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  Phillip Ross



...be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind...  -Romans 12:2

O strengthen me, that while I stand
Firm on the rock, and strong in thee,
I may stretch out a loving hand
To wrestlers with the troubled sea!
                      -Frances Havargal (1836-1879)

I Will Not

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 will be scattered.' "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all said likewise. Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch." He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand." (Mark 14:27-42, NKJV).

Having instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus took His disciples out to the Mount of Olives to pray. On the way He told them that they all would “be made to stumble” (v. 27) because of Him, because of His ministry, His teaching and preaching, and His salvation message. What Jesus meant here was that all Christians will at some point in their lives stumble on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is skandalizo, which literally means scandalize. To scandalize the gospel means to speak evil of it without regard for it’s truth.

What He means is that no one is born a Christian, that every Christian must be converted from his or her natural, human perspective. What He means is that God’s perspective-that of objective truth and perfect holiness-is so foreign, so different than the natural, subjective experience of human beings that the orthodox understanding of God-His Word, His Scripture, His perspective-sets up a conflict between God’s Word and human experience. What He means is that in our natural human state, prior to conversion, we have no regard for God’s objective truth.

God’s Word opposes knowledge based on human experience. The teaching of the virgin birth, various biblical miracles,Christ’s resurrection, and so forth are antithetical to human experience. The teaching of Scripture and particularly the ministry of Jesus generates a conflict between God’s infinite wisdom and our limited human knowledge. That conflict must be resolved. That conflict results in our trust of either God and His Word or our trust in our own human experience and understanding. We must either believe God’s Word or our own unsaved, unconverted experience. God’s Word brings a dilemma, an inner conflict of faith and belief that must be resolved one way or another. This is the crisis of faith that every Christian must face and resolve without rejecting any of God’s Word.

Of course, once a person is saved and converted these two perspectives begin to work together in the process of sanctification or spiritual growth. However, real spiritual growth is impossible until one has emerged from that central crisis of conversion. In other words, everyone who comes to any genuine understanding of Christianity will at some point “stumble” on Christ-on His preaching and teaching, His miracles, His virgin birth or resurrection, etc.

But Peter, not having been converted yet, did not believe that he would stumble as the Lord said he would. Even if everyone else stumbles, he said, I will not. Even if it costs me my life, I will not deny you. “And they all said likewise” (v. 31).

Jesus said they would stumble, they said they would not. Faith or belief is trusting God’s Word, even when it does not fit with our own experience. Being faithful is trusting God beyond what we understand, beyond what we have experienced. Trusting beyond what you know is childlike faith. Peter and all the disciples repudiated the Lord and bragged that they would not stumble, even if everyone else did. These words of Peter and the apostles, though they sound faithful and pious, were filled with pride and self-confidence. Jesus said, “You will.” They said, “We will not!”

The disciples were guilty of what may be called spiritual pride. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah. They had walked and talked with the Lord for a couple of years at this point. They had heard Him preach, sat under His teaching, and witnessed His miracles. They had decided to follow Him, and in fact had been following Him. Yet, here we find them self-centered, self-reliant, and pridefully boasting about their superior commitment and spiritual maturity.

Peter said he would not fall away or deny Jesus, even if it cost him his life. Peter was convinced that he would be true! But Jesus, knowing Peter better than he knew himself, told him otherwise. “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (v. 30). It is easy to imagine Peter going off in a huff, mumbling to himself that Jesus was wrong about this.

The scene in the Garden at Gethsemane serves to illustrate the degree to which Jesus was right and Peter wrong. Going into the garden Jesus left most of the disciples in one place and took Peter, James, and John to another to pray. Shortly thereafter, Jesus “began to be troubled and deeply distressed” (v. 33-italics added).

Mark used similar words only twice before. Once when they saw Jesus walking on the water (Mark 6:50), and once when Jesus told them not to be troubled by “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7). These words (tarasso and throeo) indicate the kind of trouble that produces tears and weeping. We can best understand them to express a kind of fear or grief that is overwhelmed by tears. Mark used a different word when he described Jesus as being troubled in the garden. Ademoneo conveys a deep depression. As if depression were not enough, Mark added the word ekthambeo, which suggests terror and amazement. Jesus became deeply depressed as God’s way of suffering and death opened before Him. He became thoroughly astounded and amazed as He contemplated the wonders and the ways of God’s sovereignty.

We can share in the Lord’s wonder and amazement as we face the wonder of God’s salvation plan ourselves. The eternal lives of sinners purchased by the death of one not guilty of sin. The righteousness of Christ applied to the unrighteous. Righteousness exchanged for sin, sin for righteousness-all accomplished by God Himself for the sake of the undeserving. What a wonder, this God, this salvation!

The disciples-Peter, James, and John-simply could not deal with such a wonder. As Jesus prayed and wrestled with the implications of God’s plan of salvation, the disciples slept. Their awareness could not embrace this salvation. They couldn’t deal with it. Jesus only wanted them to “watch” (v. 34), to be aware of what was happening as His own human nature submitted to the will of God. He wanted them to understand that all human beings-Himself included-must yield their own desires and understandings to those of God. He wanted them to witness Him yield to the Lord.

Jesus knew that “all things are possible for (God),” so He asked God to “take this cup away,” to find some other way than the cross. In His human nature He did not want to submit to suffering and death on the cross. He didn’t want to, but He did it anyway. He was not forced or coerced, but went willingly. “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (v. 36). These may be the most important words in Scripture because they describe the heart of Christian discipleship. Christians are called to restrain their own thoughts and desires and submit themselves to God’s thoughts and desires.

Peter and all of Christ’s disciples fail in this regard when they boast of their own strength and commitment. No matter how great our own strength and commitment are, they will fail to overcome Satan. Our puny efforts pail in comparison to Satan’s. We are out-numbered, out-manned, out-gunned, out-smarted, out-strategized, and out-foxed. Satan is stronger, smarter, and richer that we are. We cannot defeat him, neither in our own strength nor in our own flesh. But Christ can! And will! And already has! Yet, the struggle rages.

Peter provides an example of the struggle and a lesson about God’s mercy. He couldn’t stay awake for an hour. He demonstrated the weakness of the flesh as he slept. “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? …The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 37-38). He called Peter to watch and pray, but came back later only to find him “still sleeping” (v. 41).

Because we know that Peter failed and was forgiven, we know that God is exceedingly merciful. We see that even the best Christians are weak. We see that they stumble in their faith and their commitment to God. We see that they sometimes sleep through the most important parts of life. Yet, God saves them. If Peter could stumble and choke on the gospel of grace and deny the Lord as he did and still be saved, then so can you. When God calls people to faithfulness, He calls them for good. He calls them for keeps.

But how can we tell the difference between the reality of God’s call and the fantasy of our own imaginations. We know that whatever God begins He finishes, whoever God calls, He does not fail to bring into the kingdom. But how can we be sure of God’s call upon our own hearts?

In a nutshell, God Himself must convince us, and He does so by converting our beliefs and our behavior to conform to His Word. As we talk the talk and walk the walk, we become more and more personally convinced of God’s call upon our own lives. We must believe as Scripture teaches, but we must also live as the Lord would have us live-as best as we are able under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. It happens in the midst of our personal relationship with Christ. He knows when our intentions are right, and He knows when they are wrong.

It is not the pastor’s job to convince people that they are right about what they believe, about their salvation. Rather, the pastor’s job is to call everyone to receive the grace and mercy of God’s salvation, and to challenge those who respond to actually be the Christians that God has called them to be.

Do you know God’s Word? Do you know God’s grace and His law? Has God called you to salvation? Are you living up to His expectations-not mine or anyone else’s, but His?





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2002 by Kevin W. Michael.
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