Missing the Plan Because of Cowardice

Steve Viars March 8, 2008 Matthew 26:26-46

 

Introduction

- Let’s begin our time this morning with a true/false question – are you up for that?

1. True/False – One of the essential characteristics of the Christian Life is courage.

- do you agree with that – that God wants His people to be courageous, and that He stands ready to help us develop that characteristic?...

- that wouldn’t be hard to prove biblically, would it?...

Joshua- Joshua 1:7 - Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.

- it takes courage to obey God’s Word...but that is clearly the way the Lord wants us to live...then there’s...

Joab- 2 Samuel 10:12 - Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.

- what is interesting about that text is that it’s part of a military plan – Joab divides the army in tow and says---if your side is losing, we’ll come help you, and if our side is losing, please help us – but above all else, let’s be strong and show ourselves...courageous...

David- 1 Chronicles 28:20 - Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.

- another interesting example of this is from the prophet...

Azariah- 2 Chronicles 15:7 - But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.

- courage comes in part from focusing on the future consequences of your choices...

- The Psalmist, probably David...ties this to patience when he says...

Psalmist- Psalm 27:14 - Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

Isaiah- Isaiah 35:4 - Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.”

- we often find Jesus saying to people...Be of good courage...for example...

Jesus during His earthly ministry- Matthew 9:2 - And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus after the resurrection- Acts 23:11 - But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

Believers in the church- 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 - Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

- so if you answered the question “true”...you were correct, and there is a lot of Scripture that would support your answer...now please take that one step further...

2. Are you a courageous person?  Can you think of specific examples from this past week where you acted courageously?  Can you think of specific examples where you could have been courageous but chose not to?

3. If a person is not biblically courageous, what might they be?

- there’s at least two answers to that?...one that’s obvious and one that might not be...

- the obvious one is...

a. Un-biblically fearful.

- that too would be a pretty easy case to make, would it not?...

- 2 Timothy 1:7 - For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

- so any time this week where you or I hesitated to do what God’s Word would have wanted us to do in a given situation...it is possible that a part of that equation was a lack of courage...

- but there’s another piece of this...

b. Un-biblically self-confident.

- see, someone here today could say – PV, I’ve got this one covered...I’m not a fearful person at all...

- people in my life know I’m courageous...they know I’m fearless...they know I’ll try anything...they know I’ll fight anyone...

- well, that might be biblical courage generated by the Spirit of God, or it might be prideful bravado generated by the spirit of the flesh...

- Proverbs 16:18 - Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

- so some persons might appear to be courageous, or think they’re courageous...when the fact is they are in the process of confidently marching over a cliff...their unbiblical self-confidence is leading them to a fall...

- so courage is important, but it has to be biblical courage...

- and regrettably...one of the key individuals during the last days of Christ on earth...proved that he lacked this characteristic badly...this morning we’d like to study his story...

- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible to Matthew 26...page 23 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- our theme this year is Seeking God’s Plan...

- I want to thank each person who took the time to complete one of our ministry surveys...

- much of what was said was solid gold in terms of having a thoughtful conversation about our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities...coupled with some of the possible initiatives we could seek to accomplish over the next five years to shore up our weaknesses, to build on our strengths, and seize the most logical initiatives that are most in line with our church’s mission...[describe how each person can view the data...]

- by the way, one of the nest steps is to do a similar survey with our immediate neighbors, and also with our community...

- as we’ve discussed this with various community leaders, there is a very real possibility where we will be able to initiate a community needs survey that will be embraced and promoted by a number of different community groups...

- for our church to be part of having that conversation, and then to have the data in a form that can be easily distributed to other community groups as well as ourselves as everybody plans would be a tremendous step forward in what we are trying to accomplish with this process...

- so to be this far along this early in the year demonstrates the goodness of God and some tremendous work by Joe Blake in leading the futures committee, and Arvid Olson who has many of the community contacts, and Jonathan Smith and Brian Nicholson who are providing the technological support...[could also develop the value of sharing the process with others...cf. the phone contact this week...]

- now, what we’ve also decided to do this year is to apply this theme to as many practical areas of life as we possibly can...

- and since we’re just a few weeks from Easter...we’re taking these weeks to look at people who failed during the final days of Christ on earth...talking about what happens When the Plan is Missed.

- last week we talked aboutThe Religious leaders – When the Plan is Missed because of Unbelief.

- this morning we’re going to think about The Denials of Peter – When the Plan is Missed because of Cowardice.

- read Matthew 26:26-46, 69-75

- we’re talking about when the plan is missed because of cowardice, and this morning let’s look forThree areas of the Christian Life that Especially Require Courage.

I. It Takes Courage to Accept Confrontation.

- the verses that we read in Matthew are actually not the first time Jesus had spoken to Peter and the other disciples about their upcoming temptation and failure...

A. Jesus’ first warning in the Upper Room.

- that information is filled in by both Luke and John...Luke records that...

- Luke 22:31-34 - And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

- that metaphor of being sifted as wheat would have been very familiar to people in Bible times...

- it was a violent shaking of a tray of grain so that the chaff could be thrown up in the air and blown away – leaving the pure kernels of grain behind...

- if you were told in Bible times that someone was going to sift you as wheat...that would be very sobering news indeed...

- it is also important to know that the word “you” in the phrase “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” is plural in the original language...which was much more precise in the way pronouns were used than in our language...all of the disciples were about to be sifted as wheat...

- but what should have really caught Peter’s attention was that there was no question about whether he would be able to handle the temptation...

- Jesus said – “and when you have returned to me”...the Lord was making it clear – Peter was going to fail...and so was everybody else...Jesus was confronting them with that reality.../// now, the gospel of John adds this piece to the puzzle...at this same time...

- John 13:36-38 - Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.

- so there you have it – Jesus clearly confronting Peter with the truth of what’s about to happen...

- you’re going to be sifted as wheat and you’re going to fail...

- you’re going to deny me three times...

- and how does Peter respond to that confrontation...essentially this---Lord, you’ve got it wrong...I will go with you to prison and to death...I will lay down my life for your sake...

- now let’s add what we read from the gospel of Matthew....

B. Jesus’ second warning on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane

- the trip from the Upper Room to the Garden was probably less than ¾ of a mile...

- on a normal night it would have been 20 minutes or so...perhaps more on this particular evening because so many people would have been in town to celebrate the Passover...

- but somewhere along the way...Jesus confronted them again...     

- Matthew 26:31-33 - Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

- some Bible students believe there may have been a few minutes between verses 33 and 34 – we don’t know for sure...but then Jesus says...

- Matthew 26:34-35 - Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.

- now you might say – PV, it appears that Peter is being courageous...he says that he’ll go to prison and to death...he says that he’ll lay down his life for Christ’s sake...he says that he’ll never be made to stumble...and even if he had to die with Christ, he would never deny Him...isn’t that a courageous way to handle being confronted?...

- what’s the answer to that?...

C. Don’t confuse prideful bravado with biblical courage.

- it would have been much better for Peter to have kept silent...

- or to ask questions so Jesus could clarify what he was saying...

- or to agree with His Lord and cry out for instruction on how to handle the temptation better...

- often, prideful bravado is the worst possible response to being confronted...

- see, it takes courage to accept confrontation...

- I wonder how many people here this morning view themselves as being pretty tough...being pretty courageous...

- but the truth of the matter is that they are cowardly when it comes to the way they handle confrontation...

- and sure they’ll blow up in sinful anger...and that might look/sound tough and intimidating, but that’s the way cowards avoid having to deal with their sin...

- or they put on the pity party...and they make everybody pay a price for even suggesting that they might have a way they need to change...there’s nothing courageous about that at all...

D. One of the most challenging aspects of life is to listen to others, accept confrontation, repent and change.

- Proverbs 12:15 - The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.

- Proverbs 18:2 - A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart.

- Proverbs 28:26 - He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.

- Proverbs 9:9 – Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

- so what’s the point so far?...it requires courage to respond to confrontation well...

- at a critical point in his relationship with Christ, Peter responded to Jesus’ confrontation that might have appeared tough...but was actually cowardly...

- Can I ask you this morning – do you have the courage and the strength of character to respond well to confrontation?...Would the people around you who have tried to confront you agree with that answer?...

- please think about this – how important is this skill to our overall task of Seeking God’s Plan this year as a church family?...

1. Is it important for us as individuals to be “easy to entreat” so that we are growing at the rate that God desires so that we can honestly ask Him to lead our church family in the days ahead?...

2. Are we as a church family willing to listen to constructive criticism from these various surveys so that we, as a team, can make plans to do better in the days ahead...

- all of that is going to require healthy doses of biblical courage...

- Now, what can we learn from Peter and the other disciples as we move the Garden of Gethsemane?...

II. It Takes Courage to Admit Your Need of Prayer.

- there’s a clear contrast going on at this point in the story...on the one hand we have...

A. Christ’s example of submission to, and dependence on the Father.

- Matthew 26:36-39 - Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.

- Matthew 26:42 - Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

- Matthew 26:44 - So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

- the parallel passage in Luke tells us that our Lord’s prayer was so intense at this point that He was actually sweating drops of blood as He prayed...

- now, you might say – why would Jesus need to pray?...wasn’t He the Son of God?...

- absolutely...but the Scripture tells us that while on earth He voluntarily emptied Himself of the independent use of some of His attributes...

- theologians refer to that as the kenosis...taken from Phil. 2 where Paul says that Jesus emptied Himself...

- that is why we would read verses like:John 5:30 - I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

- so just before going to the cross – Jesus is doing the most courageous thing a person can do...He is submitting Himself to the plan of the Father...and He is crying out to God for the strength to fulfill that plan...

- contrast that to...

B. The disciples’ inability to see their greatest need.

- Matthew 26:40-41 - Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

- Matthew 26:43 - And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.

- Matthew 26:45 - Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?...

- here’s the principle – it takes a real man [or a real woman] to see/admit his/her greatest need...Isaiah said it this way...

- Isaiah 31:1 - Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!

- By the way, I want to thank the many people who participated in our church family night last Sunday...

- I thought Titus did an excellent job of putting that service together...but one of my favorite parts was when we were able to spend time together as a church family praying for the upcoming Faith Community Institute, and the Passion Play, and the Children’s Musical, and the Outreach Series after Easter...

C. Sometimes the most courageous place a person can be is on his/her knees.

- why is that?

1. Because even a small temptation can trip up a person who is unprepared.

- Peter’s first denial involved the accusation of a little servant girl...

- and when you compare this to the parallel passages, there were probably some other around...but what set Peter off were the words of a young girl...

- what happened to...I will go with you to prison and to death...I will lay down my life for your sake... I’ll never be made to stumble...even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you?...

- now he can’t even handle the accusation of a young girl...

- friend, if you’re not developing the courage to admit that you need the Lord’s strength and enablement in part by faithfully praying to Him...you are opening yourself up wide for the attacks of the enemy...

- I am amazed how many families do not pray together in any kind of meaningful way...

- I understand that we are all busy people --- but how long does it take for the family to gather together in the morning and commit their ways to the Lord...

- that is not a sign a weakness...it is a sign of courage...

- if you want to see weakness...look how quickly we can go down if we don’t pray...

2. Because often one wrong choice paves the way to another.

- There is a clear sequence in these denials...

- in verse 70 He simply denied Christ...

- then he goes out to gateway so he won’t be so easily recognized...

- and now another servant girl starts in...and when you add information from the other gospels...we learn that the first servant also came back, and they even have a couple of men now...

- and so this time Peter not only denies Christ, but...

- Matthew 26:70 – he denied it with an oath.

- I realize that doesn’t mean much in our culture, but the point is...

- now he’s calling on God to be His witness that he’s telling the truth...which of course he’s not...

- but like so many times when you tell a lie, all of a sudden things start unraveling so you have to tell a bigger lie to try to cover the first one...

- and then perhaps as long as an hour elapses...and by comparing what Mark says about this...it is likely that Jesus is beaten between Peter’s 2nd and 3rd denials...

- and then the group comes back...and John adds the unbelievable detail that they found one of the relatives of the guy whose ear Peter had cut off back in the Garden...

- Matthew 26:74 - Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!”

- and that’s probably not a matter of curing like is done in our culture...

- the point is that Peter was calling down a curse on himself from God if he was not telling the truth...

- which showed that he was completely out of control and it was only by God’s grace that He did not do what Peter was requesting...

- wouldn’t it have been better to have looked weak in the eyes of some by bowing his knee in prayer than acting like a coward by denying His Lord?

- this is where the gospel of Luke records a detail that is just chilling... Luke 22:61 - The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”

- the word “looked” is the Greek word “emblepo”a fixed look, almost a stare.

- and remember, by that time, Jesus face would have been beaten...

- no wonder Matthew says...Matthew 26:75 - And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

- well, it requires courage to accept confrontation, and to admit your need of prayer...

III. It Requires Courage to Stand for Christ.

Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

- Can I ask you this morning, are you growing in Biblical courage?

- please keep in mind...

A. You never know when an opportunity will come your way.

- Even though Jesus clearly told Peter what was going to happen...he still was unprepared...

- do you think God might give you an opportunity to stand for Christ?

B. You never know when the next temptation will come your way.

- are you ready to face it courageously with your armor on?...

C. You never know when the next trial will come your way.

- cf. Rebekah and the Stillwell family

- cf. what happened to the family at the Houston OTR

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video