The chapter truly is depressing. One could almost forget what has happened over the last three years or so of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The chapter is marked with betrayal, denial, abandonment, weakness, arrest, and false testimony. Jesus’ days were filled with conflict; however, these last days of his earthly ministry are dark moments in world history. These grievous sins are horrific for us to consider but in light of Jesus’ ministry which sought to heal so many and teach the Bible faithfully. As we have pointed out that Mark wants the reader to be able to answer for themselves the question, “who do you say Jesus is?” The religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat, a false prophet, however, they have no evidence to back up that claim. I do think that one of the things that makes this chapter depressing is that many of the horrific deeds done to Jesus came not from his enemies but his friends, his disciples. But this is the story of any believer, amid the disciples’ unfaithfulness, Christ remains faithful. The Son of Man came to suffer and die and three days later he would be raised. Nothing would stop God’s sovereign plan to save his people, not even their unfaithfulness. What’s more, Jesus knew all that was going to happen to him and still went to the cross.
I. The Scattered Sheep
If you have learned anything that would help you understand the Gospel of Mark, it is that Mark loves a sandwich. The way I have divided the sermons up is not helpful because we don’t see it as clearly. The sandwich is meant to be seen together. Mainly that on either side of the institution of the Lord’s supper we see Jesus instructing the disciples on what is going to happen in the next hours. Not only that but his disciples would be the ones who betray, abandon, and deny him. After celebrating the last Passover with his disciples and possibly others. They return to the Mount of Olives after singing a “hymn” but a better translation I believe is a Psalm, most likely Psalm 118. This would be an important Psalm to sing as it speaks of God’s faithfulness to his promises amongst the unfaithful people of Israel. However, we are not told specifically what Psalm they sang. Jesus knows what is going to happen in the coming hours and days, and tells his disciples that they will all be scattered, not just one or two of them but they will all abandon him. For three years we have no sense of the disciples wavering in their commitment to Jesus during his earthly ministry. They have said some silly things or asked some interesting questions, but there is no sense of one of the disciples abandoning Jesus during his ministry.
Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 to his disciples explaining, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” This quote has two interesting aspects that we will look at briefly here. The first is the use of the personal pronoun, I, which speaks of God. That God is the one striking the Shepherd. Or as Isiah explains in Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” This was all in God’s sovereign plan of salvation for his people (Acts 4:28). The second aspect of this quote from Zechariah is that the sheep will be scattered. No longer kept safe by the shepherd they will all disperse. This is back to what Jesus said before he quoted from Zechariah, “You will all fall away.” The word for ‘fall away’ is, ‘skandalizo’ which is where we get the word scandal. The original meaning of this word in Greek was to stumble, a stumbling block. Famously used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:13, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Yet the word goes deeper, in that it normally has the sense of falling into sin (Cf. Mark 9:42-47). However, Christ taught his disciples, as we see in the Gospel of John so that they would not finally or totally fall away (John 16:1). We might be able to understand one of the twelve disciples betraying Jesus, although it might be difficult (in hindsight). However, Jesus explains that all of his disciples will fall away. Clearly, betrayal is worse (Mark 14:21). Yet, all of his twelve disciples will fall away. The shepherd is struck, and the sheep all run.
II. A Self-assured Sheep (vs 29)
Once more Peter opens his mouth with a beautiful statement, or so it seems. He speaks of his loyalty to Jesus. We must agree this is a bold commitment, that we must assume that Peter truly believes. That everyone else will fall away but I will not. We can look at this statement in two ways; haughty or honest. First, haughty or arrogantly, Peter looks at others and sees their many weaknesses and failings, and thinks that he is better than everyone else. Although we cannot know for certain, this would be assuming the worst of Peter. The second option is that he honestly said what he meant. He truly believed nothing would stop him from following Jesus. That when presented with an option to leave before Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). Peter had thought about this before and his answer was simple, where would we go? Three main reasons not to leave, Jesus has the words of Life, the disciples believed, and thirdly that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Peter has no reason to believe he would deny Jesus. Peter had told Jesus that he had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28). In his mind what would change that he would fall away?
No matter Peter’s motive behind his comment; either pride before a fall or an honest commitment. He focused on what he was going to do, not fall away. He was sure of himself. Yet the blunt reality of discipleship is that we can be sure of two things; the first is we will fail ourselves. No matter how well-intended we are, we are unable to do anything for our own salvation, hence why we need salvation. We cannot just try to do better. Even the most self-disciplined person can stop sinning, even if they could not undo the sin that they had done in the past. As the Westminster Catechism puts it, “every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God” (WSC 84). Peter’s claim says that he will remain faithful to the end.
Yet Jesus tells Peter, you will not make it through this night. You will not be faithful for the next 12 hours, let alone for the rest of your life. This shows the reality, even a well-intended and deep-hearted promise is unable to be done. We know this to be the case if you make a promise or commitment that as of today, right now, you will be avoiding all desserts. Yet what happens, moments later you see a delicious mouthwatering, triple-stacked chocolate cake that begins to tempt you. It does not take long, right to have your prior commitment crumble as the cake crumbles in your mouth. How much more is this true of bigger commitments. Moments of deep sorrow or remorse and regret of how you treated the ones you love or how you have let them down. Or having this deep conviction from hearing the word preached or through your reading of scripture. You are truly moved, and you see your sin. Yet moments later you are back you started. Peter is convinced (foolishly) that Jesus is incorrect, and he is right. Peter believes he will remain faithful until death. That he would never deny Christ. (We all know how that goes, and who is right).
We can all read about Peter and the other disciples and be proud while reading about their pride. We hear of their mistakes and think how you could be so foolish. But the reality is that we do this all the time. That we might not say what Peter said, but we think as Peter thought. We think the call of a disciple is that we just need to do something. We need to be better. The lack of growth in our life is because of a lack in us. If we begin here, we are walking down an endless road. We are hopeless and helpless. There is nothing we can do, except acknowledge our need for Christ. Discipleship is never about doing; it is always about being. Being united to Christ. If you think it is about doing then you will never be able to do enough. However, if you know discipleship is about being united to Christ, then you understand that change happens not because of you but because of the Spirit working in you.
III. The Steadfast Shepherd
I said previously that we can be sure of two things. The first is that we will fail and be unfaithful, even if we are well-intended. However, the second is that we can be assured that Christ remains faithful. What we need to understand in this passage is that everyone will fall away from Christ, but Christ will not fall away. He remains steadfast amid this persecution and tribulation. That is what Peter promised and failed to keep. Jesus kept his promise, Jesus went to the cross to die for Peter. Peter thought he would die for Christ, but Christ said you cannot even last the next 12 hours. I will die for you, Peter. I will die the death that you should have died. No one is ever saved because they are entirely faithful. After all, then no one is ever faithful. However, everyone who has believed in Jesus Christ and put their faith in him (union to Christ) will be saved. We are saved not because of faithfulness but because of Christ. Paul puts it this way in his second letter to Timothy, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). In all of the pages of Scripture, we see the faithfulness of God to an unfaithful people. Paul asks the question of the Israelites in chapter 3 of the epistle to the Romans, “Does their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?” Paul’s answer is a huge resounding, “By No Means!” We might lie to each other or even ourselves thinking we will remain faithful, but God is no liar. He will bring about what he has promised.
If we think that we have done anything to earn our salvation, then our salvation comes from works, not by grace. But if we see this thought to completion, not only would be judged by the good works (which I think are impossible without God) but hypothetically, we must also then be judged not only for our good works but our bad works as well. If we think our faithfulness is going to get us into heaven, we are surely mistaken, and we have no assurance on earth. The Bible does not teach that we are saved through faithfulness but faith in Jesus Christ. There is a great difference. One looks to our own works and the other looks to Christ’s works. One looks to our own faithfulness the other looks to Christ’s faithfulness. One looks to our own promises that we have made (and not kept) the other looks to the promises made and kept by Christ. Peter on this night was looking to himself and not to Christ. The disciples all were unified explaining that would remain faithful. Yet within hours, not even a day. They would all be like scattered sheep as the shepherd is struck.
Therefore, we sing “Great is Thy (Your) Faithfulness” not “Great is my Faithfulness.” We see in these dark depressing chapters of Mark chapter 14, that everyone will either deny, betray, abandon, or forsake Christ. But Christ does not falter, fade or forsake them. He is steadfast to the end. I say this often, “Thank God for Christ.” Because even on my best day I would not be able to save myself, let alone on my worst day. I need Christ, I need his faithfulness because no matter how good I think I can be I can never be good enough. As the timeless truth is written in a hymn by Edward Mote,
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name…
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
In Him, my righteousness, alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.”