The Frailty of the Faithful (Mark 14:27-31)

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The Frailty of the Faithful

In our text this morning we are reminded of the frailty of those who are considered by God to be faithful. We are frail and fickle people. We waffle between living with humble minds one moment, and proud hearts the next. We can demonstrate an unquestionable understanding of God and an unwavering faith in Him at certain instances, but within a second’s time we have forgotten who He is. It is because of this we are all a people prone to pride. We are all a people prone to fear and anxiety. We are all a people prone to wander and fall. When we consider this about ourselves, we are drawn to ask the same question the Psalmist asked:

“What is man that You take thought of him? And the son of man that You care for him?”[1]

We truly are the most frail, fickle, and pitiable people; but it is because of who Christ is that we are left with a joy unspeakable, a peace which passes understanding, and a hope unwavering! We are left understanding, as the Psalmist says, that:

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”[2]

We are reminded in the gospel that His love for us is not dependent upon our love and faithfulness towards Him, but solely on His love and faithfulness towards us.


The Striking of the Shepherd and Scattering of the Sheep

This is exactly what we see with the disciples. These are men who had left everything to follow Christ.[3] Men, who after multitudes of people fell away from following Him because of His teaching, continued to because they understood that He alone possessed “the words of eternal life.”[4] These are men who came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and confessed Him to be so.[5] Men, who after He told them that one of them would betray Him, showed such humility, because of their sensitivity to their potential for evil, asked from a position of self-doubt, “Surely not I?”[6] These are men who were faithful, yet weak and frail!

Though these eleven men did not falter in the way that Judas Iscariot did, Mark tells us in 14:27 that Jesus assures them of their own frailty:

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ 

                        Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7, which says:

“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.”

            He first recalls to their minds His purpose. He came to seek and to save that which was lost.[7] He came not to be served, but to serve by giving His life as a ransom for many.[8] He is the Good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.[9] He will be struck down by the Father, and three days later He will be raised by Him. He will go just as it is written of Him, and His sheep will go just as it is written of them. These men who have shown such sacrifice and devotion to Christ will stumble and fall.

            Though these frail men will falter, there is hope in the words of Christ, for He says in Mark 14:28, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” In other words, “After I have been raised from being struck down, I will gather you who are scattered. You will fall away from Me, but I will not forsake you.”


The Self-confidence of the Disciples

The disciples miss this entirely, and what we see next is their refusal to acknowledge their potential, which stems from a willful ignorance of themselves. Mark tells us in 14:29,31:

29 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not…’ 31And they all were saying the same thing also.”

Observe the fickleness and frailty of these men. Within an evening’s span of time, they have gone from correctly evaluating themselves by considering it possible that they each could be the betrayer of Jesus, to a disproportionate view of themselves by considering it impossible that they would ever fallaway from Him.

The biblical term for this is pride, and its poison is far reaching. It blinds people to their own imperfection, reveals to them the faultiness of others, and prevents people from entering the kingdom of God. Unless one humbles themselves to the situation of a child, they will never see the kingdom of God. A person’s pride must be dashed to pieces. They must see their powerlessness, and vulnerability, and incapability, and dependence on another. Pride perceives that power is possessed. It grossly exaggerates one’s strength and ability, and it glories in independence. It keeps people from Christ, and it keeps brothers and sisters in Christ thinking more highly of themselves then they ought to think.[10]

Peter’s pride drew him to deny his own vulnerability making him incapable of seeing his susceptibility to faltering in sin, and brought him to compare himself to his brothers with him being the greater and they the lesser:

Even though all may fall away, yet I will not…”

Like leprosy, Peter’s self-confidence spread spurning the hearts of the disciples into the same sin:

            “And they all were saying the same thing also.”

Jesus discloses to Peter the horrific truth that he would not only stumble like the rest, but he would fall farther then they and deny his Lord. Mark 14:29-30 says:

30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” 


The Sifting of Peter

Luke’s gospel account gives us further insight as to what is taking place here. Jesus says in Luke 22:31-32:

31 ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’”

There are several things we see here.

First, we see that Satan is actively at work in seeking to bring about the falter in Peter’s faith. He wants to sift him like wheat. How is wheat sifted? It is pulverized in order to remove the edible part. Satan’s desire is to destroy Peter. No doubt Peter had this instance in mind when he says in his first letter:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[11]

The second thing we see is the unpopular truth that Jesus is going to allow Satan to do it. He does not deny Satan’s request, rather He permits him to do it and prays that Peter’s “faith may not fail.” Jesus’ prayer is literally that Peter’s faith will not cease to be.[12] Satan’s aim is not necessarily physical destruction, but spiritual. He wants to devour him.

The third thing we see is the certainty of Peter’s faltering under the sifting of Satan. Jesus says, “and you, when once you have turned again.” In other words, “When you have returned to Me.” The fact that Peter will at some point turn back to Christ tells us he turned away from Him at some point. Why will Peter turn back to Christ? Christ prayed that His faith would not fail, that it would not cease all together.

This reveals to us a fourth matter we see, which is that Christ’s intersession for His people prevails. They will experience serious trials which bring about their stumbling into various sins, but they will persevere through it. He will not let them go. He is the Keeper; we are the kept. The kept are not responsible for their keeping, that is the Keeper’s job. Believers are told in Psalm 121:5, “The Lord is your keeper.” Peter says to believers in 1 Peter 2:25, “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” Our perseverance is not dependent upon our abundant love and faithfulness towards Him, but His towards us.

 The final thing we see here is the intent of it all. Satan’s purpose was to destroy him, but Christ’s purpose was to refine him so that he may strengthen His brothers. The principle of Luke 7:47 comes to mind, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” This means that “he who is forgiven much loves much.” Those who are forgiven much and love much can strengthen those who have fallen. Such people will not only have a better understanding of their own frailty, but they will have an even greater knowledge of the faithfulness and love of Christ with which they can then encourage others with.

Peter’s response to all this again demonstrates his self-confidence:

“Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!’ 34 And He said, ‘I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.’”

Mark 14:31 says:

31 But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.”

Every gospel account records the dreadful moment Christ words came to fruition, and Peter’s self-confidence was seen to be just a figment of his own imagination. As the cock crowed that second time, the Scripture tells us that Peter immediately remembered the words that Jesus had said and he went out and wept bitterly.[13] He had done what he had thought was impossible for himself to do. He came face to face with his own faithlessness and frailty, and it devastated him.

If only they had fixed their minds on the words of Christ they would have seen that though they were frail, Christ is strong. Though they would be faithless towards Him, He would be faithful to them. He would return for them and go ahead of them to Galilee. He would never leave them nor forsake them.

John records for us in his gospel account, the third time Jesus met with the disciples after His resurrection. We cannot see it in the English, but there are two different Greek words being used for love in this portion, Agapeo and Phileo. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him with an Agapeo love, a love that takes pleasure in Him alone, prizes Him above all else, and is unwilling to abandon Him or do without Him.[14] Peter responds both times by saying that he loves Him with a Phileo love. Jesus finally asks Peter if this is in fact the love with which he loves Him. What we see is Jesus bringing Peter to acknowledge and confess to Him that his love for him is not one that takes pleasure in Him without flaw, or prizes Him above all other things, or is unwilling to abandon Him or do without Him. His love is not as great as that, but it is one founded on a deep admiration, and esteem for Him.[15] John says:

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”[16]

Jesus’ love for them is seen in the fact that though He knows all things about them, He is unwilling to abandon them or do without them. He loves them not because of their imperfect love for Him, but His perfect love for them. [17] He does not cast Peter aside, He commissions him to strengthen his brothers.


The Faithfulness of the Father toward the Frail

This sermon has been titled The Frailty of the Faithful, but the truth that provides us the most hope, joy, and peace is the faithfulness of the Father towards the frail. The omniscience of God is truly awe-inspiring thing. On the one hand it elicits a fear and dread of God for it reveals to us that nothing is hidden from His sight. We are all naked and bear before the One with whom we have to do.[18] His eyes see not only our outer actions, but the deepest recesses of our wicked hearts.[19] He sees even the thoughts and intentions, which we keep tucked away from the watching world so that people cannot see us for the wretches we truly are, but God see us as we are.

This is what makes His omniscience so astounding, that though God see us for what we truly are, He still loves us. He demonstrated His love for us by becoming a Man and becoming our guilt and shame, bearing our penalty and propitiating His wrath towards us on Himself, and raising Himself back to life on the third day never to die again; so that we who were dead and deserved to die eternally under His wrath, might have life and forever live with Him as our God and we as His sons and daughters.[20]

What is man that He takes thought of us, and the son of man that He cares for us? We are but dust! We are weak and frail, but through our weaknesses and frailty He shows Himself faithful and strong. He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”[21] What is Paul’s response? “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”[22]

In his Expository thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle says:

“Let us take comfort in the thought that the Lord Jesus does not cast off his believing people because of failures and imperfections. He knows what they are. He takes them, as the husband takes the wife, with all their blemishes and defects, and, once joined to Him by faith, will never put them away. He is a merciful and compassionate High Priest. It is His glory to pass over the transgressions of His people, and to cover their sins. He knew what they were before conversion – wicked, guilty, and defiled; yet he loved them. He knows what they will be after conversion – weak, erring, and frail; yet He loves them.”[23]

The Spirit speaks to us through the author of Hebrews saying:

“We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

He tells us what to do with this amazing truth:

“Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Psalm 73:26 says:

            “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

You who are frail, find joy in the truth that nothing can separate you from His love. Romans 8:35-39 says:

“35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You who are frail, find hope in the fact that all who turn from there sin and turn to Christ trusting in His substitutionary sacrifice in their place will not be turned aside. He says in John 6:37:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

            He says in John 10:27-29:

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

            John 13:1 says:

“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

You who are frail, find peace in what the Scripture says of those united to Him because of His love for them:

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”[24]


[1] Psalm 8:4

[2] Psalm 103:14

[3] Mark 1:16-20; 2:14

[4] John 6:66-68

[5] Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29

[6] Mark 14:19

[7] Luke 19:10

[8] Mark 10:45

[9] John 10:15

[10] Romans 12:3

[11] 1 Peter 5:8

[12] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 1587

[13] Matthew 26:75

[14] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon; NT Number: 25

[15] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon; NT Number: 5368

[16] John 21:15-17

[17] 1 John 4:10,19

[18] Hebrews 4:12-13

[19] Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Mark 7:14-23

[20] Revelation 21:7

[21] 2 Corinthians 12:9a

[22] 2 Corinthians 12:9b

[23] Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle; Page 246

[24] 2 Timothy 2:13

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