reason that God causes Matthew under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to continually repeat these themes is not just because we have bad memories. It’s because He has a very important point for us to understand – that Jesus is not the victim in the sense that He is out of control, and He is unwilling in what is about to happen. He willingly embraces this for you. And so He says to these disciples who He has also said are going to desert them. He says to you my Father is going to strike me down. And I embrace that for You, because I love you. The Lord Jesus is saying to these disciples whom He knows are going to desert Him, that even they are going to desert Him, He loves them enough that He’s going to die for them. And He willingly embraces the will of the Father for Him.

And then He teaches them one more thing. He teaches them about themselves. He teaches them that they are all too self-confident, that they are all too self-trusting, that they’ve made idols of their own commitment and of their own faithfulness to Christ. They need to understand that apart from Him they are nothing, and that they need to depend completely upon Him because the things that they are going to face in the next hours are literally going to unman them, and they are going to flee. Jesus is issuing a warning here. It’s a warning designed to help His struggling disciples in a time of need. If they would only listen. It’s a warning that would help them in time of need. Jesus knows them better than they know themselves, and He knows their faith is weak. And so He warns them about their impending failure. We as Jesus’ disciples are weak, and we are susceptible to sin; and we ought never to reject His rebuke. We ought never to reject the warnings of scriptures. Jesus’ words should have awed His disciples. It should have led them on the one hand to say you have got to be kidding. God the Father loves us so much that in order to forgive our sins, He’s going to give you on the tree. You’re out of your mind. This is beyond our grasp. This is the most glorious thing we’ve ever – they should have been awed by that declaration, but they missed it. And they should have been awed by that fact that Jesus was willing to lay His life down for them, but they missed it. And they should have been humbled by the fact that they themselves were going to desert Him. By stressing in just a few moments that Peter was going to deny Him before the rooster crowed, Jesus was just simply saying this. You’re not only going to deny Me, you’re going to deny Me quickly. I’m going to warn you about this. You’re going to deny it, and then you’re going to turn right around and do it in a matter of an hour or so. The disciples should have been humble.

You see the warnings of the word are for our own good. The reason God warned Isaac not to go to Mesopotamia and warned Abraham not to let Isaac go to Mesopotamia is He knew Isaac’s character. He knew Isaac liked to be like the people around him. He liked to get along. Jacob on the other hand, he’d fight with himself. It was safe for him to go to Mesopotamia. It wasn’t safe for Isaac to go to Mesopotamia so the Lord says don’t go there. God knew that Lot’s family loved the world so much that it might, it might just be willing to die with the world instead of be saved from it. And sure enough Lot’s wife rejected that good warning. It might have offended them for him to say now don’t look back people, don’t stop and stay there. I’m getting ready to rain down hellfire and brimstone on this city. Move out. And they might have said well, I’m offended by that. Anybody in their right mind would move out if they knew that hellfire and brimstone were coming down. And yet Lot’s wife turns and she looks back. She can’t pull herself away. She’d rather die with the world than escape. And so God warns that His words of warning are for our good if we will listen to them.

But Jesus doesn’t only have a word of warning here, He was a word of encouragement. Notice verse 32. "After I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Jesus is telling them what is virtually a promise here. He is pre-reminding them of the resurrection, and He’s speaking of that resurrection as if it’s a certainty. That should have given them great comfort. Though they will certainly be scattered, so also they were be certainly regathered by the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s also giving them their marching orders. This is what they are supposed to do. Post-crucifixion. Post-burial. Post-resurrection. They are to go to Galilee. They are to start again, just where they started before. And it should have been a comfort to us. God’s words are to be anchors to us in a storm, something to hold on to when we can’t see our way. When we can’t even interpret his providences, we’re to hang on to his promises, the promises of His word. And Jesus says when I am raised, you go to Galilee. We’ll be gathered there. And that ought to have been something for them to hang on to. You see God’s warnings ought always to drive us to a greater realization of His love of the Son’s love, and to a greater realization of our weakness. And so humble us so we flee to Him.

II. We are always unwise to reject the warnings of God’s Word and to trust in our own strength.

Now verses 33 through 35 are a living illustration of how not to respond to the word of God. And the fact that this living illustration of how not to respond to the word of God comes from the disciples themselves upon whom the Lord Jesus has built the church ought to send out a very loud message to us. Look at Peter’s response. Peter protests in verse 33 that he will be uniquely faithful to Christ even if all the other disciples desert. Peter is going to remain faithful. And we see in this passage that we are unwise to reject the warnings of God and to trust in our own strength. God is teaching us in this passage to trust in His word despite the evidences to the contrary and to distrust the fickleness of our own hearts; to trust in Him alone, to be humbled and to flee to Him.

I want you to see three things that Peter did wrong. First of all, he disbelieved. The Lord Jesus Christ did not only say you are going to flee, but He had quoted Scripture, and Peter still says no, I’m not. You’re wrong. He disbelieved the word of God. Mistake one. Two, he disdained his brethren. He said look, Lord, these guys may desert You. I’m never deserting You. These men they may not be men of substantial character. They may not have obtained the spiritual maturity that I have. They may desert You, but never me. He disdained his brethren and preferred himself over them. And thirdly, he was overconfident in himself. Oh no, Lord, I will never desert You. I know myself. I’m not a one to go back on my promises. I’m committed. I’m committed to this thing to the end. He disbelieved the word of God. He disdained his brethren, and he was overconfident. My friends, when we are in that position, we are set up for a fall. Jesus then kindly, but firmly, reiterates what he had just said. He said Peter, my disciples, listen to me. Verily, truly, it is an absolute certainty that before the rooster crows, you’re going to deny me three times.

Notice what Jesus says. He introduces His statement with a solemn indicator, verily, truly, and then He does three things. He repeats that He was going to be deserted. You will. He then goes on to tell us what time He is going to be deserted. It’s going to happen before the rooster crows. And then He goes on to tell us in what manner he is going to be deserted, how often He is going to be deserted. And so with real specificity, he makes it very clear that God’s word is not a little bit off here, and that Peter should have received the rebuke.

Matthew goes out of the way, however, to indicate that it was not Peter alone who was at fault here. All the disciples, Matthew says, all the disciples shared the same attitude. We must never underestimate the power of the evil one or the strength of temptation, and we must certainly never overestimate our own ability to resist it. You notice here a twin mistake on the part of the disciples, and it’s a twin proneness that we all have. We have a twin proneness to overestimate our own strength and our own ability, and we have along with it a proneness to underestimate the strength of temptation. We think that temptation is weak, and we are strong. Rather than recognizing in humility our own weakness, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and from His grace, and the power of the evil one. That’s why the Lord Jesus, in His prayer, tells us to pray. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

And furthermore, in repentance, we have a natural resistance. There are very few people I would warrant in this room who enjoy repentance. Do you enjoy repentance? Do you enjoy being rebuked? It is one of the most painful, it is one of the most convicting, it’s one of the most difficult processes that we ever go through when someone that we love confronts us with a wrong. And when we are confronted with our wrongs, we don’t like to hear it. We don’t like to hear hard things about ourselves. It embarrasses us, and it hurts us and we tend to reject it. We have a natural tendency to reject God’s overtures of repentance to us. And the danger of temptation and the danger of trusting our own strength was the danger the disciples were facing right here. Jesus had to explain to these men before they were in the thick of it, that they were up against something that was far greater than their own natural abilities. Unless they were trusting in Him alone, and unless they were distrusting their own strength and their own tendencies and their own inclinations, then they were not going to be a match for the day to come. And friends that is a message that we need to learn as well.

Matthew Henry says those are least safe who are most secure. They were secure in confidence in the flesh when they should have been secure only in the confidence of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so the Lord Jesus confronts them with this, and He warns them against this danger. We must be sure today that our confidence is the true confidence. That we have not put our confidence in the flesh, but that our confidence is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. This passage also shows us something glorious about the Lord Jesus Himself. Though Peter will protest that he’ll never, ever desert the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that he does. He does that night Matthew tells us in this subsequent passage that he will desert the Lord Jesus Christ. He will deny Him, finally denying Him with cursing before the rooster crows. But Jesus tells us the difference between Judas and Peter, between Judas and the rest of the disciples, in Luke, chapter 22, verses 31 and 32. There Jesus says Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you. Now we know what Jesus prayed for Peter and for the disciples and for us. It’s found in John 17. He had prayed that all those who the Father had given Him would be one with Him. And He had prayed for them specifically that they would enjoy the presence and the fellowship with God forever. Jesus, the Pastor, through His intercession on the cross and His intercession in prayer is the difference between Peter and the other disciples and Judas.

Ultimately, you see, the ground of the disciples’ confidence was not in themselves or even in their faith, but in the object of their faith and in what He had done for them. And that is what makes a difference. That is what will make the difference for you and me. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, help us we pray to hear this morning, but at the same time to hear this sweet word of comfort that though we are sinful and fickle, yet your preserving love holds us fast in Jesus Christ. We’ll ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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